Although their kings and queens don’t come cheap and are today only figureheads, most Brits seem to thoroughly enjoy having a royal family.
Right now the country is excited over the birth of William and Catherine’s baby, who is in line to become the country’s 43rd monarch since the Norman Conquest.
The royal heir was delivered in a private wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, the same wing where Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry, were born.
Until those deliveries, royal births were home births. As you visit royal palaces in and around London, you’re also visiting the birthplaces of some of Britain’s kings and queens.
Here’s a rundown on these royal palaces and who was born there.
Kensington Palace (www.hrp.org.uk) is on the royal radar because it will be the new home to William, Catherine and the baby. The family will be moving into a thoroughly renovated Apartment 1A later this summer. While some of the palace is open to the public, these private quarters are strictly off-limits.
The palace has long been associated with Britain’s longest serving monarch, Queen Victoria, who was born here in 1819. Sitting primly on its pleasant parkside grounds in central London, the palace is immaculately restored.
A visit here gives a fun glimpse into the lives of several important residents, such as William and Mary, George III and Victoria. After Queen Victoria moved the monarchy to Buckingham Palace, lesser royals bedded down at Kensington.
Unless you are in London in August or September, it is unlikely you’ll get a peek inside the royal birthplace of Prince Charles, Buckingham Palace. A 41-gun salute marked his birth here in 1948.
Today, the queen opens 19 of her palace’s lavish State Rooms to the public, but only in August and September when she’s out of town. Book early. (www.royal collection.org.uk).
Fifteen miles up the Thames is Hampton Court Palace, the 500-year-old royal hangout that was a favorite of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I (www.hrp.org.uk). Henry’s only legitimate son, who became Edward VI, was born here in 1537.
The stately palace stands overlooking the Thames and includes some impressive Tudor rooms, including a Great Hall with a magnificent hammer-beam ceiling.
The industrial-strength Tudor kitchen was capable of keeping 600 schmoozing courtiers thoroughly — if not well — fed. The sculpted garden features a rare Tudor tennis court and a popular maze.
Trains from London’s Waterloo Station drop you across the river from the palace — just walk across the bridge. Or consider arriving at or departing from the palace by boat like Henry VIII did; one of London’s river cruise lines has service to Hampton Court (www.wpsa.co.uk).
Farther out on the Thames is yet another royal birthplace: Windsor Castle (www.royalcollection.org.uk). In 1070, William the Conqueror built the first fortified castle on a chalk hill above the Thames; later kings added on to his early designs, rebuilding and expanding the castle and surrounding gardens.
Edward III was born at Windsor in 1312; more than a century later Henry VI was born here in 1421.
Trains from Paddington Station spit you out into the Windsor Royal Shopping Pavilion, only a few minutes’ walk from the castle. At the royal site, you’ll see sprawling grounds, lavish staterooms, a crowd-pleasing dollhouse, a gallery of Michelangelo and da Vinci drawings, and an exquisite Perpendicular Gothic chapel.
The Queen Elizabeth considers Windsor her primary residence, and the one where she feels most at home. She generally hangs her crown here on weekends, using it as an escape from her workaday grind at Buckingham Palace in the city.
Email Edmonds resident Rick Steves at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.
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