If you’re anything like me, you probably like visiting historical places that have royal associations, as much as you like reading about them. So here are my top 10 favourite “royal” places, which I have visited, and would recommend.
Ok, so the first on my list, and I’m cheating a bit as this isn’t actually a place I have visited, but it’s the only one (promise) and I really want to go there. This is the Queen’s private house – as opposed to being one of the nation’s palaces, Sandringham is personally owned by the Queen. It was built for King Edward VII as his country retreat and handed down to each successive monarch, as is Balmoral in Scotland. The Queen and her family spend Christmas here each year, and the Queen stays there at least into February, so that she can spend the anniversary of her father’s death (6th February) and therefore her accession to the throne, privately, where both her father (George VI) and her grandfather (George V) died.
I like Dover Castle a lot, and would put it higher up on my list, but what I like best about it isn’t really royal-related. For me, I visit to see the Secret Wartime Tunnels. This is where the World War II evacuation from Dunkirk was masterminded, and there is also an underground hospital which was created in 1941. The tunnels actually date back far further – they have “served a strategic military role from Napoleonic times.” As far as the castle goes, the Great Tower is very impressive, created by Henry II and visited by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. I once did a ghost tour there at night – that was particularly good, so if they run these again, it would be worth looking into.
I couldn’t do a top 10 and not include the Queen’s official residence, iconic as it is around the world. It’s reportedly more like an office than a home, but I have always been impressed by the changing exhibitions they stage there each year during the summer opening. Read my report on my 2013 visit here. The state rooms are impressive and the gardens beautiful, but it’s not my favourite current royal residence. I’d say it’s worth visiting for the exhibition though, and certainly to see the Changing of the Guard outside. In fact, it gets so busy there each morning, that I once, many years ago, asked a nearby policeman if there was due to be a special event, only to be told that no, it’s like that for Changing of the Guard every day! Get there early to get a good spot.
There probably aren’t many words to describe George IV’s Pavilion. Created by John Nash, it is a fusion of Chinese and Indian style and general opulence, and is pretty impressive, whether it’s to your personal taste or not. Queen Victoria hated it, so sold it to the town of Brighton and built Osborne instead – but then that’s rather an unusual building too, so we won’t go with her opinion. George IV made Brighton the place-to-be, which it remains to this day, although it does mean that the availability and price of parking is awful. Don’t let that put you off though, use the park&ride. It’s worth a visit just to stand there open-mouthed staring at this amazing palace, inside and out. Oh, and their changing exhibitions are very good too.
Now managed by the National Trust, its former owner, Mrs Ronald Greville, had intended to leave her house to the then Duke and Duchess of York, who spent part of their honeymoon there in 1923. But after the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and no longer had the need of a country residence. When she died in 1942, Mrs Greville left the house to the nation instead, but she left her extensive jewellery collection to Queen Elizabeth. Mrs Greville was famous for her society entertaining, and today’s visitors to the house can see many photographs of her royal guests. The Edwardian house now plays host to lots of events throughout the year, and has lovely grounds for children to run around in. When I last visited, they even had traditional games inside the house for children (and the young-at-heart!) to play. It’s also worth visiting the on-site farm shop and second-hand bookshop.
It’s quite a long time since I visited Britannia, not long after it was decommissioned in 1997. This yacht was a favourite place of the Queen and many other members of the royal family, probably because it was somewhere out of the public eye where they could truly relax. Charles and Diana spent part of their honeymoon on it. It is now berthed just a mile or so away from Edinburgh, and open to the public as a visitor attraction. You can even have afternoon tea here. Inside, it feels like the comfortable upper class home that it was for the Royals. I enjoyed imagining what life must have been like on board. But then who wouldn’t want their own private yacht?
One of those places that is extremely good to take the children to, especially as they put on events in all school holidays. There are also plenty of events solely for adults too – I quite fancy going to one of their “1930s house parties” – reminiscent of the golden days when the castle was owned by Lady Baillie and used for lavish weekend entertaining. Her royal guests included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Described as “the loveliest castle in the world,” it has plenty of royal history, being previously owned by six queens of England, and it’s the perfect place to spend a sunny day. Look around the castle, walk around the woodland and by the river, go punting on the moat, play in the children’s play area and see the falconry display.
Probably not somewhere you’d take the children, unless they’re particularly into royalty or art collections, but I love this place, the London home of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. For more details, read about my visit there last year, but in a nutshell, Clarence House just radiates elegance and comfort, and as the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s former home, tributes to her are all around. If you’ve ever read any biographies about Queen Elizabeth, visiting Clarence House means you will be able to see exactly where so many of the famous stories about her took place. I could just picture her sitting at a table under the big tree in the garden, having lunch with her guests, as she so often did.
Cheating a bit again here, as I’m including 2 places in one. But as you can visit them both on the same day, I think it’s fair. Windsor Castle is said to be the Queen’s favourite home and it certainly feels more loved and lived-in than Buckingham Palace. The State Apartments are magnificent and St George’s Chapel, inside the castle precincts, is where generations of Kings and Queens are buried as well as being the location for the marriage of the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the marriage blessing of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. While you’re visiting, enjoy strolling around the town too, pop over the river to see Eton College (where Princes William and Harry went to school) and go to the Windsor Farm Shop at the edge of the Home Park to buy delicious goodies for dinner. You never know, Prince Philip might pop in – he is the official Ranger of Windsor Great Park, after all.
On (very few) selected days in the year, you can visit Frogmore House which is situated in Windsor Home Park. This small, intimate house was the home of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent and has been used by many other monarchs as a quiet retreat. It is often used today for private royal entertaining, although no one actually lives there. Unfortunately, the Royal Mausoleum, built at Frogmore by Queen Victoria as the final resting place for herself and her husband, Prince Albert, is no longer open to the public. I visited there many years ago and it was an awe-inspiring place, a magnificent monument to one couple’s love. Sadly, the mausoleum is in great need of repair and it is unknown when, if ever, it will reopen to the public. Next door, unseen by the general public, is the private burial ground for the royal family, where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (among others) are buried.
What can I say, regular readers of Royal Central will know that this is my favourite place in the world! Queen Victoria’s seaside retreat, this house is beautifully preserved by English Heritage and is very family friendly, with its own private beach. The whole place has a very special feel and was clearly loved by Victoria and her family. Why not read my reviews of the house and the Swiss Cottage?
Finally, if great houses and palaces aren’t really your thing, why not visit the National Railway Museum at York, where you can see previous generations of royal train carriages in the magnificently refurbished “Station Hall.” I love the opulence of Queen Victoria’s saloon and the 1930s simplicity and elegance of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s saloon. And did you know that Queen Adelaide’s saloon is the world’s oldest surviving railway carriage? Or that George V was the first person to have a bath on a train?
Most of these properties are in Southern England, as that’s where I visit most, but if you have a favourite royal place, (especially if it’s somewhere else in the UK or in another country altogether) please tell us using the comments box below.
photo credit: Karen Roe, Mark Abel, khoogheem , [Duncan], IoW_Sparky (off line – again), Airwolfhound and babasteve via photopin cc, © Ellen Couzens, and Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013
I pray that I may go there one day…it’s just my biggest dream to see all those palaces and castle’s…
Oh I would love to go there one day ,and see all the lovely places and even meet her Royal Highness, and William and Kate and even Harry. Going to England has always been my dream. Maybe Someday.