Westminster Abbey is an active church where life revolves around Christian worship, just as it has done for centuries. Westminster Abbey is also where the royal coronations have taken place since 1066.
Westminster Abbey is also the burial place of many of the past Kings and Queens of England and Scotland, as well as many extremely famous men and women from the pages of history. Westminster Abbey has the aura of a pageant of British history, as you can see in the mosaics, stained glass, paintings, tombs, textiles and other beautiful artefacts on display. No wonder that Westminster Abbey welcomes one million visitors each year!
But in addition to the Abbey Church itself, visitors who explore the Abbey precincts can see St Margaret's Church – the original Church of the British Parliament, the Houses of Commons and Lords. If you wish to prolong your visit, why not tour the Great and Little Cloisters, the beautiful Chapter House and Museum and, weather permitting, College Garden.
If you feel in need of a rest after all this exploring, you can revive yourself with tea and coffee in the Abbey cafe, or buy some souvenirs at the Abbey Shop. You'll be glad to know that several tours are available, and there is an audio guide with a choice of eight languages. Alternately, you can take a tour led by a volunteer, which lasts for over an hour. These instructive and entertaining tours stay at the North Door and take you through the most notable features: the Shrines, the Cloisters and the Nave, the Royal Tombs, and of course, Poets' Corner!
The Abbey has special services and a full range of events scheduled including lectures and concerts. Opening hours are from 9.30-17.45 Monday to Saturday, as the church is open for worship only on Sundays. Westminster Abbey, SW1P 3PA Phone: 020 7222 5152
By contrast, St Paul's Cathedral is the fourth London cathedral to occupy its site. It was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and the construction was finished in 1710. A £ 40 million restoration scheme has been in place for some time now – and the new facilities will be a great way to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the cathedral in 2010!
For the moment, though, visitors can enjoy a program of regular worship and sermons. This is the Church of London, witness to famous events such as the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson, the laying to rest of the Duke of Wellington and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill have taken place across the centuries.
You may even see a service of remembrance or sometimes a royal commemoration or a magnificent wedding when you visit! Of course most visitors come to see the supreme dome of St Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest cathedral domes ever built, and the one which symbolises London's defiance in the face of Second World War fire bombs. It's an astounding 111.3 meters high.
St Paul's is built to the standard plan of a cross design, with the dome and the famous Whispering Gallery, high above the nave, at the dead center of the transept. Decorated with astounding mosaics, intricately carved stonework and amazing arches, St Paul's is a masterpiece of cathedral architecture.
You can enjoy a recorded audio tours at your leisure as you stroll around the building; they come in eight languages and last for about 45 minutes. If you wish to know more about the building, you can book a one hour Triborium Tour which takes in the library, the nave, the Trophy Room – featuring Wren's plans – and the famous geometric staircase.
General tours of the building are available at 11.00, 11.30, 13.30 and 14.00, and see the crypt – where you will certainly pick up the history of the cathedral. And if you need sustance, refreshments are available at two venues: the Refectory Restaurant and the Crypt Café.