St. Paul's is simply breathtaking. The structure is Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, completed in 1710 after 35 years of building, and, much later, miraculously spared (mostly) by World War II bombs. Wren's first plan, known as the New Model, did not make it past the drawing board. The second, known as the Great Model, got as far as a 20-foot oak rendering—now displayed in the Trophy Room—before it also was rejected.
The third plan was accepted, with the fortunate proviso that the architect be allowed to make changes as he saw fit. Without that, there would be no dome, because the approved design had a steeple—and St. Paul's simply would not be St. Paul's as we know it without the dome (the third largest in the world). Even so, from inside the vast cathedral the dome may seem smaller than you'd expect—the inner dome is 60 feet lower than the lead-covered outer dome. Beneath the lantern is Wren's famous and succinct epitaph, which his son composed and had set into the
pavement: "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice" ("Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you"). The epitaph also appears on Wren's memorial in the Crypt.
Up 163 spiral steps is the Whispering Gallery, with its incredible acoustic phenomenon; you whisper something to the wall on one side, and a second later it transmits clearly to the other side, 107 feet away. Ascend to the Stone Gallery, which encircles the base of the dome. Farther up (280 feet from ground level) is the small Golden Gallery, the dome's highest point. From both these galleries (if you have a head for heights) you can walk outside for a spectacular panorama of London.
The remains of the poet John Donne, who was Dean of St. Paul's for his final 10 years (he died in 1631), are in the south choir aisle. The vivacious choir-stall carvings nearby are the work of Grinling Gibbons, as are those on the great organ, which Wren designed. Behind the high altar is the American Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the 28,000 GIs stationed in the United Kingdom who lost their lives in World War II. Among the famous figures whose remains lie in the Crypt are the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. Free, 90-minute guided tours take place Monday to Saturday at 10, 11, 1, and 2; book a place at the welcome desk (on the day of only). A tour of the Triforium (upper galleries) can be taken on Monday, Tuesday, or Friday by groups of five for £8 per person, but you have to book a week in advance; call or see the website for details.