- Travel and Places
The Palaces of London
Perhaps the most famous of London's royal residences, Buckingham Palace is well worth the hype. Buckingham Palace has been the London residence of choice for monarchs since Queen Victoria established it as such in 1837, with Queen Elizabeth II still using it today as her London home - she is usually in residence during the middle of the week, although it is well known that she prefers Windsor Castle as her permanent residence. The Palace is one of the few still working palaces in the world, and contains an impressive 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. There is always a flag flying over Buckingham Palace, and the flag reflects whether or not the monarch is in residence. When The Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies. When the Sovereign is not present, the Union Flag flies instead (http://www.royal.gov.uk/latestnewsanddiary/factfiles/40factsaboutbuckinghampalace.aspx). The Palace is well worth a visit both during the daylight and in the evening (when there tends to be fewer people crowding around the gates), and a trip to London is arguably incomplete without at least seeing the impressive London home of the monarch.
Located in the heart of London, it is only a few minutes walk from many of London's other famous landmarks and parks, including Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Imperial War Museum, and Trafalgar Square (to name only a few), as well as being wonderfully close to St James's Park, Green Park, and Hyde Park, all of which are worth spending time strolling or picnicking in. Buckingham Palace is easily accessible by all methods of transportation. However, anyone hoping to tour the palace should note that it is only open for tours from the end of July to the end of September each year.
Definitely less popular than Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, but undeservedly so. Still located in central London and looking out over beautiful Kensington Gardens, this Palace is one that is often overlooked by tourists. The Palace is incredibly accessible and interactive for visitors (including a room where visitors have the chance to dress-up in garments that were made from designs that were fashionable around four hundred years ago). Currently, there is a exhibit of dresses that belonged to the Princess of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, and Princess Margaret. Finally - and perhaps most invitingly, after one has been battling hordes of tourists at some of London's more famous attractions - Kensington Palace is rarely overcrowded, giving visitors ample time to wander about the Palace, taking in the childhood home of Queen Victoria. Although she was not the only monarch to have lived there, the Palace is very much a tribute to her and Albert (although she famously resented the Palace after she became Queen, having been confined there for the majority of her childhood). Queen Victoria was born there - visitors can take in mementos from Victoria's childhood, as well as tokens from later in her life, including a beautiful shaving kit that she gave to Albert. Victoria and Albert first met in the foyer at Kensington Palace, and the very spot that Victoria stood when she saw Albert for the first time is indicated, creating a strong sense of nostalgia for visitors who pause to appreciate the historical importance of that meeting. Indeed, wandering through Kensington Palace today feels very much like wandering through one of the most famous love stories in Britain's royal heritage. Today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge make Kensington their London residence.
Tours of Kensington Palace are distinctly cheaper than touring any other of London's royal residences (about fourteen pounds during high season), taking into account both the central location and the cheaper admission fare. The entrance fee is about half of the cost of Buckingham Palace, and the Palace is easily accessible by tube (High Street Kensington), cab, bus, or foot. In front of the Palace, heading into Kensington Gardens, there is an impressive statue of Queen Victoria, which is a peculiar, fascinating, and quick addition to a tour of Kensingtion Palace.
Hampton Court Palace
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to observe the inner workings of Henry VIII's court, then Hampton Court Palace is definitely the tour for you. The Palace is about half an hour from central London by train, and traveling to Hampton Court gives one a little respite from the hustle and bustle of central London tours. Trains leave frequently from Waterloo Station, and the station is less than a five minute walk to the entrance of the Palace. Like Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace is one that is often overlooked by tourists, whether due to its location or the fact that is less well-known than either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. Both the Palace and the Gardens are extensive, and one could easily spend an entire day at the Palace. Also like Kensington Palace, the tour is incredibly interactive. Actors and actresses stroll around the Palace dressed as famous figures from Henry VIII's court, and they periodically perform skits, including one in which Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII perform some "courtly flirting", with Henry VIII standing at one of the Palace windows citing poetry to Anne. The skits encourage audience participation - Henry encourages the men in the audience to help him compose his poetry, while Anne asks the women for advice on how she should respond to the king's advances. The skits might be cheesy, except for that fact that they are so much fun, and the actors and actresses so marvelously entertaining. Additionally, touring a Palace that has real-life figures in period costumes walking around is exceptionally entertaining, and definitely adds to the experience. Hampton Court Palace would be a marvelous tour to do with children. The admission fee is the same price as that of Kensington Palace (note: purchasing tickets on-line during the off-season from January to March is half-price for both palaces).
Famously known as the Queen's favourite residence and weekend getaway, a trip to Windsor is well worth the journey from London. Upon walking up the the entrance of the Castle, visitors are instantly struck by the magnificence of the Castle, and it is not difficult to understand why the Queen prefers Windsor Castle to any of her other royal residences. The Castle is easily accessible by trains, with trains leaving frequently from Waterloo Station all day (the journey to Windsor takes less than two hours). Windsor Castle is claimed to be the oldest and longest standing working royal castle in the world today, having housed British monarchs for nearly one thousand years (https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle/about).
Well worth seeing are the Queen's State Apartments, St. George's Chapel, Queen Mary's Dollhouse, and the Changing of the Guard. Several royal figures have been buried at Windsor, including the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret. The surrounding town is well worth a wander as well, and an afternoon pint after taking in the beauty of Winsdor is the perfect way to cap off the adventure.
Tower of London
If you are only going to do one tour on your visit to London (although, of course, that is a very silly thing to do, as London has so much to offer), then the Tower of London would definitely be the tour to take. Absolutely not to be missed is the Yeomen Warder (or "Beefeater") tour, which is included in the price of admission. The Beefeaters' renditions of London's history as it developed from the establishment of the Tower are unfailingly colourful, energetic, and entertaining, as well as incredibly informative. Walking through the grounds at the Tower is akin to taking a journey through the history of London itself; through the history of the Tower, one learns the story of London.
Construction on the Tower was initiated in 1066 by William the Conqueror, and the site has been in use ever since, most famously as a prison (holding captives such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey - both of whom were beheaded on the premises) and witnessing the torture of individuals such as Guy Fawkes, among many others. The Tower has been used too as a royal residence, boasting a menagerie which was later relocated to establish the London Zoo, and now houses the Crown Jewels (a collection which includes the largest diamond in the world). With so much to offer, spending an entire day at the tower is hardly a difficult feat, and you still might find yourself wanting to go back for more.
The Tower is centrally located in London and is easily accessible by all modes of transportation, and is picturesquely located on the bank of the River Thames next to the Tower Bridge, within easy walking distance of many of London's other famous attractions, including the reconstructed Globe Theater and Tate Modern (both of which are well worth a visit).