The world's gaze will be squarely set on the British Monarchy April 29, when the cute couple, Prince William and Kate Middleton, tie the knot. As interest in 'royal London' is expected to surge all year, I teamed up with Lonely Planet's UK Travel Editor Tom Hall to create a (packed) video itinerary for the perfect 'royal London' day out. Many sites rank high amongst London's marquee attractions, but we've compiled a few tips to give a unique perspective to each.
Every king and queen but two have been crowned here since 1066 – yes, even the stuttering Colin Firth, as George VI in The King's Speech sat in that humble coronation chair here too. The Gothic building – nearly a millennium old – isn't a cathedral, but is considered a 'royal peculiar'. It's debatably more impressive from outside than in, but inside you can see the resting places of Henry VIII (think HBO's Tudors) and Elizabeth I (aka Cate Blanchett), among many others.
If the whopping £16 entry fee is too tall for you, note that entry to the crypt is free.
Yanks, listen up to Tom's pronunciation in the video. 'Mall' with that ugly 'fat' A, not the soft American 'all for one, one for all' A. Either way, the leafy walk connecting Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, passing lovely St James Park (with lots of birds and a super cafe), is a walk to do. It's best done on Sundays when the road's closed to traffic. William and Kate's wedding procession will come this way April 29 too.
The royal family moved into the Duke of Buckingham's old pad in 1837 – Victoria was the first sovereign here – and it finally opened to public tours in the 1990s (open July 23 to October 3 this year).
Considering the lines and the price (£17.50), not everyone opts for the full monty of the world's most famous home, and many just stick with a look through the front gates at the 11:30am changing of the guard. Some who do go are surprised the palace isn't grander (On Royalty author Jeremy Paxman writes that 'the endless gloomy corridors...' have an 'air of a slightly dingy town hall'). Tours access various drawing rooms and the 76.5m-long Picture Gallery, with many great works.
Around the corner, the Royal Mews – the working stable for the queen – is the only part of the palace grounds open all year. It features royal coaches (including the Glass Coach, used for weddings since 1910) – but probably only royal completists will feel the £8 entry fee justifies a look.
Note: In summer, a combo ticket offer 10% savings for entry to Buckingham Palace, Royal Mews and Queen's Gallery.
Less famous, but more rewarding, Kensington Palace – west of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens – holds the distinction of being Princess Diana's last home. It's undergoing a £12 million renovation, but its state rooms are still open in the imaginative, bizarre, and surprisingly educational 'Enchanted Palace' exhibit through early 2012. If you go, be sure to ask the guys in Star Trek cloaks all the questions you can – it borders on performance art.
Either way, a look at the free Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, a necklace-shaped 'moat without a castle' that you're free to dip your feet into. Nearby, on the south side of the Serpentine pond, Lido Cafe is a nice spot for lunch.
For timing's sake, you'll probably need to hail a cab across Westminster Bridge by the Parliament to the 'Queen's Walk', along the south side of the Thames, to hop in a Thames Clipper boat to the Tower of London. The pier is next to the Eye, and offers a quick 'Thames cruise' for £5 (payable with an Oyster card, used for London's Tube and bus system).
This is the historically accurate way of approaching the tower. Folks such as Guy Fawkes and Elizabeth I (before becoming queen) were transported to the tower by boat, reaching the tower cells via 'traitor's gate,' just east of the water taxi pier. They didn't get an on-board coffee bar though.
Touristy but well worth the hype, the Tower of London is perhaps the most important site of all. Here, you'll find Henry VIII's revealing body of armor (quite a protective bulge in the lower half, Hank) and, um, the Crown Jewels, and the spot Lady Jane and Anne Boleyn (that's Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn film) lost their heads.
Part of the fun is taking the 45-minute guided tour with the Yeoman Warders (aka beefeaters), who bring a minimum 22 years of military service and a serious dose of gore-filled humour to their jobs. Their tour only touches on all the tower offers; for more info, opt for the £4 audio tour over the less user-friendly £5 booklets, and try to have three hours for the site.
Afterward, the fish and chips shops next to the Tower of London ticket booths sell one of London's best-value meals. An order is £5, and you can look over the Tower Bridge from the riverside promenade, or take them across Byward St to the park at the former site of 'Tower Hill', where most executions took place.
Near the Tower Hill tube station, at the northeast side of the tower, is fragments of an old Roman wall. That's where Tom and I rode down the slide... and into travel-video infamy.
Have a second day? Spend it at the splendid Hampton Court Palace – best reached by boat.
- Find out more about London's royal wedding.
Download Lonely Planet's Royal London audio walking tour app - free from the iTunes store for a limited time