The Six Best Places to see Royal London
Are you planning a trip to London? Great Britain is known for its history and London, the capital city, is dotted with the names and references to its royal family. Here is a list of a few great places to see this grand city in royal style.
Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. It is from the balcony at Buckingham Palace that the royals wave to the crowds and watch the flypast on special occasions such as Trooping the Color (the Queen’s official birthday). It is also from this balcony that royal newlyweds have their kiss.
Buckingham Palace is open to the public during the summer months. Be sure to check out the website because the exact dates change every year. When you visit Buckingham Palace, you will get to see the magnificent state rooms, the public rooms of the palace. In these lavish rooms, Queen Elizabeth greets guests, hosts parties, and conducts official ceremonies. I highly recommend the audio tour so you can hear about the royal family’s purpose for that room and important objects.
If you are visiting Buckingham Palace anyways, why not combine it with watching the Changing of the Guard? This ceremony held in front of Buckingham Palace at 11:30 each day during the summer and every other day during the winter is full of British pomp and ceremony. Be sure to check out the website to ensure the ceremony is being held that day.
The three underground stations near Buckingham Palace are Victoria, Green Park, and Hyde Park Corner. Personally, if convenient, I would choose Green Park as it is a short lovely walk. Another option would be Charing Cross Station and then walk to Trafalgar Square and then along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. This offers spectacular views, although this option could be considered a bit of a walk.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is the place to visit if you are interested in Tudor royals. This palace is most closely associated with its first royal owner Henry VIII. Here, Henry VIII dined in the marvelous Great Hall and first heard about the indiscretions of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard in the Chapel Royal.
Henry VIII was not the only monarch to live at Hampton Court. Later monarchs found it old fashioned and endeavored to have it replaced with more contemporary (for their time) buildings. William and Mary (joint monarchs) had Christopher Wren begin to replace sections of the Tudor palace with a baroque style. Luckily for us, they never completed their project. While a small part of the Tudor Palace was torn down and replaced, large parts remain untouched.
Great things to see at Hampton Court Palace include the huge Tudor kitchens, the famous maze in the garden, the great vine (planted in 1769 and it is huge!), the Chapel Royal, and the Great Hall. However, my favorite part would have to be walking through the amazing gardens.
Hampton Court Palace, while still in London, is a bit out of the way and most tourists the best way to visit is by train. Take a train from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court Station. From there it is a relatively short walk across the bridge to Hampton Court Palace. In total this is about a half hour journey.
Another alternative would be to take the underground to Richmond and then take a bus to Hampton Court. While it is nice to see Richmond (Richmon is beautful) on the way, it is an unnecessary two hour journey.
Westminster Abbey is site of many historic royal events including the recent marriage of Kate Middleton to Prince William (now known as Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge). It is the traditional church for the coronation of English and British monarchs including the coronation of the current British monarch Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. Thus, it contains King Edward’s Chair, the coronation chair on which all British monarchs sit during the coronation ceremony.
There are many notable burials at Westminster Abbey, including many monarchs from Saeberht, King of the East Saxons who died in 616 to George II of Great Britain who died in 1760. When you tour the Abbey, you will be sure to notice the elaborate recumbent effigy of Queen Elizabeth I, under which both she and her half-sister Queen Mary lie.
Westminster Abbey is situated northwest the Houses of Parliament and can be reached by the Westminster or St. James’s Park underground stations.
Tower of London
The Tower of London should be high on any traveler’s list. With construction beginning in 1066, it has touched the lives of many English and British monarchs. Many of England’s early post-Norman conquest monarchs live in the luxurious (for its time) medieval palace and one of the current exhibits at the Tower of London is the medieval palace of King Edward I’s.
During the Tutor period (1485-1603), the Tower of London was often housed important political prisoners, including a number of royals such as the future Queen Elizabeth I. Several Queens were beheaded on the Tower Green including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Gray.
For more information on what to see at the Tower of London visit my article on the top things to do at the Tower of London.
The closest underground station to the Tower of London is Tower Hill. Be sure to check out the memorial to those executed at Tower Hill next to Tower Hill Station.
Kensington Palace is the official residence to a number of royals including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton), Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (both the Duke of Gloucester and the Prince of Kent are grandchildren of King George V). Well known past royal residents include Diana, Princess of Wales (from 1981 until her death) and Princess Victoria of Kent (later to become Queen Victoria).
Despite that is it a currently inhabited palace, it is open year-round to the public. Not to be missed sites include the magnificent King’s State Apartments and the Queens State Apartments. A popular exhibition is “Diana: glimpses of a modern princess” which displays some of Princess Diana’s beautiful dresses until October 2012.
There are several underground stations nearby including Queensway and Notting Hill Gate. However, I would suggest the High Street Kensington station as it is a fifteen minute walk through the famous borough of Kensington. If you are truly in the mood for a walk, why not take the underground to Hyde Park Corner and walk though Hyde Park? Just be aware that Hyde Park is reasonably long walk and plan accordingly.
National Portrait Gallery
Now that you have seen where the royals lived, married, and buried, it is time to see what some of them looked like. The National Portrait Gallery hosts many paintings of famous historic British royals. Check out my favorite exhibition, the Tutor portraits. There, you can see portraits of the infamous King Henry VIII alongside his ill-fated wife Anne Boleyn, and Queen Mary I next to her successor and sister Queen Elizabeth I. The National Portrait Gallery also contains royal portraits from the Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian periods as well as contemporary portraits.
Once you have finished the National Portrait Gallery, I highly suggest you walk over to the National Gallery to the National Café. There they serve a wonderful cream tea (Tea or Coffee and scones served with jam and clotted cream).
The National Portrait Gallery is located at the east end of Trafalgar Square. The closest underground stations are Charing Cross or Leicester Square.