The Royal Family are one of the most enduring symbols of Britishness across the world, and remain a major draw to these shores for international tourists. You can’t move in London for souvenir shops filled to the rafters with mugs, t-shirts tins, tea towels and all manner of other trinkets bearing the image of the Queen or, more recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Wills and Kate are hugely popular across the globe, with millions of people in 180 countries watching their wedding in 2011. The British Royals are a global brand quite unlike any other; the Queen’s participation alongside Daniel Craig in a James Bond sketch for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 showing that they’re fully aware of the importance of their international appeal to the British tourism industry.
Thankfully, that also means that many of London’s historic royal buildings and palaces have been beautifully maintained, and make for great tourist attractions. The most famous of them all is Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence which is home to an incredible 775 rooms. It’s one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world, so you may be surprised to learn that large sections of it are open to visitors. The opulent State Rooms, which is where the Queen entertains visiting diplomats and dignitaries, are open during the summer months. There are 19 of them, all of them lavishly decorated: the Gallery contains artistic treasures from throughout history, including works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto. Buckingham Palace is also the site of one of London’s most famous traditional ceremonies, the Changing of the Guard. An icon of British pageantry, this 45-minute ceremony takes place daily at 11.30 from April until the end of July, and on alternate days for the rest of the year depending on the weather. This duty has been carried out by the Guards since 1660.
Another of London’s iconic royal attractions is Hampton Court Palace, the former home of King Henry VIII and, at one time or another, each of his six wives. This is said to be where he proposed to Jane Seymour. Entering the palace, visitors are greeted to a more interactive experience than in most of London’s royal palaces, with guides dressed in period costumes to bring the Tudor period of the palace to life. Henry’s State Rooms, as you might expect, are on the grandiose side, and there are 60 acres of beautiful gardens, as befitted a king so beloved of the great outdoors.For a taste of the dark side of London’s royal past, visit the Tower of London. One of the most famous buildings anywhere in the world, this is most well known for its 900 history as a prison: interestingly, this continued up to as recently as the 1950s, with the notorious Kray twins among its final residents. There’s much more to the Tower’s history besides that, though, having served as a royal palace, place of execution, jewel house, and even a zoo. Today, you can still see the famous Crown Jewels here, which include some of the most famous and valuable gemstones in the world.