Welcome to my corner……of the world! It’s a great pleasure to join The Travel Mechanic team as a monthly guest blogger! I invite you to travel along with me through my blog articles and many pictures. My love for travel started at a very early age through the wonderful opportunity to live, grow up and go to school in England. The experience was life-changing, and it was the catalyst for my long-time passion of exploring the beautiful and interesting places that other people call home.
“All the Queen’s Horses” – All the Queen’s Houses
With the wild enthusiasm for Netflix Season One of “The Crown” and the start of the PBS series “Victoria”, there is no better time to visit one or more of the British royal residences! Yes, you can actually tour the Queen’s palaces, walk in the steps of royalty and even have a cup of tea and a scone! You might not strictly be having tea with the Queen, but you can have a “cuppa” in the palace tea room!
If you are fortunate enough to be in London in August or September, you can visit Buckingham Palace during the summer opening. While the Queen is in Scotland for her summer holiday, the palace opens its State Rooms to visitors. It is definitely worth planning your trip around it if you can! Not only will you experience history and get an inside glimpse into the royal household; you will also see the largest private collection in the world of art, sculpture, china and furniture. Think Vermeer, Michelangelo, Canaletto paintings, Sèvres porcelain, a Marie Antoinette desk!
In addition to seeing the state rooms themselves, there is a special exhibit during the summer opening which is generally related to a particular royal event or milestone. I have been fortunate enough to see the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary exhibit featuring her bridal gown and some of the magnificent wedding gifts from throughout the Commonwealth – think diamond necklaces and brooches! (You can even buy a reproduction of some of the jewelry in the excellent palace shops. I have the famous bow-shaped brooch and the Queen’s bridal earrings!) I have also seen the Coronation exhibit and the royal babies and children exhibit. For Anglophiles such as myself, these are dream opportunities.
At any time of year, you can see the Changing of the Guard. (11:30AM daily during the summer months and generally every other day during the winter.) Be sure to check the schedule before you go. The ceremony is the embodiment of pomp and circumstance and you can even hum a few bars of the Elgar song to yourself! The ceremony lasts about a half hour, and you will want to get there early to stake out your viewing spot!
Throughout the year, you can also visit the Royal Mews where the carriages and cars are housed. You will also find the stables and “all the Queen’s horses”! It’s a unique and up close look at the very special transportation of the royal family for events such as the Coronation and weddings. Mind you, the carriages might not be the most comfortable mode of transport; but nothing is more majestic than that gilded and painted Gold State Coach.
The Queen’s Gallery which is adjacent to the palace on Buckingham Palace Road houses a rotating collection of art owned by the Crown. It is an outstanding exhibit of paintings, furnishings and jewelry. Since what is on display changes throughout the year, you can visit more than once.
Another reason to visit – will find the largest of the palace gift shops there and it’s definitely worth a visit. All the gift shops are open to the public so you can stop by at any time during your visit to London.
Here are some tips for your visit. You can purchase your ticket near the Queen’s Gallery during the summer opening although there might be long lines at the busiest time of year. You can also purchase your ticket online in advance even from the States. I have actually done that twice, and you can select your date and entrance time which saves a lot of time. In addition, if you elect to make your ticket purchase a contribution to the Royal Trust, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of your first visit. In that way, if you can’t visit all the exhibits in one day, you can return and just show your ticket for free entry. One caution, be sure to have the ticket stamped before your leave the palace. You might think that you won’t return, but I can tell you that I visited twice in one week just so that I could spend more time studying the art collection. You can choose to purchase a ticket for one or more of the exhibits. However, I recommend that you select the Royal Day Out so that you can visit everything! Be sure that you get an included audio guide – it will immensely enhance your visit and you will get to hear various members of the royal family pointing out the important things to see. You will feel as if they are giving you a private tour! My final word of advice – there is a lot of walking! After visiting the state rooms and having a snack in the tearoom on the terrace, there is a ½ mile walk to the back gate. (I am not exaggerating!) On my second visit in one week with my husband Alan, I asked one of the very kind gentleman at the palace if there was an easier way to exit. He arranged for us to be taken in a small golf cart out the front gate. I must admit that I did give a “royal wave” to anyone who was looking!
In addition to Buckingham Palace, there are several other royal residences in and near London which are also fascinating to visit. To immerse yourself in Queen Victoria, visit Kensington Palace which is a detailed look into her whole life – from childhood through her long life.
It’s particularly interesting to compare Victoria’s history to the present Queen’s life and reign.
If you want to see a real royal castle, visit Windsor Castle outside of London. Although built in the 11th century, it is a working palace and is in pristine condition. The Queen spends many weekends at Windsor and attends church services there. If you visit on a Sunday, you might even see members of the family walking to St. George’s Chapel! Queen Mary’s dollhouse is a charming exhibit for the young and the young at heart. You can spend time visiting the quintessential English town of Windsor itself and take the children to Legoland Windsor.
A boat ride down the Thames will take you to Hampton Court Palace. It has a long and fascinating history and is primarily associated with Henry VIII. If you are brave enough, you can even try to find your way out of the famous maze! Hampton Court, along with the other royal residences, has a special program for children including workbooks, royal “dress-up” corners and audio guides. Visitors of all ages can have a memorable experience.
We think of palaces existing in fairy tales – you can find your fairy tale palace in London!