Haven’t received your invitation to this spring’s royal wedding yet?
Maybe it got lost in the mail. Ours did too.
The marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle will be one of the year’s most exclusive social events. On the off-chance that you aren’t asked to attend, you can still visit the castle where the wedding will take place and tour the historic and regal hangouts of the royal family.
Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel.
The marriage will take place in St. George’s Chapel, which is on the grounds of Windsor Castle, about a 40-minute to an hour train ride or drive outside of London. The castle was built for William the Conqueror in the 11th century and has been the home of British royalty for over 900 years. Today, it boasts being the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. This is where the Queen spends most of her weekends and hosts as many state functions as at Buckingham Palace.
This historic home of British kings and queens sprawls over 13 acres, including the castle walls and grounds, a small town and the palace itself. The castle is filled with art, antiques and a rich history. Crowd favourites include Queen Mary’s dollhouse – an incredibly detailed 1920’s dollhouse that is filled with a vast collection of miniature household items that are all fully functional.
St. George’s Chapel was built by King Henry VIII for his first wife Katherine of Aragon in the 15th century. His grave lies under the alter. Queen Elizabeth’s parents (King George VI and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) are also buried on the grounds – along with many other historic monarchs. Prince Charles and Camilla said their vows in St. George’s Chapel, as will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
You can visit the historic chapel as part of a tour of the castle or as a destination on its own right. Sit where the royals and their famous guests will sit to watch the wedding ceremony as you take in the Evensong for free. This is a traditional choral service in the chapel that is open to the public and takes place most evenings. You can view the schedule here.
Of course, no royal tour of London would be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace. While Windsor Castle is the ancestral home of kings and queens, Buckingham is the Queen’s official residence in London.
From witnessing the changing of the guard to touring the ornately decorated staterooms, which are open to the public during the summer months, the palace offers visitors a behind the scenes glimpse of royal life. As it is one of the world’s few working royal palaces, access to various parts of the site can vary depending on state functions taking place.
The Queen’s Gallery.
Located on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery is much more accessible to the public. Built on the site of a chapel bombed during the Second World War, the gallery exhibits works of art belonging to the royal family. This is the largest private art collection in the world, including thousands of paintings, watercolours and drawings from renowned artists, as well as sculptures, manuscripts and the Crown Jewels. While the Royal Collection decorates the many homes and palaces of the royal family, examples are displayed in rotation at the Queen’s Gallery.
The Royal Mews.
Also on the grounds of Buckingham Palace is the Royal Mews, which are the stables that house the royal family’s horses and carriages. These are open to the public much of the year. Visitors can see the state coaches and historic carriages, along with roughly 30 horses and the Queen’s official automobiles used in state functions. Coachmen, grooms, chauffeurs and other staff live in apartments above the carriage houses and stables.
Also in London, Kensington Palace was the birthplace and home of Queen Victoria. Today it contains the residences and offices of the new generation of royals – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate) and their kids, as well as Prince Harry.
While the homes of the modern royals are off limits, many historic parts of the castle and gardens are open to the public. Highlights include the Kings and Queen’s State Apartments, an exhibition dedicated to the life of Queen Victoria, and a display of ceremonial and court fashions dating from the 18th century to the present – with a special showcase of the most famous outfits of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Orangery, a Georgian cafe located in Kensington’s lavish gardens, is the place to stop for afternoon tea or a snack in the regal surroundings.
A tour of Kensington Palace can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby Hyde Park. This vast 350-acre greenspace was first established by King Henry VIII in 1536, and he used the land as his own personal hunting ground. The park features kilometres of tree-lined hiking and biking paths, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, boating and swimming on the Serpentine Lake, a waterfront café, and much more.
The Tower of London.
History buffs and royal watchers alike will want to visit the infamous Tower of London. Founded in 1070, the White Tower – after which the castle and historic surroundings are named – was used as a prison from 1100 all the way up until the 1950s. Over the centuries, the site has also served as a royal palace, an execution site, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the home of the Royal Mint and the home of the Crown Jewels of England.
To this day, the collection of 23,578 gemstones that make up the Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower of London. Visitors can tour the grounds and medieval chambers and witness historic re-enactments. But beware – it is said that the site is haunted by many ghosts, most notably that of Anne Boleyn who was executed and buried there.
A must for every royal tour of London is a visit to Westminster Abbey. Since the coronations in 1066 of both King Harold and William the Conqueror, every English and British monarch has been crowned in Westminster Abbey.
Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip in the abbey in 1947. Diana’s funeral was held there and William and Kate were married at Westminster.
Numerous ancient kings of England as well as prominent poets, writers, and other significant figures are buried on the grounds. The graves of such historic names as Chaucer, Tennyson and Dickens are all in found in the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton are buried there and Stephen Hawking will soon join them.
The Abbey, dating back over 700 years, features stunning Gothic architecture both inside and out. The fan vault ceiling in the Henry VII chapel make it an architectural marvel, as well as a sight of historic importance. The tombs of many significant monarchs, including Henry VII, Elizabeth I, James I, and Mary, Queen of Scots, are found in the chapel.
Tours of the grounds are available and worshipers are free to enter the chapel for services on Sundays and religious holidays.
While the eyes of the world will be on Windsor Castle this May as Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle, you can still visit the site and many others and experience royalty first-hand – even if you don’t score an invite to the big event itself.
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