St Paul’s Cathedral is the mother of churches in London. The original church here was founded as early as 604AD when it was dedicated to Paul the Apostle, though the current structure dates back to the 1690s, designed by famed architect Christopher Wren. A lot of people visiting London only see the cathedral from the outside, or notice it in the city’s skyline, but it really is worth going inside and discovering more if you’re in the capital.
History of St Paul’s Cathedral
The St Paul’s you see today was designed and built in the 1600-1700s, arguably Christopher Wren’s masterpiece with the creation of the iconic domed roof. Interestingly, the design he produced was rejected twice as the church insisted on having the cathedral built in a cross shape.
Since its original build, the Cathedral has seen so much history. From the burial of military heroes like Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, to Martin Luther King speaking here in the 1960s, to Charles and Diana’s wedding, Churchill’s funeral and peace services after both World Wars. The Cathedral was also bombed during WW2, but has since been restored and cleaned to how it would have been, in all its magnificent glory.
The Cathedral is still very much a working church with services running daily. It costs at least £10 million a year to keep open, and doesn’t receive any government funding, so it’s entirely dependent on its congregation,visitors and donors to keep going.
What to see in St Paul’s Cathedral
There is so much to see inside St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s really easy to spend a couple of hours in the spectacular building, though there are a few highlights that can’t be missed.
1. The external building
No visit to St Paul’s can be started without a walk around the outside, taking in its amazing architecture. I think the best approach is across the Millennium Bridge which frames the dome perfectly. Then as you reach the cathedral, take in the beautiful steps at the front, and the gardens around the side to admire the dome in more detail.
2. The Nave
The first view that visitors see when they enter St Paul’s is the spectacular long central aisle that runs down the full length of the Cathedral. At the very west end of the nave are the Great West Doors, which stand nine metres tall and are used for special services and the arrival of visitors such as The Queen. Also just off the Nave you can find the monument to Wellington, one of Britain’s greatest statesmen and soldiers.
3. The Quire
The quire is at the east of the Cathedral’s cross and is where the choir and clergy normally sit during services. The quire was the first part of St Paul’s to be built and the choir stalls on both sides feature delicate carvings by Grinling Gibbons, whose work is seen in many royal palaces and great houses. The Bishop’s throne, or cathedra, sits in the quire. For me, this was the most grand and ornate part of the Cathedral.
4. The Dome
The dome is St Paul’s defining feature. Start by seeing it from underneath, by walking up the nave so you’re underneath it. It’s the second largest in Europe (behind St Stephen’s in Rome), and weighs around 65,000 tons! St Paul’s has a three-dome structure, allowing the inner dome to rise in proportion to the internal architecture and the outer dome to be much larger and impressive. It is this outer dome shell that is prominent on the London skyline. Between these two domes is a third; a brick cone which provide strength and supports the stone lantern above. From below you can see the beautiful painted ceiling and amazing light it lets in.
5. The Crypt
The Cathedral’s crypt is the largest in Western Europe. Its first ‘resident’ was Christoper Wren himself, and it’s now also home to other famous figures such as Wellington, Nelson, Fleming (who invented penicillin), and Florence Nightingale. Also down in the crypt is an exhibition about the Cathedral’s design, history and timeline as well as Oculus, a film that can take you on a tour around all the main sites in the building.
6. The Galleries
St Paul’s triple dome is made up of 3 galleries. The first is the Whispering Gallery which is famous because of its unique design that if you whisper on one side of the dome, you can hear it perfectly on the other. The Whispering Gallery is currently closed, following a second suicide in 2019 (there was a first in 2017) when a man jumped over the edge. It’s currently not known when it will reopen.
However, you can still visit the Stone and the Golden galleries which are 376 and 528 steps up respectively. The Golden Gallery provides amazing panoramic views out over the London skyline and is well worth the climb.
How to visit
If you’re staying in central London then St Paul’s will probably be accessible by foot from wherever you’re staying. If you’re staying a bit further out, then the nearest tube station is St Paul’s, which is on the central line.
It’s also really close to an overground station, City Thameslink, so if you’re coming from Cambridge, Luton, Peterborough, Brighton or Kent, you can get a direct train there. You can download the Thameslink map HERE.
Once you’ve arrived at the Cathedral, the entry price is expensive at £20 per person, but that does give you an annual pass so you can revisit if you want to. It also entitles you to an audio guide, or to join a guided tour around the cathedral.
It’s also worth noting that the Stone and Golden Galleries are currently only open on Saturdays or during school holidays, so if you want to climb up in to the dome check the website ahead of visiting to ensure everything is open.
Thanks so much for reading. Would you like to visit St Paul’s Cathedral one day? I thought it was an absolutely amazing building, definitely worth a place on anyone’s list when visiting London. If you want to see how it can fit in to a London itinerary, please also check out my London for first timer’s post HERE.