st pauls cathedral london

The Ultimate Guide to St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is easily one of the most recognisable landmarks on the London skyline, as the historic church and its iconic dome rise high in the centre of the city.

The cathedral has been the focus of Christianity in London since the 6th century AD. However, St Paul’s went through many different designs and suffered destruction and fires before the dramatic church you see today, which was built by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

St Paul’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London. While it’s very much a functioning, working Anglican church, it’s also become one of the capital’s most important tourist attractions and sees millions of visitors every year.

That means that the church can get busy, but with our ultimate guide to St Paul’s Cathedral you’ll be equipped with the best insider tips and tricks to beat the crowds. Discover the best times to visit, how to buy tickets, and you might even learn a few quirky pieces of history, too.

st pauls cathedral

Where Is St Paul’s Cathedral?

St Paul’s Cathedral is located in the City of London, in the centre of the capital. The cathedral is built on Ludgate Hill, one of London’s most prominent hilltops. Given its central location, St Paul’s is easy to travel to.

Driving in the city or even taking a taxi is inadvisable, but public transport to St Paul’s is convenient, although, in peak times both the underground and buses can be busy. The nearest tube station is St Paul’s, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral. As soon as you exit the station, you’ll quickly spot the dome towering over the surrounding buildings. St Paul’s tube stop is found on the Central Line, in Zone 1.

The nearest train station is the City Thameslink Railway Station, which is just a short stroll away and has several entrances around Ludgate Hill. There are services across the city and further afield to places such as Gatwick and Luton Airports.

There are also plenty of nearby bus stops giving quick access to the cathedral. You can also join a classic Hop on Hop off sightseeing tour and jump off by St Paul’s, before exploring the rest of London’s best attractions too.

The Best Time to Visit St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is open all year round, although sightseeing is restricted during important religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas. Tourists are allowed to visit the cathedral from Monday through to Saturday. However on Sundays, the cathedral is only open to worshippers and sightseeing is not permitted.

Throughout the day, there are several services held for worshippers within the cathedral, and there are different special events held in the evenings too, such as choir recitals or organ performances. You can check the St Paul’s Cathedral website for details of any upcoming events.

The cathedral is open to visitors from 8.30am, with the last entrance being allowed at 4.00pm. The first service for worshippers is the morning prayer, which is held at 7.30am each day.

If you can, then you’ll want to get here early. Arrive after the first prayer to beat the crowds, and to give you maximum time to explore before any large coach tours might arrive later in the day.

If you arrive late in the day and find that there’s a large queue, you might risk being turned away if you’re still waiting once the last entrance time has passed, so give yourself plenty of time if you plan on visiting in the afternoon.

In summer when London is in the middle of its peak tourism season, the cathedral can be particularly busy, but it does stay open for an hour longer, with last entrance moved back to 5.00pm.

london st pauls

How Much Does It Cost to Visit St Paul’s Cathedral?

While worshippers may join services in the cathedral for free, if you really want to explore everything within St Paul’s, you’ll need to purchase a sightseeing ticket. This will give you access to many different areas during opening times.

Tickets can be purchased on the door or in advance online. It’s recommended to buy your ticket online if you can, as you get a small discount and are given fast track entrance into the cathedral, allowing you to skip the worst of the queues.

As of spring 2019, adults pay £17 online or £20 on the door. A child’s ticket costs £7.20 online or £8.50 on the door. If you are a family, then there are different family tickets on offer that can help you to save money, while there are also special rates for students and senior citizens.

A Brief History of St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the capital’s oldest places of religious worship, although throughout history several different buildings have stood on this hilltop in the centre of the City of London.

For centuries, St Paul’s was the tallest building in London, and its dramatic dome and spires could be seen rising high above the skyline from almost anywhere in the city. It was only in 1967 when modern skyscrapers began to become a feature of London, that other buildings took over the cathedral in terms of height.

It’s thought that there may have been a Roman temple on the same hilltop where the cathedral now stands, although evidence for this is shaky. What is known is that the first Christian church was built on Ludgate Hill in 604 AD. This church was dedicated to St Paul the Apostle. Ever since, subsequent churches or cathedrals in this spot have always been dedicated to this important Christian figure.

When the Normans conquered England, they built a new, much grander cathedral on the hill, which is generally known as Old St Paul’s. Many fires would cause damage and the need for rebuilding and redesign throughout the cathedral’s life, before it was burnt to the ground in 1666.

The architect Sir Christopher Wren designed the elaborate cathedral you see today, with the first service in the new St Paul’s held three decades after the fire, in 1697.

st pauls

Facts About St Paul’s

  • Until 1967, St Paul’s was the tallest building in London, measuring up to 111 metres in height.
  • St Paul’s is an Anglican Cathedral and the seat of the City of London’s Bishopric.
  • Many important historical characters have had their funerals held here, including the likes of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill, as well as the cathedral’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral is designed in the shape of a cross, and it’s the second largest religious centre in the United Kingdom and the largest in London.

What to See at St Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral Floor

When you first step through the entrance of St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll be instantly mesmerised by the beautiful sight of the cathedral floor. This is the main corridor of the cathedral, where you’ll find pews, ornate sculptures and intricate artwork. At the far end, there’s a lavish altar where services are conducted.

Look up from ground level and you’ll be able to see spectacular designs on the ceiling and the dome rising up above the cathedral, which is supported from below by huge, stone pillars.

The High Altar

St Paul’s high altar is the main focus of many religious ceremonies in the cathedral. Walk along the floor, under the dome, and continue past the choir and you’ll find the intricate designs of the altar at the far end of the cathedral.

While the cathedral has had many different altars throughout its history with many being very humble, wooden tables, the current high altar gleams and shimmers in gold. The altar dates only to 1958, as the previous one was destroyed by German bombing during World War II.

The Dome

The dome is the most iconic part of the cathedral’s design, and this massive structure turned St Paul’s into a dramatic feature of the London skyline. The dome is over 80 metres tall and 30 metres wide, and weighs over 60,000 tonnes, while it consists of both an inner and outer component.

The inner dome can even be climbed, with a total of 528 steps leading to the top. Along the way, you’ll pass through the three famous galleries within the dome, the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery. There are platforms built on the outer dome that you can access through the galleries, and that offer exceptional views over the rest of London.

london st pauls cathedral

The Whispering Gallery

The Whispering Gallery is the first gallery that you’ll encounter on your climb to the top of the dome.

You’ll need to tackle 259 steps from the cathedral floor to reach the gallery, which is named for its marvellous acoustics that allow you to hear even the faintest of whispers from afar.

The Whispering Gallery offers great views of the floor below and is one of the most famous parts of the cathedral.

The Stone Gallery

Above the Whispering Gallery, more steps lead upwards to the Stone Gallery. 378 steps lead from the cathedral floor to this gallery, where you’ll find a beautiful terrace.

That terrace extends around the exterior of the dome, and you’ll be treated to a 360-degree view if you walk around the circumference.

The Golden Gallery

The Golden Gallery is found at the top of the dome. Although it’s the smallest of the three major galleries, it’s arguably the most spectacular.

This gallery offers the best view out over London, as you’ll be atop the highest point in the cathedral, and will have the best panorama of the city.

The Crypt

After heading high up to the top of the dome, on your return to ground level it’s time to go below the cathedral. St Paul’s was designed with a large crypt beneath its floor, and it’s here that you’ll find the grave of Sir Christopher Wren, who made those designs as the cathedral’s architect.

This is the largest cathedral crypt in Europe, and it’s the resting place of some of Britain’s most well-known and important historical figures including Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

Oculus

In the crypt, you can find one of the latest additions to St Paul’s Cathedral. The Oculus is a unique multimedia experience that allows you to see first-hand the development and history of the cathedral through the ages.

On a 270º large television screen, you can watch the history of St Paul’s unfold before you. You’ll be transported from the early churches to the great fire of 1666, before seeing Sir Christopher Wren’s design and construction of the cathedral you see today, and its iconic survival and symbolism during the Blitz in World War II.

cathedral st pauls

Insider Tips When Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral

  • Arrive early to beat the crowds, and purchase your ticket online to not only save money but to skip the queues with fast track entrance to St Paul’s.
  • Join a Hop on Hop off Bus Tour if you are pressed for time in London, and want to see all the best sights, quickly. St Paul’s Cathedral will always be a stop, and you’ll learn some interesting history while you’re on the bus.
  • If you don’t fancy paying the entrance price, then you can join a service in the cathedral, but you won’t have access to all the other, unique areas in St Paul’s.
  • For a totally free and spectacular view of St Paul’s and the iconic dome from the outside, then head to the nearby shopping centre at One New Change, where you can find a rooftop terrace that’s open to the public and that offers an unrivalled panoramic of the cathedral.
  • Audio tours in a variety of different languages are included in the ticket price. Just remember to pick up your audio guide at the entrance.
  • Free tours are also provided throughout the day by knowledgeable staff, but you’ll need to book on when you arrive, as places are always limited.

As London specialists, we offer a superb range of London tours, many of which involve a trip to iconic St Paul’s Cathedral. We visit the cathedral early to avoid large crowds and offer fast-track entry. To find out more or to book your London tour, contact Premium Tours today.

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