Cathedrals are a big part of our national heritage here in the UK. Visiting one of the country’s many cathedrals is like taking a step back in time to uncover some of the biggest events in British history. If the stones in many of these cathedrals could talk, they’d have quite the story to tell.
Some lay in ruins as a testament to a turbulent religious past, while others have survived to become some of the country’s most iconic landmarks with millions of visitors every year. From medieval ruins to Victorian masterpieces, these are some of the most historically important British cathedrals.
St Paul’s, London
One of London’s most iconic landmarks, Sir Christopher Wren’s magnum opus was, incredibly, the tallest building in London from 1710 until the middle of the 20th century, when it was surpassed in 1962 by the BT Tower. Its incredible dome structure is the second-largest in the world, behind only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Taking more than 250 years to construct, York Minster is Northern Europe’s largest Gothic Cathedral. Longer than an NFL football field, its 230 ft ‘Lantern Tower’ is a marvel of 15th-century engineering. Climb the 275 stairs to the top for incredible panoramic views over the beautiful city of York.
St Andrews Castle & Cathedral
Established in 1160, explore the remains of what was once Scotland’s largest medieval cathedral and headquarters of the Scottish Church. Even in its ruinous state, what remains of the cathedral is an imposing landmark on the local landscape. Uncover its tumultuous backstory, including how it fell into disuse during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation, and climb to the top of St Rule’s Tower, built in the 12th century, for views over Fife.
Founded in 600AD by St Augustine, who was sent by Rome to convert the ‘Angles’ (or English), this striking cathedral is the episcopal seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury – leader of the Church of England. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral holds a special place in English history and was the scene of the infamous murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket after an alleged dispute with the King of England, Henry II.
Durham Cathedral & Castle
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durham Cathedral was built in the late 11th and early 12th century to house the relics of two of Britain’s most important religious figures – St Bede and St Cuthbert. Its cloisters were used as a filming location for two Harry Potter films, while its impressive library is home to the most complete set of early printed books in England and no fewer than three copies of the Magna Carta.
Situated in the wild, beautiful region of Pembrokeshire, the most westerly point of Wales, the history of this ancient cathedral stretches back over 1,500 years to the 6th century. Dedicated to the patron saint of Wales, St David, William the Conqueror is believed to have visited here to pray in 1081, and it was once a centre of pilgrimage from all over Europe.
St Giles, Edinburgh
Otherwise known as the ‘High Kirk of Edinburgh’, this 12th-century parish church is Scotland’s principal place of worship and the spiritual heart of the capital city. What it lacks in grandeur it more than makes up for in history; raided and sacked multiple times by the English, it was also at the heart of the Scottish Reformation movement.
Westminster Cathedral, London
Not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, construction on this neo-Byzantine cathedral was completed in 1903. Interestingly, the mosaics covering the vast interior are still being completed to this day and it is also the largest Catholic church in England and Wales.
Built between 1260 and 1501, Dunkeld Cathedral is another Scottish place of worship that was partly destroyed during the Scottish Reformation. The lengthy duration of its construction (250 years!) means that it displays elements of both Norman and Gothic architecture.
Last but by no means least is the impressive 13th-century Salisbury Cathedral, one of the country’s most iconic medieval buildings. Its massive spire (404ft) is the largest in the UK, while it is also home to the best-preserved of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta – one of the most important documents in history.
You can view many of the cathedrals on this list, plus plenty of other historic sites in the UK such as Stonehenge and the ancient Roman Baths, on one of our day tours from London.