Good for: royal weddings
Lonely Planet review for Westminster Abbey
If you're one of those boring sods who boast about spending months in Europe without ever setting foot in a church, get over yourself and make this the exception. Not merely a beautiful place of worship, Westminster Abbey serves up the country's history cold on slabs of stone. For centuries the country's greatest have been interred here, including most of the monarchs from Henry III (died 1272) to George II (1760).
Westminster Abbey has never been a cathedral (the seat of a bishop). It's what is called a 'royal peculiar' and is administered directly by the Crown. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned here, with the exception of a couple of unlucky Eds who were murdered (Edward V) or abdicated (Edward VIII) before the magic moment. Look out for the strangely ordinary-looking Coronation Chair.
The building itself is an arresting sight. Though a mixture of architectural styles, it is considered the finest example of Early English Gothic in existence. The original church was built in the 11th century by King (later Saint) Edward the Confessor, who is buried in the chapel behind the main altar. Henry III began work on the new building in 1245 but didn't complete it; the French Gothic nave was finished in 1388. Henry VII's magnificent Late Perpendicular-style Lady Chapel was consecrated in 1519 after 16 years of construction.
Apart from the royal graves, keep an eye out for the many famous commoners interred here, especially in Poets' Corner, where you'll find the resting places of Chaucer, Dickens, Hardy, Tennyson, Dr Johnson and Kipling as well as memorials to the other greats (Shakespeare, Austen, Brontë etc). Elsewhere you'll find the graves of Handel and Sir Isaac Newton.
The octagonal Chapter House dates from the 1250s and was where the monks would meet for daily prayer before Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries. Used as a treasury and 'Royal Wardrobe', the cryptlike Pyx Chamber dates from about 1070. The neighbouring Abbey Museum has as its centrepiece the death masks of generations of royalty.
Parts of the Abbey complex are free to visitors. This includes the Cloister and the 900-year-old College Garden. Adjacent to the abbey is St Margaret's Church, the House of Commons' place of worship since 1614. There are windows commemorating churchgoers Caxton and Milton, and Sir Walter Raleigh is buried by the altar.