I recently embarked on a trip to the UK, checking out some of the main royal tourist attractions; they did not disappoint.
Winter in the UK is very much an off-peak time for tourism, but royal attractions, such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, are always bustling with travellers hoping to experience some of the magic of the monarchy.
My first stop was to the internationally recognised symbol of the monarchy: Buckingham Palace. During the winter months, the Palace is technically closed to the public, but for a reasonable price you can book a tour of the state rooms. We entered the Palace at the Ambassador’s Entrance and we escorted out onto the Quadrangle to enter the State rooms via the porte-cochére (Where TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in their carriage for official photographs after their wedding).
Walking into the Grand Entrance, one imagined a Prime Minister or Diplomat entering in the same fashion, with anticipation building for a reception with Her Majesty. Our small group (only about 15 of us) was greeted here by our wonderful guide Carly, who was extremely knowledgable and engaging. We walked up the Grand Staircase, welcomed by a series of full length portraits of the Palace’s previous inhabitants (including George III and William IV).
Carly opened the doors to the Green Drawing Room, revealing a striking room with sparkling chandeliers and plush green wallpaper. When visiting the State Rooms, one must remember to look up, as well as around, as the friezes and ceilings are opulently decorated. 17th century cabinets around the room were adorned with stunning Sèvres porcelain, including one of the world’s rarest pieces; a potpourri vase in the form of a ship.
We moved from the Green Drawing Room, through a set of large mirrored doors into the Throne Room, decorated in rich, royal red carpets and wall coverings, accentuated by a majestic chandelier and gold accents along the walls and ceiling. Ahead of us was seen two plush thrones, bearing the initials EIIR & P. From the Throne Room, we moved to the picture gallery (which stretches the whole length of the wing), filled with famous and historic paintings from some of the world’s greatest artists.
We then entered the Ballroom; the site of luxurious state banquets and investitures. The scale of this room is astonishing, with the throne at the front elevated above the main floor, and the musicians’ gallery and organ high above the floor at the other end. From the Ballroom, we moved to the State Dining room, with its long but low mahogany dining table creating a real sense of height in the room.
The Blue Drawing Room was next. It is quite similar to the Green Drawing Room, with Sèvres vases and a grand ceiling (though, obviously blue not green). We moved finally into the White Drawing Room, in my opinion the most lavish and majestic of the state rooms. This room should be called the Gold Drawing Room, as every feature of the room is accentuated with shiny gold, including an 18th century roll-top desk and the opulent gilded piano which was played by Queen Victoria herself. At the end of the room are two large mirrors above gilded cabinets, one of which is actually a concealed door. When opened, the cabinet and mirror move as one and provide access to the state rooms from the private rooms of the royals.
To top of the tour, we exited Buckingham Palace through the front gates of the Forecourt (with more than a few confused tourists outside snapping our pictures!)
For a more historical royal experience, Windsor Castle is spectacular. Though much of the inside of the Castle is closed in the winter, the old stone buildings are a site to behold from the outside. Windsor Castle is also a great place to watch the changing of the guard in the winter, as it is much less crowded than Buckingham Palace and you are able to get much closer to the ‘action’. But beware, once the changing of the guard starts, the gates are closed so you will not be able to exit until the ceremony is complete.
Walking the streets of London, there are sites with royal links to behold everywhere. From the medieval royal connections of the Tower of London, to the memories of royal weddings evoked by a visit to Westminster Abbey, even down to the lavish blue street lights topped with a gold coloured crown scattered throughout the city.
Not only do these ‘tourist attractions’ reflect the rich and colourful history of the monarchy in Britain, but their popularity also speaks volumes of the standing of the current system in the eyes of Britons and the world.