Royal life is very topical now with Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton. But the capital’s royal heritage is in evidence year round, from regal robes and crown jewels to sumptuous state apartments and ceremonial carriages.
Until 1603, the English and Scottish Crowns were separate, although often linked by marriages between members of the two royal families. Following the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the English throne (as King James I of England), a single monarch reigned in the UK.
There have since been many changes; from the end of the 17th century, monarchs lost executive power and increasingly became subject to Parliament, resulting in today’s constitutional monarchy.
Over the years, Britain’s kings and queens have built or bought palaces to serve as family homes and workplaces. Some are still used as official royal residences and many can be visited by the public. Here is our guide to London’s top royal attractions.
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837 and today it also serves as the office of the Queen and as the administrative headquarters of the Royal Household. It is one of the world’s few remaining working royal palaces. Its 775 rooms include 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 78 bathrooms, and 19 state rooms used by the Queen and other members of the royal family to receive and entertain guests. When the Queen visits Scotland each summer, the state rooms are open to visitors; they will be open from July 23-October 3, 2011.
The Royal Mews is one of the finest working stables, housing the state vehicles including the gold State Coach, and is open to visitors.
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The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, Windsor Castle has been a home and fortress for over 900 years; it was first established by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. As well as a royal palace, it houses a magnificent chapel and homes and workplaces for many people.
The Queen spends most weekends here and takes up official residence for a month over Easter and for a week in June, when she attends the Order of the Garter service and the Royal Ascot race meeting.
Visitors can see the state rooms, the East Terrace and the semi-state rooms, as well as the Great Chapel and tour the Great Kitchen. During this August and September, you will also be able to take the new Conquer the Tower tour and climb the 189 steps to the top of the famous round tower.
Kensington Palace was the favourite residence of successive sovereigns until 1760, and was also the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. When 18, she was woken in the cosy room – now known as Queen Victoria’s Bedroom – early on June 20, 1837, to be told her uncle William IV had died and she would accede to the throne.
Diana, Princess of Wales, lived in an apartment until her death in 1997, which was publicly mourned at the gates of the palace.
Building works have closed parts of the palace until 2012, but you can still visit the state apartments, now known as the Enchanted Palace, and the gardens.
Best-known as the home of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace was originally built byThomas Wolsey, later Cardinal Wolsey, in 1514. Henry VIII redeveloped the palace to his own tastes with tennis courts and bowling alleys, as well as kitchens covering 36,000 square feet and a multiple garderobe (or lavatory) which could sit 28 people at a time. All of his six wives came to the palace and most had lavish new lodgings; the King rebuilt his own rooms at least half a dozen times. Today, visitors can enjoy Henry VIII’s apartments as well as the Tudor kitchens and the maze.
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tower of london
Founded in 1078 by William the Conqueror, the Tower has been used as a fortress, a royal palace and a prison; some of its most famous inmates include Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh.
It has also been used as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury and a zoo, and has been home to the Crown Jewels since 1303. Today, visitors can see these, explore the infamous Bloody Tower or join a Yeoman Warder tour – their “beefeater” nickname is thought to have been given when as part of the royal bodyguard, they were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table.
other royal highlights
The official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and the home of Princes William and Harry. From 1953 to 2002 it was the home of the Queen Mother. Open from August 6-September 4, 2011.
Built in 1631 by rich merchant Samuel Fortrey, this palace latterly became a retreat for the ailing King George III.
changing the guard
The Queen’s Life Guard stand guard at the official entrance to St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace outside Horse Guards in Whitehall. Changing the Guard takes place at 11.30am daily from May until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting.
For information on the history of the monarchy and today’s Royal Family, go to www.royal.gov.uk.
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit London's royal heritage.