Westminster Abbey: FAQs

By Matthew Pearson

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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The Best London Activity Bars

The Best London Activity Bars including... A mega mini-golf place A place revolutionising pub darts A footy fantasy land And many more Are you a 17 year old looking for a venue to host the big One Eight? A manager attempting to build on the fragile morale of your Sales Team following a string of unexpected redundancies? Are you looking to avoid an uncomfortable conversation with a soon to be visiting relative? Are you at your most charming first date best when absolutely battering him at bowling? Do you really really like ping pong? Are you that guy who really likes ping pong? Well, this is a list for you. Swingers The first, but not the last cheekily named activity bar on this list, Swingers is an indoor crazy golf club with two London locations. Each venue boasts two 9-hole courses to choose from, with holes ranging from the simple to the insanely difficult. Drinks-wise, you’ve got a whole host of classic and soon-to-be classic cocktails to choose from. And Swingers have left the food options in the hands of the pros, with Patty&Bun burgers and Breddos tacos among the superb dining options available. You can enjoy walk-up rounds of crazy golf every day from midday to 6pm. If you’re looking to come later, you’re going to need to book in advance. The City and West End [caption id="attachment_4739" align="alignnone" width="1000"] pizzapilgrims.co.uk[/caption] Flight Club Isn’t there a dart board in most pubs, you ask? Well, yes, often there is. But Flight Club is a London bar that focuses on what they call Social Darts. It’s all the fun of pub darts, but without the sense that you’re annoying the locals who think they own the oche. And Flight Club have brought tech into the darts arena with a series of fun darts games that appeal to pros and beginners alike. See, Flight Club is more than just a punny name. Grab a sharing pizza served on a paddle while you’re there, or choose a few dishes off their large Mini Plates menu. Kids can come in before 5pm if you’re eating, but the darts areas are solely for the over 18s. Bloomsbury, Islington, Shoreditch and Victoria [caption id="attachment_4740" align="alignnone" width="1000"] flightclubdarts.com[/caption] Bounce Boing. One of the top London activity bars since it opened in 2012, Bounce is all about ping pong. Their venues are stylishly designed in dark blues and neon...the perfect lighting for the hypnotic back and forth of a nail biting rally. They’ve got a tech-embracing game called Wonderball to try out alongside the trad game. They do digital (and non-digital) beer pong at Bounce now too. The rooms are expertly laid out for engrossing games. Don’t worry: other people’s balls aren’t always getting in your way or hitting you in the face. When it comes to the bar, refined and ballsy new cocktails are the show stealers, but Bounce pride themselves on their craft beer selection and wine menu too. Farringdon and Old Street [caption id="attachment_4741" align="alignnone" width="1000"] bouncepingpong.com[/caption] Bar Kick A classic of the genre, and one of the leading London activity bars. Bar Kick is the place to come if you like football minus the running around. It’s the place to come to see finally who wins, The Reds or The Blues. They’ve got a huge number of table football tables here, all well-maintained (no more stuck goalkeepers) and ready to go. It’s a quid per game, with 11 balls in each game. So whether it’s an 11-0 thrashing or a 6-5 nail-biter, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. Reserve in advance to make sure you’ve got a table during peak hours. Peak hours are pretty much whenever they’ve got the football on. See, as you’d expect, Bar Kick is a great place to watch live sports, with massive screens on each floor. There’s a good selection of bar meals to choose from too, including wrap-your-own chicken shawarma and big old burgers. They’re known for their selection of international beers too. Shoreditch [caption id="attachment_4743" align="alignnone" width="1000"] @WhatsOnBarKick[/caption] Smoky Barrels, Mac & Wild When it comes to London activity bars, Mac & Wild has brought something new: a virtual shooting range. The company have built up a reputation for their showcasing of Scottish produce. They run steakhouses in London and Scotland, with wild venison, beef, seafood and lots of whisky on the menu. But now they’ve added the Smoky Barrels Virtual Hunting & Bar on the lower ground floor of their Devonshire Square address. The three separate hunting screens are kitted out with two replica shotguns each, so you can hunt in pairs if you like. It’s state-of-the-art stuff, and a million miles away from the Scottish Highland scene shown on screen. But to help you get into the experience, there’s a dressing up box filled with shooting attire and tweed. You can even pick what you’ll be shooting, with birds, deer, boar and bears all on the digital menu. Nothing beats the satisfaction of digitally eating something you have digitally shot yourself. The City [caption id="attachment_4744" align="alignnone" width="1000"] smokybarrels.com[/caption] All Star Lanes A place that goes all-in on all-American swagger and style, All Star Lanes is a king in the realm of London activity bars. Their locations are all designed to be fun, kitsch places to spend an evening with friends or an afternoon out with family. Rather than going to some grim industrial park out in the sticks, All Star Lanes invite you to bowl at their trendy city-centre venues, enjoying game after game of 10 pin action on their lanes. And, when you’ve wiped the floor with all challengers, there’s plenty of good grub to get tucked into. They have a fantastic menu of English pub classics. Just kidding, it’s USA dinner fare from start to finish. And very good it is too. They’re very popular with groups, parties, work-dos and the rest. You can book private rooms and rent out areas for big events. They only have a finite number of lanes, and some of their venues are pretty small, so they do tend to get booked up during peak times. Make sure you book ahead so you haven’t brought your custom-made ball and put on your special glove for nothing. Brick Lane, Holborn, Westfield Stratford City and Westfield White City [caption id="attachment_4745" align="alignnone" width="1000"] allstarlanes.co.uk[/caption] So now you know where to find some of London's newest activity bars. Check out some of the capital's oldest pubs here.
Matthew Pearson
Hampton Court Palace.

Windsor Castle Vs Hampton Court Palace

With just a shade under 2,000 years of royal history between them, it’s little wonder that Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace are among the UK’s most popular tourist attractions, with millions of visitors flocking to these palatial piles every year. But how do these titans of British tourism measure up? Which is the world’s largest occupied castle? Which has the most reported hauntings? And which is home to the oldest (and largest) grapevine on the planet? We got up close and personal with these regal residences to find out. Windsor Castle Vs Hampton Court Palace: A Brief History Built in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest and pushing 1,200 years old, Windsor Castle is the older sibling by some margin. It’s remained a favorite royal residence since its 11th-century iteration as a motte-and-bailey fortress under William the Conqueror. Extensive expansion under (primarily) Henry III and Edward III in the 13th and 14th centuries formed the blueprint for the palace today, with Charles II’s post-Reformation renovations lending much of the baroque splendor for which the castle is best known. A favorite weekend retreat of the late Queen Elizabeth II for much of her long life, Windsor remains the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle to this day, with great swathes of its extensive grounds, state rooms and historic buildings open to the public. Quirky Windsor Castle fact: it takes around 16 hours to turn all of the castle’s 450-or-so clocks backwards and forwards for daylight saving. Hampton Court Palace is most closely associated with Henry VIII, who in turn is associated with epic medieval banqueting, obesity, gout and, of course, a guillotine-heavy approach to marital separation. In spite of an, um, somewhat bloody history, today the palace looks every bit the fairytale castle, all ornamental brick chimneys and crenelated Tudor towers. It wasn’t always this peaceful though. In fact, back in Henry’s day, it was anything but. Built by Henry specifically for the purpose of all-day feasting (with masons often forced to work through the night by candlelight to complete it), the Great Hall was the scene of many a bacchanalian food orgy. The palace was also where Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour died following childbirth and where Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, was confined prior to her beheading on charges of adultery. The palace was significantly remodeled by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th Century, under the House of Stuart. These alterations erased much of the original Tudor look and replaced it with the fine Palace of Versailles-inspired architecture that still defines this epic edifice to this day. Quirky Hampton Court Palace fact: there have been multiple reported sightings of Catherine Howard’s screaming ghost running along the palace’s aptly-named Haunted Corridor. What to see and do at Windsor Castle You’ll need at least a half day to fully immerse yourself in Windsor Castle’s many riches. Here are some of our favorite must-sees... The Round Tower Originally built by Henry II way back in 1170, the castle keep has been remodeled countless times down the centuries. It’s arguably best viewed from the outside, but you can also take guided tours up the interior staircase to enjoy sweeping views across the Thames Valley to the London skyline. The State Apartments Marvel at the gratuitous gilded opulence of these hallowed halls and ogle the ostentatious displays of unimaginable wealth within! Chief among the riches to be found in the regal State Apartments are masterpieces by Rubens, Holbein and Brueghel, as well as an extraordinary triple portrait of Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck that would make even the most narcissistic selfie-taker blush. St George’s Chapel The final resting place of some 11 kings and queens (including the late Elizabeth II), this grand medieval Gothic confection is one of Windsor Castle’s most photogenic buildings. No wonder that many royals – like Harry and Meghan – have chosen to tie the knot here. Queen Mary's Dolls' House Experience life in miniature inside what might just be the planet’s most famous (and largest) doll’s house. Built for Queen Mary in the first half of the 1920s, it contains tiny pieces fit for a queen from some of the top artists of the day: we’re talking miniature books, paintings, flower vases, wine bottles, vehicles and just about every other Georgian household item you can imagine. There’s even running water, electricity, working elevators and an intricate landscaped garden designed by celebrated horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. Afternoon entry to Windsor Castle is included with the London Pass®. What to see and do at Hampton Court Palace Hampton Court Palace differs from Windsor Castle primarily through imaginative use of its grounds, partly due to Henry VIII’s penchant for outdoor sporting pursuits (and wine). Here are some of the highlights, both inside and out... Hampton Court Gardens Some 60 acres of gardens comprise a deer park and a recreation of William III’s Privy Garden as well as some of the estate’s most popular attractions. We’re talking the Great Vine, only the world’s oldest grapevine. At over 250 years old, it's now over six feet thick and still produces a small amount of fruit to this day. Then there’s the palace maze: half a mile of paths hemmed in by towering yew tree hedges way too tall to see over, where courtiers have been getting lost since 1690. Good luck in there! The Great Hall Don’t miss England's most impressive medieval hall, which once rang to the sound of raucous all-day feasts and money-can’t-buy entertainment, even hosting William Shakespeare and his company in 1603. From here, peer into the Haunted Gallery where you might just encounter the screaming ghost of one Catherine Howard. Tudor Kitchens Discover how the below-stairs staff lived in these cavernous kitchens that once catered for up to 600 greedy aristos not once but TWICE daily during the Great Hall’s banqueting heyday. The Astronomical Clock Made for Henry VIII in 1540, this 15-foot-high mechanical marvel in the suitably named Clock Court is not to be missed. Not only does it tell the time, you can also check what month it is, which sign of the zodiac we’re currently in and how many days have passed since the last new moon. Handy. The Chapel Royal Within this extraordinary example of baroque architecture, beneath its fine Tudor timber ceiling, is where, in 1540, Archbishop Canmer presented Henry VIII with the letter accusing Catherine Howard of marital indiscretions. And the rest, as they say, is history. Entry to Hampton Court Palace is included with The London Pass®. Fast facts: Windsor Castle Tickets Entry tickets are available direct via the official website. Alternatively, The London Pass® includes entry to Windsor Castle as well as many more London attractions, including the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and London Zoo. Opening Hours Open 1 March-31 October daily from 10AM to 4PM (closes 5.15PM), and1 November-28 February from 10AM to 3PM (closes 4.15PM). Getting There Trains from London serve nearby Windsor & Eton Central and Windsor & Eton Riverside stations. The Green Line 702 coach service has regular daily departures from near Victoria Station in central London. Fast facts: Hampton Court Palace Tickets Entry tickets are available direct via the official website. Alternatively, The London Pass® includes entry to Hampton Court Palace as well as many more London attractions, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Opening Hours Open from 10AM to 5.30PM most days (last entry 4.30PM), with some seasonal variation. Check the official website for the latest opening dates. Getting There Train services run from London Waterloo Station every 30 minutes, calling at Vauxhall, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Wimbledon, Raynes Park, New Maldon, Berrylands, Surbiton, Thames Ditton and Hampton Court. Bus services also operate from Richmond and Kingston.
Stuart Bak

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