I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s true, despite all the time I’ve spent, lived and studied in London, I’ve never before visited St Paul’s Cathedral!
In fact, I‘d never even thought about visiting it!
That was until, of course, pandemo madness has had been trapped here in London and well, why I was passing my days in this city and not out adventuring on the road, I thought it was about time I checked out some of this capital’s greatest icons.
So, after putting out the word via my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter channels, I discovered that for many of you, your absolute view of London is from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral!
While I was sold!
So just before lockdown 2.0, I scuttled off there and can now bring you my top 8 tips for visiting this amazing place including, crucially St Paul’s Cathedral hours and how to get your hands on tickets the cheapest way.
After all, being one of the top 25 famous buildings to visit in London, intricately desecrated inside and out, home to a famous choir and built by the famous architect Christopher Wren, it turns out this place has quite a lot going for it… even if you’re not religious.
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#1 Cathedral Opening Hours
So first up on this visiting guide, is the number piece of info you all what to know.
That is, what are the St Paul’s Cathedral hours, in other words, what time are they open?
And the answer is that, outside of coronavirus restriction, normally St Paul’s is open Monday through Saturday year-round.
It is open from 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon.
Within that, it’s worth noting that the galleries do not open until 9:30am and that the last entrance time for visitors is half an hour before closing at 4pm.
Last entrance to the Galleries is a 4:15pm.
Probably worth pointing out too here, that the Galleries are the parts of the Cathedral which are elevated outside – essentially, the Dome areas.
You can still enter the church after visiting hours however, for the 5pm Choral Evensong, which last 45 minutes.
This is when you can experience St Paul’s for free, but of course, you can’t wander around, take photos or visit the Dome at this time.
Visitors after 4:30pm come for the religious service and singing.
This is also true of the daily Eucharist service, which takes place at St Paul’s Monday to Saturday at 12:30pm.
On Sundays the Church is only open for religious services, which take place as follows:
Holy Communion: 8am
Choral Mattins: 8:45am
Sung Eucharist: 11:00am
Choral Evensong: 3pm
Organ Recital: 4:30pm
#2 How to Get Tickets
There’s 2 places you can buy St Paul’s Cathedral tickets and this keeps things nice and simple.
The first is via the Cathedral’s website.
Booking online offers you a slightly cheaper ticket price (so it’s worth it for us budget travellers) and also allows you to reserve your space – key in these corona times!
You can book tickets online up to 1 month in advance and entry slots are given in 30 minute intervals.
Group tickets of between 10-30 people can also be made online, as can reservations for those with annual passes, which allow them unlimited entries to the Cathedral within a year.
You can also buy annual passes, which essentially count as a donation towards the Cathedral on their website too.
Online adult tickets for a single entry cost £17, with concessions priced at £15 and child tickets at £7.20 Under 5 years old can enter for free, as can disabled visitors.
There are also a range of family tickets (with varying number of adults and children) which may work out more cost-effective for you.
You can also buy tickets at the Cathedral entrance in person if you need.
Here the tickets cost £1 more than the corresponding online tickets.
If you have a London Pass, then it’s very useful to know the entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral is included free in this great tourist companion.
Learn more about the London Pass here.
#3 Tour or Independent Visit?
The good news is that your entrance ticket does come with a free audio guide.
You can collect this just within the entrance, after you have either bought or shown your ticket.
The Audio Guide is both extensive and well put together.
It is very comprehensive and gives you a huge overview of the Cathedral’s history, its modern-day role, its community, its architecture and its journey through the ages.
It’s a fascinating way to learn about St Paul’s and if you listen to every single section you could spend hours in here wandering around and soaking in all the info.
For this reason, it’s not necessary to take a guided tour of St Paul’s as the audio guide allows you to wander the Cathedral and learn about its history at your own pace.
That said, if you do want to learn more either about Christopher Wren – the famous architect who designed the Cathedral – or quite why St Pauls is so famous, the role the Cathedral plays in the Church of England or who has been married or remembered here, then you may want to consider a tour.
There are several great London tours that include St Paul’s in their itinerary.
Check out the following top-rated options:
- London Highlight Guided Bike Tour
- Private London Tour by Car
- Changing of the Guard Walking Tour of London
- Hop-On Hop-Off London Sightseeing Bus Tour
- Full Day London Tours including Thames river cruise, London Eye ride, private tour of the Tower of London and professional guide Inside St Paul’s
The Cathedral also run some of their own independent guided tours.
Many of these are free once you have paid the admission, but only run at set times, which aren’t always known in advance.
You can learn more here.
#4 When to Visit
We’ve already discussed opening times, so as long as you visit within them you can go inside St Paul’s and out around the Dome anytime.
That said, there are probably some better times to pick within that wider timeframe.
There’s no question St Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic spot for London tourists to visit and during the peak tourist months of July, August and December, the Cathedral can get incredibly rammed.
In fact, one of the reasons I decided to visit St Paul’s in 2020 was thanks to the pandemic-induced lack of tourists in the city, which basically meant I had St Paul’s all to myself!
This was a great time to visit.
As was the fact I visited in November, later in the afternoon to be precise, when the sunset was happening around 5pm.
This meant that at the end of my visit, when I was up in the Galleries, I was able to witness the views from St Paul’s Dome across London during golden hour!
And what a golden hour!
Honestly, the views where incredible here and certainly the soft orange hues made it even more special.
If you want to capture sunset from the top of St Paul’s over London, then this is definitely one of the best times to visit.
#5 How Long to Allow for Visit
What with the audio guide to listen to from back to front and the epic views to enjoy from the Galleries, there’s no question you should allow at least a few hours for your trip to St Paul’s Cathedral.
And that’s not to mention the choir stalls, the crypt and the other parts of the church too….
#6 Parts of St Paul’s Cathedral to Visit
Which leads me nicely into my next section about the different parts of this Cathedral you can visit.
Yes I didn’t realise before I visited just how huge St Paul’s was and how much there was to see here.
Thankfully the Audio Guide is divided up neatly into nice sections, so you can wander through in an order that makes sense to you.
In general terms, the different parts of the Cathedral comprise of The Nave (the main section of the Church) the 2 wings or side sections known as The North and South Transepts, The Quire, The Crypt and The Galleries.
The Audio Guide covers all these sections in great details and from different points of view – be that historical, architectural, cultural or religious.
The only part the Audio Guide doesn’t cover are the Galleries.
These are essentially the parts of the Cathedral around the outside of the Dome that are elevated and have you looking over London.
#7 Accessing The Dome & Why You Should
So now we’re going to move on to talk about The Gallery or Dome parts of the Cathedral.
And I kinda thought these guys deserved their own section because, if you’re not religious, they are likely to be the most spectacular parts of the Cathedral.
At least they were in my eyes!
When you sit in The Nave, you can gaze up into the centre of the Dome as it arcs out of the ceiling and allows you to admire the incredibly artistic murals that have been crafted onto it.
Honestly, you can sit under this and stare up at it for ages.
Even if you don’t care about the Christian scenes it depicts, there’s no getting away from how impressive this is!
To access the external areas of the Dome you have to climb a lot of steep and winding steps, so do be prepared you need a pretty good level of fitness to get up here!
You have been warned!
That said, this was not as tough as climbing up Strasbourg Cathedral in 30 degree+ heat which I did in the summer!
Anyway, I digress, the point is, once you start climbing stairs you’ll first off reach the Whispering Gallery.
Continue on up to the Stone Gallery where you really come out into the open sky of London and start glimpsing the amazing 360 degrees views St Paul’s gives, albeit through some kinda cement railings.
You can get good snaps here, but you have to go up close to cut off the railings, so you don’t get the full effect, although it is still very nice.
For the full effect, you need to climb up a little more to the Golden Gallery – the real jewel in the crown for the most amazing views over Central London.
Cameras at the ready, this is a winner!
#8 What to Prep for Your Visit
So now we come to my final tip for visiting St Paul’s Cathedral and that is about how to prep for your time here.
Largely this involves, what to bring, as we’ve already touched on the need to be fit to conquer those steep stairs up to the gallery!
So, as I’ve just mentioned in the section above, a camera is a must for your trip to St Paul’s, especially if you want to snap those amazing aerial views over London.
I love my Sony A600, which was perfect for the job.
I’d also ensure that you bring a good day pack with you, so you can house everything you’re carrying easily, leaving your hands free for either the audio guide or your camera!Good walking shoes are a must for strolling the hours you’re likely to spend in St Paul’s, plus those steps up to The Galleries.
A water bottle to help you stayed hydrated is also a good idea.
And don’t forget a lightweight waterproof you can fold up into the daypack if you don’t need it – this is London after all, so there’s always a good chance it could rain when you are around the Dome!
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And that’s it my guide to St Paul’s Cathedral hours of visiting, along with 7 other top tips for your visit here.
I hope this post has been useful.
Have you visited this amazing London icon?
Have any advice to share?
Please drop it into the comments below and help any fellow travellers out…