History, art and culture
Matthew Pearson

Westminster Abbey: FAQs

What is Westminster Abbey?

Westminster Abbey is a largely Gothic church known as the setting for all royal coronations, several royal marriages and the funerals of many famous Britains. The abbey’s historical importance and cultural significance, along with its striking architecture, make it one of the most notable religious buildings in the country, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grade I listed building and a popular tourist attraction.

How old is it?

The site has been a religious setting since around 960AD, when Benedictine monks founded Westminster Abbey. The abbey grew in importance in 1066 when it held the coronation of William the Conqueror. Since then, all coronations of British and English monarchs have taken place here. The present building was largely built between the 13th and 16th centuries, with successive monarchs making their marks on the building’s architecture.

What famous events have taken place at Westminster Abbey?

Well, every coronation of every king and queen since William the Conqueror. The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was held at the abbey. The wedding of her son, Prince William and Catherine Middleton also took place here. Oliver Cromwell was buried here until opinions on him changed and he was dug up...

What will I see at Westminster Abbey?

The amount of famous people buried here has led to the abbey being nicknamed ‘Britain’s Valhalla’. Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking are all next to each other. Queen Elizabeth I has a very prominent memorial. Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer are among the literary giants buried in Poets’ Corner. So you’re really taking a tour of British history and some of its most significant figures as you walk through Westminster Abbey. For many, the Coronation Chair in St George’s Chapel is one of the most precious and revered objects in the country. It’s certainly had some very famous bottoms on it. The fan-vaulted ceiling and long stained glass windows of the 16th century Lady Chapel are stunning. It’s where you’ll find the Elizabeth I memorial.

Pyx Chamber is the oldest section of Westminster Abbey, featuring a medieval tiled floor dating back to the 11th century. The stained glass windows through the main church are striking. David Hockney’s 2018 Queen’s Window, dedicated to Elizabeth II, particularly so. Its big bursts of color depict a bright British landscape, reflecting the Queen’s love of the British countryside. The grave of the Unknown Soldier at the west end of the Nave has become a point of pilgrimage for many. The body was brought back from France following the First World War and is interred with French soil under a slab of black Belgian marble.

Is there an audio tour?

Yes, well it’s actually a multimedia guide that you download onto your phone or tablet, or use one of the devices provided. It’s free for all visitors. It comes in 14 languages including English, Hungarian, Mandarin, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Arabic. The English language audio commentary is provided by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons. A British Sign Language Version of the tour is also available, and there's a family tour (in all 14 languages) for visitors aged 6 - 12 years.

How much does it cost to visit Westminster Abbey?

For the most up-to-date information, it's best to check the Abbey's own website.

But hey... entry is free with the London Pass.

Can I take photos in Westminster Abbey?

Yes, photos only (no videos or selfie-sticks). Photography is not permittied during services or during any visit to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries.

Is there a dress code?

It’s a fully operational church so yes, kind of. Modest dressing and no hats is the done thing.

Is Westminster Abbey accessible to those with disabilities?

Some areas are not accessible for wheelchairs and those with reduced mobility. However, there is still plenty to see and tickets are free for such visitors and their carers. You’ll find accessible toilets in the cloisters and the Cellarium Cafe. The abbey is equipped with a hearing loop system throughout the main building. Audio-described and personal touch tours can be booked in advance. Please email [email protected] for more details.

Is there a big queue to get in?

During busier times, yes. From May to September and around significant holidays, it can take over an hour to get in. Particularly if you’re coming in the middle of the day. Wait times are generally shorter after 1pm.

What are the opening times for Westminster Abbey?

The abbey is open from 9.30 am to 3.30 pm Monday to Friday and 9 am to 3 pm on Saturday It is closed to visitors on Sunday (but open for worship and prayer).

Can I get a guided tour?

You can, guided by a verger no less. You have to book these on the day, and it costs £10 (in addition to any entry charge). Check out the timings on their website.

What is the food and drink situation at Westminster Abbey?

Pretty good actually. Set over two floors, the Cellarium Cafe serves a seasonal menu of British and International cuisine, with some vegetarian and vegan options and a kids menu. It’s in the rooms where 14th century monks kept their food and drink stores. Now it sells cleansing juices. What a world. The Cellarium Cafe is open from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. It opens at 9am and closes at 5pm on Saturdays, and on Sundays at 10am and 4pm.

Is there a Westminster Abbey shop?

Yeah, of course there is. They sell a number of guide books, decorations for the home, calendars, spiritual objects and fine china. A series of prints make for particularly nice souvenirs of your visit to Westminster Abbey. They’re open Monday to Saturday 9.15am to 7pm, and Sundays 11am to 5.30pm.

How do I get to Westminster Abbey?

Underground is probably easiest, with Westminster (Jubilee, District & Circle Lines) and St James’s Park (District and Circle Lines) the closest stations. By National Rail, it’s London Victoria and London Waterloo that you want. They are both just shy of a mile away. For buses that stop in the vicinity, check the Transport for London website. Westminster Abbey FAQs. Done and done. Still on a landmark lookout? Take a cruise down the Thames.

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