Whether you’re religious or not, cathedrals, churches and abbeys provide an insightful day out discovering Britain’s history. From St Giles Cathedral in the North to Exeter Cathedral in the South, cathedrals, abbeys and churches are scattered throughout the land and are always open to visitors.
Westminster Abbey is located in London just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. The Abbey is traditionally the place of coronation and the burial site for English monarchs. St Edward the confessor's shrine is at the heart of the Abbey Church and is surrounded by the tombs and memorials of great men and women from British History. Inside the gothic abbey are more treasures such as paintings, stained glass and textiles which are over a thousand years old. Within the Abbey precincts, visitors can also explore The Chapterhouse and Pyx Chamber, The Chapterhouse was originally used by Benedictine monks for prayers and their daily meetings.
The Westminster Abbey Museum on site tells you all you need to know about the history of this fascinating building. After all that knowledge you might feel like taking a refreshing walk through the Abbey Gardens which include The Little Cloister Garden, which was used for recuperation after illness, and The College Garden which was used for growing medicinal herbs and foods.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral was designed by court architect Sir Christopher Wren and was completed in 1710. Its famous dome is one of the world's largest, measuring 111.3 metres high and it is an iconic part of London's skyline. St Pauls has seen national events of great importance take place including the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill. Furthermore Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer here and more recently the Queen celebrated the Golden Jubilee and her 80th birthday in this place of worship. The cathedral reveals the history of the nation in mosaics and stone carvings throughout the building which tell the story of landmark events.
If you’re into spooky goings on then bizarrely The Whispering Gallery, which runs around the interior of the Dome, fascinates both children and adults because a whisper made against its walls can be heard on the opposite side. But it’s a steep climb of 259 steps from ground-level to get to the Gallery.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and is listed as a World Heritage Site. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its history dates back to 597AD when St Augustine was sent as a missionary to establish his seat in Canterbury. One of the most important events in the Cathedrals history was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The Cathedral has since been the attraction for thousands of Pilgrims as is told in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Architecturally the Cathedral is very impressive both in its size and the ornate detail. There is a large display of stained glass windows, some of which have amazingly survived from the late 12th and 13th centuries. To get the most out of your cathedral exploration, you can hire an audio guide available in seven languages or join a guided tour.
Salisbury is home to Britain's finest 13th century Gothic Cathedral. Boasting the tallest spire in the UK, Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258. It has over 750 years of history including the world's best preserved original Magna Carta and Europe's oldest working clock. The Cathedral is a record holder for having the largest Cathedral close, the largest Cathedral Cloisters and the largest and earliest set of Quire stalls in Britain. The Cathedral is still an active place of worship and visitor access is restricted on Sundays during services.
Guides can take you on a free tour of the Cathedral or there are leaflets in English and other languages which you can take round to guide you. If you want to see the tallest spire up close and personal then the Tower tour will take you up the 332 steps in easy stages, by narrow spiral staircases and interior roof walkways, to reach the base of the Spire.
Lincoln Cathedral stands dominantly in the city centre and is one of the finest examples of a medieval building in Europe. Most of the Cathedral dates back to the 13th century but the West Front dates back even earlier to 1072. Highlights include the library designed by Christopher Wren, 14th century stone carvings, an early 10-sided Chapter House, Duncan Grant frescoes, two amazing medieval stained glass windows and a copy of the Magna Carta, which is one of only four surviving. Lincoln Cathedral is packed with ancient relics!
St Albans Cathedral
This is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain. It was built over the place where the first martyr Alban was buried after dying for his faith over 1700 years ago.
The building's amazing mixture of architectural styles mark the many centuries of its life; it was first as a monastic Abbey and now acts as a Cathedral. Throughout the centuries many pilgrims have come to honour the Saint Alban’s sacrifice and offer prayers at his shrine and they still come in their thousands even today.
Battle Abbey, Sussex
Battle Abbey was founded around 1070 by William the Conqueror, on the site of the Battle of Hastings. Perhaps the most impressive part of the abbey is the great gate-house, the finest surviving medieval abbey entrances in Britain which was built around 1338. There is currently an exhibition on the build-up to the Battle of Hastings and the abbey’s collections include architectural stonework and archaeological finds. Battle Abbey provides not only a fascinating insight into religious history of Britain, but one of the most important dates in our history, 1066.
Norwich Cathedral comes second only to Salisbury Cathedral in the size of its cloisters. Dating back to the 13th and 15th centuries the Cathedral is built of flint rubble and mortar faced with limestone ashlar. The ground plan of the site is almost unchanged from the Romanesque original. One of the main unusual features of this cathedral is the shape of the chapels which consists of two intersecting segments of a circle. The cathedral has been voted Norfolk’s favourite building and dominates the Norwich skyline with its imposing spire. Currently on exhibit is the 350th Anniversary: The Book of Common Prayer which include a look at the cathedrals own copy of the 1662 prayer book and the antecedents to it.
York Minster Undercroft Treasury & Crypt is the chief church of the Church of England, and is also the seat of the Archbishop of York. The present building is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, and is home to some of the finest 14th and 15th century stained glass windows in existence. The site has been a place of religious worship for nearly 1000 years. The Undercroft and Crypt uncovers the remarkable history of York Minster from its early Norman foundations to the 20th century engineering work that now supports the central tower. The Undercroft also contains the remains of York´s Roman Legionary fortress, Viking gravestones and historic artefacts from the Minster´s collection, and it’s a little bit spooky.
Coventry Cathedral actually comprises of two cathedrals, the old and the new. The heavily-bombed old cathedral sits in ruins beside the modern cathedral, as old is juxtaposed against new. The ‘new’ cathedral is not your average gothic cathedral, but a modernist 60s building. Highlights include stunning stained glass windows, a sculpture by Jacob Epstein, and a huge tapestry by Graham Sutherland. Head up the cathedral bell tower to immortalise the stunning view over the city.
This abbey is home to a Roman Catholic Community of Benedictine monks. During your visit you are let into the life of these monks and can wander around where they live, work and pray. The huge towers of Buckfast Abbey are central to this site, but the abbey as it is now was actually the recreation of the fifteenth century church, the Abbots Tower has been preserved and kept as a folly in the grounds of the mansion. Relax in the Lavender and the Sensory Gardens or wander around the Exhibition Centre to see relics of the abbey and discover the history of this working monastery.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Monastic Produce Shop where you can purchase the famous Buckfast Tonic Wine and other products that the monks have made. Beware of the tonic wine, it has quite a caffeinated kick to it!
On a headland high over the thriving seaside town, stands the gothic Whitby Abbey. You can probably see why Bram Stoker was inspired by its gothic darkness when writing his horror story Dracula.
You can discover the long history of the Abbey and the daily life of the monks who once lived here in the interactive visitor centre with its digital reconstructions. Or listen to the audio tour as you wander around the ancient ruins and enjoy the stunning views of the Yorkshire coastline and out to sea.
Liverpool is the largest Cathedral in the UK. Its architecture, beauty and atmosphere is amazing. You can climb to the top of the tower for spectacular vistas across the Liverpool and its river. This is quite the family attraction with the Great Space panoramic film theatre, computer-interactive information stations and audio tours in foreign languages and child versions. There are great cafés and shop and it’s no surprise that it was awarded the region's 'Best Large Visitor Attraction' in 2009 and 'Best Tourism Retailer' 2010.
Durham Cathedral has iconic status throughout the north-east of England, and deserves its reputation as being amongst the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. The Cathedral still holds regular services, despite being popular tourist attraction. There are many aspects of this Cathedral that hold historical importance and public interest. The Shrine of St Cuthbert and the traditions of St Benedict are the main tourist draws to this cathedral. Unsurprisingly the Cathedral's unique appearance, in size and ornate detail, has inspired many artists and is visible for miles.
Wells is home to an outstanding cathedral. The Cathedral Church of St Andrew, built in 12th century, is a fine example of Early Gothic architecture. The first church was built near the wells in 705 and the present Cathedral building was begun in 1180. It is one of the most impressive of the English cathedrals and has survived eight centuries with all its associated buildings still around it - the Chapter House, Vicar´s Hall, the cloisters and the unique Vicar´s Close, are all treasures from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.
Founded in 1132, Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in the north of England. Set in a remote valley in the North York Moors National Park, Rievaulx is one of the most complete, and atmospheric, of England’s abbey ruins.You can learn about the medieval monks and how they devoted their lives to spirituality and at the same time established a business which made them one of the wealthiest monasteries in Britain. The Abbey’s collection includes medieval floor tiles, stone sculpture, late medieval cutlery and other finds from the abbey.
Glastonbury was once the grandest and richest Abbey in England. Now in ruins this site still packs a punch, in terms of atmosphere and historical value. Situated in 36 acres of Somerset parkland, ponds, orchards and wildlife areas this site is outstandingly beautiful. You can see History brought to life in the costumed guides which are available from March until October. Glastonbury was the legendary burial place of King Arthur and was traditionally the earliest Christian sanctuary in Britain. With 2000 years of history and mystery Glastonbury Abbey is a very special and haunting place.
St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
St Giles' Cathedral, more properly termed the High Kirk of Edinburgh, has distinctive steeple which is a prominent feature of the city skyline. The church has been one of Edinburgh's religious focal points for approximately 900 years. The present church dates from the late 14th century, though it was extensively restored in the 19th century, and is a category A listed building. It stands on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood house. It is the Mother Church of Presbyterianism and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle. Visitors can marvel at the stained glass windows and learn about The Order of the Thistle, Scotland's great order of chivalry whose membership is considered to be one of the country's highest honours. Guided tours and audio tours are available.
Exeter Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the UK. You can join the many Pilgrims and visitors who have been making their way to Exeter Cathedral since medieval times in visiting this gothic splendour, but large groups may need to book ahead as this is a fully working church with many services. The cathedral runs roof tours where you can Join their expert volunteer guides and climb a hidden stone spiral staircase that leads high above the nave vaulting. You can stand in the 14th century lead workshop and hear stories of the craftsmen who built this Cathedral. Glimpse the Peter Bell as you make your way up to the top of the North Tower where there are fantastic views across Exeter and Devon.
Whether you’re felt touched by God, or just had a jolly good time looking at the stunning architecture of the UK’s cathedrals, churches and abbeys, there are plenty more of this stunning sights to encounter in the UK. What with churches being notoriously welcoming and a safe refuge from trouble they make for a relaxing break away from the stresses of everyday life and get you back to basics appreciating the simple pleasures in life.