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Six royal destinations to visit in the UK

From Westminster Abbey, London’s iconic gothic landmark, to King Henry VIII’s royal residence, Hampton Court Palace, we suggest six destinations where you can walk in the footsteps of royals.

By Rachel Brown
Published 19 May 2018, 14:24 BST
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May ...
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19 2018.
Photograph by i-Images, Eyevine, Redux

1. St. George's Chapel

Seating 800, rather than Westminster Abbey’s 2,000, the 14th-century St. George's Chapel is part of the regal estate of Windsor Castle in Berkshire County. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were the latest in a long line of nobles who have celebrated their nuptials in a more intimate venue: Many of Queen Victoria’s children were married here, and Prince Charles’s civil ceremony to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was blessed here in 2005.

The chapel welcomes visitors for religious services, musical performances, and tours. The grounds of Windsor Castle—the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle, and the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth II—are a popular destination in their own right. Visitors can tour such attractions as grandiose state apartments and the changing of the guard throughout the year.

2. Westminster Abbey

Founded over a thousand years ago, London’s Westminster Abbey traditionally hosts the coronations and burials (and, occasionally, weddings) of monarchs and other noted figures. Though called an abbey, the large Gothic building technically isn’t: Instead, it’s one of the high-ranking Anglican churches that answers directly to the queen.

Originally founded as a monastery around 960 A.D., Westminster Abbey—the seat of the Anglican Church—was expanded over the centuries to the Gothic masterpiece it is today.
Photograph by Richard Nowitz, National Geographic Creative

It’s no surprise Westminster draws over a million visitors each year: The site’s stunning architecture traces centuries of history, and its impressive art museums include unique medieval works. Find out when to visit for guided tours (half-price entry is available most Wednesday evenings), and consider stopping by in late June to be among the first to take in a newly curated gallery, opened to the public for the first time in 700 years.

3. Osborne House

Designed by Prince Albert himself, Osborne House was the holiday retreat of Queen Victoria and her family. The Italian-style palazzo lies on the northern coast of the Isle of Wight, and following Victoria’s death in 1901 became first a naval college, then an officers’ convalescent home. Today, it’s a heritage property open to the public.

Built between 1845 and 1851, Osborne House was the favorite retreat of Queen Victoria and her family.
Photograph by Eamonn Mccabe, Camera Press, Redux

Often overlooked, Osborne is worth visiting on its own merits, but there’s a wedding connection too: Its recently restored gardens house a myrtle bush that has provided sprigs for every royal wedding bouquet since 1858.

After a train from London to Southampton, visitors can take a ferry to East Cowes, the town to which the estate belongs. Wander through the preserved rooms of past royals—including the Swiss Cottage, a two-story “play house” for Victoria and Albert’s nine children—or explore the gardens, beach, and trails.

4. Hampton Court Palace

Just outside London lies Hampton Court Palace, built during the reign of King Henry VIII. The regal Tudor buildings and gardens, later elaborated in baroque styles, became a place of leisure for Henry, his many wives, and succeeding royals, until Queen Victoria opened it to the public in 1838.

Hampton Court Palace, a beloved leisure retreat for many monarchs, stands above its formal gardens in Surrey. The Royal School of Needlework—which is based at Hampton Court—hand-sewed thousands of lace motifs for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress ... in absolute secrecy. The identity of those tasked with stitching Meghan Markle’s dress is still unknown.
Photograph by Andrea Artz, Laif, Redux

As well as showcasing the historical intrigue to which it played host, Hampton Court’s attractions include a family-friendly magic garden, a large hedge maze (Britain’s oldest), and summer jousting tournaments.

5. Buckingham Palace

London’s Buckingham Palace is arguably the most famous royal destination. The dignified Neoclassical building began as a duke’s country home before being converted in the 1700s to the queen’s private residence, then in the 1800s to the palace as it’s known today. Both private home and government seat, Buckingham has seen scores of royal births and christenings, and welcomed countless heads of state and dignitaries from other countries.

Buckingham Palace is the primary residence of the British monarch, and functions both as administrative headquarters of the state and as a private home. While some areas are open to the public year-round, state rooms receive tourists only when the Queen isn't in residence.
Photograph by Mark Stewart, Camera Press, Redux

Though public access is restricted when the queen is in residence, the throne room and grandly appointed state rooms are open to tours during the summer. Visitors can also explore (in any season) the world-class art of the Royal Collection in the Queen’s Gallery and the Mews’ fleet of royal carriages, both horse-drawn and motorised. And the much-photographed Changing of the Guard ceremony is not to be missed.

6. Kensington Palace

Where Buckingham is the Queen’s official London residence, Kensington Palace is the home of Will and Kate (a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), Harry, and other members of the royal family. Originally an earl’s mansion, Kensington was purchased and expanded by William and Mary in the late 1600s, and was a favoured residence of monarchs for several decades.

Visitors enjoy the gardens attached to Kensingon Palace, a combination royal residence and public museum.

Though the rooms had fallen into disrepair by the late 1800s, Queen Victoria—who had been born there—oversaw its renovation and reopening as both royal apartments and a museum. Today, visitors can enjoy that same museum, which features rotating exhibits (including one on the iconic fashion of Diana, Princess of Wales), or tour the state rooms and extensive formal gardens.

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