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If you’re a fan of the British Royal family or you’re interested in the regal history and heritage of the UK then London is a fantastic place with so many things to do that relate to it. In this blog post we’re looking at Royal attractions in London and they are all within the Greater London area with most of them being in Central London itself. All of them are easily reached on public transport too so if you’re based in London without a car don’t worry.
When thinking about royal places to visit in London we could be here forever – there are so many things that have a connection to the Queen and the family. I’ve restricted this list to mostly castles, palaces and gardens, all packed with history, and all of which you can visit easily as a tourist in the city.
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- 1 10 royal attractions in London you have to visit
10 royal attractions in London you have to visit
The first royal attraction on my list has to be Buckingham Palace! Every time we visit London we have to visit here or it doesn’t feel like a proper trip – and I have been doing this since I was a young child.
It’s the most famous of all the Royal palaces in the UK and it’s the Queen’s official residence. It was originally a large townhouse owned by the Duke of Buckingham back in the 1700s but it was eventually taken over by King George III as a home for Queen Charlotte and was known as the Queen’s house. In the 19th century it began to be enlarged to the scale that can be seen now and from the time of Queen Victoria it was the residence of the monarch.
There are a number of things to do relating to Buckingham Palace:
Visiting the State Rooms
As it’s a working palace and often housing our monarch, it’s not often open for visitors. Not many years ago the Queen decided to open up the State Rooms for visitors and if you’re visiting in the Summer months you may be able to get tickets for a look around inside. It’s open for 10 weeks in the summer from mid-July to end of September. You can get tickets in advance here (recommended because they can sell out).
Another aspect of the palace that might be of interest is the Queen’s Gallery which is open year-round and houses exhibitions of art, furniture and photographs – it was built on the old palace chapel that was destroyed in WW2.
Open from February to end of November you can visit the Royal Mews which is the home of the carriages that transport the Royal family including some incredibly ornate and stunning examples like the Gold State coach. Get tickets in advance here.
Changing of the guard
If you don’t want to go inside then still go for a look to see the palace from the outside as it is definitely impressive – you might even be lucky and spot the Queen or some other important people coming and going.
There’s also the changing of the guards which takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday throughout the year (daily through summer) at 11am (for exact schedule see the official website here). This is where the soldiers who stand guard at the palace change places with the new regiment and the ceremony is a highlight for many visitors. It can get rather busy, especially in the busy summer months, so if it’s a must for you to see then get there early (around 10-10.15am) to secure a place by the railings or perhaps on the steps of the Victoria memoral statue.
Horse Guards is a military building in London and is actually the official entrance to both Buckingham Palace and to St James’s palace and it’s the place where you can see the changing of the guard and it’s the home of the Household Cavalry. It’s also where the Trooping of the Colour takes place each year on the Queen’s official birthday.
The Horse Guards Parade Ground is where you want to go each day at 11am (10am on a Sunday) if you want to watch the changing of the guard – it’s a smaller and less busy affair than that of Buckingham Palace so might be a better bet for those with children who don’t want to do much waiting around or just those who don’t want to be surrounded by crowds.
If you arrive outside the time of the ceremony there are still cavalry soldiers on horseback that you can get pictures of – I’m not sure how they have the patience for the tourists that come up to them all day!
Also present is the Household Cavalry museum which is a must if you’re interested in military history.
Kensington Palace is situated at the western end of Kensington Gardens (see below) and as such it feels like an oasis in the huge city of London. It’s currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate), The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and also Prince and Princess Michael of Kent – phew! That’s a lot of Royals in one place!
The history of Kensington Palace begins in the 1600s when it was originally built as a two story mansion. It was eventually bought by William III and Mary in 1689 as a home for ailing William – being by the River Thames with the fog didn’t suit his chest conditions. It’s most famous for being the childhood home and birthplace of Queen Victoria who lived there all her childhood, only moving to Buckingham Palace when she became Queen at the age of 18.
Kensington Palace is open year-round and you can tour the State Rooms and the gardens. There are often many exhibitions on where you can learn more about the history of the palace from one about Victoria’s childhood to one about the fashion of Diana, Princess of Wales (Kensington Palace was her former home).
Kensington Gardens and the Diana Memorial Playground
As well as inside Kensington Palace, the gardens are a must for those visiting London and wanting some respite from the busy streets. There is a lot to see in the gardens and the best bit is that you can do so for free!
Kids will adore the Diana Memorial Playground set up in 2000 – it’s free to enter and it’s great for allowing them to let off steam.
Also in memorial of Diana, Princess of Wales is a special seven-mile memorial walk which takes in some of the important places in her life (including many places on this list) – you can download the walk guide here. It’s easy to access and follow – look for the memorial markers like the one above.
Walking down towards the Royal Albert Hall you’ll see the impressive Albert memorial too which commemorates his early death from typhoid in 1861.
Kensington Palace also does some free guided tours of the gardens in the summer showcasing the history which are definitely worth considering – see here
Royal Albert Hall
Staying in the Kensington Area one really impressive building that I highly recommend a visit to is the Royal Albert Hall. It’s primarily a concert hall and has played host to a wide variety of music events over the years from the Proms to Cirque du Soleil! I was incredibly lucky one year to attend a schools event with my kids where we were assigned some of the best seats in the house – one of the boxes – to listen to an amazing classical orchestra performance. It was breathtaking!
The hall was part of a grand scale of buildings to the arts and sciences (and included the V&A and Natural History Museum nearby) which was organised to be built by Prince Albert. Unfortunately, he died before the building of the concert hall could be begun but in 1867, on the laying of the foundation stone by Queen Victoria, it was announced it was to be named after him.
As well as going for concerts and events you can also take tours of the hall like this one – highly recommended if you have an interested in the history of the building!
Tower of London
Now, a much older piece of Royal history is the Tower of London – oh the stories that it can tell! The history goes back 1000 years to the Norman conquest in 1066 and William the Conqueror built the tower as a symbol of his power – it wasn’t received well by those who he conquered though who saw it as opression. There is so much to say about the place – it was originally the Royal residence until Henry VIII started to use Hampton Court Palace, it was also used as a prison all the way until the mid twentieth century. Famous prisoners included Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey, the Young Princes (Edward V and his brother Richard) and also Guy Fawkes. It’s a well known phrase to be ‘sent to the tower’ as an ultimate threat!
Nowadays it’s a large tourist attraction and also home to the Crown Jewels, Beefeaters (also known as Yeoman Warders) and the Ravens of course. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London that the Kingdom will fall.
It’s open daily through the year except Christmas and New Year – tickets can be bought in advance from here – and it includes a free tour from the Beefeaters.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is a stunning example of a Royal building and I love that it incorporates such old history, dating back from Tudor times, to more modern history. King Henry VIII took over the building which was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey and turned it into a magnificent palace from where he held court.
Over the years it was expanded more and more to get to where it is now. Queen Victoria eventually decided to open the palace to the public in the 19th century and it’s been a tourist attraction ever since.
While located on the outskirts of London it’s still really accessible by train (from Waterloo) or by bus and definitely shouldn’t be missed if Royal history is important to your trip. You can buy tickets in advance here.
Queen’s House Greenwich
Again heading away from central London but not too far – Queen’s House is located in the borough of Greenwich. I love this area of London for it’s vibrancy and also the cool museums and historical sites around – highly recommended as a place to stay that’s a bit cheaper than central London too.
Queen’s House was originally built for Anne of Denmark who was the Queen of James I in the early 1600s. She didn’t get to see the whole thing finished though as she died and actually work had to stop until the site was given to Henrietta Maria, the Queen of Charles I in 1629. It was unique at the time as the first classical building to be constructed. Unfortunately due to the English Civil War it didn’t stay long as a place of court and was removed of many of the original features.
Nowadays it is next to the National Maritime Museum and houses many piece of art. It’s a free attraction in London (as is the museum which we’ve also enjoyed visiting) which is always welcome and as such definitely recommended for those on a budget.
Westminster Abbey is a popular landmark in the London city centre and it’s right by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The history of this building goes back over 1000 years and it’s been the site of all the coronations of the country’s monarchs since the time of William the Conqueror. It’s also the site of many of the Royal Weddings – the most recent being the wedding of William and Kate. And if that’s not enough many of the previous monarchs are buried there too including Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
You can visit the Abbey and it’s open throughout the year. As it’s a working church sometimes it does need to be closed off for services. Tickets can be bought in advance here.
Kew Palace and Gardens
Kew was the home of King George III and Queen Charlotte in the 1700s but was built the century before. Not much of the huge complex remains now, the main remnants being the ‘Dutch House’ shown above. It’s a small palace, especially in comparison to some of the others on this page but this doesn’t detract from the really unique character of this one. It is where the King retreated to when he had his mental illness that many considered madness.
The other great attraction other than the palace is Kew Gardens themselves which is a botanical garden and one of the biggest UNESCO sites in the UK. WIth glasshouses galore and an 18th century tall pagoda it’s a really interesting day out.
Kew is in the Borough of Richmond so a little out from the centre of London but still on the Tube line (nearest is Kew Gardens or Kew Bridge). Tickets are available to buy in advance here
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