It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of history and the British royal family and, in the UK, these two things combine beautifully in a number of historic royal residences…
I thought it might be fun to round-up a list of some of my favourite royal residences, all of which you can visit!
Starting with the most well-known of them all…
Royal Residence: Buckingham Palace
Famous Residents: The Queen & Prince Philip (this is ‘the office’)
Known as ‘the office’ to The Queen, Buckingham Palace has been the seat of royal power (or ‘administrative residence’, if you prefer) in London since it was first occupied by Queen Victoria in 1837.
Originally built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 it was acquired by King George III in 1761 and eventually enlarged in the 19th century by John Nash and Edward Blore. It became the primary royal residence in 1837 though there were quite a few problems with the palace (such as poor ventilation) and when Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 he took on a reorganisation of the household and addressed the design faults. He also oversaw the expansion of the palace to its current form as the growing royal family found themselves in need of a lot more space.
Buckingham Palace has remained largely the same since then though it suffered damage during WWII when it was bombed nine times.
Probably the most famous residence associated with the royal family Buckingham Palace plays an important role in most major events in the royal calendar. It is from here that the Queen and her family set out for Trooping the Colour each June and the palace’s balcony has been the site of many a famous royal kiss, salute and appearance. A ‘must-see’ for any royal lover or really any person visiting London!
Visiting Buckingham Palace: The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September, and on selected days in winter and spring – Tickets
Key things to note: No photos are allowed inside and you’ll want to make sure you save time at the end of your visit to stop at the cafe they erect in the palace grounds so you can ‘have tea at the palace’.
Coolest feature: the opportunity to see the rooms immortalized in countless official royal photographs such as the throne room – the site of the wedding portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Royal Residence: Kensington Palace
Famous Residents: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George and Princess Charlotte (when they’re not in Norfolk at Anmer Hall), Prince Harry (was also once the home of Diana, Princess of Wales and the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret)
Located on the western edge of Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace lends its name to the surrounding borough and has played host to many famous royal faces since it became a residence of the British royal family in the 17th century.
Following the ascension of King William and Queen Mary as joint monarchs in 1689 they acquired what was then called ‘Nottingham House’ as it was better suited for asthmatic William than their previous residence, Whitehall Palace, which was right on the River Thames (famous for flooding and being permeated in fog during this…less than cleanly…time period). Sir Christopher Wren expanded the house and surrounded it with formal state gardens in the Dutch fashion and the royal court officially moved in late in 1689.
From the accession of King George III in 1760 Kensington became home to a series of minor royals, the most famous of which is Queen Victoria. Currently Kensington is home to the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
During The Blitz of 1940 Kensington Palace was severely damaged and subsequently fell into neglect. It wasn’t until the new century that the State Rooms underwent a renovation, re-opening in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Visitors can now see the different ages of the palace with memorabilia from its notable residents in addition to exhibits showcasing the fashion and expression of more recent royal women including the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana.
Visiting Kensington Palace: The palace is open seven days a week all year with the exception of December 24-26 – Tickets
Key things to note: Photos are allowed inside the State Rooms but be aware that the section you tour is the public portion of the palace and so you won’t ever be in a room that was once home to Diana and you (sadly) have no chance of crossing paths with Prince Harry in a stairwell or corridor.
Coolest feature: Take a stroll along the gardens to the north of the palace and you may just William, Kate or Harry working out or coming and going via helicopter!
Royal Residence: Windsor Castle
Famous Residents: The Queen and Prince Philip (this is ‘home’)
Location: London (Berkshire)
Windsor Castle was originally built by the Normans in the 11th century to protect a strategic part of the River Thames. It has been used by British monarchs since the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) and has the distinction of being the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
The Castle was used by many monarchs but it wasn’t until the Tudor period that it became a centre for diplomacy and courtly life. During the English Civil War Windsor was temporarily converted to a military headquarters for Parliament’s forces and a prison for Charles I. Following the monarchy’s restoration in 1660 the castle was rebuilt but it was then neglected into the 18th century and it was only following the death of Prince Albert that Queen Victoria started using it as her primary residence.
In the century since Victoria’s reign came to an end Windsor has seen many ups and downs – most notably the fire in 1992 – and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Visiting Windsor Castle: It’s important to remember that Windsor is very much a ‘working’ castle and so has closures and limitations on what you can see throughout the year. Make sure to check your dates on the website in advance to avoid disappointment! – Tickets
Key things to note: As with Buckingham Palace, pictures are forbidden in the State Rooms and Chapel but the grounds offer many great photo opportunities with particularly great views from the ramparts over the surrounding countryside.
Coolest feature: Beneath an understated (for him, at least) headstone in the middle of the floor of St George’s Chapel you’ll find the final resting place for King Henry VIII who lies side-by-side with Jane Seymour – his third wife and his favourite of the six total. In a side annex you’ll also find the graves of the current Queen’s sister and parents.
Royal Residence: Sandringham House
Famous Residents: The Queen & Prince Philip (plus the rest of the royals for Christmas)
Sandringham House was originally built as Sandringham Hall in 1771 and came into royal possession in 1862 when Queen Victoria bought it at the request of her son, the Prince of Wales, who sought it as a home for himself and his new bride, Princess Alexandra (it’s said the Princess was reminded of her native Denmark by the countryside).
Unsurprisingly, like most other royal residences it wasn’t long before the Prince found the house to be too small and commissioned an architect to create a larger structure, which was completed in 1870, and went on to be the private home of four generations of the British royal family.
King George VI (father of the current Queen Elizabeth) died at Sandringham in 1952 and the Queen has since spent the anniversary of her father’s death and her subsequent accession to the throne privately with her family at the house.
The house has a long tradition of being a base for royal shooting parties and even has its own ‘Sandringham Time’ (half an hour ahead of GMT) which King George V ordered set in order to increase the daylight available for hunting in the evenings.
The house was first opened to visitors in 1977.
Visiting Sandringham: Though the shops, restaurants and visitors centre are open year-round the house and gardens are only open between March and October – exact dates can be found on the website – Tickets
Key things to note: The key thing you’ll see at Sandringham is the grounds as the ‘tour’ of the house is actually only a handful of rooms. Unless you’re a really big royal fan I’d suggest skipping the house and just buying access to the gardens as it’s a much better value for money.
Coolest feature: You can go right inside the church on Sandringham’s grounds where the Queen attends service whenever she is in residence, most notably on Christmas Day. It was also the site of Princess Charlotte’s christening in 2015.
Royal Residence: Holyroodhouse Palace
Famous Residents: The Queen and Prince Philip (for one week every July).
Found at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Holyroodhouse Palace was built between 1671-1678 has been the primary residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland ever since. The most notable former royal residence is Mary, Queen of Scots who lived in the palace following her return to Scotland (from France, where she spent most of her young life) in 1561 until she was forced to abdicate the throne in 1567.
When Mary’s son, James V of Scotland, became James I of England and Ireland upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 he moved to London and the palace was, for the first time, no longer the seat of a royal court. The palace subsequently fell into disrepair and it wasn’t until the 1670s that it began to be repaired and not until the 20th century that the palace was transformed into its current form by George V. It was formally named as the monarch’s official residence in Scotland in the 1920s.
Today, Queen Elizabeth spends one week a year in residence at the palace carrying out official engagements and investitures at the beginning of each summer (she was just there the other week, in fact!), as does Prince Charles who is styled as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland. The rest of the time visitors can tour the historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments.
Visiting Holyroodhouse Palace: The palace is open throughout the year except when the royal family is in residence. (Residents of the UK: make sure you visit before you need a passport to do so!) – Tickets
Key things to note: You can take pictures in the grounds but not inside the palace itself. Additionally, the rest of Edinburgh is uphill from the palace – make sure you wear comfy shoes and stop in the cafe for nourishment before tackling the long walk up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle!
Coolest feature: The gorgeous surroundsings of Arthur’s Seat and the Edinburgh Old Town add an element of grandeur to what is one of the smaller royal residences on this list. The ruins of Holyrood Abbey which abutt the palace are fantastic and amazing at Golden Hour if you can time your visit just right. It’s no wonder the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, chose them as the background for her official wedding portrait with husband Mike Tindall!