Come step inside a few centuries of history...
There are thousands of houses of worship in London and I've only visited a fraction - but I'm happy to share a few of my favourites here. If I do say so myself, I think this is a perfect list for a first time visitor to London as it gives you a little bit of everything. Famous, obscure, old (and really old), music, community, and food. I'm hoping with each subsequent visit to London my list will continue to grow!
Why isn't St. Paul's Cathederal on this list? It is indeed one of my favourites but I haven't had the chance to visit since 2001 and therefore I can't really offer any personal insights into things like their cafe, their music program, or their tours. Hopefully, I'll be back for a return visit soon!
Once inside, I was hugely touched to see members of the clergy walking among the crowds, welcoming as many visitors as possible. There was also a brief moment of silence when they called for a prayer to think of those in need around the world. It was a moving and inclusive occasion that reminded me of how lucky I am to travel.
This is one place where you'll want to take your time and go slowly. There is so much to see and to take in; you wouldn't want to miss anything. An hour or so doing a bit of online reading about the Abbey would be a wise investment so you can fully appreciate its role in British and royal history. (PS: Believe it or not, it's perfectly okay to walk on the tombs and memorials that cover the floor - it would be impossible to get around if you didn't! But there's one tomb which is never stepped on and that is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, near the front doors of the building).
St. Ethedreda's Church
With Catholicism banned in England in 1620, the church was granted to the Spanish ambassador to be used as a private chapel. Therefore, it was considered to be on Spanish soil and thus allowed to continue with Roman Catholic services. Today, St. Etheldreda's is one of the oldest Catholic churches in London.
St. Bride's Church and Foundation
St. Bride's really is a treasure trove of history. After suffering devestating damage in World War II bombing raids, the restoration efforts revealed some incredible archeological gems - as well as thousands of human remains, including many dating back to the Great Plague of the 1600s!
Today, a visit to St. Bride's is a cheerful affair, especially if you go at lunch time when there's free music recitals. Their next door neighbour, the St. Bride Foundation, is equally lovely. It's a community hub for the arts and education and has a theatre program and an amazing collection of print and typography artifacts.
Like all London churches, St. Martin has plenty of fascinating history (a 2006 excavation found a grave dating back to 410AD!) but the real reason you want to go here is for the food. YES! Trust me on this. The "Cafe in the Crypt" underneath the church is my absolute favourite place to eat in London. The cafe serves up hearty, hot British food (made with local and organic ingredients where possible) and plenty of cold offerings like sandwiches and salads - all at incredibly reasonable prices and all in support of the church's outreach work. The floor is a sea of gravestones, your neighbours are real honest-to-goodness locals, and the fruit crumble is served with a massive pitcher of homemade custard on the side. What's not to love!?!
Honorable Mentions: St. Mary-le-Bow and St. Mary Aldermary
If, like me, you find yourself in the area between meal times and want a snack to tide you over, The Host Cafe in the nearby St. Mary Aldermary offers tea, coffee, sweets, and light snack - right inside the church itself. Sitting on a pew, hand curled around a hot mug, gazing up at the incredible architecture - I can't think of a nicer way to enjoy some travel reflections.
Loving London, Loving Life
If you enjoyed this piece, you'll also like:
Loving London for Less
Tour the Tower of London for 55 Pence!
The 200 Meter Challenge: London Edition