London has some phenomenal sights – there’s enough to do here to fill weeks of travel! If you’re looking to theme your visit, then a great option is to take in some of the castles and palaces dotted around the city. These are magnificent constructions, used by Royalty through the centuries, and always make for an excellent day out. Here are some of my favourites.
Ok, so I am cheating a little bit with the first palace on my list, as it’s not technically “in” London. However, it is accessible as part of the excellent London Pass and can be reached easily as a half-day trip from London, so I’m including it anyway!
Windsor Castle is in the town of Windsor, around an hour’s train ride from Paddington Station (if you pick up the London Pass, the train journey is included). It’s the Queen’s preferred residence in London, and is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, with the original castle built in the 11th century.
Today, you can visit much of the castle, including the gorgeous State Apartments and St. George’s Chapel. There’s also a changing of the guard ceremony which is a lot easier to see than the Buckingham Palace version.
As it’s still a Royal Residence, it is sometimes closed (check the website to be sure it’s open), and it’s a really popular attraction, so get there as close to opening as possible to avoid the queues. Allow yourself at least half a day to get the most out of your visit.
Image courtesy of bvi4092.
While not exactly in Central London, Hampton Court Palace does fall within the boundaries of London. It’s still a minor transport effort to get here, but totally worth it.
Hampton Court Palace isn’t an inhabited Royal Palace, but it has plenty of Royal history, most notably as it was one of the principal residences of Henry VIII, he of the many wives. Henry made multiple improvements to the palace, including enlarging the kitchens and installing a giant medieval style great hall, as well as a Royal Tennis court (not quite the same as the tennis you might be used to!).
Today the Palace is open to the public to visit, with guided tours and all sorts of events. There’s also a fun maze, dating from the 17th century, which you can get cheerfully lost in.
If you’re in London, you have to visit the Tower of London. This is one of the oldest fortresses in London, built after the Norman Conquest of England, to house the new royalty who had just moved into the country and needed a nice secure palace to live in.
As such, it’s a highly defensible castle, with two defensive walls and a moat, so it feels very castle-like. It’s also the home to the English Crown Jewels and has played host to notable historical events, in particular, the executions of 112 people, including Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.
Today the Tower of London is an incredibly popular tourist attraction, so I would definitely advise turning up at opening time, and avoiding the afternoons if at all possible, as that’s when the majority of tour buses visit.
Image courtesy of James Cridland.
A pretty walk across Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens will bring you to the gorgeous Kensington Palace, most famous as the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria, for whom the whole Victorian era was named. One of the longest reigning British monarchs, she oversaw the huge expansion of the British Empire, as well as great leaps in science, technology, and industry.
Currently, Kensington Palace is the official residence of a number of members of the Royal Family, including the Princes William and Harry.
Obviously, you can’t visit the apartments that are currently in use, but the majority of the palace, including the State Rooms, are open to the public and have been since 1899. There’s plenty to see and do here, with a natural focus on Queen Victoria, who spent so much of her formative years living here. There’s also an excellent café on site, should you get hungry from all your exploring!
Image courtesy of Pedro.
Last on the list of palaces to visit in London is of course Buckingham Palace. When people think of the British Royal Family, this is the palace they’re going to think of. It’s the official Royal Residence of the British Monarch, and has been since Queen Victoria came to the throne and moved here from Kensington Palace.
It’s at Buckingham Palace that the Queen creates Knights, holds State Banquets, receives ambassadors and all sorts of other Royal Duties take place.
Because it’s used so much, Buckingham Palace is not open to the public year round. Rather, you can only visit in July and August, and you have to book in advance. However, even if you can’t pop in, it’s still worth visiting to take a look at the splendour of a Palace that was designed to look, well, like a Palace should. Plus, it’s here where the world famous changing of the guard ceremony takes place.
I hope you enjoyed these five recommendations for castles and palaces to visit in London. I think London has some of the best historical attractions in the world, and you won’t be disappointed with any of these choices!
Sadly none of these palaces have been listed on Homestay.com. However, we do have plenty of homestays in London that are fit for a king. Browse our listings to find the host that's right for you.
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