London’s Most Beautiful Churches and Cathedrals
London, just as any other capital, is constantly and rapidly changing. But there is something that still remains the same. The churches and cathedrals in London, by which you can study the history of the British capital and also England itself, make its landscape unforgettable. Each cathedral and church have an interesting story. Churches in London witnessed large-scale events that radically affected the process of formation of London and the country, in general. There are more than a thousand churches in London. Almost all of them are free to visit.
In this article HeyTripster has listed the Most Beautiful Churches and Cathedrals in London.
1. St Paul’s Cathedral
There is no need to explain why St Paul’s Cathedral is the first up on this list. St. Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London, one of the most important and recognizable attractions of London enthralling all who see it. It is the second-largest church building in the country after Liverpool Cathedral, in terms of area. The building is 111 meters high and from the moment of its construction until 1962, St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London.
Today’s cathedral is already the fifth building. The original wooden church was founded in 604 and served until 675 when it was destroyed by fire. The second building was made of stone in 685, but unfortunately, it was brutally destroyed by the Vikings in 961. The third building, which was also built of stone, stood until a major fire in 1087. The Fourth building was seriously damaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666. And despite the fact that it was possible to restore it, it was decided to demolish the remains and rebuild a new stone church, the fifth in a row, that was designed by the famous architect Christopher Wren. On October 20, 1708, the construction was finished. Wren died in 1723 and was buried inside the cathedral. The list of the legendary personalities buried under the cathedral’s vaults is impressive: Admiral Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, and Lady Margaret Thatcher. Many events of a national scale, such as the wedding of Prince Charles of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, celebrations of the Diamond Jubilees (60th anniversary of the accession) of Queen Victoria (in 1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (in 2012) took place in the cathedral.
Unique beauty of the domes and spires, extraordinary grace of columns, and luxuriousness of the interiors amaze visitors of this magnificent architectural structure.
The cathedral is located on the highest point in London, but because of the building’s density, it is not quite visible. However, if you climb to the observation deck, located on the dome of the cathedral, then you will see the best views of London.
Note: Organ concerts are often held on Sundays, and the organ itself has one of the best sounds in the world.
Note: The Whispering Gallery is one of three galleries in the cathedral. It runs around the interior of the Dome. The construction of the Whispering Gallery lets you hear a whisper made against the walls on the opposite side of the dome.
For opening hours check their official website.
St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in London. If you are interested in viewing all of them, read our London’s Most Famous Landmarks list, that HeyTripster has designed especially for you.
2. Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, it is located in the city of Westminster. Due to the similarity of names, it is sometimes confused with Westminster Abbey, coronation church of the British royal family.
Westminster Cathedral, which is the main Catholic church in England is also an important architectural landmark. The church was built in neo-Byzantine style in 1895-1903 by John Francis Bentley. Red brick and white Portland stone were used in the construction of the cathedral; the alternation of these two materials gave it a famous “striped” appearance.
More than one hundred different types of marble were used for the construction of Westminster Cathedral, the beauty of which is unparalleled. The interior of the cathedral captivates its visitors. The central nave has a width of 52 meters and a capacity of more than 1000 seats, which makes it the largest in England. The structural nave columns are made of dark green marble.
The ceiling over the high altar is decorated with mosaic, which is very rare for English churches. Another sight of the cathedral is a unique medieval statue of the Madonna and Child. Most experts agree that the image was carved in the 15th century.
When approaching Westminster Cathedral, first you will notice an 87-meter eye-catching bell tower, which is crowned with a large cross. The tower is located near the main building, from the top of the tower you can admire astonishing views of London. For the convenience of visitors, there is a lift inside the bell tower.
Incredible acoustics is another important feature of the cathedral, so you should come here to listen to the choir.
The cathedral is open to the public at all times. There is also no entrance fee
3. Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Cathedral is the second-largest example of English Gothic in London after Westminster Abbey. It is still unknown how old Southwark Cathedral actually is and when was the first church built – in the 7th or in the 9th century. However, the cathedral was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (“Book of the End of the World”) – in 1086. Heresy trials were held here during the reign of Mary Tudor, known as Bloody Mary. The structure was designated as a cathedral only at the beginning of the 20th century, before that it had the status of a parish church.
The construction of the building that we can see now lasted two centuries, between 1220 and 1420. It is the first Gothic church in London. Construction was delayed as the cathedral was destroyed twice due to fires.
The name of Shakespeare is closely associated with Southwark Cathedral. There were three theaters located not far from the cathedral, including the Globe Theater founded by Shakespeare. The cathedral became a parish church for many actors living near the theater and for William Shakespeare too. And one of the large stained glasses inside the cathedral is dedicated to Shakespeare’s plays. There is also a memorial to an English brilliant playwright inside the cathedral. William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, is buried in the cathedral. Several other playwrights, actors, and scientists are also buried here. That is because the cathedral was a center of education for many centuries.
In addition, John Harvard, the founder of the first American university, was baptized here.
The Southwark Cathedral is built in the form of a Latin cross, which is the plan of most medieval Gothic churches. A tower with a spire and a clock rises at the intersection of the lines of the cross. The bell tower has 13 bells. The weight of the largest one is 2,5 tons. Southwark Cathedral hosts a huge sculpture exhibition.
It is also worth visiting the cathedral in order to hear the sound of the famous choir and the magnificent organ of the late 19th century. The young choir of Merbecke was established in 2004. For the details and tickets, check the official website of the cathedral.
When visiting, you should keep in mind that it is forbidden to walk around the cathedral during the services. Services are held daily in the morning, so it is better to plan your visit in the afternoon. Sunday services run almost all day.
4. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is the modern unofficial name of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster, one of the most important religious buildings in Great Britain. The church here was built in the 7th century, it was rebuilt and expanded many times, and the construction was finally completed only in 1745. Initially, it was a whole complex of monastic buildings and churches, which became a traditional place for the coronation and burial of English, and later British monarchs in the 11th century. The walls of the abbey have also seen many royal weddings, including the recent wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The abbey is one of the most visited attractions in the world.
The main part of the work of translating the Bible into English was carried out within the walls of this remarkable example of early English Gothic architecture. As the monastery complex was the third most important center of education in the country for many centuries.
Two towers, beautiful stained glass, and numerous arches form the recognizable silhouette of the abbey. But the church is famous not only for its grandiose decoration. The Westminster Abbey is the British pantheon, being buried here is the highest honor for a British person. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, poets Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Burns, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, politician Neville Chamberlain, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Martin Luther King Jr are buried in the abbey.
There are about 3,000 tombstones in total.
The graves of great English writers can be found in -Poets’ Corner.
The cathedral is open as a museum for tourists every day except Sunday when services are held. We highly recommend buying entrance tickets in advance online. The entrance is absolutely free on Sunday.
5. St Martin-in-the-Fields
St Martin-in-the-Field is the largest and the most parish church in England. The royal family is also its parishioner.
If you want to discover London’s rich royal heritage, spend a Royal Day with our HeyTripster trip plan.
The exact date of the construction of St Martin-in-the-Fields is not known. However, a church in honor of St. Martin of Tours was first mentioned in 1322.
The fact that the church was literally located in the fields, which now became the site of Trafalgar Square, reflected in its name.
Although the church has a lot of gold and large chandeliers in its interior, the decoration looks elegant and filled with discreet luxury.
There is a hidden café located in the crypt of the church. It has been welcoming tourists and locals for 30 years.
Excellent chamber orchestra and wonderful choir of the church perform not only church hymns, but even record soundtracks for films. You may be surprised but the UEFA Champions League anthem was recorded with their participation.
6. St Mary-le-Bow
The building of St Mary-le-Bow was built after the Great Fire by Christopher Wren, who, as was already mentioned above, was also an architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, in 1671-1673. At that time the church was known as “St Mary de Arcubus”.
The final appearance of the church was reached when the freemason Thomas Cartwright completed work on the 68-meter spire for the bell tower in 1680. On the top of the spire, they didn’t place a cross, but a weather vane in the form of a dragon. The name of the church remained the same, only the Latin word “arcubus” was replaced by the English “bow”.
The building was partially damaged during World War II, it was only restored in 1964.
The church is famous for its bell ringing. And only people living within earshot of these Bow Bells are considered to be “Cockney”