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Themed Tours in London

Royal London

The justification for keeping the institution of the English monarchy inevitably comes around to tourists, who can't get enough of the wealth, history and gossip that define 21st-century royalty. This full-day tour serves up some of the city's royal highlights and offers a glimpse into the London lives of royals past and present.

Start: Green Park Tube Station.

Buckingham Palace

The main draw of Queen Elizabeth II's official residence, a magnificent 755-room house that Queen Victoria despaired of ever making liveable, is its exclusivity - it's only open in August and September, when the Queen is not at home. The palace was originally built for the Dukes of Buckingham and sold to King George III (who needed the room for his future 15 kids in 1761. George IV had it remodelled by famed architect John Nash in the 1820s, and the grandiose State Rooms you tour today remain virtually unchanged from his time. As an attraction, the treasure-laden palace has an aloofness that may cause you to question its cost and effort, but it can't be beaten for a look at how the royal family lives.

Time to spend: 2 hours. Book the earliest timed tour possible via the website to avoid the worst of the queues.

Where: Buckingham Palace Road.

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7766 7300

Opening Hours: The State Rooms: late Jul-late Sep 9.30am-6.30pm (last admission 4.15pm).

Cost: The State Rooms: Admission £18 adults; £16.50 seniors and students; £10.50 under 17s; free for under 5s; £47 family. Timed tickets necessary in summer.

Tube: Green Park

Website: The Royal Collection Website

Queen's Gallery

What used to be a cramped jumble of priceless treasures from the queen's private collection is now an orderly display of paintings, jewellery, furniture and curios of untold value housed in sumptuous Georgian-style surroundings. The exhibits rotate (the Queen's holdings include, among other items, 8,000 Old Masters and enough objets d'art to fill several palaces). You'll also find the city's best gift shop for royalty-related items, in all price ranges.

Time to spend: 1.5 hours.

Where: Buckingham Gate.

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7766 7301

Opening Hours: Daily 10am-5.30pm (last admission 4.30pm).

Cost: (includes self-guided audio tour) £9.25 adults; £8.50 concessions; £4.65 under 17s; free for under 5s; £23 family.

Tube: Green Park

Website: The Royal Collection Website

Palace Lounge

Overlooking the entrance to the Royal Mews is the Palace Lounge, an atmospheric spot to grab a cup of tea or a tasty light meal. Lucky visitors may get a glimpse of deliveries being made to Buckingham Palace in old-fashioned wagons.

Where: Rubens at the Palace Hotel, 39 Buckingham Palace Road.

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7834 6600

Royal Mews

This oddly affecting royal experience is a fascinating diversion on its own, or if you're waiting for your timed entry to Buckingham Palace or the Queen's Gallery, even if you're not particularly keen on horses. The stalls at this working stable are roomy, the tack is pristine and the ceremonial carriages (including the ornate Gold State Coach and the coach Princess Diana rode to her wedding to Prince Charles) are the stuff of fairytale. A small exhibit tells you about the role the queen's horses have played past and present; old sepia-toned pictures show various royals and their equine friends.

Time to spend: 45 mins.

Where: Buckingham Gate.

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7766 7302

Opening Hours: Feb-Mar and Nov-Dec Mon-Sat 10am-4pm (last admission 3.15pm); Apr-Oct daily 10am-5pm (last admission 4.15pm).

Cost: (includes self-guided audio tour) £8.25 adults; £7.50 seniors and students; £5.20 under 17s; free for under 5s; £22 family.

Tube: Green Park

Websites: The Royal Collection Website

Albert Memorial

An inconsolable Queen Victoria spent an obscene amount of public money on this shrine to her husband Albert, who died of typhoid fever in 1861. The project (completed in 1876) didn't go down too well with many of her ministers, but Victoria was not a woman to whom one said no. The excessively ornate mass of gilt, marble, statuary and mosaics set in Kensington Gardens was restored (to the tune of millions of pounds) in the 1990s, and now stands in all its dubious glory across the street from the equally fabulous (and somewhat more useful) Albert Hall. The book Albert is holding is a catalogue from the Great Exhibition of which he was patron, and which formed the basis for the great museums of South Kensington (which was once known as Albertropolis).

Time to spend: 30 mins.

Where: Kensington Gardens (west of Exhibition Road).

Opening Hours: Daily dawn to dusk. No public access to the memorial but tours are available, visit the Royal Parks website for booking details.

Tube: High Street Kensington.

Website: Royal Parks Website

Kensington Palace

Once the 17th-century country refuge of monarchs William III and Mary II, this former home of Princess Diana is, for many, more satisfying to visit than Buckingham Palace (and it's open year-round). The palace is smaller, has more personality and is more manageable to visit than Buckingham, with a number of pleasing architectural details that span the years from Jacobean England to the early-19th century. Highlights include William III's small bedchamber, now called the 18th-Century Dress Rooms, housing samples of the flamboyant clothing worn by the ladies and gentlemen of the royal court from 1750 to 1770. There are also gowns worn by the queen and the late Princess Diana. The King's Grand Staircase has a magnificent wrought-iron balustrade; its elaborate Italianate murals on the walls and ceiling were commissioned by George I in 1725. The lavishly decorated Cupola Room features elaborately carved chandeliers, a breathtaking gilt clock and a magnificent painted ceiling. Queen Victoria's Bedroom, hung with artwork commissioned by Victoria and Albert, is where the young princess and her mother slept until the teenager ascended the throne in 1837. Queen Mary's Bedchamber is thought to be the room where Mary II died of smallpox in 1694; the bed, however, probably belonged to James II.

Time to spend: 2 hours.

Where: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens.

Telephone: 0844 482 7777 (from UK); +44 (0) 20 3166 6000 (from outside the UK)

Opening Hours: Nov-Feb daily 10am–5pm (last admission 4pm); Mar-Oct daily 10am-6pm (last admission 5pm).

Cost: Admission (includes self-guided audio tour) £14.50 adults; £12 concessions; free for under-16s.

Website: Historic Royal Palaces Website

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