Royal family facts are a huge part of London’s appeal. US TV travel expert Kendra Thornton offers her advice on where to go for a truly regal experience.
On my recent visit to London I was struck by the incredible excitement about the Queen’s 90th birthday. There were big celebrations happening at the time and it really brought home just how much of the city’s appeal is rooted in the Royal Family and how much people want to find out royal family facts.
In fact, whenever folks ask me about visiting London, they pretty much always want to talk about the Royals and how they can get a glimpse into their lives.
Well, the good news is that there is no need to cruise Prince Harry’s favourite night clubs – although it might be fun trying! You can learn so much about the Royals simply by visiting the right London attractions.
Where do I start?
For me, there is only one place to begin: Westminster Abbey. This is where Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1947, but less than six years later she returned for an even more important ceremony – her coronation as Queen Elizabeth II.
Just to the right as you go inside the Abbey is the famous Coronation chair itself. Known correctly as King Edward’s Chair, it has been used in every English and British coronation ceremony since 1308. This is where the Queen actually sat while being crowned – wow. But don’t get any ideas. It’s protected behind glass and very solid iron bars. You can get close, but you’ll need to find another place to sit down!
The other highlight of the Abbey is, of course, the spot where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married in 2011 – an unmissable treat for lovers of the younger Royals.
The Queen didn’t walk to her coronation, right?
No sir. But you have to go to the magnificent working stables of the Royal Mews to see just how she did get there. She travelled from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach, drawn by eight horses. Used at every Coronation since 1821, this dazzling coach shares pride of place at the Mews with the Glass Coach, which was used during the 1947 wedding.
Got it. So where does she keep the Crown?
Not by the side of the bed! You need a fortress to guard something that valuable. Luckily they have a great one. It’s the Tower of London, of course.
Originally started on the orders of William the Conqueror in the early 1080s, the Tower has loomed large in Royal history ever since. Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII, was executed here, while the first Queen Elizabeth was a prisoner here for a time before gaining the throne.
Today it’s less dangerous, and the highlight of any visit is the chance to get up close and personal with the Crown Jewels. There are over 23,000 gems in total, but center stage is St Edward’s Crown, which was placed on Her Majesty’s head that day in 1953. Just as impressive are the Imperial State Crown, worn by the Queen each year as she officially opens the British Parliament, and the Sovereign’s Sceptre.
Great! But how do I see where she lives?
Well, actually she has several different homes. The most famous one is Buckingham Palace, of course. It’s been the official London residence of the British monarch since Queen Victoria came here in 1837.
The most important thing you need to know is that the Palace is only open to the public during August and September (and a handful of days either side), so make sure you get your timing right.
Inside, there are 19 State Rooms which are used by the Royal family to entertain guests on official visits to the UK. You get to see all of these, and if you really want to play at being a Royal make the most of the lavish White Drawing Room – this is where the Queen and other members of the family gather before official occasions. Just stroll in, close your eyes and imagine you’re important!
Where else can I go?
Why not visit Her Majesty’s favorite home – Windsor Castle? It’s the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, it’s full of Royal history, and it’s only a short journey outside central London.
The castle plays an important role in the Queen’s life. She spends most weekends here, so it’s a private home as well as an official Royal residence where formal duties take place.
Another one of the royal family facts is that each year Her Majesty takes up residence at Windsor for a month around the Easter holiday, and she can also be found here for a week every June when the castle serves as the perfect base for attending the famous Royal Ascot horse racing.
Want to throw yourself into Royal life past and present? Windsor is the place. Not only do the State Apartments act as a journey through time with their changing décor, reflecting the different tastes of the 39 different monarchs who have lived here, but the stunning St George’s Chapel is the resting place of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII. And just a half-mile down the road is Eton College, where Prince William and Prince Harry were both educated.
That reminds me: what about the younger Royals?
If you are a fan of the younger Royals then I would absolutely recommend Kensington Palace. This was famously the home of Princess Diana for many years, and it is now the London home of William and Kate, while Harry also has an apartment here.
It’s set in over 30 acres of gardens, which include the stunning Sunken Garden, and the Palace itself is exceptionally beautiful – the 16th century King’s Staircase took my breath away! And it’s also the place to look at Royal fashion over the years, with the ‘Fashion Rules Restyled’ exhibit showing a collection of dresses worn by the Queen, as well as others from the collections of Princess Diana and Princess Margaret. A glamorous way to end your Royal tour of London and immersion of royal family facts!