Explore the UK’s most magnificent royal palaces and castles – and, once there, why not make a weekend of it?

If you’ve caught the royal bug in the lead up to the Platinum Jubilee, why not take a tour of some of the most splendid royal residences in the country? It’s the perfect reason to explore the country, soak up some history – and an excuse to book a night at a nearby hotel which, in some cases, are every inch as opulent as the Queen’s quarters themselves.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the most iconic of all the royal residences. Recognised worldwide as the home – as well administrative HQ – of the Queen, it is the central focus of most major national celebrations, such as the Platinum Jubilee. The image of the royal family waving from its balcony during events of national significance, from VE day to royal weddings, is an enduring one. Originally built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, it was acquired by King George III as a private residence for Queen Charlotte. John Nash made some additions under George IV’s reign but was only under Queen Victoria that it became the official London residence of the British monarch. The famous neo-classical façade of ‘Buck House’ was, however, only added during the reign of George V in 1913. It has survived bombing and break-ins and will, no doubt, stand resplendent for many centuries to come.

Must see

You can’t miss the magnificent bronze Grand Staircase designed by the architect John Nash. Do note the balustrade which features bronze cast acanthus, oak and laurel leaves. The nineteen State Rooms are endlessly fascinating too – do look out for extraordinary artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Dyck. Visit here.

Make A Weekend Of It

There are so many exceptional hotels on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace – especially if you have deep pockets. The Queen’s favourite is Royal Warrant holder The Goring, where The Duchess of Cambridge stayed the night before her wedding and, reportedly, where HM likes to hold her annual Christmas lunch. Book it.

Windsor Castle

The Queen spent most of the Covid-19 pandemic in Windsor Castle. Royal biographers Hugo Vickers said of it, ‘Windsor is the place she loves. She has her memories with Prince Philip there, she has her ponies there, and family nearby.’ Known to be her favourite residence, it is also the largest occupied castle in the world, spread over some 484,000 sqft. The original castle was built in the 11th-century by William The Conqueror, while the state apartments have been described by 20th-century art historian Hugh Roberts as ‘a superb and unrivalled sequence of rooms widely regarded as the finest and most complete expression of later Georgian taste’.

Must See

There is so much to see within the vast castle’s walls – but do not come away without glimpsing Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Built for her in 1920, it is a miniature marvel, with lighting, running water and even a well-stocked library of 700 books, penned by famous authors exclusively for the house. Visit here.

Make A Weekend Of It

If you want the full royal experience, do book a room at Cliveden House, which is a 20-minute drive from Windsor. It has a parterre, it has epic sweeping grandeur, it has scandal (thanks to having been the location of the Profumo affair), it has a rich and chequered history – and it has a glorious spa. Indeed, Meghan spent the night before her wedding here. Book it.

Sandringham House

One of two of The Queen’s private homes (the other being Balmoral), she inherited this Norfolk retreat from her father, King George VI. Sandringham is the county’s most famous stately home and is recorded in the Domesday Book as Sant Dersingham. It came into royal possession when Queen Victoria purchased it in 1862 for her son, Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales. Visit here.

Must See

While you cannot go inside Sandringham House the 8,000 hectare estate is open annually from March. Do make sure you make time for an afternoon tea in the grounds. Visit here.

Make A Weekend Of It

What better way to enjoy the Norfolk countryside in the long term than by renting from The Sandringham Estate, which frequently has properties available for rental across 13 villages, from Wolferton across to Bircham? If yours is a more passing visit, however, we recommend heading up the coast to Holkham, where you can bed down in the lovely The Victoria on the Holkham estate, home of Lady Glenconner. Book it.

Clarence House

Image by ChrisO, CC BY-SA 3.0
Clarence House is the official London residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, its most recent former inhabitant being The Queen Mother, who lived there from 1953 until her death in 2002. Built by John Nash in 1827 for George III’s third son, the Duke of Clarence, The Royal Trust Collection calls it ‘one of the last remaining aristocratic townhouses in London.’

Must See

Tours of Clarence House must be booked ahead, though do note, they are cancelled for this year. Nonetheless, when they resume, do ensure you take in the opulent Morning Room, where The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall host visiting dignitaries. Visit here.

Make A Weekend Of It

Just a short stroll from Clarence House you’ll find more opulence and finery in the form of The Ritz, arguably the most famous hotel in the UK. Book it.

St James’ Palace

St Jamess Palace

Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
St James’ Palace was the residence of kings and queens for 300 years, right up until the reign of Queen Victoria, who decamped down the road to Buckingham Palace. Indeed, James II and Charles II were born at the palace, and although she didn’t live here, Queen Victoria was married in its Chapel Royal in 1840. Built by Henry VIII between 1531 and 1536, much of that original building still survives, including the aforementioned Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two surviving Tudor rooms in the State apartments.

Must See

The main palace is not open to the public, but savvy tourists can still get a good look by attending select services at Chapel Royal and Queen's Chapel. Even if you cannot go in, it is always worth stopping by to take in its hefty exterior en route to Buckingham Palace, which is only around the corner. Visit here.

Make A Weekend Of It

The Rocco Forte-owned Brown’s Hotel on Albermarle Street is a mere gambol up St James’ – and for their (very light) exertions, guests will be rewarded with sublime comfort and impeccable service. The place has its own rich history too; famously, it was the site of the very first phone call made by inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Book it.

Kensington Palace

The birthplace of Queen Victoria and the official home of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, few people can forget the sea of flowers place in front of Kensington Palace after the death of former resident, Princess Diana. It first became a royal residence when William III and Mary II– crowned as joint monarchs in 1689 – bought it to be their new home.

Must See

The King’s Stairs, a sweeping staircase adorned with frescoes painted by William Kent, evocatively and vividly depicting the court of George I.

Make A Weekend Of It

Just opposite the palace sits The Milestone Hotel, a traditional, comfortable, oak-panelled and supremely inviting boutique proposition, right in the heart of Kensington. Book it.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2022

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.