What to see at St Paul's Cathedral?

What to see at St Paul's Cathedral?

Cathedral of the Diocese of London of the Church of England, St Paul's Cathedral is the most important religious building in London and the second largest cathedral in the world (111 meters high) - behind St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Arranged in the form of a Latin cross, with an architectural style that is both classical and baroque *, it is the masterpiece of the famous English architect Christopher Wren, great builder of several monuments of London like the Kensington Palace.

It is - with the Tower of London - one of the oldest monuments in London and one of the most visited places of worship in the capital (with Westminster Abbey), with more than 2 million visitors per year.

* According to Christopher Wren, the Baroque style symbolizes the revival of Anglicanism - as opposed to the Gothic style used in Catholic cathedrals.

History of St Paul's Cathedral

From the 7th century until the end of the 17th century, the hills of Ludgate Hill were home to several religious shrines - including four cathedrals - before today's St. Paul's Cathedral.

The Celts first erected there a dolmen, then the Romans a Greek temple, dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the hunt.

The first 3 cathedrals

The temple was then replaced - in 604 - by the oldest church in England, built in wood (by Christian missionaries sent by the Pope); then rebuilt in stone in 685, following a first fire.

In the 9th century, it was looted and destroyed by Viking invaders.

It was rebuilt but again affected by fires in 962, 1087 and 1136 (fire which caused the collapse of its still wooden roof).

The 4th cathedral: the "Old Saint-Paul"

In 1300, the "Old Saint-Paul” - rebuilt for the fourth time by King William the Roux - was the third longest church in Europe with its 178 meters long and 30 meters wide (90 meters at the level of the transept). An arrow crowned the church at an altitude of 149 meters.

In 1534, Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and created Anglicanism. The property of the church was confiscated by the monarchy and left abandoned. It was transformed into a market for meat, fish, bread, beers, vegetables, etc.

In 1561, the church spire was struck by lightning. Charles I began to restore it in 1630.

But in 1642, the English revolution broke out and Oliver Cromwell (English soldier and politician) transformed the church into a stable. The stained glass windows, statues and woodwork still in place were destroyed.

The 5th cathedral: St Paul's Cathedral

In 1666, the Great Fire of London reduced the building to ashes. The construction of St Paul's Cathedral as we know it today began in 1675 and was completed in 1710.

In the early 1940s, during the Blitz during World War II, the German air force dropped a detonation bomb on the grounds of the religious building, fortunately it could be moved to outside the cathedral and caused no major damage. This event was considered by Anglican Londoners as a miracle, it thus became a true symbol of hope!

It has since been the site of important celebrations such as the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1877, the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, famous couple of the British monarchy, in 1981.

St Paul's Cathedral has also served as a setting for the greatest British films: Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

Visit St Paul's Cathedral

Tickets for St. Paul's Cathedral

From 19.83€ (or £17)

From £17 (or 19.83€)

St Paul's Cathedral is home to many works of art: including sculptures by Grinling Gibbons (one of England's most skillful woodcarvers - who worked in the greatest palaces and mansions of the United Kingdom) and the incredible frescoes of its dome. The cathedral itself has inspired many contemporary artists such as Antony Gormley, Bill Viola, Rebecca Horn or Yoko Ono.

Dedicated to Saint Paul, it is smaller than the old medieval cathedral, but more open and accessible to all the faithful.

It is organized on three levels: the crypt (in the basements), the ground floor and the galleries (in height).

The ground floor includes:

  • the nave
  • the dome (in the center, between the two transepts)
  • the choir (back)

Audioguides and multimedia guides in several languages ​​- with interactive games for family visits - are available free of charge at the entrance to the building.

On the occasion of the Lord Mayor's Show (generally every second weekend in November), guide-lecturers provide free guided tours of St Paul's Cathedral.

Allow around 2 hours of visit. Guided tours are also available.

With the exception of the crypt, it is forbidden to film or take photos inside the cathedral.

The historical works library is not open to the public.

The nave

The nave of St Paul's Cathedral is 152 meters long and 36 meters wide, it is the most spacious part of the cathedral. Its central corridor leads to the impressive dome of the cathedral.

The doors to the west of the nave are each 9 meters high and their use is reserved for special occasions such as the visit of Queen Elizabeth II or the Mayor of London.

A monument dedicated to the Duke of Wellington is also present in the nave.

The High Altar

The current high altar of St. Paul's Cathedral called was installed in 1958. It is a marble and oak altar with canopy.

Canopy altar of St. Paul's Cathedral in London

It was created from the sketches of the first altar drawn by the architect of the cathedral Christopher Wren which could not, at the time, be realized.

It replaces the old Victorian-style marble altar that was damaged during WWII.

The choir

The choir was the first built and consecrated part of St Paul's Cathedral. The sculptures of its seats were made by Grinling Gibbons.

It houses the cathedral (seat of the bishop) and the choir settles there to celebrate masses.

  • North corridor of the choir: its doors were designed by the master blacksmith Jean Tijou, responsible for most of the decorative work in St Paul's Cathedral. It houses the famous sculpture "Mother and Child: Hood", one of the last works of artist Henry Moore. There is also a memorial to modern martyrs dedicated to Anglicans who died for their faith since 1850.
  • South Corridor of the Choir (the Dean's Corridor): it houses the sculptures of the two Bishops of London and John Donne (the dean of St Paul's Cathedral and one of the greatest poets of Great Britain): three of the rare works of art to have survived the Great Fire of London (1666). It is in this corridor that the religious and the choir meet before officiating mass.
  • "The Dean's Staircase" is not accessible to the public.

The great organ

Installed in 1697 under its dome, the great organ is one of the most important elements of St Paul's Cathedral. Its case was made by Grinling Gibbons.

With its 7,189 tubes and 5 keyboards of 138 keys each, it is the largest organ in the United Kingdom.

The North transept

It is in the North transept that the painting "The Light of the World" by William Holman Hunt - on the altarpiece of the chapel of Saint Erkenwald and Saint Ethelburga (The Chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga, also called The Middlesex Chapel)

The painting depicts Jesus Christ knocking on a door from within, suggesting the idea that God can only enter our lives if we invite him to do so. The painting dates from 1900 and it is the painter's third version.

The South transept

It is in the South transept that is located the monument of the great naval hero of Great Britain: Horatio Nelson (Lord Nelson or Admiral Nelson) - who died during the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805.

Other monuments pay homage to Cuthbert Collingwood (British naval officer), J.M.W Turner (famous painter) and Robert Scott (famous explorer).

The South Gallery offers a superb view of the Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern Art Gallery.

The dome and its three domes

The three-domed dome of St. Paul's Cathedral stands 111.3 meters tall (365 feet - one for each day of the year) and weighs 65,000 tonnes, it is the second tallest dome in Europe after that of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (120 meters high)

Inspired by Michelangelo's dome, imagined for Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and that of Jules Hardouin-Mansart for the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, it is a real landmark in the English capital.

This immense dome is made up of 3 circular galleries which take the form of balconies and constitute one of the main features of the cathedral:

  • After having climbed the first 257 steps, you will arrive at the mythical The Whispering Gallery, 30 meters above the choir from the church, at the base of the dome: a circular room decorated with mosaics and adorned with colorful frescoes, with impressive acoustics! The slightest murmur can be heard from one end of the gallery to the other... 34 meters away. The bird's eye view of the choir is also impressive.
  • 119 steps higher, at a height of 52 meters, you will discover the The Stone Gallery which will offer you a striking first sight on the capital.
  • Finally, 152 steps higher, you will enter the The Golden Gallery, at the top of the dome, more 85 meters high: the highest point of St Paul's Cathedral, it will offer you a breathtaking panoramic view of London: the City, the Tate Modern, South Bank, The Gherkin, the Millenium Bridge, the Shard, on Tower Bridge, on London Eye, Waterloo Bridge, Canary Wharf, etc.
Panoramic view from the dome of St Paul's Cathedral in London

The paintings on the dome are symbolic, they represent the 8 scenes from the life of Saint-Paul. Between 1864 and 1888, richly decorated mosaics depicting the major stages of Jesus' death and resurrection were added at the request of Queen Victoria.

Due to its steep and narrow spiral staircases, climbing the 528 steps can be difficult for some people. A short film (shown in the crypt), however, provides an overview of the different galleries of the cathedral.

The crypt

St Paul's Cathedral contains a large crypt where some fragments of ancient temples and memorials are kept - which also houses the coffins of some of the greatest British figures like:

  • Christopher Wren (1632-1723): the architect of the cathedral
  • Horatio Nelson, also called Lord Nelson or Admiral Nelson (1758-1805): conqueror of Napoleon I at Trafalgar
  • Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W) Turner (1775-1851): famous painter
  • The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852): victorious over Napoleon I at Waterloo
  • Edwin Landseer (1802-1873): famous painter
  • Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935): British officer and writer
  • Winston Churchill (1874-1965): former Prime Minister
  • Henry Moore (1898-1986): famous sculptor

Three short 270 degree films (Oculus: an eye into St Paul's) are shown there and tell the 1,400 year history of St Paul's Cathedral:

  • Life of the Cathedral
  • Resurgam, I will Rise Again
  • Virtual Access, the Dome

It is the largest crypt in Europe.

The chapels

Several chapels of St Paul's Cathedral can be visited:

  • All Souls' Chapel: accessed from the North Corridor, it has a memorial (The Kitchener Memorial) dedicated to British sailors who served in the First World War.
  • St Dunstan's Chapel: accessible from the North corridor.
  • The Chapel of St Michael and St George: it is accessed from the South corridor, it is the spiritual home of the order of the same name - which was at the time the consistorial court where the bishop sat in the company of the representatives of the various parishes of the region. There is also a commemorative monument there that honors the memory of Thomas Middleton, the first bishop of India.
  • The Chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga - also called The Middlesex Chapel
  • The American Memorial Chapel: located behind the main altar (The High Altar), it was destroyed during World War II, then restored to commemorate the 28,000 American soldiers who occupied English soil during the war. A representation of the flora and fauna of North America is present on the ground.
  • The Knights Bachelor Chapel
  • The Order of the British Empire Chapel

The west facade

The west facade of St Paul's Cathedral stands out from the others for its triangular relief which represents the conversion of the patron saint of the cathedral to Christianity: we see Saint Paul surrounded by apostles and four Gospels.

The two towers

Pineapples, a symbol of peace, prosperity and hospitality are present at the top of the two towers of St Paul's Cathedral.

South East Tower of St Paul's Cathedral in London

On the southwest tower is also a three-sided clock over 5 meters in diameter, installed in 1893. Above the clock are Great Tom, the bell marking the hours, and Great Paul, the tallest bell in the UK.

The South cemetery

The South Cemetery of St Paul's Cathedral was renovated in 2008. The plan of the cathedral as it was before the Great Fire of London (1666) as well as a sketch of the current cathedral appear on its floor.

The Chapter House

The Chapter House is the administrative center of St. Paul's Cathedral, housed in a recently remodeled brick building in Paternoster Square.

The Cross of Saint Paul

The Cross of Saint Paul is in the northwest cemetery of the cathedral - this is where the New Testament was burned after William's reformation Tyndale. A plaque indicates its location.

The column, with the golden statue of Saint Paul, commemorates the public preaching of the Christian faith.

Restaurant and cafeteria

St Paul's Cathedral has a catering service offered by Searcys but also a cafeteria (Wren's Pantry) offering salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts and coffees - open Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Souvenir shop

St Paul's Cathedral has a souvenir shop - accessible only to visitors to the cathedral - offering various products on the theme of the cathedral: books, music, paintings, decorative objects, etc..

Accessibility

Entrance through the South Cemetery is wheelchair accessible and the cathedral has parking spaces (reservation required).

Hearing loops are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Tours in sign language or adapted for the blind and visually impaired are also available.

Tickets for St Paul's Cathedral

Take advantage of the best price by purchasing your tickets for St Paul's Cathedral from one of our partners:

Tickets for St. Paul's Cathedral

From 19.83€ (or £17)

From £17 (or 19.83€)

The ticket includes entry into the cathedral, access to the crypt and the three galleries of the dome.

Due to its popularity with tourists and higher prices on site, it is strongly recommended that you book your tickets in advance online.

Entrance to St Paul's Cathedral is included in the London Pass and the London Explorer Pass.

St Paul's Cathedral opening times

St Paul's Cathedral is open all year round:

  • Monday to Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last admission 4:00 p.m.)
  • Sunday: reserved for religious services

Entrance to Saint Paul's Cathedral is free at the time of religious services, however it is not possible to access the dome.

Getting to St Paul's Cathedral

Saint Paul's Cathedral is located in the heart of the City (City of London), the business district of the capital, on the hills of Ludgate Hill, on the north shore of the Thames.

Address: St. Paul's Churchyard, EC4M 8AD, London

To get there, 6 options:

  • Metro:
    • Central line - St Paul's stop (2 min walk) or Bank (7 min walk)
    • District and Circle lines - Mansion House or Blackfriars stops (5 min walk)
    • Northern, Waterloo & City lines and DLR - Bank stop (7 min walk)
  • Train: City Thameslink (3 min walk), Blackfriars (5 min walk) and Cannon Street (6 min walk) stations.
  • Bus: lines 4, 8, 11, 15, 17, 23, 25, 26, 56, 76, 100, 172, 242 and 521.
  • Hop On Hop Off tourist bus
  • Cycling: There are many free bike parks on the streets of the City of London.
  • Car: parking spaces are available on Queen Victoria Street.
Saint Paul's Cathedral in the heart of the City of London

Near St Paul's Cathedral

Take advantage of your visit to Saint Paul's Cathedral to visit:

  • The London Stock Exchange: 120 m (2 min walk)
  • The Millenium Bridge: 300 m (4 min walk)
  • The London Museum: 550 m (7 min walk)
  • Shakespeare's Globe Theater: 800 m (10 min walk)
  • The Bank of England Museum: 850 m (11 min walk)
  • La Tate Modern: 950 m (12 min walk)
  • The Barbican Center: 950 m (14 min walk)
  • Monument to the Great Fire of London (The Monument): 1 km (13 min walk)
  • The Old Operating Theater Museum and Herb Garret: 1.6 km (20 min walk)