Stride through the magnificent State Apartments of Windsor Castle – built to rival Versailles – and learn what each of the country’s kings and queens did to help make the Apartments what they are today. The rooms are extravagantly furnished with works of art by Rubens and Rembrandt, suits of armour and painted ceilings. While you’re there, visit St George’s Chapel, where you’ll find the tombs of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and Charles I.
Your royal experiences in Britain itinerary
Day 1: Windsor
The crowning gem of the royal city of Windsor is Windsor Castle, the world’s largest and oldest inhabited castle and The Queen’s favoured weekend retreat. See the Changing the Guard ceremony and make time to wander through spectacular Windsor Great Park, especially The Savill Garden. If you’re feeling energetic, stroll the length of The Long Walk through the Deer Park where 500 red deer roam freely.
Indulge in one of the Queen’s favourite pastimes – horse racing – at Ascot. It was Queen Anne who first saw the potential for a racecourse here, and her insight was spot on. Nowadays races and events are held at Ascot every week. The highlight though, is Royal Ascot. Go on Ladies Day to experience the most exciting day of the racing year. For a right royal day out, get tickets for The Royal Enclosure.
Just upstream from Windsor is Cliveden, a stately home that’s now a luxury hotel and National Trust property. You can explore one of the prettiest stretches of the Thames in the National Trust’s rowing boats, but for a quintessentially English experience, cruise along the river to Windsor Castle in one of Cliveden House & Spa’s vintage launches with a luxury picnic. A stay at Cliveden is exquisite too.
Day 2-3: London
London, a city inextricably tied to Britain’s royalty, is a quick hop by road (45 minutes) or rail (55 minutes) from Windsor. See iconic royal and political sights such as Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square, delve into Queen Victoria’s childhood at Kensington Palace and shop at places with a Royal Warrant, meaning they’ve supplied the royal households for at least five years – try chocolates from Prestat.
Buy a Royal Day Out Ticket and stroll through the treasures of the Royal Collection. See works of art by Old Masters and fine furniture from England and France in Buckingham Palace’s magnificent 19 State Rooms (July-October). Nearby, The Queen’s Gallery has changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection, while The Royal Mews displays historic coaches and carriages, including The Gold State Coach used at every coronation since George IV’s in 1821.
Exclusive Goring hotel in Belgravia has hosted more royalty than you can shake a silver spoon at; this is where the Duchess of Cambridge famously spent the night before her wedding to Prince William. But you don’t need to book one of the hotel’s exquisite rooms to get a taste of royal life; just take afternoon tea here or sample one of the dishes favoured by The Queen Mother: Eggs Drumkilbo.
The Tower of London isn’t just about beheadings, imprisonment and murder, although it’s seen more than its fair share of blood and gore since it was built in 1066. As a royal palace, at various times it has held a zoo of wild animals and been the home of the Royal Mint, as well as keeping the Crown Jewels safe (and not so safe). Pace the battlements and help defend the Tower against medieval attackers!
Day 4: Norfolk
From London, head north to the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (2 hours 50 minutes by car; 2 hours 30 minutes by public transport), the royal family’s country retreat since 1862. The House, Gardens and Museum are open March to October and the Country Park is open to the public year round, but for an extra-special visit, arrange an after-hours private tour and have an expert guide talk you through the family portraits, furnishings and décor.
To experience Sandringham overnight, book a stay in one of the estate’s holiday homes. If it’s available, plump for the Garden House; it was the Head Gardener’s home, and it overlooks the ornamental gardens right next to Sandringham House. It’s a comfortable country home-from-home with an Aga, dining room, drawing room and sitting room as well as the kitchen, 2 bathrooms, cloakroom and enough beds to sleep eight.
Just 2 miles (3km) from Sandringham is Anmer Hall, a wedding gift to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from the Queen. This is where the royal couple are spending their first years of marriage, as Prince George and Princess Charlotte grow up. It’s not open to the public, but head to one of the nearby beaches along the North Norfolk coast and imagine the young royals building sandcastles here, just like any other family.
Norwich Castle was built as a royal palace more than 900 years ago. It’s still an impressive building, though nowadays it houses Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery rather than prisoners, armies and royalty. Drop a penny down the well as you explore the medieval keep, see a polar bear and an Egyptian mummy in the museum, ogle more than 3,000 teapots in The Twining Teapot Gallery, and descend into the dungeons.
Day 5: Cambridge
It’s just 1 hour 30 minutes by road or 1 hour 20 minutes by train from Norwich to Cambridge, where many members of Britain’s royal family attended university, including Edward VII, George VI and Charles, Prince of Wales. Examine the ancient treasures of the Fitzwilliam Museum and have a drink in The Eagle pub where Nobel prize-winning students Crick and Watson announced they’d cracked DNA. You’re almost guaranteed to be following in royal footsteps!
For a right royal taste of timeless England, book a private punt and glide across the clear waters of the River Cam, overhung by willow trees and edged by manicured lawns that unroll from the grand facades of the famous ‘Backs’ of Cambridge’s grand colleges. Your private guide will show you the sights, including King’s College Chapel, the Wren Library at Trinity College and the beautiful Bridge of Sighs.
King’s College Chapel has held A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols every Christmas Eve since 1918. The opening carol – always Once in Royal David’s City – is guaranteed to make your spine tingle, royalty or not. There’s always a newly commissioned carol too. It’s free to attend but incredibly popular, so be prepared to queue all day for one of the 600 seats. On other days you can see the chapel on a tour.
Audley End, an opulent Jacobean mansion, wouldn’t be out of place as a royal palace. There are state apartments, a gothic-style chapel and gardens landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the favoured gardener of 18th-century landed gentry. Immerse yourself in life as aristocracy, then head to the service wing to see what it was like below stairs. You’ll meet costumed Victorian workers, who will take you right back to Audley End’s Victorian prime.