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After 700 Years, Westminster Abbey Opens its Secret Attic to Visitors  | Frommer's Westminster Abbey

After 700 Years, Westminster Abbey Opens Secret Attic to Visitors

It took five years and $30.5 million (£22.9 million) to make it happen, but Westminster Abbey in London has just made a spectacular new addition to one of Europe's top tourist attractions.

Which is to say it opened something more than 700 years old.

The Triforium, a medieval attic balcony that runs around the top of the Abbey's nave from 52 feet high, has been converted into the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a monumental permanent exhibition of relics from a millennium of Abbey history. The Galleries also have an insanely beautiful view down the barrel of the church, above the marble floor where kings and queens are coronated and William and Kate were married.

Poet and preservationist John Betjeman, one of the few people permitted into this forgotten storage space in the 20th century, said the Triforium had "the best view in Europe." But to see it, he had to slither up a tight stone corkscrew staircase hidden off Poets' Corner. That tight squeeze kept the balcony from being opened for mass tourism, but now, with the installation of a discreet new elevator tower—the first major addition to the Abbey since 1742—anyone may now ascend.

Just like your own attic, this is where cumbersome old bric-a-brac used to be stored and forgotten. Unlike your own attic, however, this bric-a-brac wound up becoming priceless over time. Among the stupendous collection:

  • an intricate scale model of the Abbey from 1714 by Sir Christopher Wren—it includes a spire he wanted to stick on the church but never got to
  • 21 effigies of kings and queens, used to mark their coffins in funeral parades from the 14th to the 17th centuries (some effigies still have their original clothing)
  • The Westminster Retable (1259–69), the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, from Henry III’s Abbey
  • William and Kate Middleton's beautifully inscribed marriage license, which looks like it came straight out of the Middle Ages
  • William and Mary's joint coronation chair from 1689 (a different William, obviously)
  • shards of ancient stained glass found under the floorboards during the Triforium's conversion into the Galleries
The Galleries can only be accessed if you're already taking a tour of Westminster Abbey, and even then, you have to get a timed entry ticket and pay a £5 surcharge (totally worth it). Sadly, photography is not allowed—you'll just have to store up that incredible view in your heart. At least you'll be one of the first tourists in centuries to see it.