Official Royal Residences
THE QUEEN’S LONDON HOME
Is this the most famous palace in the world? We wouldn’t bet against it. John Nash’s Buckingham Palace had just three sides when it was completed in 1834, with a marble arch creating a grand, ceremonial entrance to the forecourt. During Queen Victoria’s reign, the fourth side was added, including its famous balcony. The marble arch was moved to, you guessed it, Marble Arch, which is now just north of the palace at the top of Park Lane. You can tour the State Rooms every summer (21 July-30 September), where the Queen hosts guests for state, ceremonial and official occasions. More accessible parts of Buckingham Palace include The Queen’s Gallery, opened in 1962, and the Queen’s road transport headquarters, the Royal Mews. This working stable is open daily (to 30 November) and a typical visit takes about an hour. Expect to see carriage horses and ornate royal coaches, including Queen Victoria’s Irish State Coach which she bought in 1852 for £858.
YOUNG ROYALS LONDON HQ
Queen Victoria was born and raised here, while today a new brood of young royals call Kensington Palace home: Prince William, Kate, Prince Harry and Meghan. Between his engagement and marriage to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh also lived in an apartment here, as did Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales during their marriage. The gardens were once a part of Hyde Park, until William III and Mary II established the palace in 1689. Forty years later, Queen Caroline created the Serpentine boating lake, the Broad Walk and the Long Water and, today, the area is a Royal Park. Visit Kensington Palace and catch its hugely popular exhibition, Diana: Her Fashion Story.
PRINCE CHARLES’ LONDON HOME
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall reside beyond the white-and-cream walls of Clarence House, situated next to Green Park within the grounds of St James’s Palace. The house was built in 1827 for George III’s son, the Duke of Clarence, while its penultimate resident was Charles’ grandmother. You can book a 45-minute tour of the lavish ground floor (August only) to see items from the Royal Collection including the Queen Mother’s Chinese porcelain. Enjoy an accompanying glass of Champagne for that regal touch.
THE QUEEN’S WEEKEND RETREAT
Thanks to Harry and Meghan, Windsor Castle needs no introduction. It is the world’s largest castle in everyday use, 39 monarchs have called it home ever since Henry I moved here in 1110. Edward III loved it so much that it became his main residence in the 14th century, while the kitchen he built is the oldest still in use in England. It has the exterior of a medieval castle, but inside it’s more like a resplendent palace. Considering its age and steady modernisation over 932 years, that contrast isn’t surprising.
NORTHERN IRELAND’S ROYAL RESIDENCE
Set amid 100 acres of gardens south of Belfast, Hillsborough Castle was built in the 1770s by the 1st Marquess of Downshire. You can tour the State Rooms, including the State Dining Room, the Throne Room and Lady Grey’s Study, which the Royal Family uses for private entertaining. The castle and gardens are closed for major conservation (due to reopen 1 July), making the second half of this year a perfect time to visit.
THE QUEEN’S SCOTTISH HOME
In 1128, King David I of Scotland was hunting in the forest when he had a vision: he saw a stag, with a crucifix (rood) between its antlers. He was so overcome by what he had seen that he built a religious monument to the Holy Rood. Over the centuries, the site expanded from a church to an abbey, ultimately becoming the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The palace’s Great Gallery is now filled with 111 portraits of Scottish kings and queens, created during the 1670s by the Dutch painter Jacob de Wet. Queen Victoria used Holyroodhouse as a royal residence, while Elizabeth II opened The Queen’s Gallery here in 2002, housing changing exhibitions of Royal Collection treasures.
WHITEHALL’S LOST PALACE
Banqueting House is the only surviving part of the Palace of Whitehall, built by Henry VIII, then used by the Tudors and Stuarts until it was destroyed by fire in 1698. The highlight is its beautiful ceiling, featuring nine paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. The artist created these works specifically for Banqueting House during its final reconstruction in 1622. Open daily, it has just emerged from conservation work.
THE BLOODIEST TOWER IN LONDON
Few parts of the capital have a more exhilarating history than the Tower of London. William the Conqueror built this imposing fortress during the 11th century, before Henry III and Edward I embellished it 200 years later for use as a luxurious, secure palace. The nation’s coins were made here until 1810, kings and heirs were murdered here and countless royal traitors were imprisoned. Home of the Crown Jewels, it’s open daily.
Known as Henry VIII’s favoured residence, Hampton Court Palace began life as a country house. Henry’s Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, lavished the site with attention until it was fit for hosting the King and visiting European monarchs, at which point Henry claimed the palace for himself. Open daily, this magnificent complex is set in 60 acres of parkland on the River Thames and is best reached by train from Waterloo.
WINDSOR’S PARKLAND SANCTUARY
Frogmore House lies in Home Park beside Windsor Castle, and it’s been a royal residence since George II bought it for Queen Charlotte more than 300 years ago. It’s occasionally open to the public – either for three days in spring, or for groups of 15 or more in August. Once inside, expect a botanist’s paradise: Queen Charlotte loved flowers, which is reflected in much of the extravagant décor. In the pretty garden, Charlotte added trees and shrubs including redwoods.