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Visiting St Paul’s Cathedral in London

When we were in Tennessee over Christmas, my uncle mentioned that one of his favorite places he visited in London was St Paul’s Cathedral. I’d seen the church many times in passing, as you do in London, but hadn’t had the opportunity to go inside until a couple weekends ago, prompted by my uncle’s insistence that it would be worth our time. (He wasn’t wrong!)

We happened to be visiting St Paul’s Cathedral on one of those rare sunny days London experiences in the winter, and I was so impressed by how magnificent the cathedral looked against the blue skies that I ended up taking way more pictures than I intended to. If you’ve been a reader here for very long, you’ll know what that means – St Paul’s Cathedral is going to be a two-parter. Today we’ll be checking out the beautiful architecture of St Paul’s, and then we’ll head inside the cathedral in my next post!

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

The current St Paul’s Cathedral is a relatively new cathedral at only 300 years old. It was built by the famous English architect, Christopher Wren, after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the old St Paul’s Cathedral. Christopher Wren was charged with rebuilding over fifty churches after the Great Fire, but St Paul’s was his grand masterpiece. He died shortly after its completion and is buried in the OBE Chapel in the cathedral’s crypt.

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

We’ve seen and toured quite a few churches since moving to Europe, and most of them, like Bath Abbey and Notre-Dame Cathedral, were built in the Gothic architectural style. St Paul’s Cathedral was our first cathedral to visit built with a neoclassical design. Our tour guide called it a “simple” design. I’m not sure I’d go that far (I grew up going to country churches – I know what simple looks like!), but I suppose in comparison to flying buttresses and pointed spires, St Paul’s Cathedral could technically be perceived as simpler. However you want to describe it, there’s no denying the elegance of the dome and those tall, white Corinthian columns. Pure beauty.

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

Heading around to the cathedral’s majestic West Front, you’ll see the statue of Queen Anne, reigning monarch at the time of the cathedral’s completion, welcoming visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral. The entrance is on this side of the church, but us common folk won’t be able to enter through the fancy doors pictured above. Those are known as the Great West Doors and are only used for special occasions or royalty. (You might recognize them from photos of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. They were used for Diana’s and her procession’s entrance, as well as the couple’s exit.)

A massive church clean-up and restoration, on both the exterior and interior, was recently completed in 2011. Three centuries of pollution and exposure to the elements had left the cathedral blackened and dirty. But now, 15 years and £40 million later, St Paul’s Cathedral gleams in the sunlight, almost blinding white at times, the symbol of purity. As you wander around admiring the cathedral, make sure you stop in the gardens, particularly if you visit in the spring or summer. Benches are scattered throughout and they’re a lovely spot to sit and marvel at the view!

Click here for Part 2: A Look Inside St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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Visiting St Paul's Cathedral In London

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  • Travel with Intent
    April 22, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    I can never pass by without a wander in the gardens and a marvel at the exterior. I featured that Young Lovers statue on my blog just a week or so ago.

  • Alex Fahey
    February 3, 2014 at 1:54 AM

    If you have time next Thanksgiving, you should go to their Thanksgiving service for the American population. It was wonderful.

    • Sarah Shumate
      February 3, 2014 at 8:32 AM

      That’s what someone else mentioned, too! We will have to do that – it sounds like a great way to celebrate the holiday, especially since we won’t be spending it with our families. Going to St. Paul’s would certainly make it memorable!

  • Miwa
    February 2, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Beautiful photos, as always! St. Paul’s will definitely be on my list of places to visit in London ;)

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    January 30, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    Beautiful! You are so talented at capturing every angle! I look forward to seeing the inside!

  • Connie Weiss
    January 30, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    Just beautiful!!

  • Sara Louise
    January 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    The first photo is like a postcard, it’s beautiful!
    How cool is it to live somewhere with so much history and amazing architecture :)

  • Quyen Nguyen
    January 30, 2014 at 2:33 AM

    I have to admit, there are many cathedrals all over Europe that I have only seen the outside of. I find that the admissions are so expensive! 16 pounds is almost 27 US dollars! I much prefer your tip of admiring the architecture from the outside and the lovely gardens!

  • Mandy Southgate
    January 30, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Gosh, what fantastic photos! I love St Paul’s Cathedral and often walk from Charing Cross to Cannon Street just so I can get a peek inside. I was going to tell you an interesting fact about the cathedral but just realised you’ll probably mention it on Friday so I’ll wait for that!

  • Erin P
    January 29, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    I love the way you capture places you visit! Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Anna
    January 29, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Sometimes I wish I was a princess just to get married in St Paul’s. Such a fantastic place and beautiful pictures. Also, I love sunny London – I think I forgive it for all its grey days when a sunny day comes out. Such a pushover ;)

  • Kari Holtkamp
    January 30, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    So beautiful! Your pictures are breathtaking!

  • Emmymom
    January 29, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    So beautiful! Those one doors are huge! I like the cherubs over that black door, have no clue how people can carve into stone like that

  • rorybore
    January 29, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    wow. just – holy wow. there are no words to describe such magnificence. Can’t wait to see inside!

  • topchelseagirl
    January 29, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    Love the first photo! We marvel at how wonderful it is now – how must it have looked to those around when it was first constructed?!

  • Caroline
    January 29, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Beautiful pictures. I used to work in the city and used to walk past St Paul’s all the time – it’s easy to take somewhere so stunning for granted!

    Caroline x

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    January 29, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    I was going to visit St. Paul’s the other day, but didn’t have enough time. I didn’t realise there was an admission charge though, I may have to just go and admire it from the outside. Look forward to seeing your post on the inside

  • Jo
    January 29, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    I am always so amazed when I see these churches/cathedrals when you consider what they accomplished without the modern design and building tools we have around today. It is nothing but a massive piece of art.

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    January 29, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Gorgeous, just gorgeous! Isn’t it just an etherally stunning building? We were so lucky St Paul’s was a miracle survivor of the WW2 bombings. I have a fact for you; those doors in your last image? It is the special employment right of the head building custodian/porter to open those doors on his own when the Queen is invited for a service. The custodian also has a suit supplied by the Cathedral just for that reason. Awesome, no?

  • Charlotte MacDonald-Gaunt
    January 29, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    Lovely photos, it’s an incredible building and I’m so bummed you’re not allowed to take photos inside :o) Xx

  • Tanya @Other Side of the Road
    January 29, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Gorgeous photos…gotta love a blue-sky day in London. A great (free) way to see the interior of the church is to attend the American Thanksgiving service every year on Thanksgiving day. The American ambassador speaks and it is a wonderful experience.

  • Katrin
    January 29, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Your pictures are so fantastic, Sarah! Always love your posts so much! And I am hoping to be able to travel to London this year!

  • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    January 29, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    I am so glad to see your St. Paul’s post! After watching a documentary on how the cathedral survived the German Blitz, I have been wanting to visit….such an great story. Such a “simple” design HAHA!! You’re right, come to America and you will see simple :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 30, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      That was a big part of our guided tour we took inside! Our guide showed us where bombs did penetrate the cathedral and cause some damage, but all things considered it miraculously survived! I loved the stories about the people brave enough to make sure the bombs didn’t cause any damage – did your documentary talk about them?