Buckingham Palace

Top choice palace in The West End
Image by Peter Phipp / Getty Images

Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace replaced St James's Palace as the monarch's official London residence in 1837. Queen Elizabeth II divides her time between here, Windsor Castle and, in summer, Balmoral Castle in Scotland. If she’s in residence, the square yellow, red and blue Royal Standard is flown; if not, it's the Union Flag. The 19 lavishly furnished State Rooms are open to visitors when Her Majesty is on holiday from mid-July to September.

Hung with artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, Anthony van Dyck, Canaletto, Nicolas Poussin and Johannes Vermeer, the State Rooms are open for self-guided tours that include the Throne Room, with his-and-her pink chairs monogrammed 'ER' and 'P'. Access is by timed tickets with admission every 15 minutes (audio guide included) and visits take about two hours.

Admission includes entry to a themed special exhibition (royal couture during the Queen's reign, growing up at the palace etc) in the enormous Ballroom, which changes each summer. It also allows access to part of the palace gardens as you exit, although you must join the three-hour State Rooms & Garden Highlights Tour (adult/child/under five years £35/21/free) to see the wisteria-clad Summer House and other famous features, and to get an idea of the garden's full size (16 hectares).

Buckingham Palace can sometimes be visited during winter (December to February), but only on select days of the week for a whopping £85.

Ask staff to stamp your ticket before you leave for free access for a year.