Glasses // Shirt // Jacket
Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most visited sites and with good reason. It’s historic, awe-inspiring and quintessential England – it’s truly one of my favorite places in London. While it’s frequented by millions of tourists, unfortunately many visitors don’t get the most out of their visit to the Abbey or simply stop for a quick selfie outside. I did a thorough tour in 2014 and walk by the Abbey at least once every day, so I wanted to share my top tips for visiting, straight from the mouth of a London local. Enjoy and be sure to caption an instagram with #WestminstagramAbbey or #WestminsterCrabby (Only true Mary-Kate and Ashley/Winning London fans will get that last masterpiece).
The Abbey is located literally smack dab in the center of London. Westminster tube station is the closest, but Waterloo and Charing Cross are also very much within walking distance. Multiple buses serve the area, and I like how you can look out the window and get the lay of the land, however I’d get off a few stops before the Abbey and walk to the destination as the area is highly congested. Also check beforehand and see if any events or demonstrations are scheduled for Parliament Square, as there may be road closures and unexpected crowds. Travel for London has an excellent Twitter account with updates (follow here).
As much as I enjoy a lie-in and a late brunch of the waffle or eggs benedict variety, you’re going to want to set your alarm and get to the Abbey in its opening hours. It opens at 9:30 on most days (opening times here), so not too dreadful, but beat the crowds and queues by arriving in the morning. The surrounding area will also be less crowded, so better for taking photos in front of the Abbey, London Eye and Big Ben. Suck it up and down those Americanos! Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in an hour long wait with groups of school children and every other tourist in London.
Nope, that’s not the Abbey
Well I may sound like Captain Obvious, Big Ben is not attached to Westminster Abbey. It’s a common misconception, but that large beautiful building with the two towers, that yes does look a lot like Westminster Abbey, is actually the houses of Parliament. This is where the UK legislature is housed. So don’t make the rookie traveler mistake of mislabeling it in your insta photos like I may or may not have a few years ago #amateurhour
Big Ben and Parliament #notwestminsterabbey
Book the Verger Tour
There are two official tour options once you enter the Abbey – a self guided audio tour and the Verger tour. Please, for the love of travel everywhere, book the Verger tour. It’s only five pounds more than the audio tour and eons away in quality. You’re led through the Abbey by a very knowledgeable guide, and groups are kept to 10 people max – so very intimate. Best of all, you get to see areas of the Abbey like Edward the Confessor’s tomb, the Cloisters, and the Nave which are NOT open to the public and audio tours. VIP, baby! The experience was one of my all-time favorites in London. For only a 5 pound price increase, you won’t be disappointed. Definitely book in advance here.
Budget Time to Explore
Once the tour is finished, don’t rush outside to your next destination (likely the pub)! Explore the Abbey in all its grandeur and take your time to take in each nook and cranny. There are so many Harry Potter esque halls, courtyards, arches, etc. that will transport you through time or make you feel a little like a royal (or wizard). You’ve paid for admission, now get the most of it!
Forget Your Camera
Sad news for the photography or vlogging obsessed, but photography and videography are not allowed inside the Abbey. You can take plenty of snaps of the intricate and awe-inspiring exterior, but I’d leave the clunky DSLRs at home for this tour. You won’t be able to use them. Just take it all in and commit the stunning historical interiors to memory the old fashioned way.
See it from a new angle
While you’ll want to tour the Abbey early in the day, I recommend returning at sunset, dusk and after dark to enjoy it from a new perspective – and with dope new lighting. Some of my favorite personal photos of the Abbey were taken just before nightfall. The street lamps give it that quintessential spooky London glow. Also be sure to explore and photograph the Abbey from every angle. It’s such an immense and detailed structure, so you’re bound to find pleasant little surprises and ways of enjoying it beyond the typical entrance shots.
Feels like Sherlock Holmes is bound to come running around the corner chasing a mystery.
Avoid nearby pubs
You’ll be smack in the middle of a major tourist zone, so any nearby pubs are usually overpriced, serve average (at best) food, and are prone to theft. Walk a bit further to the Covent Garden Area to the East or Pimlico to the West for better quality options or more local haunts. I love Cross Keys and Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden.
Want to see the Abbey for free?
Shhhh – want to know a well-kept little secret of most big churches in Europe? Want to see them for free? You may not get the entire tour and see every thousand year old relic and antiquity, but go to the Abbey for evensong, and you can take in all its glory without paying a dime (or pence). Evensong is a daily mass and choral service, open to the public at the Abbey. The music is beautiful, and you don’t need to be religious to enjoy the feast of sound and sights. Simply line up at the Abbey’s West door 30 minutes prior and enjoy! A schedule is here, but evensong is usually at 5PM on weekdays and 3PM on weekends.
Enjoy your visit to the Abbey and let me know in the comments if there are any other London attractions or tips you’d like me to share!
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