Fancy following in the footsteps of royalty? Many of Britain’s Royal Palaces are open to the public, although access is currently limited, due to COVID-19. America is obsessed with Britain’s royals but the buildings they call home for different parts of the year are also worth obsession.
Windsor Castle is the Queen’s official residence. She spends most of her private weekends there. Her children, the young princes and princesses, grew up at Windsor Castle, so you can imagine the family’s devastation when the state rooms went up in flames in 1992. Today, the immaculate state rooms have been restored and are part of the visitor tour.
The castle was built as a royal fortress in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. Its hilltop location was perfect – guards could see for miles in all directions. Today you walk past the Round Tower as you explore the grounds – this was the last point of refuge if the castle was ever attacked.
Nearby, visit St George’s Chapel, the China Museum, and Queen Mary’s Dolls House. Inside the Grand Vestibule you can admire suits of armor, knights on horseback, and fantastic displays of weaponry. There’s a statue of Queen Victoria and gifts from across the British Empire.
The state rooms are incredible. St George’s Hall has suits of armor on the walls, a fantastic hammer-beam roof, and shields of the Knights of the Garter. It’s breathtaking and beautiful.
Buckingham Palace was Queen Victoria’s primary residence. She transformed it from a private house into a working palace, a symbol of the British Monarchy, and a family home. New wings and a new facade were added and the open courtyard was transformed into a closed quadrangle. Today it’s the Queen’s London residence, where she conducts her official business.
The interiors are breathtaking. The Grand Hall is used for welcoming Heads of State and is lavishly decorated in red, white and gold. A staircase, with an intricately detailed gold balustrade, leads to the Guard Chamber – an ornate room, which prepares visitors for the mind-blowing opulence ahead. There’s gold plasterwork, chandeliers and classic Italian furniture as you walk through the Palace.
In the Throne Room, angels and gold wreaths hang above the two thrones, and the chandeliers are lit by over 200 candles. In the 1840s, Queen Victoria held costumed balls in the Throne Room. Then during the reign of King George V, it was used for investitures. The incredible opulence continues as your shoes sink into the deep carpets, passing statues and columns reminiscent of ancient Greece.
Queen Victoria spent her childhood at Kensington Palace, before being crowned at the age of 18. Today, the exhibitions explore her life, including her childhood at Kensington Palace. She had a strict, isolated and difficult childhood. The young princess immersed herself in writing stories, drawing and making dolls, inspired by her love of opera and ballet. Her letters, clothes, and items from her childhood are on display.
On the visitor tour you learn about her relationship with Prince Albert, her dedication to public service, and The Great Exhibition of 1851. Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861 of typhoid fever, and Queen Victoria went into deep mourning. She stayed out of the public eye and abandoned many of her royal duties. You can see her mourning clothes in the exhibition.
Queen Victoria eventually stepped back into public life for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897. She was touched by the warmth of the celebration. Her route to St Paul’s Cathedral was lined with home-made bunting, cheering crowds, and people singing God Save the Queen. The state rooms are simply breathtaking.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is a ‘palace of two halves’. The first half was the magnificent original Tudor building erected for King Henry VIII. The other half was substantially modified by Queen Mary II in the 17th century, in an elegant Baroque style.
Today you can learn about the life of King Henry and admire the stunning state apartments, then watch a performance about King Henry and his many wives. He died at the age of 55 of suspected deep vein thrombosis in one of his ulcerated legs. He left three children. His heir to the throne, Edward was crowned King at the age of nine.
Queen Mary’s half of the house is elegantly designed with Rococo French and Italian furniture. There are also art galleries and museums to explore.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of Britain’s most notorious haunted locations, with dozens of restless spirits reportedly roaming the grounds! Over its long history, dating back to 1066, the Tower has been linked to many grisly executions. Visitors today can hear stories of the Tower’s history and hauntings, as they explore the exhibitions and see the Crown Jewels.
Also visit Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk residence, and Clarence House, the London Home of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Coronavirus Note: At the time of writing, two weeks quarantine is in operation for US visitors to the UK. Check the latest position before you travel.