Places of worship are often an interesting insight into a region’s fascinating history but also the belief systems of local communities. Therefore, there is often nothing more telling about an area than visiting the local church, cathedral, temple or mosque – and trust us when we say that London sure has its fair share of them. Regardless of whether you are religious or not, here are some of the best that you cannot afford to miss.
Naturally, your first port of call will be St Paul’s Cathedral. This majestic structure is one of London’s most iconic sights, and many often forget that it’s actually a functioning cathedral. With its mammoth central dome that reaches a height of 108 metres and its two bell towers on either side, this really is a sight to behold. Built in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren to replace a previous cathedral destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, St Paul’s even survived the London Blitz and still stands proudly in magnificent fashion.
And this is just the beginning. When you go inside, you will see ornately carved choir stalls, ornamental wrought iron gates and the star attraction: the high altar. Head up the stairs to get to the base of the huge dome, also known as the Whispering Gallery as a whisper can be made against the wall at any point in the circumference and is audible to a listener with an ear against any wall. Continue on up to the Golden Gallery, which offers stunning panoramic views of London.
Another popular attraction is Westminster Abbey, located west of the Houses of Parliament. Dating back to the 11th century, the abbey has been the place of coronation for all, bar two, English monarchs since 1066. With its various chapels, tombs of royals and Poet’s Corner to explore, you can easily spend a whole afternoon here.
Be sure to also stop off at All Hallows by the Tower, which is actually the oldest church in the city. Founded in 675 AD, the church overlooks the Tower of London and it is completely free to enter. Highlights to look out for include the Roman relics in the crypt, the Crusader altar and the pulpit from a Wren church.
The major focal point for all Muslims in the capital is London Central Mosque, also known as the Islamic Cultural Centre. The site was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd in 1978 and its main draw is the stunning golden dome it harbours.
Head inside and you can enjoy the main hall, which can hold over 5,000 worshippers, the vast carpets, chandeliers and the inside of the dome being decorated with broken shapes in Islamic tradition.
Other mosques you should consider visiting include Fazl Mosque, the first mosque in London having been built in 1924, East London Mosque, which was the first of its kind in Europe to broadcast the Adhan, and Brick Lane Mosque. The last, in particular, is surrounded by a large Muslim community and you will be able to truly immerse yourself in ‘modern Britain’.
Situated in the borough of Brent, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir truly is a spectacle. Also known as Neasden Temple, the site is often dubbed as the first authentic Hindu temple in the UK and was actually the first Hindu stone temple in Europe. The complex has the main Hindu mandir carved out of Italian Carrara marble, an exhibition that offers more information about Hinduism, a cultural centre and even a bookshop and gym.
There is also the Sree Ganapathy Temple in Wimbledon, which was opened in 1981 and still hosts regular religious services, weddings and death ceremonies. Interestingly, there is also a holistic approach taken here, with philosophy talks and yoga classes regularly being held.
Standing as the first Buddhist temple to be built in the city, Wat Buddhapadipa is designed in true Thai style and is used for various monastic ceremonies. At first glance you may wonder what the fuss is all about, with its small cottage and monk’s house, but then the four-acre site actually features a lake, orchard, flower garden and small grove, making this an ideal place for a relaxing afternoon stroll. Note that while the grounds are open all week, the temple only is on weekends.
Learning further about faith
If you are not close to a specific religion, and you just want to learn about the various faith systems that have existed in British history, various museums across the city cater to this. Over at the Victoria and Albert Museum, there are examples of extremely early Buddhist artefacts, such as Greek-influenced depictions of Buddha and pillars made 2,000 years ago to surround the place of Buddha’s enlightenment. In the British Museum, meanwhile, you can look at medieval Christian art as philosophers tried to make sense of the Crucifixion, or check out ancient Islamic artefacts from the likes of Persia and Babylon.
For more information and resources on Britain’s relationship with religion, head to the British Library, or go even more local and check out one of the many community stations dotted across the boroughs.
Either way, you don’t need to be religious to appreciate the stunning architectural styles of London, communities’ commitment to faith and an insight into what role religion has played into shaping up the Britain we know today.If you are looking to visit the capital city soon, be sure to book yourself into one of the many Luxury London hotels available.