UK Royal Travel
As she rides into her nineties, Queen Elizabeth II may be enjoying her peak, fueled by renewed interest in her family and the uber-popular Netflix series, “The Crown." Seen through the lens of Her Majesty's sheer longevity, it’s hard not to be drawn to the history of it all. Add the romance of the princes and their love lives — including the allure of newly minted Duchess Meghan Markle — and you have more than enough reason to skip across the pond for royal-tinged travel.
Here are some spots around the UK to explore if you’re a modern royal watcher, in search of a new perspective on one of the most intriguing real-life family dramas in our history. Let’s start in London:
If you’re going to start somewhere, it might as well be the fanciest office in the world. Buckingham Palace isn’t just where the Queen lives — it’s where she does all of her official business.
Yes, this is a tried-and-true tourist attraction. But if you binge-watched “The Crown,” you can take the experience to the next level by imagining what might have really transpired in the throne room, as a girl named Lilibet transformed into the symbolic figurehead of a powerful nation.
Even if you’re not a fan of “The Crown,” there’s still plenty of history, old and modern, to draw any visitor. If these walls could talk, they would describe every significant figure in recent memory. For a more romantic ending, don’t forget to look up at the balcony, where Prince William shared a kiss with his bride Kate, an ode to his own parents’ wedding day.
Prince Charles has never been the most popular royal, which might explain why Clarence House — his official home in London — is often overlooked. But it shouldn't be.
For the newly minted royal fan, there’s a charming draw to this attraction, which is open only during August of every year. The home provides a fascinating glimpse into Charles' relationships with his vibrant sons and their growing families. A picture table features a photo of Charles giving away his new daughter-in-law, Meghan Markle, and one of the rooms was the site of of the much-circulated photo of the christening of Prince William’s third child Louie.
There’s also excellent art to see in the house, paintings and tapestries that belong to Charles' grandparents — the Queen Mother and King George. Of all the royal residences and estates, Clarence House feels most like an actual home, giving visitors an intimate glimpse into the more ordinary aspects of royal family life.
During the Diana years, London's Kensington Palace — where the Princess lived from her wedding day until her death — became a metaphor for the suffocating constraints of British royalty. But recent events have given it a fresh coat of paint.
In the palace's Sunken Gardens, in front of a feverish media, Prince Harry announced his engagement to Markle, showcasing the progressive evolution of this storied royal clan. The palace also includes the garden of white flowers from which Prince Harry reportedly picked a bouquet for his bride.
A fascinating exhibit on Diana's most iconic fashion looks adds more appeal to this historic attraction. And if visiting hits you with the romance bug, you can inquire about renting the grounds; parts of Kensington Palace are available for bookings, including weddings.
Churchill War Rooms
Any fan of drama is likely drawn to the relationship between Winston Churchill and the Queen during the early years of her reign. To understand more about their complicated dynamic, you might want to visit the Churchill War Rooms museum in London.
Hidden from view and built beneath the streets of Westminster, it is a true portal into the past — showcasing the rooms where Churchill was holed up with this cabinet during the German bombing raids. Churchill may seem to have little to do with the royal family now, but as Prime Minister at the time of King George’s death, he bore witness to the Queen’s coronation and the early stages of her maturation into the role. The actor John Lithgow, who plays Churchill in "The Crown," apparently visited the bunker to immerse himself in Churchill’s world and prepare for the role.
Upon first arriving at Windsor Castle's front gates, you might not find it to be particularly arresting. Nor is there anything glamorous about the town of Windsor, set along the Thames River just outside London, where it resides. But once you wander further in, you immediately sense the weight of the monarchy here.
Covering five hectares, this is the longest occupied and largest working castle in Europe, and it pretty much looks the same as it did almost a thousand years ago. Still today, it remains the Queen’s favored weekend residence, and it's where she hosted Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their wedding reception.
Now is a particularly smart time to visit: Windsor Castle will be the first stop on a touring exhibit of the wedding outfits worn by Harry and his bride.
St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel is on the grounds of Windsor Castle, but for the modern royal fan, it’s worth extra attention during a visit. This is where, famously, Prince Harry wedded Meghan Markle earlier this year, drawing a viewing audience of almost 30 million people.
You can’t sit in the chapel's seats, but the pews are up for grabs, providing a good vantage point from which to imagine what it might have been like to be a guest at the nuptials. You can also spot the place where that now-famous photograph of Markle waving next to her mother, Doria Ragland, was taken.
Even if you don't have Harry-Meghan wedding fever, this chapel is worth exploring. Sights include a small cave-like room, guarded by a gate, where the Queen’s parents are buried. And the spectacular Gothic architecture is an attraction in and of itself.
Coworth Park and Cliveden House
Want to fully immerse yourself in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding experience? Then spend the night at Coworth Park, where Prince Harry stayed with his brother before saying "I do," or Cliveden House, where Markle crashed with her mom the night before. Both are exquisite, five-star properties that exude English sophistication and feature perfect lawns and manicured gardens.
For fans of "The Crown," Cliveden House is yet another place where you can bring the series’ episodes to life. The hotel played backdrop to one of England’s biggest political scandals — The Profumo Affair. That storyline involving a government official, a Russian spy and Prince Philip featured prominently in Season 2 of the series. If staying on property is a touch out of your budget, consider afternoon tea or a meal at one of the property's restaurants.
This social club with locations in glamorous cities around the world is a major touchpoint in the romance of Harry and Markle. A Soho House consultant has been credited with introducing the couple, and the club's 100-acre property in Oxfordshire, known as the Farmhouse, is a Markle favorite; it's where she reportedly spent time with her intimate circle of London friends during her early courtship with Harry, and where she hosted her wedding shower.
While exclusive access and some bells and whistles are only for members, non-member peons can book a room at the Farmhouse's onsite hotel.
Wimbledon, the world’s oldest tennis tournament, annually welcomes members of the monarchy to watch the game from its aptly named Royal Box. Despite its moniker, the Box is not actually owned by the royal family; instead, its 74 seats are doled out at the discretion of the Chairman of the All England Club where the tournament takes place, just 10 miles from London's city center.
Almost every member of the family has been photographed here taking in a game, a highlight of the socialite summer calendar. Most recently, the brand-new Duchesses sisters-in-law attended the game to support Serena Williams, a good friend of Markle’s.
If you aren’t planning to visit in the summer, or have trouble scoring tickets to the coveted event, pay a visit to the museum instead, where you can take in the game’s history and visit the grounds.
Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
If you’re following in the footsteps of the make-believe royals instead of the real ones, head over to Cambridgeshire, just under two hours by car from London, where the cast of "The Crown" spent some time while filming the series.
Here, you can visit Ely Cathedral, the imposing and grand structure that stood in for Westminster Abbey when it came time to film the wedding of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Philip. From its soaring stained-glass windows to its ornate altar and lantern tower, there is nothing second-rate about this proxy, which is also a formidable historic attraction. One of the most famous buildings of the medieval era, it dates back 900 years.
If you want to learn about the royals as a family, there's no better place to visit than Sandringham.
Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George, famously loved this 8,000-hectare estate in Norfolk where generations of his family have and continue to spend their holidays. Last year, the Queen’s Christmas celebrations at Sandringham were thrust into the pop-culture spotlight when the newly engaged Meghan Markle spent her first holiday with her new family there.
This is also the place where the Queen gave her very first televised Christmas address in 1952. The estate, the gardens, the church and the museum are all open to visitors from March to October, with some blackout dates during the summer. It’s the perfect place for visitors wanting to do a deep dive into royal life and traditions.
Holyrood House in Edinburgh, Scotland, may be one of the lesser-known royal houses, but it’s likely you’ll hear a lot about it when the wedding outfits of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex go on display there in the summer of 2019.
Holyrood House is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and features a treasure trove of Scottish history. One of the most famous residents of Holyrood was Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there from 1561 to 1567. Today, you can explore what’s considered the most famous room in all of Scotland, her bedchamber.
If you think the modern royals have had their fair share of scandals, a visit here might put things into perspective; hundreds of years ago, tales of murder, intrigue and tragedy were common. Visitors can take tours year round, except on Christmas eve and day.
The Royal Yacht Britannia
The popular play "The Audience" captures the essence of the Queen’s rarified life when she becomes emotional at the decommissioning of her yacht, "The Royal Britannia." In service from 1954 to 1997, the yacht is now permanently berthed in Leith, Edinburgh, where more than 300,000 tourists visit it every year.
You can’t get more kid-friendly than this attraction that greets you with an 11-foot LEGO model of the ship. For history buffs, photographs of the yacht’s famous guests — including Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill — fascinate.
A visit here is the perfect glimpse into the elite world the royals inhabit. As just one example, on board the ship is a Rolls-Royce Phantom V that used to travel on the ship. Guests can also peek the Honeymoon Suite, where no fewer than four royal couples spent time after their wedding: Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones; Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips; Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; and, most famously, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
The Scottish Highlands, in the northernmost region of Scotland, is home to a couple must-visit royal attractions: Adverikie Estate, which offers tours of filming locations from "The Crown," and Balmoral Castle, an estate that's privately owned by the Queen but open for guided tours in the winter.
This region filled with rolling green hills is also ideally suited to hiking, wandering and taking photos. Make sure to drive through lush Cairngorms National Park, and to head to the area’s most famous loch, Loch Ness, home of the eponymous mystical sea monster.
Other Spots in London
The new Duchess of Sussex is undoubtedly the main draw for many royal watchers, and London is one of her most beloved locales. If you’re looking to take in the city the Meghan way, you might want start with a few of her favorite places, including the posh restaurant at the Chiltern Firehouse hotel, and the Italian haunt Bocca di Lupo in the Theatre District. While you’re there, take in a showing of "Hamilton"; Markle and Prince Harry appeared on stage at the show with its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to promote one of his charitable causes.
Another option: Al Manaar mosque, where Markle made secret visits to bond with the women over their mission to strengthen their local community through cooking.
More interested in the Queen? Check out Warhol's iconic pop-art paintings of her majesty at The Tate Modern, or head to We Built This City, a gift shop stocked with royal-themed souvenirs. You can take home socks with the Queen’s face or a pencil sketch of her in a baseball cap.