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Eight of the most interesting royal residences and palaces you can actually visit

As the country gears up for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we flag up a few of the locations that can be visited on your UK adventures this summer.

By Sally Coffey
Published 31 May 2022, 16:00 BST
The Grand Reception room at Windsor Castle.

The Grand Reception room at Windsor Castle.

Photograph by Peter Smith

1. Buckingham Palace, London
For magnificent state rooms that feel like they've been transported from a Disney fairytale, London’s most iconic palace can’t be beaten. The theatrical Throne Room, designed by Georgian architect John Nash — who wasn’t known for restraint — houses the thrones under an elaborate arch and canopy, in a room that glistens with chandeliers, intricate gilt decorations and ruby-red fabrics. Elsewhere, the palace’s enormous Ballroom is the setting for all state banquets. Although Buckingham Palace may be the Queen’s official London residence, she’s long considered it her office rather than a home. Adult £30/ages 18-24 £19.50/child £16.50

The White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

Photograph by Peter Smith

2. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, which lords it over Scotland’s capital from its volcanic throne, is the Queen’s official Scottish residence. The palace is as regal as you might expect, with old masters hanging on the walls and the state rooms getting progressively more opulent as you near the King’s Bedchamber. However, it’s in Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers — the oldest part of the palace — that the sense of history is most tangible. You’ll likely have to lower your head to get through the doorway, just as Mary would have — although people in the 16th century were generally smaller than today, she stood at almost 6ft tall. Adult from £17.50/ages 18-24 from £11.50/child from £10

Mary Queen of Scots' bedchamber at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Photograph by Antonia Reeve

3. Hampton Court Palace, Richmond upon Thames
This palace is appealing regardless of how you feel about the modern-day royals, because it’s forever linked to that most notorious yet irresistible of Tudors: King Henry VIII. Ghostly sightings abound — hardly surprising considering Henry bumped off a couple of wives — yet there’s a genteel atmosphere, too. Spend some time ogling the huge tapestries in the Great Hall and then head to the gardens, which include a maze, a ‘magic garden’ for kids, beautiful floral displays in the Great Fountain Garden, and the perfectly preened Privy Garden. Boat trips from Richmond (£12 each way) take one hour and 45 minutes, ensuring a civilised arrival.

4. Balmoral, Aberdeenshire
Queen Victoria called Balmoral her “dear paradise” and its location within the Cairngorms National Park, with views of Munros and the meandering River Dee, tops any other royal residence hands down. As this is a private home rather than an official residence, visitors can only enter the Ballroom, which hosts rolling exhibitions, but it’s the grounds that make Balmoral such a worthwhile destination. The nearby Fife Arms in the pretty village of Braemar — part art gallery/part super-swish hotel — is one of the best places to stay in Scotland and reason enough to visit. Adult from £15/child from £6

The Sundial Garden, Highgrove.

Photograph by Robert Smith

5. Highgrove, Gloucestershire
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s country home of Highgrove sits in the idyllic Cotswolds region, renowned for its honeypot villages and picturesque rural setting. The neoclassical Georgian house is a private home, so you can’t step inside, but here it’s all about the organic gardens, which the Prince of Wales has transformed since first arriving in 1980. On 90-minute group tours, which run from spring to September, when the gardens are in full bloom, you’ll be led through such whimsical areas as the Stumpery, the Carpet Garden and Thyme Walk before ending up in the Orchard Tea Room. All profits go back into educational charity The Prince’s Foundation. Tours from £29.50

6. Hillsborough Castle, County Down
Not a castle at all, but a late 18th-century example of what was known as an ‘Irish Big House’, Hillsborough was probably given its castle name to reinforce a sense of antiquity to the Anglo-Irish Hill family, who commandeered the land on which it stands. Today it’s the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is where members of the Royal Family stay on their rare visits to the region. Though it’s considered politically neutral by some, it still has some way to go to convince other members of the community, who may find the overt display of royal regalia uncomfortable. Outside though, the gardens — which include Lady Alice’s Temple, much loved by Mo Mowlam, who played a key role in the peace process in the 1990s — are delightful. Adult from £15.25/child from £7.60

7. Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, Windsor has been home to 39 monarchs. The castle, which King Charles II extravagantly renovated to rival the grandeur of his cousin Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles, rose like a phoenix from the ashes after a major fire in 1992. Nowhere is this rebirth more spectacular than in the Grand Reception Room, where the gold walls and ceilings show no signs of damage. Another resident monarch renowned for his expensive tastes was George IV, who added the Semi-State Rooms, which include the Crimson Drawing Room, one of the most lavishly decorated chambers in England. Adult from £26.50/child from £14.50

Sandringham Castle, Norfolk.

Photograph by Sandringham

8. Sandringham, Norfolk
The favourite home of the Queen’s grandfather, King George V, Sandringham has been an adored holiday home for four generations of the family and it’s where they spend Christmas every year. Its original regal owner, King Edward VII, demanded it have its own time — Sandringham Time — with clocks set half an hour ahead of GMT to provide more daylight for shooting expeditions. The eight ground-floor rooms that are open to the public retain the Edwardian grandeur of that time. Cocooned in the Norfolk countryside, and yet just a few miles from the sea, Sandringham is good option for a rainy day on a Norfolk beach holiday. Adult £23/child free entry

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