London is steeped in history and, as the UK is one of the few remaining countries with a Royal family, no trip to the capital is complete without soaking up some British regal tradition. To help you get the full royal experience, we’ve put together what we think is the ultimate Royal London itinerary, ideal for enjoying some pomp and pageantry in the city. Come, explore Royal London with us…
Royal Residences – past and present
Perhaps the most exciting landmarks to witness in London are the royal palaces and esteemed regal houses. Some remain exclusive London homes to the British Royal family whilst others have been opened to the public to explore.
1. Buckingham Palace
One of the most famous homes in the world and one of the few remaining Royal Palaces, Buckingham Palace has been home to the British Monarchy since 1837 and is the main residence of Her Majesty the Queen. This regal and impressive building sits at the end of The Mall and is surrounded by St James’s Park and Green Park. See the guards in the palace grounds and the famous balcony from where many Royal appearances have taken place. In the summer months, you can even venture inside the Palace with pre-booked tickets.
2. Kensington Palace
The home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and, of course, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Kensington Palace has been a royal residence since the 17th Century and it was once home to King George I and II, Queen Victoria and more recently Princess Diana. Built in 1605, this beautiful palace is surrounded by Kensington Gardens. Several parts of the palace are open to the public, including the Grand King’s State Apartments, the regal Red Saloon once used by Queen Victoria, the picturesque gardens and the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition featuring garments worn by the late Diana Princess of Wales.
3. Clarence HouseClose to Buckingham Palace and sharing gardens with St James’ Palace, just off The Mall, Clarence House has a long history as a royal residence to the current royal family. It was the London home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth from 1949 to 1952, after she married the Duke of Edinburgh, and home to the Queen Mother from 1953 to 2002. When the house opens to the public in the summer months, many items from the Queen Mother’s Royal Collection can still be viewed.
Today it is the official London home of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, but the Prince of Wales also spent his early years here between the ages of one and three. Clarence House, until recently, was also the official residence of Prince William and Kate, and Prince Harry.
4. Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is famously known as the favourite royal residence of Henry VIII, where he lived with a number of his wives and where his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was famously put under house arrest following accusations of adultery. Her ghost has been said to have appeared in the Palace’s Haunted Gallery.
Hampton Court Palace is located on the edge of Bushy Park in Greater London, just 35 minutes by train from London Waterloo. The Palace is open year round offering guided tours, beautiful 60 acre gardens and a varied calendar of family events including their famous outdoor ice rink in the winter months. Hampton Court Palace is also home to perhaps the world’s most famous hedge maze.
5. Kew PalaceA beautiful building located in the equally stunning Royal Botanical Kew Gardens on the banks of the River Thames, Kew Palace was restored and reopened to the public in 2006. The palace was once home to King George III, grandfather to Queen Victoria. In 1899, Victoria opened the palace to the public. In recent years it has undergone vast restoration and played host to the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2006.
6. Spencer HouseAdjacent to St James Park and near Clarence House and Buckingham Palace is Spencer House, an 18th-century aristocratic palace. Eight stunningly restored state rooms are open to the public most Sundays throughout the year. The house is a breathtaking example of regal architecture and was completed in 1766 for the ancestor of Princess Diana, the first Earl Spencer.
7. Apsley House
Once home to the Duke of Wellington, the famous general who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Apsley House is located on the South East Corner of Hyde Park. A stunning example of Georgian grandeur, visitors to Apsley House can enjoy the glittering interiors, elegant artworks and fine pieces on display.
There are eight beautiful royal parks in London, all originally the property of the British monarchy. Today they are open to the public, offering peaceful retreats from the bustle of the city, each with their own unique characteristics.
8. Hyde Park
Once the private hunting ground of Henry VIII in 1536, Hyde Park boasts 350 acres of stunning greenery in the heart of the City. Hyde Park is home to the beautiful Serpentine Lake, which spans across the park and into adjacent Kensington Gardens; the famous Speakers’ Corner where political, ethical, moral and local views are openly discussed; and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain.
9. St James Park
Running alongside the stretch of The Mall, St James Park is at the heart of London’s royal ceremonies and national celebrations as well as home to the Horse Guards Parade. It is the oldest of the royal parks and it was once a water meadow later acquired by Henry VIII. Elizabeth I notably used the park for regular pomp and pageantry.
10. Richmond Park
Spanning a huge 2,500 acres, Richmond Park, is the largest of London’s Royal Parks. The park is home to 650 red and fallow deer as well as a wealth of other wildlife. The park’s royal roots can be dated back as far as the late 13th century, when it was known as the Manor of Sheen. Henry VII renamed the area Richmond during his reign.
11. Bushy Park
Located near to Hampton Court Palace, Bushy Park is filled with woodland, grassland, gardens and pretty ponds. Like Richmond Park, it is home to red and fallow deer. The park’s main attractions include Chestnut Avenue, the formal Chestnut Tree lined approach to Hampton Court Palace, and the Diana Fountain, which honours the Roman goddess Diana.
12. Regent’s Park
Measuring 395 acres The Regent’s Park is known for its beautiful Queen Mary Gardens, Open Air Theatre, London Zoo and Primrose Hill. Another of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds, today the park is still used for sporting pursuits, with activities including netball, tennis and running.
13. Kensington Gardens
Separated from Hyde Park by the Serpentine Bridge, Kensington Gardens are the stunning setting for Kensington Palace, the famous former home of Queen Victoria. It was Queen Victoria who commissioned the beautiful Italian Gardens, and her dedicated memorial to her husband Prince Albert is also located here.
14. Green Park
A simple green space close to Buckingham Palace, Green Park is popular with picnickers and those looking for a quick rest in the city. Formerly a famous duelling site up until the mid-1600s, today Green Park enjoys a much more peaceful ambience with mature trees and grassland.
15. Greenwich Park
Home to the Royal Observatory and the world famous meridian line, Greenwich Park is thought to date back to Roman times. Its hilltop location provides a beautiful vantage point from which to take in the city. It was another of Henry VIII’s deer grounds.
Royal Collections – Museums & Galleries
Centuries of royal possessions can be viewed in some of London’s royal museums. Visitors to the capital can enjoy a glimpse into the city’s and the country’s royal past. And don’t forget, many of the royal residences that are open to the public also house a range of unique royal collections to explore.
16. Household Cavalry Museum
Find out all there is to know about the most senior regiment of the British Army at the Household Cavalry Museum. With traditions dating back to 1660, the Household Cavalry guard and protect Buckingham Palace and the British monarchy. Located at Horse Guards – the official entrance to the Royal residence, you can discover all the pomp and pageantry involved with dynamic and interactive displays, exhibitions and even a chance to see troopers in stables preparing their horses.
17. Queen’s GalleryLocated in Buckingham Palace The Queen’s Gallery is open year round and is a dedicated space for changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.
18. National Portrait Gallery
Located in London’s West End area, the National Portrait Gallery houses numerous collections of famous monarchs throughout history, including a portrait set of early English kings and queens, as well as official portraits documenting the lives of modern day royals like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
London is well known for its love of pomp and ceremony and city visitors love nothing more than watching a royal ceremony or celebration.
19. Changing of the guard
If you want to see London’s royal traditions at their best then head over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. This historic ceremony has taken place since 1660 and sees The Queen’s Royal Guards change shift. The soldiers march down The Mall to Buckingham Palace accompanied with the band. It is quite a sight and takes place every day in the summer and every other day during the winter months.
20. Changing of the Queen’s Lifeguard
A lesser known ceremony, the Changing of the Queen’s Lifeguard takes place daily on Horse Guard Parade St James’ Park. Since this ceremony is not as widely known, you can often find smaller crowds than with the Changing of the Guards (foot guards). Also, there are no railings or barriers separating onlookers, so this can be a good choice for those visiting London with children who want to experience the royal traditions.
Other Royal Buildings
21. Westminster Abbey
This historic abbey was founded in 960 and has always been a significant place for the Royal family. A short walk away from Buckingham Palace this place of worship has seen several royal events including the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, the tragic funeral of Princess Diana, and the more recent and much happier Royal wedding of HRH Prince William to Catherine Middleton.
22. Tower Of London
Dating back to the Norman Conquest the Tower of London is one of the city’s oldest buildings. Rich in history and full of tales of days gone by, it is now one of the most visited attractions in the UK. The Tower is packed with things to see and do for people of all ages. See the iconic Beefeaters which guard the Tower with their loyal ravens, the Royal Armouries, the famous Royal Crown Jewels and discover all the gruesome tales the tower has witnessed.
23. Royal MewsHome to all the Royal state vehicles, the Royal Mews is one of the finest working stables in the world. Located at Buckingham Palace, visitors can experience the work of the Royal Household department and view all the Royal transport from the horses and carriages to impressive motor vehicles. A particular highlight is the golden carriage last used for the celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee.
24. Royal Warrant HoldersIf you can’t get to one of the Royal sights then why not try some goods fit for the Queen instead? There are several companies in London that supply goods or services to the Royal family and are Royal Warrant Holders. In short, they have the Royal seal of approval and stand for remarkable service, quality and excellence. To receive a Royal Warrant a company must have supplied goods or services to the Royal family for over 5 years. In London, some of the Queen’s favourites include Fortnum and Mason, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Burberry, Daks, Bentley & Skinner Jewellers, Partridges of Sloane Square and chocolates from Prestat.
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