The ultimate London itinerary for fans of the British royals
Between Netflix’s The Crown and the real-life soap opera of the British monarchy, royal fever is at a high. Whether you prefer the pageantry of royal rituals, the opulence of the palaces or the cool modernity of the younger members of the family, we’ve got the ultimate London itinerary for fans of the royals.
For royal watchers, no trip to London is complete without a glimpse of Buckingham Palace. Make it your first stop and head to the Changing of the Guard, the ceremony at which the Old Guard (the soldiers on duty at the palace) hand over to the New Guard. This spectacular display takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, is free to watch and lasts approximately 45 minutes, starting at 10.30am from St James’ Palace and reaching Buckingham Palace by 11am. You’ll want to get there by 10am, though, to ensure you have a prime viewing spot to observe all the pomp and ceremony: expect soldiers in the distinctive scarlet tunics and bearskin caps marching with regimental flags and accompanied by the bugles, bagpipes and drums of a military band from Wellington Barracks. It can get pretty crowded up by the palace gates, so try to secure a position on the steps of the Victoria Memorial for an elevated view over the proceedings.
After the ceremony, take a walk over to Hyde Park, which offers a beautiful backdrop for a stroll anyway, but is also of particular interest for royal fans. Near the Serpentine Lake, you’ll find the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, a vast granite creation by Kathryn Gustafson. Featuring water flowing in two directions before meeting in a pool, and three bridges where visitors can cross the water, it was designed to reflect Diana’s “inclusive” nature.
For something a little more ornate, head to Kensington Gardens, the part of the park beside Kensington Palace, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate – and their three children George, Charlotte and Louis. The extravagantly gilded Albert Memorial, commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, is also located here. The 54m-tall monument, designed by George Gilbert Scott, took 10 years to complete and remains one of the grandest high-Victorian Gothic works in the world.
You can then make your way to Kensington Palace, where you can pose like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announcing their engagement in the Sunken Garden, or take a tour inside to see the State Apartments, gowns from Diana’s wardrobe and a major new exhibition about Queen Victoria (open 10am-6pm, tickets £17.50).
Weather permitting, you could make a picnic in Kensington Gardens — you might even spot Kate walking the family dog, Lupo — with some treats from the nearby Whole Foods on Kensington High Street, where Meghan has been known to pick up fresh produce for dinner while she’s staying in London, or for a quintessentially British experience, you can’t beat afternoon tea.
The night before the royal wedding in 2011, Kate stayed in The Goring, a luxury hotel in Belgravia that is also famed for its afternoon tea. It even holds the British Tea Guild Council’s Top Afternoon Tea Award! Expect traditional tea sandwiches, homemade jams and indulgent pastries — and a glass of Bollinger champagne, should you fancy it (from £50).
On Fridays, the National Portrait Gallery, of which Kate is a patron, is open until 9pm (general admission free), giving you the opportunity to check out portraits of royals throughout history, right up to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Prince William. They also have some more unusual displays, including illustrated books, magazine covers and even Barbie dolls modelled on William and Kate’s wedding outfits.
Alternatively, take inspiration from Meghan and Harry and pick up some theatre tickets — Meghan is royal patron of the National Theatre over on the South Bank, while on the West End, Hamilton and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical are some of the Sussexes’ favourite shows for date night.
The royal wedding of 2011 turned many of the 24m viewers into royal watchers, and those who followed Kate up the aisle in that glorious Alexander McQueen gown can follow in her footsteps by visiting Westminster Abbey themselves. The abbey has limited entry times (open 9.30am-3.30pm Monday to Saturday, tickets £23 in person or £21 online) and as the days get shorter you’ll want to get there early to see the stunning Gothic church in the best light.
For royal fans, it’s definitely worth paying the extra £5 to tour the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which boasts incredible aerial views from 16m above the ground floor. Visitors can see Kate and William’s royal marriage licence, learn more about the abbey’s 1000-year history and explore the enormous collection of royal objects, including coronation chairs, ermine robes and wooden effigies of dead monarchs.
From there – though it’s quite a way – we recommend paying a visit to Hackney for lunch at Violet, the gorgeous bakery run by Claire Ptak, who created Meghan and Harry’s lemon and elderflower cake at last year’s royal wedding. After some Meghan-approved avocado toast, try one of the sensational violet-iced chocolate cupcakes, or pick up a lemon and elderflower loaf cake for later.
Once you’ve refuelled, head to the Tower of London (open 9am-4.30pm, tickets £24.70) to check out the Crown Jewels, a dazzling collection of 23,578 gemstones sure to delight jewellery lovers and royal fans alike. Based in Jewel House, they are kept under armed guard, and they’re still regularly used by the Queen for events such as the State Opening of Parliament. You’ll see a variety of sparkling crowns, tiaras, orbs and spectres, along with gleaming rings, weapons and tableware. As well as the jewels, you can take a tour with the Yeoman Warders (also known as beefeaters”), meet the famous ravens and learn about the gruesome history of the tower.
With the sun setting over the striking fortress, it’ll be time for dinner. For a novel take on British fine dining, there’s Restaurant Story, a Michelin-starred eatery favoured by Princess Beatrice just 10 minutes from the tower. Alternatively, the Queen’s most visited restaurant, Bellamy’s, is a French brasserie over in Mayfair; or for some Italian flair, try Bocca di Lupo, a Soho stalwart frequented by the Duchess of Sussex. Afterwards, you can pop to Gelupo, the restaurant’s excellent gelateria across the street, for a sweet treat — or save yourself for a bite of that lemon and elderflower cake back at the hotel before bed.