Visitors flock to London for many reasons, of course, but one of the major motivations for so many who make a beeline for the city is to take advantage of the sensational royal and historical sites it contains. Here are three not to be missed…
The Tower of London
(Tower Hill EC3N 4AB/ Open: 9am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday; 10am-6pm Sunday-Monday)
So magnificent and important an attraction is the Tower, maybe there’s an argument that, if you’re going to visit just one venue when you’re in the capital, it really should be this one. Essentially the oldest surviving building in the entire city, construction on this awesome medieval fortification started shortly after William the Conqueror, yes, conquered England in 1066. Since then it’s served as a castle, a royal palace, a prison, an execution site, an armoury, an army barracks, a jewel depository and even an exotic zoo. Not surprisingly then, it’s one of just four UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in the city.
Its biggest draws for the punters are the world-famous Crown Jewels, a collection of almost 24,000 precious stones including the notoriously enormous Koh-i-Noor diamond; the Yeomen of the Guard (or beefeaters as they’re commonly known), whose tours of the Tower itself are the stuff of legend; the White Tower, at the very centre of the fortification and its most palatial part where you can check out hundreds of years’ worth of arms such as the armour of King Henry VIII and King James I’s unique samurai armour and, far more macabre, the inscriptions carved into walls by prisoners of the Tower, many of whom were condemned to death and executed within its grounds. Grisly!
(SW1A 1AA/ Open: 9.30am-7.30pm daily, 22 July-31 August; 9.30am-6.30pm daily, 1 September-1 October)
Let’s be honest, when you’re talking about the ultimate, the London best attractions, it’s surely hard to top good old Buck Palace. Built way back in the early 19th Century for the then Duke of Buckingham and shortly thereafter acquired by the monarch to serve as her (or his) official London home, ‘the Palace’ (as it’s colloquially referred to) is the residence most associated with the British Royal family and, in particular, Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly, for visitors, though, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get to spot her should you give the place a look around – that said, there’s still a whole host of reasons why you might want to step inside this most famous of world landmarks (not least because, should you be staying in the West End – at, say, the Shaftesbury Hyde Park hotel, it’s very easy to get to).
Principally, there’s its State Rooms. Incredibly ornate spaces traditionally used by The Queen to receive visiting dignitaries and where state dinners have, therefore, been held for almost two centuries, these rooms contain some of the most exquisite examples of the ‘Royal Collection’; paintings by the likes of Van Dyck and Canaletto, beautiful pieces of Sèvres porcelain and among the greatest English and French furniture ever crafted. And also worth checking out, for this summer only, is the ‘Royal Gifts’ exhibition, which, yes, showcases many of the fascinating items gifted The Queen by world leaders – everyone from former US President Ronald Reagan to Nelson Mandela.
(Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1NJ/ Open: 9.30am-5.30pm daily)
Just a short journey outside the capital itself (usually by train or coach and one especially worth making if you’re saving money on accommodation via hotel rewards programs), this Royal residence is, in actual fact, The Queen’s favourite and so where she spends the most of time. And it’s truly perfect for those fond of palatial castles and others fascinated by history and artworks. Indeed, its State Apartments are home to paintings by Masters like Rembrandt, Rubens and Gainsborough, while its beautiful chapel (St. George’s Chapel) has not only been the site for 14 Royal weddings down through history, but it’s also the resting place of a total 10 previous monarchs, and who could possibly overlook one of the world’s most famous toy-sets – Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House? An incredibly comprehensive, miniature version of the castle itself that, in addition to everything else, comprises electric lighting and – believe it or not! – flushing toilets. Plus, of course, beyond the castle you can discover the village of Eton (with its globally renowned private school) and the glorious Long Walk and Deer Park. Utterly stunning!