The United Kingdom boasts a rich heritage of awe-inspiring cathedrals, each a testament to the country’s rich history, architectural brilliance, and spiritual significance.
Located up and down the country from the south to the north, these cathedrals are more than just places of worship; they are captivating masterpieces that have stood the test of time and have long been some of the most amazing buildings in the UK.
Whether you’re seeking to visit as many of these spectacular creations as possible or just looking for somewhere to add to your itinerary when exploring the country, make sure to check out some of the best cathedrals in England.
1. Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral, located in the picturesque city of Ely in Cambridgeshire, is a true gem among the UK’s cathedrals. With its breathtaking Norman architecture and unique octagonal lantern tower, it stands as a testament to human ingenuity and craftsmanship.
With the surrounding flat landscape of the fenlands around this part of East Anglia, the cathedral is known as “The Ship of the Fens” as it stands out on the horizon and can be seen from miles around.
Ely Cathedral is a must-visit destination and one of the best places to visit in Cambridgeshire, as well as being one of the best cathedrals in the UK.
2. Canterbury Cathedral
Among the most famous cathedrals in England is Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England.
This magnificent building is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, making it the symbolic centre of the Church of England.
Steeped in history, this magnificent cathedral was the site of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170.
The stunning Gothic architecture, the breathtaking stained glass windows, and the tranquillity of the Cloister Gardens also make Canterbury Cathedral a picturesque romantic spot and one of the best things to do in Kent for couples.
3. York Minster
Moving north, York Minster is an imposing Gothic masterpiece in the beautiful city of York and one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe. With its intricate stonework and exquisite stained glass, this cathedral is a true testament to human ingenuity.
Ascend the Central Tower, the highest point in York, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Or, explore the Undercroft, an underground museum displaying artefacts and interactive exhibits about the cathedral’s history.
The magnificence of York Minster is truly an experience that leaves a lasting impression, and a visit here is one of the best things to do in York for couples, families, and anyone interested in history.
Top tip: Residents and students in York can enter York Minster for free with a valid ID.
4. St Paul’s Cathedral
Situated in the heart of London, St Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic symbol of the city’s skyline and a top attraction for tourists visiting the capital.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century, this Anglican cathedral is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture.
Visitors can explore the awe-inspiring interior, including the unique Whispering Gallery, where whispers can be heard on the opposite side of the dome. Experiencing it yourself is also among the best date ideas in London.
St Paul’s Cathedral is a cherished part of London’s history and a must-visit for anyone visiting this city.
5. Durham Cathedral
Nestled on a rocky promontory overlooking the River Wear, Durham Cathedral is a stunning example of Norman architecture.
Its bold Romanesque design and iconic towers have captivated visitors for centuries. Step inside to marvel at the dramatic vaulted ceilings and the breathtaking Rose Window.
The cathedral has many relics and points of interest, including the shrine of St Cuthbert, and the remains of the Venerable Bede.
You can also climb the central tower’s 325 steps to get incredible views over Durham.
The cathedral’s magnificent setting and its role as a UNESCO World Heritage Site make Durham Cathedral an unmissable gem.
6. Salisbury Cathedral
Another of the best cathedrals in England is Salisbury Cathedral, a testament to Early English Gothic architecture and a must-see location in this part of the country.
There are several standout features of this cathedral: it has the tallest spire in the UK, it’s home to the world’s oldest mechanical clock, and it has the best-preserved original 1215 Magna Carta.
It’s no wonder why so many tourists come to visit Salisbury Cathedral, and the beautiful greenery surrounding it only enhances the charm of this wonderful building.
7. Norwich Cathedral
Norwich has not one but two cathedrals. You can see the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, but the Anglican Norwich Cathedral in the centre of the city is the best to visit.
The awe-inspiring interior features intricately carved stone vaulting, a magnificent wooden ceiling, and a breathtaking collection of stained glass windows that depict biblical stories and saints.
The peaceful cloisters and beautifully landscaped cathedral close provide a tranquil escape from the bustling city outside.
One of the best things to do in Norwich for couples is to visit the cathedral and then enjoy a picnic sitting on the lawns outside.
8. Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of Christ, stands as a majestic symbol of faith and one of the key landmarks in the vibrant city of Liverpool.
This awe-inspiring Anglican cathedral is the largest in the UK and the eighth largest church in the world, and it dominates the city’s skyline from on top of St James’ Mount.
Like many of the best cathedrals in the UK, Liverpool Cathedral is free to enter so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city.
Inside, you can admire the lofty vaulted ceilings, beautiful stained glass windows, and the largest pipe organ in the UK.
The tranquil Lady Chapel offers spaces for reflection and contemplation, and from the top of the tower visitors are rewarded with panoramic views of the city and the River Mersey.
9. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
Also located in Liverpool is one of the more unique cathedrals in England, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King).
Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd as the winning submission of a worldwide design competition, this Roman Catholic cathedral stands in stark contrast to its Anglican counterpart, and from first glances it’s obvious why!
The striking circular design and futuristic concrete exterior make look like something out of this world, and it’s possible to forget that it’s in fact the largest cathedral in England and not a building pulled from a science fiction movie.
The stained glass structures around the outside of the cathedral cast light in beautiful patterns across the concrete of this modernist piece of architecture, so it’s quite a magical place to spend time.
10. Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough Cathedral, situated in the heart of the historic city of Peterborough, is a magnificent Norman cathedral with an iconic Gothic façade.
With a history dating back to 654 AD, the cathedral has a long history and has been the burial site of many iconic historical figures, including Catherine of Aragon and Mary Queen of Scots.
Inside, you’ll find these graves as well as an elaborately painted nave ceiling and oak choir stalls date from the 1890s that are carved in a medieval Gothic style, making a visit here one of the best things to do in Peterborough.
11. St Albans Cathedral
The most spectacular landmark in the historic city of St Albans is the cathedral that looks out across the nearby Verulamium Park.
With a rich history spanning 1,700 years and serving as the longest-standing site of continuous Christian worship, St Albans Cathedral holds a multitude of fascinating things to see within its walls.
Admission is free, although donations are welcome. Whether history is your passion or not, a visit to marvel at the exquisite architecture from within is well worth it.
12. Lincoln Cathedral
In the heart of England and with a history dating back to over 900 years, Lincoln Cathedral is one of the country’s most iconic and historically significant landmarks.
The cathedral’s central spire, completed in 1311, is 160 metres high and some historians claim that it was the tallest building in the world at the time.
Take a visit inside and, along with admiring the incredible architecture, you can spot curiosities such as the famous Lincoln Imp, a mischievous stone figure, that’s a popular highlight among visitors.
Because of the beautiful, ornate designs of the building and the serene atmosphere inside, a trip here is one of the most romantic things to do in Lincolnshire for couples.
13. Manchester Cathedral
One of the oldest and most impressive buildings in the busy city of Manchester is Manchester Cathedral.
Located near the city centre, overlooking the River Irwell and just around the corner from Manchester Arena, it’s one of 15 Grade I listed buildings in the city.
The cathedral has a long history, dating back to the 7th century when the first church in Manchester was founded.
After being damaged in the Second World War, when all stained-glass windows were blown out and two chapels destroyed, repairs to the cathedral took 20 years to complete, but it’s now just as spectacular to see.
14. Gloucester Cathedral
In the west of England, Gloucester Cathedral has stood for centuries by the River Severn, with origins dating back to the 11th century when the foundation stone was laid.
The cathedral’s stunning Gothic architecture, with its soaring arches and intricate stone carvings. As with many English cathedrals, sections of the building were added over time, with the central tower constructed in the 15th century.
One of its most notable features is the stunning stained glass windows, which include the famous Great East Window, which was the largest window in the world at the time of its construction in 1350.
15. Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral, situated in the historic Oxford, is one of the many grand and iconic buildings in this famous university city.
The cathedral’s magnificent design combines Norman and Gothic elements, with its grand spire and intricate stone detailing. While it may be one of the smallest cathedrals in England, Christ Church Cathedral offers a perfect spot for some respite, especially when taking a stroll around the peaceful cloister.
The cathedral’s association with Oxford University adds to its prestige, as it serves as the college chapel for Christ Church College.
Many important historical figures are buried in the cathedral, including the famous English philosopher John Locke.
Beyond its religious significance, Christ Church Cathedral will be familiar to many as it was used as a filming location in the Harry Potter series, with its spectacular stonework providing the perfect stand-in for scenes set in Hogwarts.
Other beautiful cathedrals in the UK
While many of the most beautiful and best cathedrals in the UK are located up and down England, you can find even more brilliant examples scattered across Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland too.
1. St Davids Cathedral
St Davids Cathedral is a magnificent medieval structure located in the city of St Davids, in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is one of the most important religious sites in the country and serves as the mother church of the Church in Wales.
The cathedral is known for its stunning architecture, including the impressive 12th-century bell tower and intricately carved stone decorations.
With a history dating back to the 6th century, and being located near stunning coastlines with some of the best beaches in Pembrokeshire, St Davids Cathedral is a popular destination for tourists.
The beauty of the building and the surrounding areas also makes a trip here one of the best things to do in South Wales for couples.
2. St Giles’ Cathedral
The Scottish capital of Edinburgh is home to the iconic St Giles’ Cathedral, also known as St Giles Cathedral. Located on the Royal Mile, it is a significant religious and historical landmark in Scotland and is a central focus in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
The cathedral’s stunning Gothic architecture and intricate stained glass windows are a testament to its rich history, with the construction of the current building dating back to the 14th century.
Today, it continues to be a popular tourist attraction and a place of worship for locals and visitors alike and is worth a visit if you’re in Edinburgh.
3. Belfast Cathedral
One of the best cathedrals in Northern Ireland is Belfast Cathedral. Also known as St Anne’s Cathedral, it’s located in the heart of Northern Ireland’s capital and is a striking example of Romanesque architecture.
Completed in 1904, the cathedral features beautiful stained glass windows, intricate mosaics, and a magnificent organ.
As well as being a place of worship, it’s a popular tourist attraction and a must-visit destination for those exploring Northern Ireland.
Why you should explore the best cathedrals in the UK
The cathedrals of the UK stand as architectural marvels, steeped in history and religious significance.
From Canterbury Cathedral’s ancient beauty to the modern grandeur of St Paul’s Cathedral, each of these magnificent structures tells a story of faith, artistic brilliance, and the enduring spirit of the people.
Whether you are a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply seeking a moment of contemplation, visiting these amazing cathedrals should be on your itinerary if you’re nearby.
Cathedrals in England FAQs
What is the smallest cathedral in the UK?
The smallest cathedral in the UK is St Asaph Cathedral, located in the city of St Asaph in Denbighshire, Wales. It holds the distinction of being the smallest ancient cathedral in Britain, with part of the building being destroyed during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr.
What is the oldest cathedral in the UK?
Founded in 597, Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the UK, although it was rebuilt between 1070 and 1077.
How many cathedrals are there in England?
The Church of England has 42 cathedrals in England. All 42 cathedrals are in mainland England, although there’s also Peel Cathedral on the Isle of Man and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Gibraltar.
What is the difference between an abbey and a cathedral?
The main difference between an abbey and a cathedral is that an abbey is a religious community or monastery where monks or nuns live, while a cathedral is the principal church of a diocese, led by a bishop.
Abbots or abbesses govern abbeys, overseeing religious life, while bishops govern cathedrals, responsible for the pastoral care of the faithful and overall diocesan governance.
Cathedrals tend to be larger, architecturally grand, and serve as central places of worship, whereas abbeys are often smaller, with a more contemplative atmosphere.
What is a cathedral?
A cathedral is a significant and central church within a diocese, typically serving as the seat of a bishop. It is considered the principal church of a specific area or region, often with historical, architectural, and religious significance.
Cathedrals are usually larger and more elaborately designed than regular parish churches, showcasing impressive architectural styles such as Gothic, Romanesque, or Renaissance.
These sacred spaces hold a central role in the religious life of the community, hosting important ceremonies, celebrations, and services. Cathedrals often house notable works of art, relics, and historical artefacts, attracting visitors from near and far.
Which city has three cathedrals?
While many cities in the UK have two cathedrals, Coventry has had three cathedrals. Two of these, however, are ruins, although you can visit them still.
One is St Mary’s, a monastic building that was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early 16th century, and another is St Michael’s, which was built in the 14th century but was destroyed after being bombed in the Second World War. A new building was constructed afterwards and was consecrated in 1962.