One of my special places in My City & My Town, Appreciating London is St Paul’s Cathedral. For many of you who follow me on Instagram, you may have guessed this already, no doubt, given my several feeds on this iconic building. My interest in this iconic building is not only limited to its architectural and historical value but also because it has sentimental memories for me. However, for visitors to London, why I think this should be on your list and what makes St Paul’s Cathedral in London a special place to visit?
- First up is of course, is it’s long history, which literally is a history of survival! It sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest point of City of London and for more than 1400 years, a Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at this very spot. The current St Paul’s Cathedral is the 4th to have been built on this site, built between 1675 and 1710. According to the Cathedral’s history, the original church which was founded here in 604 A.D. was a wooden building that was destroyed by fire. The second church was built between 675 A.D. and 685 A.D. but was destroyed by the Vikings invasion in 962 A.D. The Cathedral’s predecessor was built over a 150-year period but was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. This means that the current Cathedral has survived for over 300 years and is still going strong! As you read along a little below, you will find out how the Cathedral survived the Blitz. Furthermore, St Paul’s is a Grade 1 listed building, an Anglican Church and the first cathedral to be built after the Reformation in the 16th century. With so much history, it is definitely a special place to visit, wouldn’t you agree?
- Although I have visited this iconic building on a number of occasions, it never ceases to amaze me! It is an impressive architectural masterpiece by Sir Christopher Wren and dominates London’s skyline! It is world-famous for its dome and sits at the height of 111 metres (365 feet). It was the tallest building from 1710 to 1967.
Read on to see a glimpse of the interior of this masterpiece. Needless to say that St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the world and is a popular tourist attraction.
I mentioned earlier that St Paul’s has special memories for me. Well, along with its rich history as a 17th century Cathedral, it has a special place in my heart because of its link to the school that my son went to. The School maintain their 400-year old link with St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London by holding a Triennial Service which is a special occasion in the life of the school. So, every three years the whole school is invited to attend a special commemorative celebration service at St Paul’s Cathedral. My son was a choir member which added to the “specialness” of the occasion and to be part of this tradition was an added value to my son’s education which has contributed to him being a fine young man today.
3. In addition, my third reason why St Paul’s Cathedral is a special place that warrants a visit is because, St Paul’s Cathedral was protected by a dedicated group of volunteer firefighters during the Blitz of WWII who risked their own lives by putting out fires from the German bombs that came raining down from the skies above which consumed many portions of the City. The City was bombed for a consecutive 57-day period, and while most of the buildings surrounding St. Paul’s was destroyed, the volunteer firefighters patrolled the roof of the Cathedral each night to put-out the fires that was upon it. The Cathedral survived the Blitz and became the symbol of hope for the people of City of London. And I think appreciating this magnificent Cathedral for all its beauty of architecture and traditions is a way of paying tribute to the many volunteer firefighters of St. Paul’s Firewatch who had made this possible and by it, my son’s school was able to maintain their centuries-old tradition with St. Paul’s Cathedral. You can read more about the volunteers of St. Paul’s Firewatch at: https://www.alondoninheritance.com/thebombedcity/the-st-pauls-watch
4. This iconic building is being preserved for future generations. St Paul’s Cathedral has undergone a massive restoration project over a period of 15 years, costing £40 million which was completed in 2011 and definitely is deserving of a visit to appreciate the painstaking work that was undertaken here. The restoration project involved both the exterior and interior, but primarily the exterior. It included:
Exterior – Involved the painstaking job of cleaning and transforming 300 years of London’s pollution and history from the blackened and damaged West front of the Cathedral. About 150,000 blocks of the Cathedral’s white Portland stone was cleaned on the outside. An addition to the exterior is the ramp for wheelchair access to the crypt. The south churchyard gardens had been also landscaped.
Interior – Using state-of-the-art conservation techniques, the mosaics, carvings and sculpture was brought to life by light “flooding” the building. You can experience this enhancement when you stand right in the middle of the dome and look up and the sun comes through from the sides. It is somehow more-airy! Make sure you choose a nice and sunny day to experience this. Also, the grand organ was restored to its former glory!
5. St Paul’s Cathedral boasts a rich history and architecture which should be explored by every visitor to the City and for this reason it is one of the top ten recommended sights in London. Explore the Cathedral floor and crypt, climb its galleries and enjoy the panoramic view of London from the top of the dome. The Cathedral is open to visitors in between worship services in the morning and in the evening. At most times, visitors do attend one of the worship services here either before or after they tour. When you step inside, beyond the security checks, you will be faced with an awe-inspiring stunning interior and the highlight being the dome, one of the largest in the world. Your tour ticket will give you access to all five-levels, the highest of which will give you spectacular views over London:
- Cathedral Floor and the Crypt (Levels 1 and 2)
Walk on the footsteps of the many politicians and royalties that have visited the Cathedral before you and be inspired by the architecture of this magnificent building. The dome is the central feature and when you stand right in the middle of it, you will see just how large and beautiful it is! I used to wonder, how brilliant it was that such a beautiful structure with intricate details was created many centuries ago without the modern technology which we have now.
In my thoughts, I did compare St Paul’s to the Notre Dame in Paris, and whilst the latter was built in Gothic architectural style, Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s is rather different, though not modern but has a classical twist to it. I think that Sir Christopher Wren was indeed an extremely talented architect, sadly though he died shortly after the Cathedral’s completion. It has often been said that “if you are searching for his monument, look around you” – thus, was his architectural greatness and influence. For his contribution, he was honoured and buried in the OBE Chapel in the Cathedral’s crypt.
- The Whispering Gallery
From the Cathedral Floor, climb the 528 steps to the highest point which is the outer dome, but before that, the first stop is at 259 steps up – at the Whispering Gallery which runs around the interior of the dome and has unique acoustics. The name “Whispering Gallery” comes from a charming quirk in its construction and was first explained by Lord Rayleigh who conducted experiments and developed wave theories for St Paul’s in 1910 and 1914. If you whisper against the walls, the sound is carried by waves, known as whispering gallery waves, that travels all the way round the circumference by clinging to the walls. It is this that causes whispers to be heard by someone on the other side. Believe it or not, it actually works!
It is said that the discovery of the Whispering Gallery was accidental as Wren did not design this part of the walkway with sophisticated acoustics. The circular structure at the base of the dome and the benches alongside the walkway became a quiet meeting point for many after the Cathedral’s consecration, and it was by accident that conversations in a low-tone on one side of the gallery could be heard along that same wall across the other side of the circular walkway.
This accidental discovery of this charming sonic quirk has become a popular tourist attraction. When you are next here, be sure to “whisper”…it is so much fun when you are doing this with kids!
Another similar attraction is New York ’s Grand Central Station – also an accidental creation.
- Stone Gallery
A further 119 steps is the Stone Gallery, which runs outside the dome at about 53 meters high (173 feet). This is a good photo opportunity and you do get good views of London.
4. Outer dome
You can go further up, to the highest point at 85.3 meters (280 feet), which is the outer dome, for unrivalled views over the City of London. Be mindful of the steps as it is a narrow swivel metal stairway but don’t let this minor challenge deter you from reaching the highest point because it is well worth the effort.
The Exterior of St Paul’s Cathedral
When a tour of the interior is completed, spend some time on the Cathedral’s front area and the Churchyard. It makes a great photo opportunity. There is the statue of Queen Anne, who was the reigning monarch at the time the Cathedral was completed.
Explore the gardens surrounding the Cathedral. There are lots of benches to sit on and to have a small picnic if you wish to do so and marvel at the views that surrounds you. Besides the dome, the tall white Corinthian columns speaks elegance and beauty, gleaming in the rays of sunlight against it. Enjoy it 🙂
I hope that you would agree that St Paul’s is a special place to visit and you do not have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of the Cathedral.
** Next, walk into a square that has a modern courtyard which has its origins in medieval times. Look out for my next blog on what is next to St Paul’s Cathedral. Sign-up now to receive my next blog straight into your inbox, so you can read it at your convenience.
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Opening times: Monday – Saturday: 08:30 – 16:30 (Last entry at 16:00)
Sunday – No sightseeing; Open for worship only.
Recommended visiting time is 2 hours but give yourself more time if you are planning to attend a service.
When planning your visit, consider purchasing your tickets at least a day in advance as it is cheaper than on the day.
Adults: £18.00 (£16.00 if purchased online in advance) Family (2+2): £44.00
Child: £ 8.00
St Paul’s Central Line (2 minutes-walk)
Mansion House – District and Circle Line (5 minutes-walk)
Blackfriars – District and Circle Line (5 minutes-walk)
Bank – Central, Northern and Waterloo & City, DLR (7 minutes-walk)
City Thameslink – 3 minutes-walk
Blackfriars – 5 minutes-walk
Cannon Street – 6 minutes-walk
Liverpool Street – 15 minutes-walk
These buses stop nearby: 4,8,25,26,56,76,100 and 242
- River Bus: MBNA Thames Clippers
Blackfriars Pier – 9 minute-walk
Bankside Pier – 10 minute-walk
Planning your Trip
To help you plan your trip, please find below a few suggestions which you may want to consider to purchase or to look into. If you need any help in planning your trip to London, please do not hesitate to contact me on email@example.com