St Paul's Cathedral – Wren's vision and the best views in London

Sir Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral, London. Photo: James MacDonald/Shutterstock
Sir Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral, London. Photo: James MacDonald/Shutterstock

London's skyline still owes much to the vision of Sir Christopher Wren. The prolific 17th-century architect is responsible for many of London's most famous landmarks, not least St Paul's Cathedral. The 25th February is the 290th anniversary of Wren's death and, though the London skyline has continued to see skyscrapers rising since the turn of the millennium, Wren's buildings themselves have lost none of their wonder.

Wren also designed Hampton Court Palace, Temple Bar, the Theatre Royal, Kensington Palace, the Royal Observatory and countless churches, including St Martin's.


The history of St Paul's


Historians believe that the first church on the St Paul’s site was built in the 7th century, although it only really came into its own as Old St Paul’s in the 14th ­century, and by the 16th century it was the tallest cathedral in England. Much of the building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. In the aftermath of the fire, Wren submitted ambitious plans for a London of boulevards and piazzas that might have rivalled Baron Haussmann's Paris – but Londoners' reluctance to give up their land claims put paid to that. Nevertheless, Wren was appointed to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral, and construction began in 1675 when he was 43 years old.

Sun setting over St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral, London, England. Photo: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock

Wren was an old man of 76 when his son Christopher finally laid the highest stone of the lantern on the central cupola in 1710. In total, the cathedral cost £747,954 to build, and most of the money was raised through taxing coal imports. Prior to the 300th anniversary of the “topping out” of the cathedral in 2008, centuries of soot and grime were scrubbed away as part of a £40 million restoration project. 

The best places in London to view St Paul's


One New Change

This new shopping complex sitting just to the east of the cathedral has a free public viewing balcony on the roof. Head to the centre of the complex and take the lift to the top floor where you can grab a drink from a bar or just gaze across to the cathedral. Come in the late afternoon or evening to watch the sun set behind the Wren's masterpiece.

The Shard

This is one of the only places in London where you can see the entire building lie beneath the skyline – it's still an impressive sight and seeing how the building has shaped the streets around is a revealing insight into the medieval road layout of the City of London.

Parliament Hill

Just far enough away for the cathedral to become part of the London landscape, the view from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath is especially beautiful at dusk when the St Paul's is lit up.

Richmond Park

Planning laws have been in place for many decades to protect the skyline of London, and most of the thirteen "Protected Views" are focused upon the preserving the view of St Paul's. One of the most famous is that from King Henry's Mound in Richmond Park, some 10 miles to the west, where woods have been divided to allow a framed view of the building. This view in particular has prevented the construction of many developments in the Liverpool Street area.


Plan your trip to London and St Paul's

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Visit the St Paul's website for more information on opening hours and prices. Or click here to read more about, and see a map of, Wren's unrealised vision for London after the Great Fire.


To read the full lowdown on where to go and what to do in London, buy our Insight City Guide

Find out more about planning your trip to London in our city profile.


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