The Best Places in London to Catch a Glimpse of British Royalty
Let’s face it: a city like London can’t just be only ancient history, black cabs and Big Ben, right? First of all, London offers an incredibly attractive opportunity to breathe the same rarified air as Queen Elizabeth, as well as the gorgeous and charming Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine (gentlemen, please control yourselves), and of course her husband, William (ladies, please control yourselves). Fortunately, Prince Harry is still a bachelor, so any tourists wishing to snap him up still have a chance!
There are a plethora of royal palaces in London, and almost all of them are open to the public. Are these fabulous homes really more than they appear on the outside? Here is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
You may have heard about this place. Yes, this is the Queen’s home when she is in the capital, however, rumour has it, the Queen is not fond of spending time there.
Modest by the standards of some monarchs’ residences, the palace was originally named Buckingham House and belonged to the Duke of Buckingham himself. George III (the Mad King!) bought the house for his wife in 1761, when it became known as ‘the Queen’s House’. Although the first coronation it housed was George IV’s, and it didn’t officially become the home of the monarch until 1837, which aligned with the reign of Queen Victoria.
It has never been the most popular palace for the British monarchs. During Queen Victoria’s reign and after the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she preferred to live in Windsor Castle or Balmoral. Unfortunately she had to return after the public put a little note on the fence of the palace: “These commanding premises to be let or sold, in consequence of the late occupant’s declining business”.
Today many court functions take place in Buckingham Palace and the famous balcony where the members of the Royal Family greet the crowds during important events remains the centrepiece of the palace.
The Palace is open to the public during August – September each year when the Queen is on her annual holidays in Scotland.
St. James’s Palace
Just a few hundred metres in the distance, along the reddish pavements heading away from Buckingham Palace, is St. James’s Palace – the official residence of the royal court, erected under Henry VIII in the name of Saint James the Less.
The grounds of the palace belonged to an old leper hospital, and are rumoured to house one of London’s most gruesome ghosts! In 1810, Joseph Sellis, the servant of Ernest Augustus – Duke of Cumberland and brother of King George IV – was found with his throat cut and his head almost severed from his body mere moments after an attempt on Augustus’ life took place. It was at first rumoured that Sellis had tried to kill the Duke and committed suicide in shame, but court gossip spoke of a cover up; was it the Duke that had attempted to murder Sellis instead in fear of his adulterous affairs being discovered?
Regardless of what really happened, what cannot be denied is the unmistakeable sound of something haunting the corridors at night, and the sight of a ghost, throat slit, is wailing filling the emptiness of the palace halls.
If ghosts aren’t your thing (especially scary ones like that!), St. James’s Palace is also the London residence of Prince Charles, first heir to the throne and known to take up lodgings in Clarence House. If you can avoid the suffocating number of paparazzi surrounding the area, it may be the perfect place for a photo or two. Unfortunately, the inside of the Palace is not open to the public.
Tower of London
Oh, if walls could speak, the gloomy vaults of the Tower of London would have many a stunning story to tell. It is hard to imagine just how much pain, suffering and tragedy the Tower has seen in its time.
Another one of London’s famous ghosts reside in the Tower; some would say its most famous. The spirit of Anne Boleyn, executed here on the orders of notorious ladykiller (in both senses of the word!) Henry VIII. Said to walk around the White Tower holding her decapitated head in her arms, Boleyn may only be the Tower’s second spookiest spectre! According to legend, in 1816 a sentry claimed to have seen the ghost of a giant bear bundling towards him, and even more mysteriously he died of fright a few days later. Why, you may ask, would there have been the ghost of a bear roaming the Tower? It’s because of the no longer in operation Royal Menagerie, used to house animals for the sport of baiting, where King James and his luminaries would bet and gamble on beasts fighting to the death. Considering we now keep cats and dogs as pets and don’t make them battle each other, you can imagine why exactly a bear would bear ethereal resent!
Today, the Tower stores treasures of the British Crown; on their guard, making sure no thieves or bears steal them, are Beefeaters and the legendary ravens. According to legend, if these proud birds leave the Tower of London, the English monarchy will come to an end. To play it safe, the pragmatic British trimmed the ravens’ wings. Just in case.
Tower of London
The Tower of London has hosted some of the most iconic and defining moments in British history. It has previously served as a fortress, an armory, a palace but is most famous for being a prison. The tower is almost 1,000 years old and is rife with...Find out more
Hampton Court Palace
Found near the wonderful towns of Richmond, Kingston and Teddington, Hampton Court Palace is the brainchild of Henry VIII; apparently the king harboured a peculiar passion for the red brick that makes up the grand building, as during his reign all the buildings were built entirely of this material.
The palace has many lush gardens, and an adjacent labrynthian maze where you can easily find yourself lost if you take a wrong turning or two; perhaps you’ll walk a path where one of Henry’s many wives attempted to hide from the royal executioners to no avail. Perhaps in those days the hedges were lower.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is a great place to learn about Medieval times in England. The palace was abandoned by the royal family over 250 years ago but the evidence of everyday life of medieval kings starting from perhaps the most famous of them, Henry...Find out more
Kew Palace itself is relatively small, but very elegant, and despite the number of red bricks adorning its area, Henry VIII had nothing to do with it! The mansion was built by a Dutch merchant who subsequently sold the building to King George III, who actively invested in the area and was still of sane enough mind to enjoy the Kew area with his wife and his fifteen children (!). Fun fact; just like Marie Antoinette at Versailles, Queen Charlotte arranged picnics for the royal family in the gardens of Kew Palace.
Kew Gardens house the largest collection of plants from around the globe and should be included in your London itinerary if you have the slightest interest in the gifts of nature. If you’ve been growing your own tomatoes you will be thrilled to see...Find out more
Kensington Palace, located in the heart of West London (alongside those pesky Chelsea fans!) is known to be the London residence of Prince William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge, and of course their firstborn and the future king George. Previous inhabitants of the palace include Lady Diana of Windsor and the ‘British Jackie Kennedy’ Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s rebellious sister. Queen Victoria was born at the palace and this is where she held held her first privy council once she was crowned.
The palace itself is less reminiscent of a royal castle than an elegant mansion; its warm, family atmosphere is a mile away from Buckingham Palace’s spacious halls, and should be a better home for Prince George than his great grandmother’s is!
Do you know where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live? You will be surprised! The official residence of Prince William and Kate Middleton is very modest by royal standards. William and Kate have turned Kensington Palace into a real family home for...Find out more
Windsor Castle, home of the Queen, is the largest residential castle on the planet and more than 900 years old (older than another great British icon, Doctor Who!). On the grounds are farms and cottages, as well as a private school. Understandably, the Queen visits almost every weekend; fresh air, majestic architecture and vigorous life are all staples of the area around Windsor, and is as far removed from the smog of London as you can imagine.
The picturesque town of Windsor is just an hour's drive from bustling London. This quaint village will give you a taste of the English countryside and is the perfect way to experience real England. The main attraction in the city,...Find out more