Christmas Carol Concerts in English Cathedrals

Where to Hear Cathedral Choirs in England's Historic Cathedrals at Christmas

Salisbury Cathedral Choristers Prepare For Christmas
••• Hear heavenly voices of England's child choristers filling cathedrals for carol services all over the country. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

The sound of Christmas carols sung by a cathedral choir is an important and familiar part of the holidays. In England the tradition of the cathedral choir, including trained English choirboys and poignant boy sopranos, is more well developed and refined than anywhere else in the world. Glance at the credits on favorite recordings of traditional carols in your own collection and you'll likely find one or two famous English Cathedral Choirs.

There is nothing quite like the sound of pure voices filling England's ancient Cathedrals all the way to their magnificent vaulted ceilings. And if you are lucky enough to be in England during Advent and Christmas, you could have a chance to hear Christmas carols, sung by an English Cathedral Choir in one of these magical settings.

How to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Carol Concerts

Cathedral websites often begin listing their holiday music schedules in September and October. Most plan a mixture of free and ticketed concerts. Some of the most famous - Handel's Messiah at St. Paul's Cathedral, Christmas Carols at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford - are free but tickets are snapped up early. Nevertheless, you can hear the famous Westminster Abbey Choir, or attend a popular carol service at York Minster simply by turning up early enough, on the day, to get a seat.

When making your plans, watch for concerts and services that feature the cathedral's own choir - these are the ensembles that have been gathered and trained for the best sound in that particular place.

Where to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Holiday Music

This list of England's most historic cathedrals includes 2012 Christmas music highlights. Follow the links for full Cathedral Choir schedules and ticket details.

  • Bristol Cathedral At the time of writing (mid September 2016) Bristol Cathedral had not yet announced the schedule of their holiday concerts. You can check their website from mid-October onwards or telephone +44 (0)117 926 4879 for more details. But these services do not change much from year to year and in the past they offered Carols by Candlelight with the Concert Choir of Bristol Cathedral and full orchestra - a ticketed event - as well as the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, on December 23 and 24 usually at 3:30 pm.
  • Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral At the time of writing (mid September 2016) Bury St Edmunds had not yet announced its Christmas schedule. Check their website toward the end of October. Carols by Candlelight in aid of the Children’s Society December 14 at 7pm.; Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, December 23 at 7pm.
  • Kings College Chapel, Cambridge Though not a cathedral choir, the Kings College Chapel Choir of Cambridge University ranks high alongside the best cathedral emsembles in the world. Because of its live broadcast by the BBC, the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is not only famous but very popular.

    Find out more about The Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge and how to attend.

  • Canterbury Cathedral Two identical unticketed Cathedral Carol Services. Those attending have to queue on the day but arrangements are usually made for people unable to stand in line. If you'll be unable to queue, notify the Cathedral by email by the end of October. The carol services are held on:
    • Dec. 23 at 7:30pm. Doors open at 6pm and seating is first come first serve.
    • December 24 at 3pm, doors open at 1:30pm. Tickets to this concert are almost always fully allocated before the end of October.
  • Chester Cathedral  Choral Christmas at Chester Cathedral with the Cathedral Choir. Dec.10 and 17, 2016, at 7:30 pm. Tickets available online and early booking is recommended. Service of Nine Lessons and Carols December 23 at 6:30pm and 3pm Christmas Eve.
  • Chicester Cathedral There are three Cathedral Carol Services - December 20 and 21 at 6.00pm and December 22 at 3.00pm. The services on December 20 and 21 are ticketed. Tickets are free and given out on a first come, first served basis. To apply, send a written request with a S.A.E. to Liturgy & Music Assistant, The Royal Chantry, Cathedral Cloisters, Chichester, PO19 1PX. The December 22 service is not ticketed. Doors open one hour before the concert.
  • Durham Cathedral Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir, carols and seasonal music in a candlelight concert featuring the Cathedral's girl and boy choirs as well as the men of the Cathedral choir. This is a ticketed event on December 10, 2016 at 7:30pm. Tickets from the Gala Theatre Box Office, +44 (0)3000 266600 or online from the theater website.  As of September 2016, the dates and times of the Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols had not yet been announced for 2016. But these are traditional events at Durham and are general held on Dec.22, 7pm and Christmas Eve at 3 pm, with all welcome.
  • Ely Cathedral  Hark! The Herald, carols in one of England's most beautiful cathedrals -December 22, 7:30p.m. Traditional carol concert with the cathedral choirs and the City of Cambridge Brass Band. Tickets from Cathedral Box Office by phone +44(0)1353 660349 email.
  • Exeter Cathedral  Christmas with the Cathedral Choir, Dec.7, 10 and 13 at 7:30pm, ticketed event. Tickets from the Cathedral Shop, +44(0)1392 285983, or online.
  • Gloucester Cathedral
    The details for 2016 were not announced at the time of this writing in September 2016. Check the cathedral website in October. Meanwhile, the following will give you an idea of Gloucester's carol services and concerts in the recent past.
    • Christmas Carols on the Hour, December 14, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 30 minute carol concerts every hour
    • St Cecilia Singers Christmas Concert, In Dulci Jubilo, ticketed event 7:30 Dec. 21
    • Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 23 and 24 at 6p.m.
  • Litchfield Cathedral 2016 events were not yet announced at the time of writing. In 2015, the cathedral offered a Christmas by Candelight Concert on December 20 at 7:30pm,  and a Cathedral Carol Service, December 22. Visit Litchfield Cathedral website in October for details of Christmas 2016.
  • Lincoln Cathedral
    • Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols", Saturday December 10 at 2pm and 7pm. Book tickets online or from the cathedral shop. 
    • The Friends' Concert of Carols and Candlelight, Dec.14 at 7:30 and 9:30pm. Tickets are £10 from the Friends' Office or the cathedral shop from Nov. 1, 2016.
    • Christmas Eve Carol Service, Dec. 24, 4p.m.
  • Norwich Cathedral Christmas with the Norwich Cathedral Choir, Dec. 9 at 7.30pm. Tickets from the Cathedral Gift Shop +44 (0)1603 628319 or online.
  • Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford .Details of the cathedral choir's Christ Church Oxford Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, had not yet been announced by mid- September 2016 but in previous years, postal booking for this famous, ticketed but free service closed about November 15. Generally there are two services - Dec. 23, 6pm and Dec. 24, 3pm. Apply for tickets by mail to The Cathedral Office, Christ Church, St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DP marked ‘9 Lessons’. Enclose a stamped, addressed envelope (UK stamps). All applications are dealt with at the same time. Only 4 tickets per application.
  • Peterborough Cathedral  A Service of  Lessons and Carols, Christmas Eve at 4 pm
  • St. Paul's Cathedral, London
    St Paul's Advent and Christmas events schedule is published in October on the special Christmas website. The events below, from the 2015 program will give you an idea of what to expect:
    • Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols," featuring the cathedral boys choir and harpist Sioned Williams, Dec. 14 at 5 pm.
    • A Celebration of Christmas, featuring the Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia and celebrity readers. Dec. 19, 6:30pm, all welcome. One of the highlights of the London Christmas season. Arrive early to queue.
    • Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 23, 24, 4pm, all welcome. Because of the popularity of these two concerts, this year they will be relayed live to a big screen in Paternoster Square.
    • Salisbury Cathedral The holiday season is kicked off with a spectacular Advent Procession, "From Darkness to Light". It begins with the massive cathedral interior in total darkness and ends, after a service of readings and music with the medieval interior lit by 1,300 candles. Unmissable. In 2016, this service takes place at 7pm Nov. 25 and 26 at at 5pm Nov 27. Tickets (which are free) are required for the Friday night procession and service. The Saturday and Sunday services are not ticketed. To find out how to apply for tickets, click here.  Tickets are issued in mid-October. Dec.23 at 7pm (doors open at 6pm.). No tickets required.
  • Wells Cathedral
    • Carols by Candlelight, December 20 and 21 at 7pm. These ticketed events, when the cathedral is illuminated by thousands of candles, are very popular. Tickets available at the Cathedral Shop box office and can be ordered by phone on +44 (0)1749 672773. They go on sale in August and sell out well before December so don't dawdle.
    • Cathedral Carol Service, takes place on December 22 at 5:15pm and December 23 at 6pm. No tickets are required.
  • Westminster Abbey A "cathedral" in all but name -
    • The Choir of Westminster Abbey performs Bach's Christmas Oratorio on  Dec. 1 at 7pm. Ticket information usually appears on the Abbey website in September.
    • The Westminster Cathedral Christmas Concert, December 15 at 7pm, supported by John Lewis in aid of Westminster Abbey. Ticket information and full details of the event, including the participants - who are often well known British actors and public figures - are announced on the website in October. 
    • Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols forms the backdrop for the Abbey's Christmas meditation, at 5:45pm on December 18. This is a free event and tickets are not required.
    • A Service of Lessons and Carols, December 23 at 6pm and Christmas Eve at 4 pm. Tickets - which are free - are now required and are almost always fully allocated before the end of November. Inquire at the Abbey Chapter Office, +44 (0)207 222 5152.
  • Winchester Cathedral
    • Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 19, 21, 22 6:30pm. Tickets for the first service are offered with priority booking to members of the the Cathedral community. The services on December 21 and 22 are free and unticketted. 
  • Worcester Cathedral
    • Christmas Concert by the Cathedral Choir, Dec. 17 at 7:30pm
    • Cathedral Carol Service, Dec. 22, 23, 6:30 p.m.
  • York Minster The largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe is a splendid setting for:
    • Several concerts of York's Christmas Early Music Festival, Dec.8 to Dec.15 (2016).
    • Christmas Carol concerts in 2016 take place at 7pm December 15 and 16. Tickets are available from the Minster Box Office from September 26. 
    • Nine Lessons and Carols, Dec. 22 and 24 at 4 p.m.