May 24, 2024

Royal London

Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria Memorial in foreground.

I wasn’t one of the lucky ones in London during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but I did watch the festivities on television. No other nation stages a royal event with the pomp and pageantry of the British, so when London throws a party, the world watches. Some may marvel that a democratic nation would, in this day and age, retain a hereditary head of state. Yet, it seems whenever people question the relevance of this longstanding institution, the sight of thousands of wellwishers thronging up the Mall to Buckingham Palace demonstrates just how deeply ingrained the monarchy is in British society.

London is a fascinating city to visit, and it’s hard to take a few steps in any direction without seeing something affiliated with its royal roots. First there is the Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror to assert his royal authority over London. This medieval fortress, standing on the banks of the River Thames, is where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and where the Crown Jewels are on display. Upriver from the Tower is the Palace of Westminster – home to Britain’s Parliament and recognized the world over by its famous clock tower known as Big Ben. Across the road is Westminster Abbey, where nearly every English king and queen has been crowned since the 11th century.

Nearby is Horse Guards Parade, once used for jousting tournaments by Henry VIII and today the site of the daily Changing of the Guard. From here the park-lined Mall leads directly to Buckingham Palace. The best time to stroll this famous stretch of pavement is on Sundays when it’s closed to vehicle traffic. If the Queen is at home, the royal standard is flown from the palace rooftop; the Union Jack is raised when she’s not in residence. In summer, a daily Changing of the Guard takes place in the palace forecourt.

The walled gardens behind Buckingham Palace are private, but the surrounding Royal Parks are all public. St. James’s Park is the oldest and was a swampy meadow when acquired for hunting deer by Henry VIII. He commissioned the original Palace of St. James’s and today’s palace complex includes Clarence House – the official London residence of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Green Park, another former deer park, lies along the north side of Buckingham Palace and connects with Hyde Park, which boasts an ornamental lake (the Serpentine) and miles of pathways. The Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensington Gardens is the most recent royal memorial to be added to this expansive park. Overlooking these gardens is Kensington Palace – the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose death in 1997 prompted people to lay thousands of flowers at the gates of the palace.

These Royal Parks provide for pleasant walking from one royal attraction to another, as does the Embankment along the River Thames, which meanders through the heart of London, flowing past some of the city’s most famous landmarks. Several river boat firms service the Thames, providing both commuter service and narrated cruises for tourists, with longer trips available to Kew and Hampton Court. River boats can be boarded at a number of piers, including Westminster, Tower and Greenwich.

London is a city you can return to time and again, so whenever I embark on a cruise from England, I always allow a few days before or after to explore this fascinating city and its rich royal heritage.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.