With restrictions easing in the UK, many iconic landmarks are due to open their doors again. Last year I made the most of the opportunity between lockdowns to visit many of the lavish, notorious, historic & beautiful royal residences in London. For those of us in the UK, the time to visit is NOW. For those overseas, you can at least start planning. To help you, here is my round-up of the best palaces in London.”
London, United Kingdom.
The British Royal Family have been under the global news spotlight lately. Between the sad death of Prince Philip at the grand old age of 99 & the notorious interview with Harry & Meghan, it’s been a tough year for the Queen. On a lighter note, they have celebrated the 10-year wedding anniversary of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge. Whichever news story has caught your eye, it’s hard to resist the urge to explore more about this famous family throughout the centuries.
I have lived just outside London all my life but up until 2019 had never actually been inside any of these properties. When lockdown eased last year, I decided to rectify that & went on a mission to see as many as I could (before they had to shut down again!). As they begin to reopen their doors to the public, I thought it was the perfect time for a round-up of the best palaces in London.
With the restrictions lifting in the UK, the royal palaces are beginning to open their doors again to visitors. If you live here, all I can say is VISIT SOON, before the tourists return. I was lucky to see most of these beautiful residences & historical buildings with very few other people around.
I was practically alone in Kensington Palace. The Tower of London usually welcomes 10,000 visitors a day. When I was there, I was one of around 300.”
If you live outside the UK, this is also the perfect guide to plan your royal assault when you visit next time.
5 Best Palaces in London & Why You Need To Visit Them
Royal Collection Trust
The Royal Collection Trust (RCT) oversees Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle & the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. If you like to get your money’s worth, you can get your ticket stamped which gives you unlimited access to the same property for 12 months. This is restricted to tickets purchased directly & for the named person only. The RCT properties provide audio guides for the tours which include an introduction from Prince Charles.
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Queen in London & a working royal palace. Therefore, this may be THE best palace in London. The State Rooms are accessible to the public during the summer months, although this year they are also opening for a limited time in Spring.
The State Rooms entertain dignitaries & guests of state. It is these rooms where the official photos are taken & from which the infamous balcony leads (although you can’t access the balcony itself).
This year the private gardens are also available to explore for the first time. These can usually only be enjoyed by those lucky enough to receive an invite to a garden party. If you have a ticket for the garden, then you can also take a picnic to eat on the palace grounds. That’s a pretty unique opportunity in my book!
My Grandpa once attended as the mayor of his town, which is of huge pride for the family, & one of my favourite photos of my grandparents.”
When I visited back in 2019, I loved seeing the actual thrones used by the Queen & Prince Philip for official photographs & state occasions. And my favourite thing?
If you don’t have the time, money or inclination to visit the palace itself then be there at 11am to witness the impressive changing of the guard ceremony. Check all the official schedules here.
Open: State Rooms 21st May – Sunday 20th June, Friday to Sunday only
Tickets: £47.50 (usually £60)
Gardens only: 9th July – 19th September (£16.50)
Address: Royal Mews, Buckingham Gate, London, SW1W 1QH
Nearest tube: Victoria, Green Park, St James’s Park or Hyde Park Corner
Windsor is the actual residence of the Queen & the largest & oldest occupied castle in the world. Since it was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle has been the home of 39 monarchs. If you are particularly interested in the royal art collection, then this is the best palace in London to visit. The lavish State Rooms are used for state banquets & events almost as often as Buckingham Palace.
In addition to the castle itself, you can explore St Georges Chapel which was recently in the spotlight as the location of Prince Harry & Meghan’s wedding. It is also the last resting place of 10 English monarchs, including Henry VIII.
On my visit, the extent of the damage caused by the castle fire in 1992 shocked me. The impressive renovation which has taken place is awe-inspiring. In addition, I loved St Georges Hall where many banquets & royal wedding receptions have been held.
I also learned that occasionally the Queen invites extra special guests to a sleepover! So far eat & sleep invites have been enjoyed by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig & astronaut Sir Tim Peak!”
Address: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 1NJ
Nearest train: Windsor Castle is not actually in London but just outside. For trains head to Windsor & Eton either Central or Riverside.
Historic Royal Palaces is a self-funded charity that manages the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Banqueting House, Kew Palace & Hillsborough Castle (in Northern Ireland). The pandemic has seriously impacted their finances & as such they currently stand at nearly £100 million deficit. Each palace has its own individual entry fee. I have included the price of an adult ticket which includes a (voluntary) donation of 10% below. Alternatively, you can purchase a Membership for £59/year which includes free entry into all 6 palaces as many times as you like for 12 months. Due to current circumstances, book all your tickets online in advance (even if you are a Member).
The Tower of London is undoubtedly one of the top attractions to visit in the United Kingdom. It is the home to the British crown jewels, a palace, a fortress & a prison all rolled into one. It is also instrumental in some of the UK’s grandest, most notorious, brutal & unbelievable history.
A visit to the Tower has many facets as you learn more about the central role the monument had in British history. The best thing to do is to take a tour with the Yeoman Warders (also called Beefeaters). However, these may be on hold for a while as they were on my recent visit. If they are, then definitely befriend a Beefeater or two. They know the Tower & its history inside out & most also call the monument their home.
The Beefeaters taught me there used to be 23 pubs in the Tower. Did you know that this was where the phrase “one for the road” came from? In addition, I was told that the steps around the walls are deliberately different depths to create a literal stumbling block for intruders.”
Then you can move into the more modern & resplendent history by visiting the Jewel House, displaying a startling array of sparkling crowns before you can stare in awe at Queen Elizabeth II’s. Then go home & polish your jewellery! My favourite thing on the whole display was the Grand Punch Bowl. Sculpted from pure gold & the ultimate in decadence. It is 1 metre in diameter & holds 144 bottles of wine. That’s one hell of a party!
Address: Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
Nearest train: London Bridge
Nearest tube: Tower Hill
For all the information you need, check out my 15 Top Tips for Visiting the Tower of London.
Hampton Court Palace is one of the other great royal palaces in London. Built over 500 years ago, it was once home to Henry VIII & all six of his wives. With that comes many stories of family feuds, betrayal, scandal, ghosts, births, deaths, marriages & everything in between. It is a place of history, legends, exquisite interiors, stunning architecture, beautifully manicured gardens & an opportunity to transport yourself back in time & let your imagination run wild.
Lord Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey originally built the palace in the early 16th century. He had ambitions to entertain the King & heads of state from across the world within the walls of his grand house.
However, his plan was thwarted when his friend King Henry VIII decided he liked it & took it for himself. I guess that’s the power you have as King of England!”
When I visited, I was fascinated by all the stories surrounding Henry VIII & his poor wives. I especially enjoyed the upstairs/downstairs comparison when visiting the medieval kitchens where 1600 meals a day were once produced. The gardens are magnificent & generally if you have kids, I thought this was the palace that catered most to their entertainment needs.
Open: 20th May
Address: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU
Nearest train: Hampton Court via London Waterloo
For all the information you need, check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hampton Court.
For over 300 years Kensington Palace has been the residence of Britain’s young royals. Queen Victoria was born here, Princess Diana lived here with young William and Harry & many of the Royal Family call it home today.
The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge currently have the palace as their London residence, hence it is now home to two Kings in waiting.”
If you have an interest in Queen Victoria, then Kensington is the best palace in London. She grew up as an only child & you can see where she was born, the toys she played with & the room where she held her first privy council meeting when she was pronounced Queen at the scary age of 18.
The highlights from my visit were getting the right angle to pretend to wear the crown (ask the security guards for this one) & as I visited between lockdowns, having the gorgeous Kings Gallery all to myself. Standing at the top of the staircase where Victoria first met her big love, Albert was also a pretty special moment.
Open: 26th May
Address: Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX.
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington or Queensway.
Now is the perfect time to visit these 5 best palaces in London & I hope I have given you a flavour of what each one has to offer. Whichever you choose to explore will deliver in terms of history, extravagance & personal stories of growing up & living as a member of the British Royal Family. I guarantee you will come away with a huge sense of awe over what you have witnessed.
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