There’s no denying that London, England is steeped in an incredible amount of history which has had a significant impact in the way we all live today.
Despite a number of wars over the years, we’re incredibly lucky that some of the buildings that are essential to this city’s story which spans multiple millenniums are still standing and open to visitors today.
Whether you’re religious or not, there’s no denying that there’s something special about the churches which have stood for thousands of years in London.
Whether it’s the people who were married there or the people who are buried there, whether it’s the architectural significance or the historical significance there’s plenty of reasons to visit one (or more) of these incredible churches during your visit to the English capital.
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1. Westminster Abbey
Standing proudly next to the Westminster Houses of Parliament, the home of British politics, is the beautiful and hugely significant Westminster Abbey.
Declared a UNESCO world heritage site back in 1987, this church is one of the most important in the UK and dates back to around 800AD. Westminster Abbey is steeped in history and has been the scene of royalty since William the Conqueror in the 1000s.
Since then the abbey has been used for numerous royal occasions including the recent marriage of Prince William and Kate in 2011. The abbey is also home to tombs of famous individuals including Isaac Newton and Ernest Rutherford.
Welcoming over 1 million visitors every year this is a popular tourist attraction and open daily (except for on Sunday’s) from 9am. The church closes to the public at various different times depending on the day and time of year so I suggest checking on the website prior to your visit if you’re planning on visiting in the afternoon.
The churches grandeur exterior appearance makes it easy to see why everyone who passes it during a trip to London will want to stop and take pictures. An while the same incredible attention to detail has been given to the interior of the Abbey it’s sadly not something you can photograph during your visit as there is a no photograph policy.
As Westminster Abbey is an operational church and also serving the royals it can regularly be closed to the public for private events and ceremonies – which again, makes checking the website prior to your visit essential.
Located in central London, next to the parliament building and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey is relatively easily to navigate to during your trip. The church is located opposite Westminster tube station and within walking distance of St James’s Park which runs on the District and Circle lines.
You’ll be required to purchase a ticket if you want to enter Westminster Abbey (It’s well worth the visit during your trip to London in my opinion). These tickets are priced at £18 for adults and £7 for children although there are discounts available for students, seniors and families.
Consider picking up one of the multi-media audioguides for an additional £5 during your visit. Available in 11 different languages, the guide will provide you with a large amount of in-depth historical information at various different points during your tour.
2. Southwark Cathedral
Founded in 1897 on the southern bank of the River Thames lies an imposing and important Anglican diocese.
Just a 5-minute walk from the London Bridge Underground station which serves both the Jubilee and Northern Lines, this enchanting church is often overlooked by the likes of Borough Market or London Bridge. However, if you’re in this area of London during your visit to the city, it’s somewhere I highly suggest visiting.
Whilst still operating as a functioning cathedral and incorporating daily services into its timetable, this church is open to the public at any time although it’s recommended that if you’re planning on visiting the church for tourism purposes only you do so during the following days/times as to avoid disturbing those worshipping;
Sunday: 12.30pm – 3.00pm and 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Monday – Friday: 9.00am – 5.00pm
Saturday: 9.30am – 3.45pm & 5.00pm – 6.00pm
If you’re looking to take photographs of the interior of the building then you’ll need to purchase a photography permit which costs just £2.00 and permits you to take as many photos as you wish for non-commercial purposes during the times in which a service is not being held.
If you’re looking to learn more about this magnificent gothic building then consider going on a tour. ‘Drop-in tours’ are hosted by one of the cathedral guides, last around 45 minutes and are completely free – although donations are welcome.
As one of the more famous churches in London, this sacred building can become busy, particularly on the 4th Sunday of every month when the choir sings along with an organ which is as old as the church itself.
This is something which, if it aligns with your schedule, shouldn’t be missed and can provide a heartwarming contrast to the busy hustle and bustle of the city as a whole.
Souvenirs including a map and cathedral guidebook are available from the small on-site store and cost £4.99 each with all of the profits going towards the upkeep of the building.
3. St Paul’s Cathedral
As integral to the city of London’s skyline as the Shard, London Bridge and Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral is a church you simply must try and visit during your trip to London.
Easily, the most famous church in London, if not England as a whole, St Paul’s Cathedral is more than a place of worship and location of world pilgrimage, it has firmly cemented its status as one of the top tourist attractions in the capital
Christopher Wren’s creation is nothing short of iconic in this city as its imposing dome has been dominating since the 1700s and was a major player in the rebuilding following the Great Fire of London.
This cathedral has been host to numerous famous events through the years from the funerals of famous British greats including Thatcher, Churchill, Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Famous burials are also of note here with Alexander Fleming and Florence Nightingale laid to rest on the ground of this iconic historical landmark.
However, St Paul’s Cathedrals importance in historical dates doesn’t end there. The cathedral was also host to Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage in 1981 and the launch of the Festival of Britain and jubilees for Queen Elizabeth’s current reign over the United Kingdom.
So famous and integrated into the London culture, the cathedral has a tube station named after it. St Paul’s station runs on the Central Line and is a 2-minute walk away from the famous building.
Whilst functioning as an actual cathedral, with Christians making pilgrimages from around the globe to reach this wonder, the cathedral also plays host to a huge amount of touristy and cultural events as well.
The cathedral is open to tourists from 8am to 4pm daily, and to worshippers outside these hours. For those worshipping then it is free of charge entry, however for tourists, it will cost you £20 per adult to enter the famous landmark (although discounts are available if you book online in advance).
The entry cost includes a multimedia guide as standard which can translate information about the cathedral into 9 different languages including sign language and provides additional archived video footage of the cathedral in years gone by.
Guided tours for visitors and groups are also available. It’s recommended groups contact the cathedral in advance, meanwhile, individual visitors are welcome to join one of the sessions which leave at numerous times throughout the day.
Be sure to head to the 5th floor of St Paul’s cathedral, to witness an unrivalled view over London or attend one of the many exhibitions and activities which regularly take place.
4. Westminster Cathedral
Often overlooked in favour of Westminster Abbey is Westminster Cathedral. The mother church of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, this cathedral is situated next to Victoria Tube station on the District and Circle lines.
Over 360ft long and 284ft tall the incredible construction that is Westminster Cathedral was built in the early 1900s. Which makes it somewhat less historically significant than others on this list, however, this doesn’t prevent it from being both a famous and worthwhile church to visit when in London.
Westminster Cathedral is one of the most active churches in London, holding Holy Mass 40 times a week with a capacity of more than 1,000 people per session.
Alongside the marble, eccentric design and famous mosaics this church has hosted the Pope on several occasions over the years. A truly holy sight for Catholic believers.
Westminster Cathedral offers Catholics a place for mass and worship whilst also being open to the public and tourism. However, as it’s less well known there are fewer tourists visiting the cathedral and as such, tourists can visit at any time free of charge and take respectful photographs at their will.
Situated in a more quaint spot than others on this list, this cathedral would be easy to miss, but certainly shouldn’t be missed as it provides a lot both inside and out.
5. St Mary-le-Bow
The saying goes that to be a true cockney you have to be within earshot of the famous Bow bells. This church is a pivotal landmark in the middle of Cheapside, London near the Bank underground station which is situated on the Northern, Central and Waterloo lines.
Another result of the famous Christopher Wrens creations following the Great Fire of 1666, St Mary Le Bow Church is a fully functioning Christian place of worship and this Norman crypt is the oldest parochial chapel still in use in London.
St Mary-le-Bow famously holds the Court of Arches (Archbishop of Canterbury’s appeal court). Boasting its own crypt restaurant and tending to serve those in the financial and livery organisations in the City of London, this church hosts morning and evening services, whilst also offering weddings and other events (this is your only chance to grab photos inside the church).
These services tend to start at 8.30am and 5.30pm with non-worshipping visitors allowed to enter anytime between these hours.
The church regularly holds lunchtime concerts on a Thursday and has art exhibitions year-round. Whilst maybe not being as spectacular as some of the other churches on this list, this little gem very much a part of Christian worship in the big smoke.
6. St Brides
One church which comes up in very few London guide books is St Brides church on Fleet Street. The current St Bride’s is at least the seventh to have stood on the site, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the 1672 incarnation was damaged heavily during a fire in the WWII blitz in the 1940’s but thankfully able to be restored.
The second tallest church in London, after St Paul’s, St Brides is an imposing figure on the London skyline, especially against the modern highrise buildings of today.
Located just outside of Blackfriar’s tube stop on the Circle and District lines the church is open to the public daily. Not nearly as popular as other churches on this list, you’ll benefit from free entry, the ability to be able to take photographs as you wish and a distinct lack of crowds.
Be sure to not let the lack of mainstream popularity of this church put you off, as it doesn’t fail to deliver when it comes to sharing its history and breathtaking architecture with those who take the time to visit.
An what the church lacks for in some departments it more than makes up for in it’s niche association as the ‘spiritual home of media’.
This is all thanks to the church’s location, the historic journalistic street of Fleet Street which dates back to the 16th century. While many of the major publications have moved away from Fleet Street over the past few decades, it’s still fond in the hearts of many.
This was demonstrated when ‘the empire of the British media’ Rupert Murdoch chose to marry his wife Jerry Hall at St Brides back in 2016.
7. St George’s Bloomsbury
Located in the Borough of Camden, footsteps from Holborn underground station is St George’s Church. Built to ensure that the Church of England could compete with the non-conformist chapels during the 1700s the church has a notable place history.
Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a previous advisor to Wren (another architect who comes up frequently on this list) before succeeding on his own.
The church was Hawksmoor’s sixth and final church which as part of London’s church building initiative and was also featured on his famous Hogarth’s Gin Lane sketch.
However, in my opinion, at least that’s not what makes this church particularly famous. Instead, it’s the funeral of Emily Davison that took place here back in 1913. Emily Davison was a suffragette who died as a result of throwing herself in front of the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby.
While the interior of St George’s Church is relatively modest, there are some notable features including the 17th-century Dutch chandelier which is hanging in the nave and is on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as the incredible stain-glassed windows and Charles Grant marble memorial situated above the Church’s original entrance door at the back of the building.
If the fame and history of St George’s Bloomsbury aren’t enough to get you to visit here, maybe the modern-day Musem of Comedy which is run out of the churches crypt might be.
The Museum of Comedy opened in 2014 and plays host to more than 6,000 British comedy artefacts alongside a state-of-the-art performance space in which shows are performed regularly.
The opening times outside of shows change regularly so it’s worth checking online prior to your visit if this is somewhere you’d like to visit alongside the church itself.
8. St Pancras Old Church
Located next to St Pancras Station, and just across from the famous Kings Cross Station is St Pancras Old Church. The site is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England dating back to the 4th century.
However, it’s not just the churches age which makes it one of the most famous churches in London. Instead, it’s the rock n roll band The Beatles who used the grounds and courtyard for a photoshoot back in 1968. In 2011, the church decided to further cement it’s place in music history by setting itself up as a music venue.
In under a decade, St Pancras Old Church has seen concerts by famous artists such as; Sinead O Connor, Laura Marling, Jason Mraz, Daughter, Tom Odell, Sam Smith and Newton Faulkner. You can see a complete list of upcoming concerts at the church online.
If you do decide to visit St Pancras Old Church during your visit to London (and I highly suggest you do) then be sure to take some time to wander the grounds. Here you’ll find The Hardy Tree which has grown around the gravestones of those buried here.
The church remains open for worship (despite also being a music venue) with ceremonies on a Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday morning and guided tours of both the church and its grounds can be arranged by contacting the church directly.
9. St Etheldreda’s Church
St Etheldreda’s Church is the oldest church in London, and one of only two in the city which have survived since the reign of Edward I. The exact date in which the building was constructed is unknown but is expected to be between 1250 and 1290.
Dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon saint Etheldreda who founded the monastery at Ely back in 673 the church was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1874 and opened in 1878. As such it’s now one of the oldest operational churches in England owned by the Catholic Church.
As a result of the churches age, it’s both seen and been a part of a number of notable events throughout history. These include the Blitz during in which the church was hit by a bomb which tore a hole in the roof and destroyed the Victorian stained glass windows, it took more than 7 years for the building to be structurally sound again.
Much like St George’s, St Etheldreda’s Church is also situated in Holborn. Just 200 metres from the nearby Chancery Lane underground station which serves the central line, and 300 metres from Farringdon train station.
The church is open to the public seven days a week, however, it has a rather expansive mass schedule including both English and Latin Mass as well as Low Mass once a month. It’s therefore recommended you check the churches schedule on their website prior to visiting if you plan to go inside for tourism purposes.