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A Look Inside St Paul’s Cathedral in London

As it so often happens when I visit a new place, I took so many pictures at St Paul’s Cathedral that I couldn’t possibly include them all in the same post. Photos of the cathedral from the outside were the focus of Wednesday’s post. Today, we are going to venture in and take a look inside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

We visited on a Saturday in January – crowds were low and we had no problem getting booked into a guided tour of the cathedral. Guided tours are complimentary with a paid admission, so I highly recommend you try to join one because it enhanced our experience inside St Paul’s Cathedral tremendously. Otherwise, handheld audio guides are provided to visitors free of charge. Our guide was an elderly English gentleman, a little on the stuffy side, but he fit so perfectly into what I imagined a historical guide at a cathedral in England would be like that I couldn’t help but smile. He would occasionally make corny jokes that were so unexpected that no one in our group knew exactly how to react. It was so hilariously awkward.

Our tour lasted 90 minutes and covered the main cathedral floor, the crypt, and the best part – the geometric staircase seen in the Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes movies. You won’t see this staircase unless you join a tour as it’s blocked off from the public. I don’t even have a picture to share because our guide was a bit of a stickler to the rules and didn’t allow any photos throughout the tour. (Signs are up alerting visitors that no photography is allowed, but many visitors seemed to be disregarding them. I took the everybody’s-doing-it mentality and took some myself after the tour, but only the few pictured here which is saying something considering my normal habits!)

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral

The reason why it is so hard to follow the no photography rule inside St Paul’s Cathedral is because the cathedral is just so overwhelmingly beautiful. I completely understand why Prince Charles and Lady Diana chose to hold their wedding here – it’s absolutely exquisite. Before you start planning your own wedding here, first ask yourself – am I a member of the Order of St Michael and St George, the Order of the British Empire, the Imperial Society of Knights, or a holder of the British Empire Medal? If the answer is no, you’ll need to get married elsewhere. (And just when I was thinking this might be the place for Cory and I to renew our vows!)

The area by the high altar (pictured above) was damaged in the Blitz during WWII and has since been reconstructed. This is the only area of the cathedral that looks any different today than it did when it was built 300 years ago. The original high altar was much plainer, and as the cathedral plans didn’t allow for any stained glass within the church, the windows behind it were clear. (At the time, clear glass was seen as purer.) When the high altar was reconstructed after the war, it was quite a bit fancier than its predecessor, and there was an addition of stained glass in the newly appointed American Memorial Chapel directly behind the altar. This small chapel honors American servicemen who lost their lives in WWII and was a completely unexpected, but very generous tribute from the people of Great Britain.

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

St Paul’s Cathedral Dome

One of the other exciting features you’ll see on the tour of the main cathedral floor is the famous St Paul’s Cathedral dome. Scenes from the life of the apostle Paul were painted over the course of four years onto the dome’s ceiling by a man named James Thornhill. However, the paintings on the dome today are actually reproductions. Thornhill’s scenes had to be repainted in the late 1800’s due to deterioration from London’s smog.

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

Byzantine Mosaics Inside St Paul’s Cathedral

While you’re looking up, make sure you take the time to admire the beautiful byzantine mosaic artwork on the cathedral’s ceiling. Although the pictures don’t adequately show it, these works of art really come alive when they sparkle in the sunlight. These two come from the aisles along the sides of the cathedral, but even more stunning and intricate are the ones above the quire and high altar. My personal favorites were the three in the quire depicting the creation of earth, sky, and sea.

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt

After our tour through the main cathedral was complete, our guide took us down into the crypt where famous figures such as Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are laid to rest. If you look at the floors you’re walking on surrounding these tombs, you’ll notice they’re made up of tiny mosaic tiles – not quite as intricate as the colorful ceilings in the cathedral, but certainly still beautiful. The mosaics were applied by women prisoners allowed out on work release programs. If you pay attention, you’ll be able to tell where the women started and where they ended by how complex the designs are. By the time the project was completed, the women were incredibly skilled!

Also in the crypt is the OBE Chapel (Order of the British Empire) where Christopher Wren, the cathedral’s architect, is buried among many other architects, sculptors, and artists. And if you look at the floor once again, you might be alarmed to discover that you’re walking directly over the graves of these folks. They are buried underneath the floor with simple tile markers denoting their names and professions.

Our tour concluded here and we were free to check out the rest of the cathedral on our own. We immediately headed to the Whispering Gallery, my favorite thing to see inside St Paul’s Cathedral.

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

The Whispering Gallery

The Whispering Gallery is the perfect place to get a closer look at Thornhill’s artwork in the cathedral’s dome, but you’ll have to climb 259 stairs to get to it. This circular gallery surrounds the inside of the dome 30 meters from the cathedral floor allowing visitors to walk the complete circle and view the dome from every angle. It gets its unusual name from its unique design allowing a whisper spoken on one side of the dome to be heard on the opposite side. We tested it, and bizarrely enough, it works! You can hear the whisper as if it’s being spoken directly into your ear!

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

The Stone Gallery & Golden Gallery

When we were done making our way around the Whispering Gallery, we got a bit more exercise by climbing up to both of St Paul’s two outdoor galleries for a combined total of 528 stairs!

The Stone Gallery (53 meters high) and the Golden Gallery (85 meters high) at St Paul’s Cathedral offer some truly stunning views of London’s landscape, if you can ignore all the cranes. By the time we reached the Golden Gallery, the sun was beginning to set, so our pictures started coming out a bit hazy, but it was still lovely being up so high and seeing the city from this perspective.

Including our guided tour, we spent a total of three hours inside St Paul’s Cathedral, so it’s not really something you’ll want to simply pop in for. Definitely give yourself enough time to see all of it. You want to get your money’s worth after all! Admission tickets are a tad pricey for a church (£16 for adults, £7 for children), but if you factor in the guided tour and the option of climbing to the top for pretty views, it doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable. If you’re scheduling a visit, keep in mind St Paul’s is worship-only on Sundays, no sightseeing allowed!

Click here for Part 1: Architecture Of St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral: Website
Address: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD

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A Look Inside St Paul's Cathedral In London

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  • Diana Hoyos
    February 26, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    Wow! very nice pics, as always :)

  • Mandy Southgate
    February 5, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Wow, what gorgeous photos! I am so impressed that you were able to get photos inside the cathedral – they are so rare! So now I can tell you my little bit of trivia which I am sure you already knew – during the Great Fire of London, they thought the original St Paul’s Cathedral to be so indestructible that they stored scores of priceless books, art and furniture inside it, only to lose it all when the cathedral went up in flames.

  • Emmymom
    February 4, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    So beautiful! Sounds like the tour was definitely worth it. I think I would have only been brave enough to try and sneak a couple of pictures and wouldn’t have gotten nearly as many beautiful ones as you did.

  • Alyx
    February 4, 2014 at 7:22 PM

    These photos are beautiful, Sarah Kate!!

  • Connie Weiss
    February 3, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    It really is so beautiful and detailed. I love it!

  • Melanie Fontaine
    February 3, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    St. Paul’s Cathedral is such a magnificently impressive building! I was in absolute awe for the entire duration of my visit! It feels almost too decadent to be a church! ;) Definitely the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever visited.

  • Alex Fahey
    February 3, 2014 at 1:50 AM

    I love love love St. Paul’s. I loved the American Memorial Chapel, and the Crypt, and the Whispering Gallery, and pretty much everything about it. When I went I didn’t sneak pictures, but yours are beautiful.

  • Tammy Chrzan
    February 3, 2014 at 1:08 AM

    Absolutely breathtaking! I have only ever been on the outside of this beauty, but I was planning on having my wedding there when Prince Harry asks for my hand in marriage :)
    I’m leaving Austin and will be in London on the 8th of March, I was wondering if you want to meet up on the 9th? I have asked Selena from “Oh the places we will go”, if she would like to do something as well, I will be in London for a week but I will be spending time with my new special male friend :) and also I would like to hop on over to Ireland for a day, I’m just waiting on word from my friend there. SO… What do you think?
    I hope you have a wonderful week Sarah, Much love to you,

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 3, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      I should be able to meet up for a coffee or cup of tea on that Sunday! Just let me know what you and Selena work out!

  • Montse Cano
    February 2, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    The view of the cathedral at night, as you approach it from the Tate Modern, is one of my all-time favourite views of London. I agree with Andrea – those stairs are a killer!

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    February 2, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    Stunning, stunning image of one of my favourite London buildings!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 3, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      So which is your VERY favorite building in London?

  • Miwa
    February 2, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    What a breathtaking view! Thanks for the tour, Sarah!

  • Katrin
    February 2, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    The view is definitely fantastic! I would love to go there and see the Harry Potter staircase! Love anything Harry Potter related. :) Thanks for sharing, Sarah! I really need to travel to London asap!

  • Claire (@Kurea_San)
    February 1, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    Your photos are very good – even if you weren’t supposed to take them! Thanks for this post – I’ve lived in London for over four years but not made it to St Paul’s yet. Think you just gave me the nudge I needed.
    Claire xx

  • Mrs. Match
    February 1, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Breathtaking! I’m glad you were a rule breaker and took a few photos. :-) That is SOOO cool that you got to see the stairs from Harry Potter. Anything HP makes me happy. :-) LOL, I’m always out of breath when I climb stairs too, even when I’m in really good shape. I blame it on my shortness and the change in altitude. ;-)

  • Quyen Nguyen
    February 1, 2014 at 1:45 AM

    Thanks for the peek inside the cathedral! I didn’t get to see the inside because it is so expensive! :)

  • rorybore
    February 1, 2014 at 3:11 AM

    gorgeous. I cannot imagine what it must be like to stand in that kind of history and amazing artistic talent. I remember Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding — I was just a little girl and it seemed like the perfect castle like place to get married.

  • Jenn
    January 31, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    I totally googled the Harry Potter staircase and OMG’d! Now I have to add this place to my list of HP places I have to see :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 1, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      It is REALLY cool to see it in person. I’m still upset that I wasn’t allowed to grab a photo. I shouldn’t have asked – I should have just taken it and suffered the consequences afterwards. Ha!

      • Jenn
        February 3, 2014 at 10:37 PM

        Haha totally – that’s what I did with the David statue in Italy but I was sneaky and didn’t get caught which was awesome!

        • Sarah Shumate
          February 4, 2014 at 10:42 AM

          You aren’t allowed to take pictures of that one either?! I’m so disappointed!

          • Jenn
            February 4, 2014 at 11:31 PM

            Nope :( but if you’re sneaky and your camera shutter sound and flash are off, you can definitely sneak one :)

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    January 31, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Ahh it looks so amazing. Do you think it’s worth the admission charge to get in? I would love to go!

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 1, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      It’s a lot of money – I agree with you! But as long as you do everything that’s offered to you while you’re there, it seems like a pretty fair price. Go on a pretty day and make sure you take one of the tours, go in the Whispering Gallery, and then take pictures from the top. You’ll feel like you got your money’s worth if you do it all!

      Tomorrow might be a good day to do it if you aren’t planning to go to the Chinese New Year festivities. The forecast looks gorgeous! And who knows when we’ll get this much sun again?!

  • Keith Wynn
    January 31, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    What a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral. I love the architecture.

  • Diana Bockus
    January 31, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    These pictures are so absolutely beautiful, as usual. The last one I love. As for the cathedral… I think I would just want to sit and bask in the beauty of it all. I don’t blame you for taking photos, I would too. How do they expect people not to? Considering there’s still the chance of marrying royalty (haha) – perhaps I too could get married there? Miracles can happen, right? haha! I’ll be sure to send you an invite!

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    January 31, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    So beautiful! I absolutely LOVE those views!! Makes those stairs worth it, right, right?? ;)

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    January 31, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    I really want to go here, we’ve passed by a few times when we’ve been in London but never gone in. I love that last picture, London really is beautiful.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 1, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      It’s hard to decide which things to do in London if you don’t actually live here. There’s just so much to choose from. Did I see where you guys were heading into London today for Matilda? I hope you have a great time!

      • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
        February 3, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        Yes! If you haven’t seen it you should, it’s so good! I think our 8 year old niece wants to become an actress now haha. We put an offer in a flat too but they came back wanting more than what we want to pay, so I think the hunt will continue sadly.

        • Sarah Shumate
          February 3, 2014 at 4:13 PM

          I’m sorry your offer was turned down. :o( If you give it a couple months, there should be even more places on the market. We’re thinking of moving closer to the river when our lease is up in June if we can find something for less than what we’re paying now. I’m crossing my fingers we can find something a little bigger than what we have now, too!

          • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
            February 4, 2014 at 11:34 AM

            Yeah, it’s just annoying trying to organise to see properties from so far away. Close to the river would be awesome! We are searching way out in zone 2-3 so we can get a bigger place and have a spot to park our car on the road. All these little things to think about! Fingers crossed x

          • Sarah Shumate
            February 4, 2014 at 12:36 PM

            We’re in Zone 3 and I can still see the London Eye from Lexie’s bedroom window, so it’s really not as far away as it sounds!

  • andrea
    January 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    I love the view from the top but the stairs are a killer :)