London Drum

St. Paul’s Cathedral – Whispering Gallery & Crypt

St Paul’s Cathedral
Where? St. Paul’s Cathedral, Ludgate Hill, The City · Web: stpauls.co.uk Opening times? 8.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Tue, Thu-Sat); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Wed); Last entry 30 mins before closing; Note: On Sundays the cathedral is only open for worship Visiting hours may change Price? Adults £18.00; Children £7.70 (6-17); Infants free entry (under-6); Family ticket £43.70 Entry charges may change Time required? A typical visit is 2-2½ hours Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 4, 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 100, 242 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is St. Paul’s Central Other nearby stations: Blackfriars and Mansion House Train fares

Craig’s review… I nearly climbed to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral and I’m bloody knackered now. They need to get a lift installed for lazy people like me. They should get Christopher Wren back to design a lift. I’m surprised he didn’t put one in in the first place – I thought he was supposed to be a good architect.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about St. Paul’s is the lousy piece of street planning outside the front door. As you walk up Ludgate Hill you’ll be expecting to see the entire grand facade blocking off the top like a big barn door, but with the way the street curves around the brow all you get is the centre with the side chopped off. It’s the worst piece of street planning ever and it must have driven Christopher Wren nuts. But I don’t suppose the surrounding houses were as tall in his day.

They do a similar trick when you enter the front door because all you can see is a little bit of the aisle. It’s not until you pay your money and enter the nave that you’ll stand back and say “wow”. You’ll be standing in the same spot for ten minutes before you even switch the audio-guide on. Some buildings are just worth standing still and looking at.

I’m not a massive fan of the audio guide if I’m honest, because there’s too much religion in it. I know that sounds a daft (and I do realise that it’s a cathedral!) but it was almost as if they’re trying to convert you through the headphones, imploring you to sit down and revel in the glory of God. It’s full of lines like “May God go with you”, “Take time to reflect on God” and “Our main purpose is to worship God”.

You do learn lots of nice stuff about the architecture though (the way he constructed the domes is an eye-opener) and a crazy line about the cost. Did you know that the cathedral only cost £143 million in today’s money? That might sound like a lot but that’s only £20 million more than Lionel Messi’s last Barcelona contract! Why are our priorities so warped these days that we’d rather watch a footballer knock in a few goals than build another St. Paul’s?

I like sitting underneath the central dome and staring up at the ceiling – those seats are worth the entry fee alone. I could probably sit here for another hour but my neck has started getting stiff. There are a few choral tracks on the audio guide that you can loop through and that is my advice to you: just sit and listen to those until your neck gives out.

Climb to the Whispering Gallery

After that you can head for the stairs and the thirty minute climb to the top of the dome. The first level is only 257 steps up to the Whispering Gallery, and even I could manage that. This one looks down onto the cathedral floor and gets its name because you’re supposed to be able to whisper into the wall and hear it clearly round the other side. Unfortunately I was on my own so I couldn’t really test it out, but I think you’d be hard pressed to hear your partner above the hundred other people all doing the same thing anyway – you couldn’t even hear a whisper if they were standing five feet from your face!

View from the dome

After that you need to brace yourself for another 119 steps to the Stone Gallery. This is where it starts to get hard because these stairs are of the stone windy type (like a castle turret) and I was extremely happy to get to the top. When you step through the door you’ll find yourself at the very bottom of the exterior dome (which is a bit confusing because the Whispering Gallery seemed like it was at the bottom… but there are actually two different domes, one inside the other).

It gives you a great view of The Shard and the City skyscrapers up here. See if you can spot the top of Tower Bridge as well (which is easy) and the golden urn at the top of The Monument (a bit harder). The White Tower at the Tower of London might take you a little longer. Then look for the Globe Theatre (easy), the London Eye and Parliament. I will give you some bonus points if you manage to spot the top of Westminster Cathedral – and I do mean the cathedral and not the abbey!

The Golden Gallery

If you’re fitter than Superman then you can try and climb another 150 steps to the Golden Gallery. This one takes you to the very top of the exterior dome, but unfortunately there’s no stone tunnel to climb this time. There are no wide wooden steps either. What you have to do is clamber up a rickety old iron thing that goes straight up like a cliff face, with fabulous views of the solid concrete floor far, far below. To make things even worse the iron-lattice stair-treads are completely see-through, so you can see the exact spot on the floor where your blood stain will be in two minutes time. Even Edmund Hillary would think twice about climbing these things so needless to say, I chickened out – I don’t mind admitting it. I know I’m supposed to be writing a review for you but I’m not insane. Anyone who climbs these stairs is clearly as mad as a box of frogs.

My problem is that I am a total wuss when it comes to heights and I always think that I’ve picked the day when the whole edifice is going to come tumbling down around me. The fact that it has been standing quite happily for 350 years doesn’t matter. It even stayed standing when the Germans were dropping bombs on it during the Blitz, but I don’t care – it still looks totally unsafe and there is no way you’ll ever catch me climbing that thing!

Admiral Nelson’s tomb in the crypt

The final things worth seeing are the tombs of Nelson and Wellington in the crypt downstairs. Nelson died first so he was given the plum spot in the centre, which is a better setting than many of our English kings and queens were given. I would go so far as to say he’s got the grandest burial in London after Edward the Confessor and Henry VII.

The Duke of Wellington’s tomb

The Duke of Wellington’s tomb doesn’t disappoint either because whilst Nelson’s bed is fancy like the dandy man he was, the Duke just gets a no-nonsense block of stone. The Duke didn’t do small talk and his tomb doesn’t either.

If you walk to the chapel at the very far end then you’ll find the graves of famous painters like Turner, Reynolds and Millias (Constable is on the other side). You’ll also find the final resting place of Sir Christopher Wren – a simple slab of black granite tucked away quietly in the corner. But I suppose he got the cathedral as his headstone.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Brompton Oratory (take a tube journey from St Pauls to South Kensington); Westminster Abbey (catch a tube from St Pauls to Westminster) and Westminster Cathedral (catch a tube from St Pauls to Victoria)

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Your comments and questions

Steven St Paul's is uncluttered, clean and white, light and airy, instead of dark and dusty like Westminster Abbey. If you tire easily, or get nervous in enclosed spaces, then the tiny corridors up to the Whispering Gallery are probably best given a miss. I was lucky enough to attend when a mass was being given in the nave. The congregation was standing around the priest and his voice was piped throughout the Cathedral. It made me stop and realise that this is not just a London landmark, it is an actual place of worship.

Gwyn I would have loved to see the view from the top of the dome but unfortunately I couldn't make it past the whispering gallery. I climbed up thinking it was at the top, but when I stepped out I was still only halfway! The view from the whispering gallery was wonderful, but quite high enough for me!

Sarah Lasenby We would like to draw your attention to two very exciting aspects of the exterior. We looked at the apse end and especially at the carvings high up on the walls - swags of fruit flowers birds and cherubs. I was able to photograph them with a small camera and can now see just how fine the carving is. The second thing we enjoyed was the lovely garden. It is a bit bleak in winter but we shall be coming back to see what the special plantings look like in summer.

JimT Planning a visit & accidentally came across some of your reviews! Enjoyed them so much I read through them all even though I won't get to most of the venues I enjoy your humour - you could almost qualify as an Aussie! Cheers JimT

Craig Cheers Jim, I hope your enjoy your visit. I've been to Sydney a few times so I'm almost an Aussie.

A Clucas Is there a lift to the whispering gallery?

Craig Hi. No, just a flight of 257 stairs, but they are quite wide and not very steep

Fran Are you allowed to take photos inside the cathedral? I have been given conflicting advice

Craig Hi Fran. You never used to be able to in the past, but they've relaxed the rules now. Their website says "We recognise that you may wish to take photos... respectful non-flash photography for personal use inside the cathedral is welcomed outside service times" - stpauls.co.uk/​visits/​visits/photography-policy

Jez Do you have to pay to get inside

Craig Hi Jez. You have to pay for sightseeing, but you can attend the various church services for free if you want. But you won't be able to do things like climbing up the domes when you do that. There's a calendar of upcoming services on their website - stpauls.co.uk/worship-with-us

TimJolly When I go to a service at St Paul's, I always think of John Donne ("No man is an island..." AND "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." BOTH in the same poem) preaching here -- though admittedly in the previous building!

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