Westminster Abbey, the Collegiate Church of St Peter, is one of the greatest examples of ecclesiastical architecture in the world. This shrine to the great and the good, where Britain’s rulers have been crowned and buried, was firmly back in the international spotlight in 2011 as the venue for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065, the abbey has been the venue for all coronations since the time of William the Conqueror. You can see the Coronation Chair, in a new display near the West Entrance. Indeed, a tour of the abbey is a great opportunity to learn about the unique pageant of British history. Statesmen and men of science are interred and honoured by monuments – you’ll spot the 1965 memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Geoffrey Chaucer, the first literary figure to be buried at the abbey in Poets’ Corner, famously rests in the company of Tennyson, Browning and Dickens. In the Westminster Abbey Museum, there is a compelling display of royal effigies that were used instead of corpses for lying-in-state ceremonies. Once the history lesson is over, younger visitors might want to let off steam outdoors in the College Garden; situated just off the cloisters, this is the oldest garden in England.
With its busy central London location, overlooking Parliament Square, it is not surprising that the abbey doesn’t have parking spaces. However, it is possible for you to arrive by car – a drop-off point for Blue Badge holders can be requested in advance. Wheelchair users should enter via the North Door: the marshals are very approachable and will facilitate access to tricky areas via alternative routes wherever possible. Access to the Henry VII Chapel is via a steep flight of stairs, but a stair climber is available and can be used with a powered scooter. Portable audio guides are free and are available in a range of languages. Transcripts are available for deaf visitors and a touch tour can be arranged for visually impaired visitors, with accompanying material in large print or Braille. The services of a volunteer guide can be booked in advance.
Food & drink: Continuing the Benedictine tradition of providing hospitality, the Cellarium Café and Terrace, in the cloisters, is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.