On a gloriously sunny day in May last year, thousands of royal fans poured into Windsor to celebrate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. As the couple mark their one-year anniversary this weekend, here’s how you can walk in the footsteps of the monarchy and revel in the pomp, pageantry and architectural splendour of their historic royal wedding venues.
Windsor Castle, the site of two royal weddings in 2017
The world’s largest and oldest continuously occupied castle played host to two royal weddings last year: as well as Harry and Meghan, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank tied the knot here in October. Both ceremonies took place in St George’s Chapel, a striking example of Gothic architecture that dates back to 1475. This is also where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles held a prayer service to commemorate their civil wedding in 2005, and it is the final resting place of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.
Windsor is accessible by train — the journey from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside takes just under an hour, and the castle is a short walk from the station. To save yourself time and money, buy your train ticket online (starting from £11 return). You can book your tickets for Windsor Castle in advance, too (adults £22.50). The castle is open every day — from 10am-5pm during the summer — and it tends to be quieter after midday, giving you more space to explore the 11th-century castle, chapel and state apartments.
Frogmore House, a scenic setting for Harry and Meghan's engagement portraits
Harry and Meghan chose to have their evening wedding reception at Frogmore House, which was also the site of their glamorous engagement portraits. The couple recently moved to Frogmore Cottage, their new home on the grounds of the estate, with baby Archie, and while their private residence is closed to the public, visitors are welcome to peruse the 35-acre gardens and 17th century house — a frequent royal retreat just 10 mins’ drive from Windsor — for three days a year. But move fast: this year’s open days are May 28-30, with proceeds donated to the National Garden Scheme, British Heart Foundation and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (from £7). Groups of 15 or more can also book tours during the month of August.
Westminster Abbey, the most storied royal wedding venue
In 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton took their vows in this immense Gothic church in front of 2200 guests and a television audience of nearly 2 billion people worldwide. You can see their marriage licence, and much more, in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. William and Kate were the latest in a long line of royal couples to marry here — 16 in total, including the flashy '80s nuptials of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the lavish union of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, and the more traditional ceremonies of Queen and Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother and King George.
Westminster Abbey has also been the setting for every coronation since 1066 and the burial place of more than 3000 royals, statesmen, soldiers and poets. With all that rich history — not to mention a new iPad-designed stained glass window by David Hockney — it’s no surprise that the Abbey is one of London’s most popular attractions, drawing 1.5m visitors annually. It can be easily reached by bus, rail or Tube, and is open Monday to Saturday; but you can skip the queues by booking online (adults £21) and taking advantage of the late opening on Wednesdays (from 4.30-6pm).
St Paul’s Cathedral, host of the 'wedding of 20th century'
The 1981 union of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer was billed as the wedding of the century, and so great was the interest in the couple that their ceremony had to be held in a venue even larger than the colossal Westminster Abbey. St Paul’s Cathedral, which can accommodate 3500 guests, was the site where Diana emerged from her carriage with that unforgettable 25-foot train.
You can enjoy the spectacular dome of Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece — the fourth cathedral to have stood on the site in its 1400-year history — from Monday to Saturday (on Sundays, it is only open for worship), and it is served by multiple public transport routes. Save money by booking online (adults £17) and make the most of the unusually early 8.30am opening to beat the crowds and experience the full effect of the cathedral’s famous acoustics.
St James’s Palace, where Queen Victoria popularised the white wedding dress
Royal protocol dictated that no man could propose to a reigning monarch, so Queen Victoria proposed to her great love Prince Albert, and in 1840, the two married at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. And while we may consider Kate and Meghan the most powerful fashion influencers, it was the 20-year-old Victoria who popularised the tradition of brides wearing white after her own delicate lace gown. St James’s Palace was the established royal residence for 300 years, until Queen Victoria ascended the throne and moved to Buckingham Palace. The Queen’s Guard, however, remained at St James’s Palace, and today it is one of the locations where you can see the Changing of the Guard (head to St James’s Palace for 10am to watch the soldiers begin their march). The palace is now the home of Princesses Anne and Beatrice, while Clarence House, the official London base of Prince Charles and Camilla, is next door. Built in 1531 by Henry VII in red-brick Tudor style, it was also the venue for Prince George’s christening in 2013. St James’s Palace is not open to the public, but visitors can check out the Chapel Royal by attending one of the weekly services, which take place every Sunday morning at 8.30am and 11.15am, except during August and September.