The C&TH Guide to Royal London
Looking for an itinerary worthy of a Queen? Get your regal fix with the C&TH guide to royal London.
The city of Earl Grey, Burberry and High Tea, London is a place of tradition through and through (even with its reputation as a cultural mover and shaker). The most traditional of traditions has got to be the English Monarchy; from the Queen’s cute corgis to Netflix’s The Crown, it’s safe to say anglophilia is serious. To get your regal fill, check out our guide to royal London; a world of castles, palaces, horses, and immaculately kept gardens that make your attempt at a rose bush a little less impressive.
1. Kensington Palace
Another day, another palace – and while perhaps lacking in the grandeur of some of the others, Kensington Palace is a definite crowd pleaser. The birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace has housed young royals for over 300 years. Explore the palace and walk in the footsteps of royalty in the King’s State Apartments and the Queen’s Apartments.
In the stunning sunken gardens, there is now free public entry to visit Diana’s memorial statue marking the 60th anniversary of her death. The Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex unveiled the statue this summer by royal-favourite sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley. Keen to learn more about the People’s Princess? The Princess of Wales’ wedding dress is currently on display in their temporary exhibition, Royal Style in the Making, which is the first time it’s been on show in 25 years. In the newly conserved Orangery, the exhibition will guide you through the intricate processes behind the creation of dazzling couture gowns that have made history.
2. Tower of London
In its many reincarnations over the past 900 years as a royal palace and fortress, prison, arsenal, mint, menagerie and jewel house, The Tower of London has seen many of this country’s most monumental events played out within its walls. Steeped in history, tales of intrigue and gruesome anecdotes, it’s a first port of call for London’s regal history – and also one of the most popular. Of course, visit the Crown Jewels and the Medieval Palace but be sure to also spend time lingering on the ramparts (try to time it with a bridge lift), and in the White Tower. For a haunting slice of history, head to the Cradle Tower where prisoners’ scratches are permanently etched on the walls of Beauchamp, Salt and Broad Arrow Towers. Book your free tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at 9:45pm to watch the 700 year old tradition of locking up the Tower. hrp.org.uk
3. Hampton Court Palace
Showcasing a more pleasant side to Britain’s history, Hampton Court Palace is one of two remaining Tudor Palaces – a spectacular sprawl of red-brick buildings made all the more beautiful for its setting in the bucolic gardens beside the River Thames. The palace was home to Thomas Wolsey, the British cardinal famous for denying King Henry VIII’s annulment to Katherine of Aragon; it’s also where Jane Seymour gave birth to Henry’s son, King Edward VI. Brilliantly kid-friendly, there’s a wealth of royal re-enactments, a Tudor-themed playground and of course, the magnificent maze. hrp.org.uk
4. The Household Cavalry Museum
It’s no secret that London is home to some of the world’s most renowned museums, but this is one with a difference. As a living museum, in place of dusty artefacts in glass cabinets you’ll find the real Household Cavalry, mounted on groomed horses with swords drawn, donning the traditional helmet, tunic, cuirass and jack boots. You’ll learn about who the Household Cavalry are, their royal duty and a behind the scenes look into the training and work that goes into the ceremonial and armoured reconnaissance role of HM The Queen’s Mounted Bodyguard. householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk
5. Westminster Abbey
Although arguably most famous for being where Kate Middleton and Prince William famously said ‘I do’, Westminster Abbey boasts a rich history dating back nearly 1,000 years that doesn’t involve the now royal-cum-celebrity couple. The Abbey is still an active place of worship, as well as an historical museum. After an appropriate time spent gazing at its spectacular interiors, make your way to the Royal Tombs and Poet’s Corner sections where you’ll find the tombs of some of history’s most notable figures like Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, alongside the resting places of Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, John Keats, Robert Burns and an endless list of famous politicians, and even actors. Take a pause at the oak door near the Abbey’s Chapter House which is said to be the only surviving Anglo-Saxon door in England, dating back to 1032, before meandering around the three charming gardens within the Abbey. westminster-abbey.org
6. Windsor Castle
Another place made internationally famous by royal nuptials, Windsor Castle has been the family home of royalty for over 1,000 years making it the oldest and largest lived-in castle in the world (and reportedly the Queen’s favourite…). Walk around and simply take in the opulence; gold leaf, chandeliers and diamond-clad swords make-up an impressively decadent interior. Be sure to pay a visit to the gorgeous Gothic St George’s Chapel. Children will delight at the beautiful Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House; with running water, flushing toilets and working electricity, the doll house was designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and will impress even the most discerning of adults. Do your best to time your visit with the Changing of the Guard. rct.uk
7. The Royal Mews
Transport museums are notoriously dull if you’re not seriously into cars, but The Royal Mews is an exception. Here you’ll find all the transport used for the Royal Family, from horse-drawn carriages to luxurious Rolls-Royces. The Diamond Jubilee State Coach is a particular highlight, made to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday, it’s exquisite – from the impeccable craftsmanship to the heavy helping of gold which cases it. Afterwards, head to the on-site stables to see the horses. rct.uk
8. Banqueting House
The Banqueting House is the last remaining building of the Palace of Whitehall, which served as the main residence of English monarchs in London from 1530 to 1698. The Banqueting House in particular was built in 1619 to house royal masques and entertainment, before taking a more sinister turn as the site of King Charles I’s execution in 1649. The hall’s pièce de résistance is undoubtedly its fresco ceiling painted by Ruben to depict the reign of King James I. Once your neck grows tired of gazing upwards, make your way to the vaulted undercroft, where James I and his friends would drink into the wee hours. hrp.org.uk
9. Buckingham Palace
Every summer the Queen opens the gates to her official London home so you can have a peep into how the other (other) half lives. Expectedly lavish, you can waltz through the Throne Room, Ballroom, and handful of drawing rooms to admire the finest of furniture and most opulent decor. Art highlights include paintings by Rembrandt, Ruben, Poussin and Canaletto; sculpture by Canova and Chantrey; as well as exquisite examples of Sevres porcelain. Keep an eye out for the secret entrance used by the Royal Family to access the drawing rooms from their private apartments. Don’t leave without paying the Queen’s Gallery a visit, where changing exhibitions featuring everything from old master paintings to rare furniture and photographs are on show. rct.co.uk
10. The Royal Parks
Everyone knows vitamin-D deficient Londoners love a good park on a rare sunny day, so why not make it a royal one? There are eight of the ilk scattered throughout the city, each perfect for unrolling a picnic blanket and spending an idyll afternoon. Of course, Hyde Park is a given but for unbeatable views of London head for Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park, alternatively for bucolic bliss Richmond Park is as far removed from London’s smog as you can get without leaving the city. With little ones in tow, you can’t do better than the fantastic playground in Kensington Gardens, complete with wooden pirate ship and ginormous sandpit. royalparks.org.uk
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