When one thinks ‘Britain’, various things can come to mind, but one that usually nestles in the consciousness is the monarchy. Whether it is Queen Elizabeth II or the always-stylish Duchess of Cambridge, the royal family have been the pinnacle of British society for centuries and so what better way to learn about London’s fascinating and rich history than by visiting some of the city’s fantastic royal palaces? Here are four of our favourites.
This place really needs no introduction. Having served as both the office and residence for British monarchs since it was built during the reign of Queen Victoria, the palace is one of the few working royal palaces in the world.
Over the summer, the site will be opened to visitors, as they get to tour the 19 State Rooms, see treasures from the Royal Collection by the likes of Rubens and Rembrandt, come close to Sevres porcelain and encounter sculptures by Canova and Chantrey. All year round, there is also the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside, all set to music – very pompous stuff!
So much has happened here, including the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and even now there are seasonal temporary exhibitions that look at the various aspects of being part of the royal family.
To get to Buckingham Palace, walk through Hyde Park until you reach the Hyde Park Corner station, and then walk up the Mall to the palace – it should take around 30 minutes.
Having stood as an official residence for the royal family for the past 400 years, it is actually now the home of Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry.
The palace’s story originally began as a simple two-storey Jacobean mansion, that was built in 1605 by Sir George Coppin. A decade later, it was purchased by the 1st Earl of Nottingham, and then passed onto William and Mary who assumed the throne as joint monarchs in 1689. Over the next two centuries, various monarchs added to the site, expanding it vastly, but it did too sadly face neglect, and by the end of the Victorian era the State Rooms has been abandoned.
After a large restoration project, the State Rooms were opened to the public in May 1899, serving as a museum for the city. Visitors can now enjoy hundreds of objects, such as 18th-century dresses worn by Queen Victoria, ceramics, an expansive art collection and antique furniture. Tourists can actually choose between four different routes through the palace, experiencing interactive displays and audio exhibitions along the way. There is even an exhibit on the wardrobe choices of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. Finish off by walking around the original landscaped gardens – stunning stuff.
Kensington Palace is just a ten-minute walk through Hyde Park to the space’s western edge. If you are visiting during the summer, be sure to book tickets for one of the summer open-air cinema screenings, where you can enjoy Hollywood blockbusters or indie classics in the surroundings of these lovely gardens.
Located on Whitehall, this breathtakingly-beautiful site is the only part of what’s left of Whitehall Palace. Designed by Inigo Jones, who had travelled to and gained inspiration from Italy, the building is one of the first examples of Palladian architecture being implemented in England, while major artworks you can enjoy include the painting of Charles I by Daniel Mytens above the grand staircase, and the bronze bust of James I above the door into the Banqueting Hall.
The highlight of your visit undoubtedly will be the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall, an in-situ piece by Peter Paul Rubens. Considered one of the most famous paintings in the world, it was actually the last thing Charles I saw before he lost his head. And talking of, if you head outside of the hall, you can still stand on the spot where Charles I was executed on January 30th 1649.
Before you leave, be sure not to miss out on the vaulted undercroft, which essentially was a glorified drinking den for James I and his friends. When James I died, the space was used for holding lotteries, and with all this gambling, the frivolities did indeed continue.
Tower of London
While the tower itself may be associated with grim and gruesome tales of what occurred there over time, there is actually much beauty to be enjoyed. Seeing the Crown Jewels, for example, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, while the foreboding White Tower is a symbol of Britain’s stoic nature.
There are tonnes of activities here to get stuck into, such as learning about how the tower used to be used as the Royal Mint in the exhibition ‘Coins and Kings’, seeing all the various animals that have inhabited the tower over time in ‘Royal Beasts’, and perusing through the meticulously detailed armoury. After all this, hear some grisly tales from a Beefeater, stand where famous heads have rolled and then finally storm the battlements!
All ages will have a brilliant time at the Tower of London. Tickets are available for adults at £20, £10 for children and £17 for concessions – children under five go free.
These are just four of the amazing royal-themed attractions that you can enjoy in London. If the weather’s good, why not take a lovely afternoon stroll in one of the many Royal Parks? Head to Westminster Abbey, the place where (nearly) all monarchs have been coronated. Or take a day trip to the majestic Windsor Castle. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll need a place to base yourself so why not consider the spacious and comfortable Montcalm hotels? You can enjoy all that luxury without breaking the bank!