A Guide to the Best Cathedrals in England

York Minster

If you’re searching for impressive cathedrals, then Britain has some of the best. If you’ve visited England and skipped visiting a cathedral or a castle, then in our opinion you’ve missed out on an important part of England’s history both culturally and historically. In our travels we’ve been to many, in all honesty, we’ve searched them out! Here are some of the best.

York minster

York Minster

York minster is both beautiful and alive with history. The current incarnation is the third place of worship to sit on this site and if you visit the undercroft below, some of the former foundations are exposed. Behind St Paul’s Cathedral, it is the second largest cathedral in Britain.

The church has had a tumultuous history and has been ravaged by fire on more than one occasion, in addition to this one of the bell towers collapsed in 1407 and then nearly collapsed in the 1970’s due to soft soil. This lead to major works to secure the foundations and the discovery of the Roman foundations below.

The curreny building was first erected in 1080 in order to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria and has been built on eversince. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe and it towers above the city. Interestingly it is called a ‘minster’ rather than a church or cathedral as it has its history as a priory and the word minster is used to indicate its status as a former monastary. This is also true for other minsters around the world.

There is plenty to do when visiting York Minster, some of the best being visiting the undercroft which has a display showing artefacts relating to the history of the minster and climbing the central tower for a magical view over the city. The architecture of the building itself is awe inspiring and much of the stone work is a work of art in itself, so why not take some time to simply wander around and enjoy the grandeur and detail of the space.

Opening hours for the minster can be found here. A range of tickets are available depending on whether you want to visit the minster or the minster and climb the tower. Best of all, a guided tour is included in your entrance fee and your ticket is valid for 12 months.

READ | How to spend a weekend in York

Lincoln cathedral facade

Lincoln Cathedral

We stumbled on Lincoln Cathedral on the way home from Bridlington in Yorkshire.. Its stunning spire soared above the city and was visible from miles away. ‘Let’s go there!’ I proclaimed. I’m glad we did. 

The timeline of Lincoln Cathedral spans back to 1072 and also has a story of fire, renovations and extensions to bring it to the building that we see today. Unlike the spire at York Minster, when Lincoln’s spire collapsed in 1549 it was not rebuilt. This ended its 238 year reign (1311-1549) as the tallest building in Britain.

When we visited the cathedral was closed to visitors as they were preparing for a ceremony. We were allowed the chance to enter if we were attending the service, so we took up the offer to walk through and experience the wonder of this building on our intentionall slow stroll to the back of the building where the service was being held. If you are attending a service, and not ‘technically’ sightseeing, there is no entry fee, so this may also be a strategy for those of you who have 30minutes to spare and want to avoid the entry fee.

The Cathedral has varying opening times depending on the day and season, so it is best to check on their site before planning your visit. Ticket prices vary on whether you are visiting the cathedral alone or combining it with the castle. Unfortunately we were short on time, but if you’re a history buff then the combined ticket is for you as Lincoln Castle is home to one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.

Lincoln cathedral is the third biggest church in England behind 

Canterbury cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Located in the capital of Kent, Canterbury Cathedral is a must see if you are visiting the South East of England. Whilst it may not be as large as the others, it is the home of the Bishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the Anglican church.

Originally founded in 547, it was rebuilt betwen 1070 and 1077. If you are a fan of the Tudors, you may know this as the location of the slaying of Thomas Becket, the archbishop who fell out of favour with Henry VIII. His death brought on a major revival of the church and subsequent expansion into the building that stands here today.

There is plenty to explore once inside the cathedral. It boasts a great cloister, chapter house, crypt, quire and water tower. Our favourites were the stunning stained glass windows that were much more vibrant than we had ever seen before. The window pictured below is often referred to as the ‘Disney’ window due to its bright blue and purple tones.

Interestingly in some sections of the cathedral, ancient wall murals have been discovered that date back to medieval times and have been restored for us to enjoy. We really enjoyed the chance to take a glimpse back at medieval life and the role of the church all of those years ago.

The cathedral and grounds are so huge that the staff have come up with a top 10 to help you work out where to spend your time. Guided tours are also available for a small cost and are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the history of this significant landmark.

Opening hours for the cathedral vary throughout the year, so it is best to check in advance. Tickets are valid for 1 year and can be purchased at the entry gate. Additionally, Canterbury is an easy day tour from London.

St Paul's cathedral ceiling

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s cathedral is famed worldwide. It is the largest church in Britain and most famously the home of some very notable Royal weddings to date. Located in the heart of London it is a must for lovers of cathedrals, or just iconic buildings themselves.

The cathedral’s timeline spans from 604 where the first incarnation of the building was erected and consecrated. Like many buildings of its day it burnt down and was rebuilt for the second time in 962. Sadly this version met an early demise when it was destroyed by the vikings. More recently it has been effected by the Great Fire of London and sufragette bombings. 

The cathedral not only boats stunning architecture, including its iconic domed roof, but an extensive display of artworks throughout. There are many chapels to wander through as well as a crypt and exterior churchyard.

If you don’t mind a few stairs, then you’ll definitely want to climb the dome. Its 257 steps, or 30 metres up to the whispering gallery where you get a great birds eye view of the cathedral floor below. Up another 376 steps and you’re 50 metres up. You’ve reached the Stone Gallery and this is where the staircase narrows to lead you to the top. The Stone Gallery features an outdoor viewing deck and is a great place to view the city from.

Have a quick rest before you ascend another 528 steps to reach the Golden Gallery. You’re now 85metres above the cathedral floor. You’ve reached the top for visitors and the view is certainly worth it! Move over London Eye, the top of St Paul’s is the best place to get a view of the city! Take a deep breath and enjoy, because the only way down is the same way you came up!

St Paul’s can get quite busy, so we recomment booking your tickets online. You’ll save a few pounds and also get fast track entry. Opening hours vary throughout the year, so double check before planning your visit. Large bags and suitcases aren’t allowed inside the church, so keep it to a small backpack or handbag.

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