Growing up, Mary Poppins was on of my favorite films. it meant even more to me when I became a Disney Cast Member and really learned the history behind the film and just how much the iconic “Feed the Birds” song and moment within the film meant to Walt Disney. I had previously been to London in 2007, but didn’t think about visiting the iconic cathedral until early last year.
A Brief History
St. Paul’s Cathedral is better known perhaps for being one of the miracle buildings in London that was never bombed during the air raids of World War II. The church itself has a long and colorful history dating back to 604 AD! The current facade and design of the building date back to around 1666. The church was redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was the highest and largest building in London at it’s peak and has been in continual use since then. It is an Anglican Church that was named after the apostle, St. Paul. It’s building style is one of the best example of English Baroque in the UK. There is a detailed full history of the church here.
I decided when I was visiting that the easiest way to get to St. Paul’s would be by the London Underground service. It has its own stop located on the Central Line that I thought would be easy to use. My mistake, however, was not checking on the maintenance schedule of the Central Line. The St. Paul stop was actually closed. I ended up taking a train to the London Bank station stop and walked about 10 minutes through the station back to the St. Paul’s stop.
There are a few other stops that are within walking distance. All are located within the Central, District or Circle lines on the Underground. The church itself is actually blocked off to street traffic, but you are able to take a bus or a bike to the area. Some of the tour companies also have stops nearby that will drop you off and pick you up.
When you arrive at the church, there is a strict no photography rule enforced. You should remember that St. Paul’s is a church and as such also enforces a dress code of covered shoulders and no shorts. The church does have a bag check and does not allow in larger items. There is no place to store your bags at the church.
If you are attending a church service, there is no charge to enter the church.. For everybody else, the tickets are a little on the high side. I was surprised that they will cost you about 20 pounds. There are discounted rates for Seniors, students and families. Tickets are discounted by a few pounds if you purchase them in advance online here. Ensure you print them out in advance as a paper print of of the ticket is required.
The tickets if you purchase them in person come on a nice paper that make a great souvenir. I unfortunately lost mine on the climb of the bell tower. The church offers free audio guides for your enjoyment as you tour the church. It really helps explain what you are looking at. I really enjoyed the commentary on mine. I would allow at least 2-3 hours if you plan to use it. Other tours are offered throughout the day. Check with the ticketing desk when you get there.
Exploring the Church
I didn’t expect to spend so long exploring the church myself, but the one thing I want to start of recommending is that you wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes. If you plan to go up to the top of the towers, the stairs are narrow and numerous. Once you pass the ticketing counter and pick up your audio guide, you have the freedom to explore pretty much everywhere that is open to the public.
The Church is broken up into the ground floor, the crypt, and tower levels. I would recommend starting on the ground floor first, then tower levels and finishing with the crypt. Note that you will need to show your ticket to access the tower and crypt levels. The only restroom in the church is located in the basement level near the cafe and shop on the crypt level.
The ground floor level contains the alter, the North and South Aisles, the Organ and the North and South Quires and choir areas. Sitting and looking up at the intricate carvings and numerous statues and designs can be overwhelming. Take the time to sit and meditate. The choir area was at one point where the altar sat. I found that fact extremely interesting.
If you are able to walk up steps, I would head up to the Whispering Gallery next. This is the only enclosed part of the dome you can access that is indoors. The bell tower is outside and has very narrow and steep steps. The Whispering Gallery is about 250 steps up and overlooks the whole interior of the ground floor. It is high up, by gives you a spectacular view of everything. I wish that photos were allowed. Benches line the Whispering Gallery for you to sit and enjoy the view.
It’s called the Whispering Gallery because of the acoustics of the area. If you are traveling with other people or your family, it’s fun to experiment with sound. You are able to stand at one place on the dome, “whisper” into the wall and hear what is said on the other side.
The Stone Gallery and Golden Gallery
I consider these two to be the bell tower. If you have a fear of heights, don’t go up. There are a lot of steps and you will be tired by the time you climb 370 steps up to the Stone Gallery. You are going to be going outside, but will have a great view of the surrounding area. The best view of all is at the top of the Golden Gallery.
I would recommend catching your breath and sitting outside for a bit if you will be heading up to the Golden Gallery. I was also freezing outside and didn’t realize how windy it would be outside. I would ensure you have a sweater or light jacket. The view is stunning. I took so many photos I had to go buy a new memory card.
I was also exhausted at the top. My legs weren’t used to so much climbing. It was nerve wracking to go up steel steps where only one person can go up at a time. You will need to show your tickets to access both galleries. We had a church volunteer checking tickets when I reached the top. I was shocked that I had lost my ticket, but the volunteer saw that I had an audio guide and that I had a receipt for the church.
This was one of my favorite moments in London. Being able to stand at the top of St Pauls and watch the city below is something I will never forget. I only wish it were sunrise or sunset. That must be one of the best places in the city to see the lights come on and the city come to life or end the day.
The good news is that when you decide to go down, it’s all downhill. It is a lot easier on your legs. You may be out of breath though. I would rest inside the ground floor before you finish your tour of the church with the Crypt. You really have no choice when it comes to entering the Crypt. Why? It’s the only way to exit the church.
The Crypt has some notable famous British people buried under the church. Don’t let it confuse you with the memorial placards. Several tourists were convinced that Winston Churchill was buried there (he isn’t). Churchill was laid in state when he died in the church, but buried elsewhere. Sir Christopher Wren and the Duke of Wellington are buried there. The Duke of Wellington was made famous by his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
It’s worth exploring and taking the time to read the placards on the walls. I loved some of the interactive art and displays down there. When you have completed your exploration, you have the choice to exit or go back up. Once you exit to the cafe and shop area, you can’t reenter. You also will be asked to return your audio guide.
The restrooms will be past the exit. The shop has some traditional tourist items and religious items to buy. I was disappointed they didn’t have any Mary Poppins themed items, I did pick up some postcards of the interior. The cafe serves a nice tea service, but is a little expensive. I was tired and hungry and couldn’t find anywhere to sit. I ended up with a pot of tea and scone and sat on the kids tables until something opened up.
When I was done, I couldn’t believe I had spent 3.5 hours inside the church. There was a lot to see and enjoy. I would say it was well worth the money. Pace yourself if you will not be enjoying at least a trip to the Whispering Gallery. If you want to see it free of charge, consider attending a church or Evensong service. It’s a great way to take in the atmosphere.
There was a traditional wedding taking place in the chapel as I was leaving. It was a perfect end of my trip to St. Paul’s. I only wish that I had been able to peek inside there. I’ve heard fantastic things about it. The gardens around the church are supposed to be beautiful. I was too tired to explore and had a lunch planned at Fortnum Mason I needed to get to. If you are in London this is a place I would highly encourage you to consider checking out. Happy travels!