London tip: attend evensong at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral

Early evening comes on a day of sights and perhaps shopping in London, what better break, without the calories of afternoon tea, than a 40-minute choral evensong service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral?

Both glorious houses of worship are architectural treasures with visitor ticket prices to induce exclamations in language not welcome in them. Visitor hours are also limited daily and closed on Sundays. Evensong services, heavy on choral singing, are generally daily, though at shifting times and occasionally spoken, so check the websites of either in advance. Like all worship services, they are free and open to all, though respectful conduct is expected and tourist behavior is not welcome. In our service some people wandered off to take pictures and were quickly escorted back to their pew. Modest crowds so no need to arrive early.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, photo by HerryLawford

A tradeoff is there is no access to areas such as crypts that may be accessible with paid tourist admission. Instead you get to experience the buildings as intended, with ethereal voices celebrating their religion.

A small note: the music is dreamy, too dreamy for someone just off an overnight flight. We were quite embarrassed to be fighting off uncontrollable yawns and nodding heads in our mid-afternoon swoon, despite our enjoyment of it. Leave it to the second day!

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  • William Tell

    Thanks for posting this. I would also strongly recommend the choral vespers and mass sung daily by the men and boys choir at Westminster CATHEDRAL (not the Abbey…this is the Roman Catholic cathedral near Victoria station. They are the only Roman Catholic Choir singing daily choral mass (sung in Latin).

    Also if going to the Abbey or St. Paul’s it is good to arrive 15 mins early so you can get a seat close to the choir (Westminster Cathedral has the choir behind the altar so you can’t get close range although their sound is fantastic).

  • MDAccount

    I did this a number of years ago — if you take the last afternoon tour you can be first in line for Evensong, which gets you seats in the choir stalls. Not everyone’s idea of a thrill, but as an Episcopal priest, I thought it was great!

  • @MDAccount and @William Tell – thanks for the excellent info on these.