Its glowing blue dome can be seen for miles, and it's also been a focal point for many important historical events in London; but once you tour the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral, you'll see why it has such an important place in London's history.
Away from the ritz and glitz of London's West End, St. Paul's Cathedral and its surrounding streets feel as if they've been trapped in time. Not only is St. Paul's perched on the highest point of the City of London, it's also the second largest church building in the UK, and one of the oldest landmarks in London.
St. Paul's Cathedral was built on the former location of a church, which had dated back to 604 AD. Legend has it that King Ethelbert of Kent built this wooden church in dedication to the apostle Paul, but the church suffered massive damage in two separate fires, as well as in The Great Fire of London in 1666. The Cathedral as it is seen today was built between 1675 and 1710, and was designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren (who was influenced by Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome).
Throughout its history, St. Paul's has served as a key location for several important events in British history, such as the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981, and the funerals of Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill, the Duke of Wellington and Margaret Thatcher.
St. Paul's Cathedral Highlights
From chapels and monuments, to religious art, statues and galleries, it seems like every nook and cranny of St. Paul's offers some kind of surprise or historical delight any visitor will appreciate.
Upon entering, visitors will be greeted with the eight scenes of life of St. Paul (which were painted by Thornhill), as well as the Nave (the large, ceremonial and public space which also contains the Great West Door). At the northern section of the aisle stands the famous Duke of Wellington monument, as well as a group of statues representing valor, cowardice, truth and falsehood.
No visit to St. Paul's Cathedral would be complete without walking up the 560 steps to the top of the Dome and the Whispering Gallery. This massive circular enclosure provides visitors with magnificent views of the interior of the Cathedral from up above, and it is said that even the slightest whisper can be heard throughout the cathedral thanks to the Gallery's impressive acoustics.
If you have the stamina, you can also walk a further 117 steps to view the Stone Gallery, and another 166 steps for the Golden Gallery.
Another famous area inside St. Paul's Cathedral would be the crypt, which is located on the bottom floor. Here you will see the final resting places of several notable people in London's history, such as the tombs of The Duke of Wellington, Christopher Wren, and Admiral Nelson, just to name a few.
Visitors can also visit Ocolus inside a theatre in the crypt, which provides visitors with a 270-degree film experience highlighting the extensive history of St. Paul’s Cathedral. During the film viewers will learn about everything from The Great Fire of London to the Blitz, as well as more information on the architectural design of the cathedral.
There are also several chapels located within St. Paul's Cathedral such as the All Soul’s Chapel (dedicated to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener), and St Dunstan’s Chapel (which is reserved only for private prayer). There is also a chapel dedicated to St. Michael and St. George, the Middlesex Chapel, and the American Memorial Chapel (commemorating the 28,000 Americans who were killed in Britain during World War II).
- It is highly recommended you check out the official website beforehand so you can schedule your visit according to certain events and performances. There is a choral evensong which takes place at 5 p.m. on weekdays which shouldn't be missed by any tourist in London.
- Because of St. Paul's famous acoustics, it may be a good idea to visit the cathedral when it is quiet, so try to arrive as close to the opening times as possible in order to avoid crowds and long queues. That way if you happen to visit the cathedral during a choir practice or organ recital, you can enjoy the sounds of the voices and organs as they travel throughout the cathedral.
- IIf you don't feel like going inside the cathedral, try to at least stand outside of it on a Sunday so you can see the cathedral's weekly ringing of the bells.