The ultimate ranking of places in London to live your best Meghan Markle life.
History is one of London’s greatest draws and when it comes to its esteemed past, the trials and tribulations of the royal family are woven into the fabric of the city. With a timeline of kings and queens stretching back over 1,000 years, London has had plenty of time to establish its imperious collection of royal sites. From the Queen’s famous residence to Henry VIII’s favorite weekend getaway, here are ten of the best of them.
Top Picks for You
No other royal site has quite the lure of Buckingham Palace, and honestly who wouldn’t be impressed by this mega-mansion in the heart of St. James’s? Originally built in 1703, the palace has had significant upgrades over the last 300 years to make it fit for lavish royal living. Synonymous with both Queen Victoria (the first monarch to live here) and its current resident, Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace remains a working palace, though visitors can book guided tours in summer that take in the glamour and grandeur of its State Rooms.
INSIDER TIPArrive sharply for Changing of the Guard, which commences at 11 am daily, delivering pageantry and pomp in what has become an iconic London tradition.
Household Cavalry Museum
If you miss the Changing of the Guard, the next best thing is a visit to the Household Cavalry Museum, a small yet fascinating museum tucked away from the crowds in Westminster. Here you can see the living, working routines of the Queen’s Household Cavalry—the commissioned soldiers in full ceremonial regalia that you see at Changing of the Guard—as they go about their day. Along with the interesting artifacts and stories passed on by knowledgeable guides, you can also see soldiers tending to the horses in the stables.
INSIDER TIPMuseum entrance fees support the soldiers and families of the Household Cavalry injured in the line of duty.
Hampton Court Palace
One of only two surviving palaces owned by Henry VIII and a favorite of the King, Hampton Court Palace was the home of Tudor royalty. The palace’s serene location on the Thames, amazing gardens, and dramatic interiors (be sure to see the famous Great Hall complete with an intricately hand-carved timber roof) make the short trip to Hampton on the border of Surrey well worth taking.
INSIDER TIPAllow enough time to conquer the famous Hampton Court Maze. Planted in the late 17th century, the large maze consists of over half a mile of paths that lead to plenty of dead ends. If you’re not great with directions, take a packed lunch and a drink because who knows how long you’ll take to find your way out.
Royals never have to worry about securing a wedding venue because Westminster Abbey is ready and waiting with sixteen royal weddings since the first in 1100. One look at the stained-glass windows, weathered oil paintings, and incredible gothic interior stonework and you can see why it’s the only choice. The Abbey has also been the site of all but two royal coronations since 1066. Tours of the holiest of royal spots take place every day except Sundays and can be pre-booked.
Kew Palace is only accessible with a ticket to Kew Gardens (aka the Royal Botanical Gardens), but the amazing Georgian mansion is an attraction in its own right. Once home to King George III and Queen Charlotte, the building has been restored to its former glory and the private red-brick retreat makes for a picturesque sight surrounded by the manicured hedges and bucolic gardens of Kew. It may be the smallest of the royal palaces, but the English country house interiors are nothing short of charming.
The Queens Gallery
Housed within Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery displays the royal family’s downright huge and important collection of art, held in trust for the nation. The gallery is an amassed assortment of paintings, photography, antique furniture, and decorative arts that span the ages. Intricate Chinese pots, Da Vinci drawings, Indian scabbards, and Canaletto paintings are just a small fraction of what’s on view, which changes frequently. Tickets for the gallery can be bought independently or combined with entry to the Royal Mews.
St. James’s Palace
While no king or queen has lived in St. James’s Palace since King William IV in the 1830s, the Tudor palace is older than Buckingham Palace and represents the most senior royal residence in the country. Hang around long enough admiring the dramatic brick building and its famous clock, and you’ll see the Household Cavalry Guards and may even spot a blacked-out town car carrying Princess Beatrice from her apartment at the palace to a brunch date.
Queen Victoria, Princess Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge: Kensington Palace has had some of the royal family’s biggest names reside within its walls, with William, Kate, and their three children continuing to call it home today. Chances are slim of seeing the family at home, but a tour of the Sunken Garden, the Queen’s Apartments, and the King’s State Apartments offer enough opulence and history to help you forget delusions of royal star spotting.
INSIDER TIPEnjoy afternoon tea—with or without champagne—in the beautiful Kensington Palace Pavilion surrounded by stunning manicured gardens.
The Tower of London
Relatively fresh from defeating England at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror was keen to protect the city of London from invaders, so in the 1070s, he set about constructing the grand castle fortress that became known as the Tower of London. A royal residence, long-time vault for the Crown Jewels, and gory location of more beheadings than you could count, the Tower of London has been a little bit of everything over the years. Visitors can tour the interiors, walk the battlements, meet the famed Beefeaters, and enjoy a rundown of the Tower’s unusually murderous history.
Built by John Nash, who alongside Christopher Wren is arguably London’s most famous architect, Clarence House is today home to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, Charles and Camilla. The impressive whitewashed façade of the aristocratic townhouse mansion stands out from the crowd in its picturesque location beside St James’s Palace and The Mall, just a sceptre’s throw from St. James’s Park. If you want to admire more than the exterior, you’ll need to be in London during August, which is the only month the house opens to the public for tours.