This is the official residence of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II; it is used for official events, State occasions and ceremonies by the Royal Family. The palace is conveniently located close to central London and accessible by the London underground. The palace is surrounded by public Royal Parks: Green Park, St. James Park and Hyde Park.
The royal home has the largest private garden in London. The façade is in the French neo-classical style and was part of architect John Nash’s design. The palace building covers 77,000m² and key rooms include the Music Room, the Blue, Green and White Drawing Rooms, Throne Room and the Picture Gallery. Works by Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt and other masters are displayed in the Picture Gallery which connects the State Rooms together. In the semi-state apartments are the 1844 Room, the Bow Room and the Red and Blue Chinese Luncheon Room. The rooms are decorated with antique furniture and valuable art.
The building was originally a townhouse belonging to the Duke of Buckingham in 1705; in 1761 King George III bought the property and through the 19th century the palace was extended and renovated. When Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 the palace became the monarch’s official residence.
Tourists come to the palace to watch the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard performed by the Royal guards who wear their distinctive red uniforms and black tall furry hats. During the ceremony (at 11:30 daily in summer and every other day in winter) the guards march from nearby Wellington Barracks to the front gate of the palace and replace the Old Guard of their duty.
St James Park
This is the oldest of London’s eight Royal Parks, it covers 58 acres and is surrounded by Buckingham Palace, The Mall, St. James s Palace, the Horse Guards, Clarence House and the Birdcage Walk. The park’s prime location has made it the centre of London’s ceremonial life with many royal events taking place here like the Trooping of the Color and the Beating Retreat (12-13th June).
Within the park is St. James’s Park Lake where there are two islands – West Island and Duck Island. The lake area is rich with bird life including pelicans and waterfowl. The Blue Bridge crosses the lake and on Pelican Rock is the famous Tiffany Fountain. Visitors can see the pelican’s being fed daily at 2:30pm. There are several refreshment points throughout the park as well as the Inn the Park restaurant. Deck chairs can be rented in the park from March to October. Within the park is the Queen Victoria Memorial as well as a memorial walk dedicated to Princess Diana which covers 11km and is lined with plaques marking locations which were significant in the Princess’s life. Horticultural highlights in the park include the Nash Shrubberies, Tropical Border and Memorial Gardens. Kids can enjoy the wide open lawns and the park playground.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Westminster. It is located on the banks of the River Thames and is the place where Britain’s House of Lords and House of Commons convene.
The site where the Palace of Westminster stands today was originally the site of an 8th century Saxon church called West Minster (west monastery). In the 10th century the royals paid an interest in the site and when Edward the Confessor came to power in 1042 he moved his court to Westminster and had a Benedictine abbey and royal church built.
Under William the Conqueror Westminster Hall was built, it is the largest hall of its kind in Europe. Westminster gained importance and grew as different kings made additions to the edifice. In 1265 the two houses of parliament were created, the House of Lords met at Westminster while the House of Commons had no permanent location. In the 13th century King Henry III made several alterations including the Queen’s Chapel, Queen’s Chamber and the Painted Chamber or King’s Chamber which have survived. St. Stephen’s Chapel (1184-1363) was redesigned over the years with beautiful glazed windows, a vaulted wooden roof and walls covered with murals in scarlet, green and blue shades. In 1365 King Edward III had the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft completed; it was here that the royal court and household prayed. In 1547 the House of Commons joined the House of Lords also meeting at the palace thus Westminster became the undisputed central seat of government.
A fire destroyed the palace in 1834 and the only parts of the original medieval palace which survived are the Cloisters, Chapter House of St. Stephen’s, Chapel of St. Mary’s Undercroft, the Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower which was built in 1365.
Big Ben is the name of the bell which hangs in Elizabeth Tower which is at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. The tower is commonly referred to as Big Ben, it is 96 meters tall and UK residents can climb the 393 steps to the belfry. The square tower bears the famous four clock faces of the Great Clock of Westminster. The clock faces of this accurate time piece are 7 meters in diameter and the hour hands are 2.7 meters long. Within the belfry there are five bells, four strike the Westminster Chimes on the quarter hour and the largest bell, Big Ben, strikes on the hour.
UK residents can take a tour of the Houses of Parliament, observe parliamentary debates and even climb up into the Big Ben belfry. Foreign visitors can tour the Parliament building on Saturday and during the Summer Opening, they can also watch debates and committee hearings when Parliament is in session.
Tower Bridge, London crosses the Thames River next to the Tower of London, the stunning iconic drawbridge is often confused with another Thames bridge referred to in the children’s song “London Bridge” is falling down. In the late 1800s Tower Bridge was one of the bridges constructed to carry the masses of pedestrians and vehicles wanting to cross from one side of London to the other. The City of London Corporation needed an innovative design and so they held a competition to which 50 designs were submitted. The chosen design was devised by Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry, it took 8 years and 432 construction workers to complete the bridge in 1894. To avoid disrupting the river traffic the tower was to be a bascule or see-saw bridge which could be raised to let tall ships through. Today the bridge is still raised about 900 times a year to allow tall vessels to pass by. The bridge can be raised 83° from its horizontal position.
Two piers were sunk into the river bed to support the weight of the 11,000 tons of steel which formed the bridge framework. The two towers on either side of the river were joined together by elevated walkways. Finally Cornish granite and Portland stone covered the framework making the appearance more appealing and protecting the frame. Originally hydraulics were used to raise the bridge using steam power from the engines in the Engine Rooms within the base of the towers. Today the hydraulics are produced using electricity and oil rather than steam.
Visitors to Tower Bridge today can walk or drive across and you can also visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition. A visit to the Tower Bridge Exhibition begins with an animated video explaining the bridge’s history.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is in fact the oldest fortified castle in Europe, it is located on the bank of the Thames next to Tower Bridge and from the moment you are greeted by the Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders) in their traditional garb you will feel like you have stepped back in time. Within the grey fortified walls are a number of attractions which can keep you busy for a couple of hours at least.
The first fortress built on this site was a Roman fortress and you can still see the remaining Roman wall. The Tower of London began as King William’s castle founded in 1078, and the White Tower dates back to this period, later in 1240 King Henry III moved in. He too made extensive renovations and additions to the complex. With the White Tower as its center more structures were added and the fortress became multi-purpose. It was not only a palace residence but also a prison, royal mint, zoo and treasury.
The tower’s top ten highlights include:
The White Tower – The oldest part of the Tower and an iconic symbol. Take the wardens tour which runs daily at 10:45, 12:45 and 14:15. Also see the Chapel Royal of St. John. Shakespeare’s scene with the two young princes locked in the Tower from Richard III was set here.
The Crown Jewels – See the dazzling crown jewels which are still used in ceremonies, royal weddings and coronations today.
The Fusilier Museum – Housed in the former army officers’ quarters, historic artifacts are displayed from the history of this famous military division which was formed in the Tower of London in 1685.
The Tower Green – See where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and other privileged prisoners were executed in the tower away from the eyes of the public.
The Medieval Palace – the palace is furnished in recreated medieval furniture and artifacts. See how Henry III and other royals lived; see the grand fireplace and royal bedchamber.
The Coins and Kings – British coins were minted at the Tower for 500 years, see historic coins and learn about the minting process.
The Line of Kings – A display of authentic knight’s armor, some mounted on life-size wooden horses. The armor dates back to the Tudor period and was first put on show in 1688.
Take advantage of the entertaining and informative Yeoman Warder Tours which run every half hour and are included in the price of your ticket. See if you can spot any of the 6 resident ravens which live on the Tower grounds. Legend has it that if the ravens leave the Tower, the Kingdom will fall and so 7 ravens (6 plus one spare) have one wing clipped to prevent them flying too far away. To see some typical British pageantry book ahead of time for the Ceremony of the Keys. The tickets are free but must be reserved. The 700 year old ritual involves the Chief Warder decked out in his finery locking up the Tower by lantern light as the sun sets. Note that the use of mobile phones within the Tower of London is prohibited.
This is London’s largest public park covering 360 acres; it opened in 1637 and is joined to Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St. James Park. For years the parkland was used for royal hunting until 1637 when King Charles I opened the park to the general public. In 1825 Decimus Burton designed the park layout.
A large lake wends its way through the park, the Serpentine lake was constructed in 1730 and today is use for boating and swimming. Once the Serpentine reaches Kensington Gardens it becomes Long Water. The Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a playful water feature resembling a shallow stream where kids can paddle and splash in the water. Horse riders can find a 6.4km bridle path, Rotten Row which dates back to William III when the king wanted a safe, short cut between Kensington Palace and St. James Palace. It was also the first lit public road in England. Since the 19th century Speakers’ Corner on one corner of the park has been a place where anyone can stand on their soap box and declare their beliefs, protests or political opinions. Nearby is marble Arch (1827) which was originally a gateway to Buckingham Palace.
The park is adorned with statues including Still Water which is a 10 meters tall bronze work by Nic Fiddian-Green. Next to this work is an equestrian statue of Genghis Khan created by Dashi Namdakov. There is also a statue of Achilles (1822); a memorial to 7/11; the Reformers’ Tree mosaic; a memorial to William Henry Hudson; St. George fighting the dragon and a statue of Isis by Simon Gudgeon. The park has playgrounds, open lawns, fountains, a long pergola, more than 4,000 trees, flower beds and restaurants. You can go boating on the lake, cycle, play tennis and even swim. From November to January there is ice skating in the ark.
Kensington Palace, although not as big as a Buckingham Palace and not as inviting and lovely as the Hampton Court, it is still a royal residence well worth a visit. It is located in Kensington Gardens and housed along the years the British Royal Family since it was purchased and made into a palace back in the 17th century. It was he official house of the Duchess from Cambridge in London, Prince Harry of Wales, the Duchess and Duke of Gloucester as well as Prince and Princess Michael. Its most famous resident, however, was Princess Diana who lived here after her divorce. Today, Prince William and his wife Catherine Duchess of Cambridge use this as their official residence.
The State Apartments, are open to the public and provide some impressive galleries with three permanent exhibitions that mostly displays the history of the people once lived in the palace -from Queen Victoria through Queen Anne and George II this is a good way to get a quick glimps of the rotal family over the last few centuries.
Some of the highlights would be “the King’s Staircase” holding the “trompe l’oeil” painting along with the impressive King’s Gallery. Once you have done with the tour inside the palace, don’t miss the gardens outside as those are lovely and inviting just the same.
There is a nice café in the Orangery which is the perfect location for an afternoon tea or a small snack.