‘Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the queen’ as the traditional nursery rhyme goes. While you probably won’t get to see the Queen, a trip to London is the perfect place to experience royal culture with its magnificent, historic buildings. Visit the sites of royal births, deaths and marriages (and a couple of beheadings too)and discover the fascinating history behind Britain’s monarchy.
Tower of London
Tower of London
Proudly overlooking the River Thames, this palace, fortress and former prison has a murky history. Two of Henry VIII’s wives executed here (Anne Boleyn and Kathyrn Howard) and young sons of Edward IV are believed to have been murdered on the premises. In contrast to its grizzly past, the Tower houses the dazzling Crown Jewels, a stunning collection of royal ceremonial treasures. You’ll find the crown and sceptre used in The Queen’s coronation and the world’s largest white cut diamond, the Cullinan.
How to get here: The Tower of London is a 5-minute walk from Tower Hill station on the Circle and District lines.
Across the river in Greenwich you'll the elegant Queen's House, the first building in England built in the classical style. The mansion was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Inside you’ll find opulent rooms and an art collection spanning 400 years - its showpiece is the famous Spanish Armada portrait of Elizabeth I. Make sure you see the Tulip Stairs, a beautiful white and blue self-supporting spiral staircase, perfect for that must-have Instagram post. The best thing of all, Queen’s House is free to visit!
How to get here: The nearest railway station is Maze Hill, an 11-minute train journey from London Bridge.
This palace needs no introduction. As The Queen’s official London residence and the birthplace of Prince Andrew and Prince Charles, Buckingham Palace is a must-see if you're visiting London. Enjoy a dose of British pomp and ceremony with the Changing of the Guard which happens every day at around 11.00am. The palace's State Rooms are open from July until September so you can imagine what it's like to be a king or queen for a day. Please check the Historic Royal Palaces website for exact opening dates.
How to get here: Buckingham Palace is an 8-minute walk from both Green Park and St James’s Park Tube stations.
Horse Guards Parade
Horse Guards Parade
For more pageantry, head to Horse Guards Parade for Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards a 15 minute-walk away. The ceremony takes place at 11.00am Monday to Saturday, but you might be able to do both on a Sunday as the ceremony takes place at 10.00am. Horse Guards Parade is situated just off Whitehall and is the site of the Trooping the Colours the ceremony to mark the Queen’s official birthday. Pop into the Household Cavalry Museum to learn more about the Queen’s Bodyguard and Household Cavalry.
How to get here: The nearest station to Horse Guards Parade is Charing Cross.
This magnificent building is the site of royal funerals and weddings (most recently Prince William and Kate Middleton) and the final resting place of 17 kings and queens. Head to St George’s Chapel to see the oak Coronation Chair, which has been in use since 1300. Marvel at the awesome fan-vaulted ceiling and discover the memorials to notable figures in British history like Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and Olaudah Equiano. If the weather’s good, stroll around the College Garden, an oasis of tranquillity in the city.
How to get here: Westminster Abbey is a 5-minute walk from Westminster station on the District, Circle and Jubilee lines.
Surrounded by a lush landscaped garden, Kensington Palace was the birth place of Queen Victoria and home to Queen Anne (recently depicted in the film The Favourite). Now it’s the official London home of Will and Kate with of the palace open to the public. Inside you'll see fascinating displays on the early life of Queen Victoria. Check out the opulent King’s State Apartments, where George II and Queen Caroline held their court. The palace gardens are pretty impressive too. Visit Kensington Palace Garden during the spring to see the tulips and pansies, or in the summer for the vibrant begonias and geraniums.
How to get here: Kensington Palace is a 10-minute walk from Queensway station on the Central line.