Westminster Abbey


Westminster Abbey

Steeped in millennia of rich and often bloody history, Westminster Abbey is one of England's most iconic buildings. An abbey has stood here since the 7th century, although the current building mostly dates to the 1240s. It has hosted 38 coronations—beginning in 1066 with William the Conqueror—and no fewer than 16 royal weddings, the latest being that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. But be warned: there's only one way around the abbey, and it gets very crowded, so you’ll need to be alert to catch the highlights. Enter via the North Door; as you walk east toward the apse, you'll see the Coronation Chair at the foot of the Henry VII Chapel. It’s been used for nearly every coronation since Edward I’s in 1301, right up to Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1952. Farther along, the exquisite confection of the Henry VII's Lady Chapel is topped by a magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling. The tomb of Henry VII lies behind the altar. Elizabeth I is buried above her sister "Bloody" Mary I in the tomb just to the north, while her arch enemy, Mary Queen of Scots, rests in the tomb to the south. Continue through the South Ambulatory to the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, which contains the shrine to the pre-Norman king, who reigned from 1042 to 1066. Because of its great age, you must join the vergers' tours to be admitted to the chapel (£3; book at the admission desk), or attend Holy Communion within the shrine on Tuesday at 8 am. To the left, you'll find Poets' Corner. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet to be buried here in 1400, and other statues and memorials include those to William Shakespeare, D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, and Oscar Wilde. The medieval Chapter House is adorned with 14th-century frescoes and a magnificent 13th-century tiled floor, one of the finest in the country. Near the entrance is Britain's oldest door, dating from the 1050s. Continue back to the nave of the abbey. If you walk toward the West Entrance, you'll see a plaque to Franklin D. Roosevelt—one of the Abbey's very few tributes to a foreigner. The poppy-wreathed Grave of the Unknown Warrior commemorates soldiers who lost their lives in both world wars. Exact hours for the various parts of the abbey are frustratingly long and complicated, and can change daily, so it's important to check before setting out, particularly if you're visiting early or late in the day, or off-season. The full schedule is posted online daily (or you can call). Certain areas of the abbey are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users; however, you will get free entry for yourself and one other.


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