Westminster Abbey is one of the most iconic churches in the world, certainly in England. It’s been the site of sixteen royal weddings, all the British coronations, and it’s the final resting place of scores of notable kings, queens, military heroes, and writers. A tour of Westminster Abbey is as awe-inspiring as it is informative. But like all good things, visiting takes a bit of planning so you don’t waste a lot of time.
Getting tickets to Westminster Abbey
As one of the most interesting places to visit in London, demand for tickets is high. Westminster Abbey is only open for visitors from Monday to Saturday, as services are held there on Sunday. Other special events may lead to the closure of the abbey to visitors, so it’s good to check the calendar online and verify what the opening times are for the dates of your visit. On the days it is open for visitors, entry times are from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, with late hours on Wednesdays until 6 pm. On Saturday, hours are from 9 am to 1 pm or 3 pm, depending on the time of year.
Luckily, you can save yourself a whole lot of trouble and waiting in line by prebooking your tickets in advance. Not only does it allow you to skip the line, it’s actually cheaper, likely because it reduces congestion at the entrance to the abbey. If you don’t prebuy tickets, you’ll be queuing with hundreds of other people and constantly getting skipped by people who have online tickets. Expect to wait at least an hour to get inside if you need to buy tickets.
Prebought tickets are for 2-hour timeslots throughout the day. You can enter at any time within your prebooked timeslot, either 9:30 am – 11:30 am, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm, or 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm. On Wednesdays, there is an additional 2-hour time slot. The church closes an hour after last entry, giving you just enough time to listen to the entire multimedia tour, which is included in the price of your ticket. If you want to be personally guided by one of the Westminster Abbey vergers, you’ll have to visit at a specific time when they are available and pay an extra £7 in addition to the entrance fee. These tours are 90 minutes long.
The multimedia guided tour of Westminster Abbey
When you enter the abbey, you’re given a multimedia guide which includes information in 14 different languages of all the main parts of the abbey. You can also download the guide on your phone in advance. The advantage of using the app on your phone is that it contains bonus information about the cloisters, the Chapter House, the Pyx Chamber, and the abbey’s private garden. These aren’t available on the devices you’re given inside, because they must be returned before you exit the main abbey building and exit into the cloisters.
The multimedia tour takes about an hour, not including the parts that are outside the abbey. You can, of course, skip parts you don’t find interesting and linger anywhere you want. So your visit to the abbey can take as long as you want it to. There are a lot of historical bits to cover, so it will take some time at each numbered area to get all the information. It is over a thousand years old, after all.
As part of the tour, you’ll learn about the main parts of the abbey like the nave, the quire, and the high altar. The tour includes highlights like the coronation chair, which has been in use for the same purpose since 1308, and the Poets’ Corner, which is where writers and poets like Dickens and Chaucer are buried, and others like Shakespeare are memorialized. You’ll also learn about some of the notable tombs and chapels in the abbey.
If you’re into history, you’ll be delighted to find that Westminster Abbey is the resting place of 17 famous monarchs, each with their own unique burial chamber. Some, like the Henry VII Lady Chapel with its beautifully intricate fan vault ceiling, are worth taking your time seeing. Other tombs you’ll see on the tour are the Tomb of Henry III, Elizabeth I and Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots.
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries
In addition to touring the main part of Westminster Abbey, you can go high above the Abbey floor to the newly opened galleries inside the 13th century triforium. This costs an additional £5 and you only have a 30-minute scheduled window to visit. At the galleries, you’ll be able access to several treasures like England’s oldest altarpiece and the marriage license for Prince William and Kate Middleton, which was also the last royal wedding held here.
You’ll also see the interior of Westminster Abbey from above, and on your way up the Weston Tower, you’ll be able to see the Palace of Westminster.
Visiting for services
If you’d like to attend religious services at Westminster Abbey, a choir service is held daily on weekdays at 5 pm along with regular services throughout the day on Sunday. These are free and open to all, but you can’t walk around the Abbey freely. You’d only be going to enjoy the service. No doubt this is a worthwhile way to see the abbey if you want to avoid the whole tourist song and dance. A schedule of religious services at Westminster Abbey can be found here.