Last year belonged to the young royals, blushing bride Kate Middleton and her double-kissing groom Prince William. But 2012 will belong to the Queen, and as she's proven in the past, no one can throw a party like Her Majesty. This year marks her Diamond Jubilee, 60 years in the making, and the celebrations will peak over a long June 2-5 weekend. If you want to jump into the Jubilee action, dust off your fanciest hat, don your pearls, and hit these various celebratory events around London.
Saturday, June 2: Epsom Derby
Yes, horse racing exists all over the world, but this is the original Derby dating back to the 1700's. With pounding thoroughbred colts, civilized dress codes, and a terrace where winners can enjoy celebratory glasses of Champagne, it's easy to see why the Queen is kicking off her Jubilee weekend here. Horses will race for the Diamond Jubilee Cup and a prize of £250,000.
Races are spaced apart by 30 minutes, so there's plenty of time to rub elbows with possible royals. Tickets in various categories range from £20 and £249. (Big spenders can reserve a suite that includes afternoon tea, among other treats, for £450.) The Epsom Downs racetrack is about a 40 minute drive from Central London or an hour-long train ride from the Paddington station to Epsom.
Location: Epsom Downs, Surrey
Price: £20 to£450, depending on your ticket
Sunday, June 3: Big Jubilee Lunch
Scaling back from the grand glamour of the Epsom Derby, the Big Jubilee lunch is an inclusive get-together on a national scale. The UK has organized other Big Lunch events in the past, promoting people across the country to reach out to their neighbors and throw street parties and picnics, and now they're encouraging everyone in the Commonwealth to nosh en mass in honor of their Queen.
You may want to swing by residential London neighborhoods like Notting Hill or Bloomsbury to check out the street-party atmosphere. Or, even better, grab a picnic lunch from Fortnum & Mason or Harrods Food Halls and take it to a small, residential park like Russell Square or Lincoln's Inn to enjoy your own Big Lunch. BYO clotted cream, and be sure to share with neighboring picnickers in the spirit of the day.
Price: £40 to£100, depending on how swanky your picnic hamper gets
Sunday, June 3: Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant
The centerpiece of the weekend's celebration, The Diamond Jubilee Pageant will take place on London's most iconic pathway: the River Thames. A flotilla of up to a thousand boats will set sail around London's riverbanks, including historic sailboats, row boats, tug boats, and every type of nautical vessel. In the middle of this armada will be the Royal Barge, festooned in red and gold ornamentation. Accompanying all this eye candy are original musical scores from composures such as John Lunn, creator of Downton Abbey's theme.
The seven-mile long parade route, starting at Battersea Bridge and ending around the Tower Bridge, will have multiple big screens along the way projecting details from the barges as they sail by. When you get tired of watching the seafaring celebration, head to Battersea Park, the site of a full-day outdoor festival with music, games, crafts, food, and several viewing screens.
Location: The Thames Riverside, from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge
Price: Free, Battersea Park Festival £5
Time: 2 pm-6 pm
Monday, June 4: BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace
Elton John, Paul McCartney, Shirley Bassey, Annie Lennox, and other pop icons will come together in force to pay tribute to The Queen during this televised concert at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, tickets were distributed via lottery to locals, but you can be sure various pubs around the London area will be showing the performances on TV. Gather together with locals whose number didn't come up and hoist a pint to salute the sovereign. Don't be surprised if rousing singalongs begin.
And stick around for the grand finale: a lighting of 2,012 beacons throughout the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, ending with the Queen lighting the National Beacon.
Price: About £5 a pint
Time: 7:30 pm-10:45 pm
Tuesday, June 5: Carriage Procession to Buckingham Palace
The Jubilee weekend winds down with a service at St. Paul's Cathedral and a private lunch at Westminster Hall. Following that, a procession will take the Queen to Buckingham Palace. Carriages carrying the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Henry, Prince William and Princess Kate, and other royals will travel through New Palace Yard, cross Whitehall, through Trafalgar Square and down the Mall and finally into the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Stake out a spot along this route to watch Britain's elite as they ride by. You can't get any closer to these royals without buying a copy of Hello magazine. (Note: you'll need to find a spot outside of the palace gates since you can only enter Buckingham Palace grounds with a ticket released via lottery to locals).
Time: Post-lunch, procession time to be announced
Procession Route: via Youtube
After the Queen has made her balcony appearance and the event is over, don't head back to Heathrow without doing a little shopping. After all, what would the Jubilee be without its commemorative keepsakes? If you're after a serious souvenir, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace gift shops are selling the official Diamond Jubilee bone china, a gold filigreed pattern bearing the royal coat of arms.
But those in the market for something a little cheekier might appreciate a tea towel from Cath Kidston commemorating the Jubilee with the image of a corgi wearing a crown. And jokesters will get a chuckle from commemorative jars of marmite, dubbed "Ma'amite" for the occasion, available in any grocery store or food market.
Insider Tip: If you're in town early, be sure to check out the Royal Collection and other exhibitions in honor of the Jubilee.
Thinking of a trip to London?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as the best planning advice, check out our London Travel Guide.
Photo credits: Epsom Derby courtesy Flickr/Kris *V*; Queen Elizabeth at Fortnum & Mason via Shutterstock; Tower Bridge via Shutterstock; Buckingham Palace via Shutterstock; Buckingham Palace and on the Mall via Shutterstock; Kensington Palace via Shutterstock; Queen Elizabeth via Shutterstock