A Right Royal Season
This spring, London marks not one but two royal milestones: the wedding of Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle, on May 19, and the birth of Prince William and Princess Kate third child, in April. No matter how you look at it, the royals are getting less formal, more accessible, and a lot more fun—just check out the goings-on open to the millions expected to hit the capital in the coming months. It’s been 350-odd years since the Restoration of the British monarchy; now it’s time to celebrate their Rejuvenation.
So come to London and live it up like a royal.
The Royal Watch
Best Places to Possibly, Maybe, Bump Into a Royal
Britain’s royals are not given to wandering the streets of London, but they do make the occasional exception. Kate and Meghan are known to shop on the King’s Road in Chelsea, the crucible of London’s punk scene that now tends toward fashionable chains and boutiques. Meghan also likes Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, known for its quirky antique stalls and trendy pubs. Die-hards might try strolling up and down Greek Street in the hope that a royal might walk out of the fashionable Soho House club. (Can’t get in? Go to the newly remodeled Kettner’s Townhouse around the corner.) Or, to see the entire family, guaranteed, visit Madame Tussauds.
The Royal Sleep
The Ultimate King Bed
The night before Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, she spent her final hours as a civilian in the Royal Suite at The Goring Hotel. The rooms gave Kate a taste of things to come: silk-lined walls, a grand piano overlooking the gardens, a portrait of Queen Victoria in the shower (eek!), and a footman at her disposal. For those hoping to soak up the regal atmosphere on a less extravagant scale, The Goring’s lounge has a great wine cellar (which noted oenophile Meghan Markle would surely appreciate). Outside London, in the Cotswolds, romance bloomed for Harry and Meghan at the Soho Farmhouse, where the well-heeled party set escapes to on weekends.
Rooms With a Boo
How to get an eyeful of London’s kingly abodes—and the ghosts who haunt them
The Queen’s second home, Windsor Castle—22 miles west of London—dates back almost 1,000 years. Along with housing the Royal Photograph Collection and the Royal Library, Windsor is home to the magnificent St George’s Chapel, the venue for Harry and Meghan’s big day in May. As for hauntings, it may have the most ghosts of all the castles—or at least the most famous. Henry VIII is
said to wander around groaning (indigestion, perhaps), Elizabeth I clip-clops about in a pair of heels, and the face of George III has been seen peering from a palace window.
The grand King’s State Apartments, the imposing King’s Staircase, and the (literally) dazzling Cupola Room are all draws at Kensington Palace—but let’s face it, the real appeal is the idea of snooping around the home of not only William and Kate but Charles and Diana. Many of the other royals who called the palace home are said to haunt it, including the sad daughter of mad King George III, Princess Sophia, whose spinning wheel is said to be heard in the middle of the night.
Built in the 16th century, the Tudor palace Hampton Court is not only implausibly magnificent but also has the world’s most famous maze, situated next to an area called the Wilderness, which in the spring becomes a sprawl of daffodils and crocuses. And, of course, it’s spooky: the ghost of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is said to run along one of the palace’s galleries.
Tours take in Buckingham Palace’s well-tended garden (look out for the ghost of an enchained monk who haunts the rear terrace), along with its State Rooms, which are so ornate you fear damage to your retinas. This spring, visitors can check out Charles II: Art & Power, an exhibit that documents the end of the dour Cromwellian years and the Restoration of the art-patronizing, palace-decorating monarchy.
With a history spanning 950 years, the Tower of London is both the repository of the Crown Jewels and a setting for gruesome torture and executions galore. Get the lowdown on Traitor’s Gate and the Bloody Tower from the Yeoman Warders, who provide guided tours. Also, keep an eye out for Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, who was beheaded in 1536 and whose figure (minus the head, of course) has been seen wandering the hallways.
The Royal Libation
Princely Pit Stops
Our groom-to-be has frequented such watering holes as The
Cross Keys in Chelsea, an artfully rustic 18th-century pub where he spent his 31st birthday, and Bunga Bunga, a whimsical pizzeria and karaoke bar that now has a cabaret-themed offshoot in Covent Garden. Another Harry favorite is the tiki-themed club Mahiki, which recently opened a branch within stumbling distance of Kensington Palace. Harry has also rubbed shoulders with London’s showbiz royalty at the Soho burlesque cabaret club The Box. And if gin is your weakness, the master mixers at the Ginstitute on Portobello Road will not only teach you how to make your own classics but also whisk you up their bespoke Jubilee Punch.
If you’re more old-school, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson used to kick up their heels at the storied club Annabel’s (you’ll need to tag along with a member to get into this newly refurbished joint), while renowned partygoer Princess Margaret favored Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, which these days also has a late-night speakeasy upstairs.
Do You Have a Warrant?
About 800 trusted suppliers of goods and services to the royal family have been awarded a Royal Warrant—basically, a Yelp endorsement magnified several million times. Here, a few warrant holders to visit this spring.
Start out at Hatchards in Piccadilly. Founded in 1797, London’s oldest bookshop stocks a wide range of first editions. Conveniently, it’s right next door to posh grocers Fortnum & Mason. Stop in for a Belgravia Hamper ($700) and a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and then spend a few hours in Green Park, a scone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
If you’re planning a spot of grouse hunting later, nearby Barbour and Hunter sells the obligatory rugged-royal wax jackets, as well as upmarket wellies (in the Colonies: galoshes). For a mid-hunt nip, stock up at Berry Bros & Rudd, a wine and spirits merchant since 1698 and a go-to for America-losing monarch King George III.
For gift shopping, try Floris, the Jermyn Street perfumer that created a rose-forward fragrance to mark the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee. (The shop will also design bespoke scents for commoners.) Also on Jermyn Street is 18th-century cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield, which will sell you a Stilton scoop for just under $25. Or drop into the chocolatier Prestat, which provides Queen Elizabeth II with her annual Easter egg.
For menswear, there’s Savile Row’s Kent & Haste, which outfits Prince Philip, while women should try Stewart Parvin, dressmaker to the Queen, in Belgravia.
The Royal Eats
A Feast Fit for a King
Lesser (that is, younger) royals tend to be more outgoing than the upper tier. Harry has been seen at Notting Hill’s Caribbean-themed Rum Kitchen, while Kate is a fan of Bluebird, a modern European eatery in Chelsea. She and William have also dined at the Brit brasserie Bumpkin in Notting Hill and, reportedly, Dans le Noir? in Clerkenwell—though this is hard to verify, as guests are served in total darkness. Meghan, meanwhile, has joined countless other A-listers at Marylebone celebrity hangout Chiltern Firehouse, and has dined at the lively Soho eatery Bocca Di Lupo.
It would be sacrilege to visit London and miss afternoon tea. Of course, there’s the splendor of traditional tea rooms, like the Palm Court at The Ritz, but for something more contemporary, join the godfather of British cooking, chef Rowley Leigh, at his new outpost, Parabola, in the recently opened Design Museum near Holland Park. At just $20, the afternoon tea menu is a snip.
The Royal You
Two Experiences in the Capital That Take You Back in the Day
Dress to Empress:
It takes dedication to go for a Royal Day Out, an immersive “fashion experience” hosted by guides Lauren and Max, who, for a price ($120), will dress you as 18th-century royalty and lead you through the streets of West London for three hours, taking pictures as you go. The journey starts on Portobello Road, where your ruffled and bewigged alter ego will browse antiques stalls. Next, it’s through Notting Hill to royal park Kensington Gardens, to “frolic.” There will almost certainly be pubs involved (first prosecco is on your guides).
Waiter, there’s a Foot in my Soup:
The things that distinguish the reign of Henry VIII are the rates at which he went through both food and wives. For those who’d prefer not to get married six times, there are the kitchens at Hampton Court, where visitors can learn the finer points of Tudor cooking through demonstrations of boars being roasted, deer being larded, and sheep’s kidneys being fried—or variations thereof—with the only notable departure being a more stringent approach to food hygiene. (The kitchens will be fully reopened in May, following renovations.)
The Royal Roster
Your Spring To-Do List
2018 FA Cup Final, Wembley Stadium, May 19
The most important event on this year’s U.K. football calendar takes place on the same day as the royal wedding. As president of the Football Association, Prince William is expected to attend. So, will he turn up? Nobody knows—though Kensington Palace has said it’s working on a way to get him from the morning ceremony at Windsor Castle to Wembley Stadium in time for the 5:30 p.m. kick-off. All eyes on the Royal Box.
Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Hospital Chelsea, May 22-26
Apparently, this is the Queen’s favorite event of the oh-so-splendid British summer season. Last year, Kate also attended the annual horticultural show on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where, most days, you can’t move for all the outré-outfitted famous faces.
Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre, through June 30
Oddly enough, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about America’s Revolutionary defeat of George III has gone down very well in London—so well that the show has sold out its whole run. Still, good news: $14 tickets are available via a daily lottery at hamiltonmusical.com/london.
Meghan and Kate aren’t the only women being feted in London. A series of events across the capital this year marks the 100th anniversary of women securing the right to vote in the U.K. Kicking off the #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign from Mayor Sadiq Khan (pictured) is a yearlong program of works by female artists on the London Underground.