Britain’s monarchy is undoubtedly the most recognizable on the planet today, and many visitors to London are particularly fascinated by its history – as well as the activities of the present day royal family.
Today, London continues to have incredibly deep ties with its monarchy and its presence and history remains a vital cornerstone to the city’s identity. Below are a handful of essential sites for experiencing royal London.
The Queen’s home is a real no-brainer when it comes to experiencing the world of royal London today. While she spends much of her time in the other official royal residences across the UK, at the end of the day Buckingham Palace is the British sovereign’s primary base and London home.
Once completely closed to outsiders, Buckingham Palace’s doors were opened to the public, at least partially, by the end of the 20th century. Today, the State Rooms are the primary attraction for those looking to take a peek inside the regal surroundings of Buckingham. The majority of the nineteen rooms open to viewing are those used for official occasions, including greeting and entertaining foreign dignitaries.
The most spectacular of the rooms is the Picture Gallery, where some of the British Royal Family’s personal collection of paintings is displayed. John Nash designed this splendid space during his 19th century transformation of the palace specifically as a gallery, and today paintings by some of the world’s greats can be seen, such as Vermeer and Rembrandt.
A more expansive look at the impressive Royal Collection of art is housed in the Queen’s Gallery, a separately ticketed attraction at Buckingham Palace that opened in 2002 as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
The final paid attraction at Buckingham is the Royal Mews, which is home to the Queen’s horses and regal carriages, including the massive Gold State Coach, which has been a part of coronations since 1821.
But experiencing a bit of royal London at Buckingham doesn’t always require a ticket. The Changing the Guard ceremony takes place daily between May and July at 11:30am, and every other day for the entire year.
A royal residence since the 17th century, Kensington Palace is perhaps best known as the former home of Princess Diana. Today, several members of the royal family reside within its walls, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (by which we mean, of course, Prince William and Kate Middleton).
The public portion of Kensington Palace offers several fascinating attractions, including The Queen’s State Apartments, The King’s State Apartments, as well as an exhibition devoted to Queen Victoria. Many wonderful pieces of the Royal Collection can be found at Kensington as well.
Visitors to Kensington Palace can also enjoy the charms of the Sunken Garden, an ornamental garden planted in 1908. Of course, no ticket is needed to enjoy the surrounding Kensington Gardens, part of the larger Hyde Park stretching out eastwards.
Hampton Court Palace
The royal family no longer uses this royal palace as a residence, but the palace’s history and spectacular Tudor and Baroque architecture make it one of London’s biggest attractions. The palace’s most famous resident was Henry VIII, and it’s possible to see many artefacts and rooms related to the infamous king’s reign. Henry VIII’s Apartments includes a visit to the Great Hall, England’s last and greatest medieval hall. He also expanded the palace’s kitchens in order to feed the 600 members of court. Today, the Tudor Kitchens host live cookery events. Finally, a visit to Hampton Court isn’t complete without getting lost in the famous Hampton Court garden maze.
Tower of London
One of England’s most popular tourist attractions is the Tower of London, a treasured historic castle next to the River Thames. Founded in the 11th century, the Tower’s most famous building – the White Tower – was built by William the Conqueror. The castle was the primary residence of the country’s rulers until the Tudor era, and during this time the complex of buildings which make up the Tower of London were used as an armoury, the home of the Royal Mint, a menagerie, and most famously, a prison and execution site.
Today, the most popular attractions at the Tower are most likely the Crown Jewels, which have been on public display here since 1669. Simply experiencing the dense atmosphere of history and tradition at the Tower of London is worth a visit in and of itself, as the famed ravens and Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) continue to guard the castle – as well as hold free tours for visitors!