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United Kingdom > Culture and festivals > Britain's famous religious sites

Britain's famous religious sites.

VisitBritain research released in 2012 revealed that 6.7 million international tourists visited a religious building in 2011 and that visiting churches and cathedrals is among the top priorities of visitors to the nation. As well as being calm oases for a spiritual moment, many of Britain's religious buildings are home to music concerts, some of the finest public art in the nation and welcoming cafes. We bring you some amazing religious buildings, and a few more that are famous for more than their holy status.

ENGLAND

1. Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

The home of the Church of England, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the whole of Britain. Dating back to 597AD, the Cathedral was established on a direct order of Pope Gregory, who sent a missionary to establish a 'seat' for him in Britain. Soaring ceilings, intricate stained glass and the atmospheric crypt create an extraordinary space while, outside, the tranquil precincts lead through to the picturesque Kings School, which has been on the site since medieval  times. Web: canterbury-cathedral.org

Getting there: Canterbury is around 90 minutes' drive south east of London, or 50 minutes by train from London St Pancras to Canterbury West.

2. York Minster, in York, north England.

The largest Gothic cathedral in the whole of northern Europe, York minster is a magnificent building that has survived fires, looting and even a lightning strike. Start by admiring its sheer scale, the intricate decorations, on thee Nave and Chapter House, and the spectacular vaults on the north and south transepts. After admiring the beautiful 15th century Great East Window, the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world, climb the central Tower for 360° views on the city's rooftops. Web: yorkminster.org

Getting there: York is around four hours' drive north of London. Trains from London King Cross take just over two hours.

3. Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, west England.

For most people, Glastonbury is synonymous with the world-famous music festival, but it is also a town with a strong spiritual heritage and was once home to the largest Abbey in Britain and the earliest Christian sanctuary in the country. Although there are only ruins left of the 2,000-year old Abbey, there is still much to explore. Said to be the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur, the Abbey grounds have a particular atmosphere of calm and are a wonderful place for a picnic on a sunny day. Web: glastonburyabbey.com

Getting there: Glastonbury is just under three hours' drive south west of London, Castle Cary station is a 30-minute taxi ride away, which itself is 90 minutes by train from London Paddington.

WALES

4. Tintern Abbey, in Wye Valley, south Wales.

Nothing quite prepares you for your first view of Tintern. As you drive up the Wye Valley from Chepstow in south Wales, it suddenly looms into view, standing silently among the wooded hills; a vastly impressive, roofless shell, open to the skies, dating back almost 900 years. Tintern Abbey was the second Cistercian monastery in the whole of Britain. It survived for over 400 years until it was surrendered to Henri VIII in 1536. Web: cadw.gov.wales.

Getting there: Tintern is around three hours' drive west of London. It is difficult to reach by public transport.


 

5. St Winefride's,  Holywell, Flintshire, north Wales.

St Winefride's (or Winifred's Well) is a well that claims to be the oldest continually-visited pilgrimage site in Britain. Its fame began with the legend of Winefride in 660AD, who was beheaded for refusing to marry the son of a prince, Caradoc, yet rose again thanks to a spring of water with healing powers.
 
She then became a nun and was made Abbess of a convent. Henry V once went on pilgrimage to the site to give thanks after the battle of Agincourt and, in the 15th century, Lady Margaret (mother of Henry VII) commissioned an elaborate arched crypt to be built above the spring. Thousands of visitors continue to come today as St Winefride's Well remains a place of pilgrimage. Web: saintwinef rideswell.com

Getting there: The nearest train station to Holywell is Flint, four miles away. Flint can be reached by direct train from Cardiff in just over three hours.

SCOTLAND

6. Iona Abbey in Iona Island.

One of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe, Iona Abbey was founded in 563 and became the focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland. Added to and rebuilt over centuries, little remains of the original building but today's Abbey still has a very special atmosphere. Web: welcometoiona.com.

The island is also home to the ruins of the Augustinian Nunnery that was built around the same time as the Abbey as well as the Hill of Angels, a tranquil hillside above the sea that has been used as a location for prayer at dawn and dusk throughout the centuries. 

Getting there:  Reaching Iona is an experience in itself. Take the ferry from Oban (3 hours by train from Glasgow) to the island of Mull and then drive or take a bus or taxi to Fionnphort where you can take the boat to Iona.

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Some sites are of interest for more than their religious significance, offering great food, impressive art and fantastic acoustics for more than just hymns.

1. For mystery...The Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, Scotland.

The 15th century Rosslyn Chapel seven miles south of Edinburgh is an enigma - its interior defies architectural classification and is festooned with intricate carvings portraying everything from strawberries to pagan 'Green Men' with faces wreathed in foliage.

But it's the chapel's sense of mystery that lures visitors in their thousands. It has associations with the Knights Templar and there has been speculation about what's sealed in the chapel crypt for centuries. Rosslyn features in the novel The Da Vinci Code and starred in the film adaptation in 2003. Web: rosslynchapel.com

Getting there: Rosslyn village is around 20 minutes' drive south of Edinburgh, or take the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Eskbank station and then take a taxi. Bus 37 also goes to Rosslyn from Edinburgh city centre.

2. For chills...Whitby Abbey in Whitby, Yorkshire.

Churches and graveyards have always been prime material for tales of ghosts and ghouls, but none is more famous than the ruined Benedictine abbey that stands above the northern fishing  port of  Whitby. Bram Stoker used the abbey as inspiration for his novel, Dracula, attracted by the Gothic splendour and its isolated location perched high above the town. There has been a monastery on the site since 657AD, although the current building dates back to the 11th century.There's an excellent visitor centre with interactive exhibits, and an audio tour to tell the secrets of the Abbey as you stroll around the site. Web: english-heritaqe.org.uk

Getting there: Whitby is around 90 minutes' drive east of York, or take the Coastfiner 840 bus from York Bus Station.

3. For food...Neasden Temple, London.

The magnificent white towers of the largest Hindu temple outside India dominate the skyline over this unassuming London suburb and the exotic structure bristling with ornate stone carvings is well worth the trip out of central London. Admire the shining marble pinnacles from the outside then head indoors for more dazzling decoration and a spot of quiet reflection. It's well worth sticking around for some lunch - the vegetarian restaurant outside the temple is famous for serving up delicious, authentic and great value curries. Web: londonmandir.baps.org.

Getting there: The nearest underground stations are Neasden Station on the Jubilee Line or Harlesden Station on the Bakerfoo Line.

4. For music...St Martin in the Fields, London.

An oasis of calm amid the hectic pace of London's Trafalgar Square, St Martin in the Fields is one of the leading venues in the capital for classical music concerts. Choose from free Chamber Music recitals at lunchtimes, choral concerts, classic favourites such as Vivaldi's Four Seasons and even jazz nights. The church itself dates back to the early 13th century, when the land surrounding the building was green, open fields. St Martin is also famous for the Cafe in the Crypt, an award-winning eatery set under the 18th century brick-vaulted ceiling, with historic tombstones beneath the tables. Web: stmartin-in-the-fields.org

Getting there: The nearest underground station is Charing Cross.

5. For literary links...Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, south England

Jane Austen fans who wish to pay homage to their favourite author should make a pilgrimage to Winchester Cathedral, where the author is buried. In spite of considerable scholarly research, no-one has been able to establish quite why a spinster novelist came to be buried among bishops and saints. Buried in 1817 at the age of 41, her original memorial made no mention of her books. Besides Jane's tomb, the Cathedral is steeped in 1,500 years of history, and is the longest medieval cathedral in Europe. On a sunny day, the pristine green lawn outside is a splendid place for a picnic. Web: winchester-cathedral.org.uk

Getting there: Winchester is around one hour's drive south-west of London, or one hour by train from London   Waterloo.

6. For art...Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, south-east England.

There are many factors that make Chichester Cathedral, situated close to the south coast in Sussex, unique. It is the only medieval cathedral in England to have a free-standing bell tower and double aisles but, perhaps more unusually, it has a stained glass window created by the world-famous Russian artist Marc Chagall. The work is just one of a collection of artworks for which the cathedral has become famous; there are also sculptures, tapestries and paintings. Beyond the main building, the tranquil precincts are a lovely place to wander, and there's an excellent cafe in the cloisters. Web: chichestercathedral.org.uk. 

Getting there: Chichester is around two hours' drive south of London, or 90 minutes from London Victoria.

Author: Visit Britain.2016


Links

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
Official web site of Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

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Visiting churches and cathedrals is among the top priorities of visitors to Britain. As well as being calm oases for a spiritual moment, some of Britain's religious buildings are famous for more than their holy status.