Elizabeth, the UK’s beloved queen, returned to Buckingham Palace last month as the longest-reigning British monarch. Every August and September, royalty fans worldwide have a unique opportunity to tour the grand public rooms of Buckingham Palace. Soven if you are not invited to one of the queen’s elegant garden parties, you can certainly spend a weekend in London and you too can live like a king or queen.
A visit to the palace is extraordinary — even when Elizabeth is not in residence. This year’s tour, which ended Sept. 28, is called A Royal Welcome, and takes you through the public rooms of Buckingham Palace to experience what it is like to attend an event at the invitation of Her Majesty The Queen. Ticket prices are about 20 pounds (about $30.50) and benefit the Royal Trust Collection. A walk through the gardens ends your trip (after you depart the gift shop!). Check the site and start planning for next year’s tour.
As you enter the palace, you follow in the footsteps of heads of state, prime ministers and all the other guests from every walk of life by entering the palace’s state rooms through the grand entrance. Your can imagine yourself arriving to the palace as a royal as you pass by an Australian stagecoach, displayed at the grand-entrance portico, where Her Majesty departs and returns to Buckingham Palace by carriage for ceremonial processions.
The palace ballroom is set for a state banquet, with the table dressed with silver-gilt centerpieces and a candelabra from George IV’s magnificent grand service. It is the showstopper of the tour. You can almost hear the music and the toast — it’s a real treat to see the event from the queen’s perspective right behind her chair.
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Photo: Defence Images via Flickr
Through special displays and film throughout the 19 state rooms, you see stellar works of art and priceless chandeliers. Items of personal jewelry worn by the queen at official occasions are on display as well as some of her clothes (elegant, but Diana certainly ruled fashion at the palace).
The free multimedia audio tour excels, and the insider tip is to ask the docents in each room about the works of art, the history and the significance of each of the rooms — including the secret door used by the royals to enter one of the rooms.
Now in all of this elegance, you can’t expect the commoners not to wreck the place. It was of great interest to notice the plastic coverings on doors and railings that protected the gilded gold leaf from dirty hands. You will also notice elegant temporary flooring that protects fragile woods and other delicates from the seven million cheap shoes that have come through the palace on these tours to date. All of this will be removed by the time the queen returns home to her official residence next week, a docent told me.
After the perfect elegance of Buckingham Palace, experience the exquisite five-star Milestone Hotel located in Kensington and Chelsea overlooking Kensington Place and the gardens. This is your time to really live like royalty. Service is paramount here and the hotel’s concierge secured my tickets for a Royal Welcome, a last-minute request on the day of my arrival in route from Rome. Impeccable service is a true standard of luxury in travel, and from every aspect, this hotel doesn’t disappoint.
The Milestone Hotel, similar to a private, regal Victorian home, is a perfect hotel for the sophisticated gay and lesbian traveler who enjoys exceptional service with international staff breaming with personality. Each room is elegantly appointed in traditional English décor.
You may want to start or end your evening with a drink in the Park Lounge, with live music and a roaring fire, or try the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, with a flight of ale or whiskey.
Dine like royalty with breakfast and dinner at Cheneston’s. Food is locally sourced, and traditional English recipes include those from the hotel’s founder, Bea Tollman. Service is without pretension but executed with perfection. During my visit, diners included a well-known theater actress (dining alone) who was in London auditioning for a West End show, a successful gentleman with his younger diner companion, businessmen and couples of all backgrounds.
On your own royal visit, choose from 44 exceptional guest rooms, and 12 suites or six two-bedroom apartments for those seeking privacy. For the queen in all of us, complimentary wifi, nightly turndown service and private dining are available.