Take a Tour of Queen Elizabeth II's London

A tour of QE2's London Royal.gov
By any measure, Queen Elizabeth II has lived a remarkable life. She ascended to the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth in 1952 at age 25, and in subsequent decades performed as a paragon of civility, restraint, consistency, instinct, and stability. "Through her eyes, you can see the entire second half of the 20th century," says writer Peter Morgan, who dramatized her at every stage of her life in The Queen, The Audience, and The Crown. Elizabeth (pictured receiving ministerial papers from the storied Red Box) is not only the United Kingdom's longest-lived and longest-serving monarch—she passed Queen Victoria in 2015—but she also became the longest-reigning monarch on the planet. With a story that rich, there are few major places in London that she hasn't visited or cut the ribbon on, but some locations have a particularly close personal connection to Her Majesty the Queen. Take a tour of the most important places in Queen Elizabeth II's remarkable life.
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Elizabeth Alexandra May Windsor was born here in April, 1926. Not in a cocktail bar, of course—despite her fondness for gin and tonic—but in the townhouse of family friends that stood on this site. At the time of her birth, she was not likely to become the monarch. Her uncle was next in line, and then his children, if he planned to have any. So no one thought anything of tearing her birthplace down. In fact, no one even knows when it was torn down, except that it happened before she became the Queen. Now in the same spot, you'll find the celebrity hotspot Hakkasan Mayfair. We do have some letters her mother wrote about her around that time: "The baby is very well, and now spends the whole day taking her shoes off & sucking her toes! She is going to be very wicked, and she is very quick I think…" (Tube: Green Park)


Her childhood years were spent in a home at 145 Piccadilly, but that, too is gone. It was bombed by the Germans in 1940 and now an InterContinental hotel stands on the site. (Tube: Hyde Park Corner)
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Westminster Abbey, London Pawel Libera/London and Partners
Westminster Abbey is the Queen's primary church for major ceremonial services. In 1947, when Britain was still in post-war rationing, she married Lt. Philip Mountbatten (she used ration coupons to purchase fabric for her dress). He, like her, was a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, which means she married her cousin—that's royalty for you. In 1953, she was crowned here, just as every English monarch has been (save two) since William the Conquerer in 1066. Time and again, she turned up at Westminster Abbey for major weddings and funerals, returning time and again to pray among the tombs of a thousand years' worth of her predecessors. (Tube: Westminster)
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In 1949, Princess Elizabeth, her huband, and baby Prince Charles moved into Clarence House, a four-story home attached to St. James's Palace, where they lived until the death of her father, King George VI. Once she became Queen—by which time the family had added Princess Anne (born here)—her living quarters got an upgrade when she moved a block west down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. Her mother and sister, by custom, were essentially kicked out of the Palace in a house swap, moving into Clarence House. Prince Charles and Camilla (the Duchess of Cornwall) live here now, but they vacate in August, when the place opens to tourists. At any time of year, you can steal that iconic shot of the royal sentries, the Welsh Guard (please don't annoy them like these tourists are doing), where Pall Mall meets St James's Street. (Tube: Green Park)
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Buckingham Palace, London Pawel Libera/London and Partners
It's not her favorite place to live—that's Windsor Castle, about 22 miles west—but it's where business gets done. History is all over the place. This is where most state dinners happened, where prime ministers visited, where knighthoods were conferred and visiting luminaries came and went with changing tastes. Prince Charles was born here, and so were Princes Andrew and Edward. The front balcony is where the royal family greets adoring subjects for emblematic photo moments, and the gates are where people leave flowers after traumatic events and where visitors catch the Changing the Guard tourist show.  (Tube: Green Park or Victoria)
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White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace The Royal Collection (c) 2012
During portions of July and August, the royal family decamps to Scotland. While they're gone, anyone off the street can roam their house, Buckingham Palace, which includes such sumptuous spaces as the White Drawing Room (pictured). Look sharp—there's a secret entrance to the Queen's private living quarters somewhere in this room. The tours are a new tradition put in place by Queen Elizabeth in 1993, when she decided that a good way to pay for upkeep of Britain's many aging palaces—and a good way to avoid appearing cloistered and out-of-touch—would be to charge admission to her homes. (Tube: Victoria)
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Official Royal Shops, London Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
The Queen also created a cottage industry out of licensing the Crown. Every souvenir stand in London is crowded with knockoffs depicting the royal family, but the Queen oversees a few Official Royal Shops stocked with Queen-approved merch—like certified china patterns commemorating her 90th birthday in 2016 (pictured). Three of the royal boutiques are on or near Buckingham Palace Road, on the south side of her digs. (Tube: Victoria)
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The Queen's Gallery, London Visit London
The monarch inherits more than half a million of the world's finest artworks, held in trust for the British people, and Queen Elizabeth was unusual among her predecessors in that she saw no reason to hoard them all for her office walls. She took a chapel that had been bombed in World War Two and, in 1962, transformed it into The Queen's Gallery, a permanent museum where curators display a changing roster of the cream of the possessions. It's located on the south side of Buckinham Palace, by the Official Royal Shops. (Tube: Victoria)
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St Paul's Cathedral, London Visit Britain
St Paul's Cathedral (the British often write it without a period) is a traditional site of public celebrations. In Queen Elizabeth's case, that included many "thanksgiving" services paying tribute to her on her birthday and on milestones in her reign, such as her Silver Jubilee (25th anniversary) in 1977, her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002, and her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 2012. She attended some inauspicious and sad ceremonies here, too, such as the ill-fated 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. (Tube: St Paul's)
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Selfridges, London Selfridges
We have a very good record of the Queen's favorite shops. That's because of the Royal Warrant. A warrant awards a seal of approval to businesses currently in royal favor, and stores display them proudly outside. In London, these include the genre-creating department store Selfridges (pictured), the centuries-old high-end grocer Fortnum & Mason, Twinings tea at 216 Strand, Floris (a Jermyn Street perfumer since 1730), and even the cheap-as-chips corner drugstore chain Boots. One business that does not have approval from the royal family, contrary to popular belief, is Harrods—it was stripped of royal patronage in 2000. The department store's then-owner was so angry at the rejection that he burned the warrants on his lawn. (Selfridges Tube: Bond Street or Marble Arch)
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Once a year, the king or queen arrives at the south end of the Houses of Parliament to open the year's session. It's a pompous, extravagant affair, one that requires the priceless Imperial State Crown to be fetched from the Crown Jewels vault in the Tower of London, and which follows a time-aged script that includes pretending to take the Vice-Chamberlain hostage and sending someone named the Black Rod to have a door slammed in his face. The whole spectacle is strange enough to make a Sigma Chi initiation look like an afternoon bridge club. It begins when the Sovereign enters via a special entrance (pictured) under the Victoria Tower. Queen Elizabeth only missed two State Openings of Parliament, both when she was bearing royal offspring.  Tours are given of the Houses of Parliament, and you'll see the very throne in the House of Lords from which she opened sessions. (Tube: Westminster)
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Guidhall, London By The wub (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In November 1992, two of the Queen's sons were splitting from their wives and public sentiment was turning against her. A weekend after a terrible blaze devastated her favorite home in ancient Windsor Castle, she attended a luncheon for 500 people at Guildhall, which for centuries has been a seat of civic events for the City of London. There, she described her difficult year with the now-famous phrase "Annus Horribilis" and, uncharacteristically, let her guard down enough to ask the media to go easy on her family for a while. "I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators," she said. (Snapped Labour lawmaker Tony Banks: "There is no such thing as a bad year for the queen, by definition. Anyone who is so much a part of the 'dependency culture' as she is could at least smile a bit more.”) She was then 66 years old. Tony Banks died in 2006.
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The Queen gave the world a glimpse of her wry sense of humor when, for the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Games of 2012, she made a video with actor Daniel Craig, playing James Bond, that through the trickery of a body double showed Her Majesty jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting into the Olympic Stadium to declare the games open. The former campus for the Olympics, which was created out of disused industrial land, was formally named for her as part of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and you can survey the lay of it atop the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower. (Tube: Stratford)
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Windsor Castle, England Visit Britain/Colin Roberts
Just 30 minutes west of London, Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world, is considered a delightful and quintessential London day trip, and even Queen Elizabeth said it was it her favorite home—Prince Phillip loves it, too, because his mother was born here. Queen Elizabeth spent time during World War Two bunkered down in this fortress, parts of which date to the 11th century. Although for much of her life it was considered a weekend home, in her later years she spent more of her time in Windsor, a town of 27,000 in the countryside, and she hosted an increasing number of state visits here rather than trek back to London. Pictured above is the 3-mile Long Walk in Windsor Great Park that stretches south of the castle.
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Ascot, England Visit Britain
Queen Elizabeth loves horse racing. She doesn't just watch—she breeds horses. Just south of Windsor's Great Park, Ascot is where she games. One of her horses, Estimate, took the Royal Ascot race in June 2013, which made her the first reigning British monarch to win, and there's also a Queen Elizabeth Stakes that's run here. Her longtime close friend and racing manager, Henry Herbert, happened to be the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, who owned Highclere Castle, better known worldwide as the setting for Downton Abbey (you can visit that, too—Herbert's passion for the Queen's horses caused him to neglect the upkeep of the mansion so badly that his heirs have had to open its doors to make money).
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Centuries of monarchs are entombed at Westminster Abbey, but many more, including Henry VIII and poor beheaded Charles I, are in St George's Chapel, added to Windsor Castle in the 13th century. In this quiet church you will also find Queen Elizabeth's grandparents, parents, and sister. She'll be interred here, too, when her remarkable story is over.
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Elizabeth Line, London Transport for London
Queen Elizabeth's name is engraved everywhere in town—on concert halls, on dedication plaques, on the Great Court of the British Museum, as the name of the tower that contains Big Ben, and even on two Tube lines. She was on hand to cut the ribbon for most of them. The Jubilee Line (which, years later, ended up carrying passengers to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) was named for her 25th anniversary on the throne. The Elizabeth Line, formally known as Crossrail, is a newly built route that sews together many different metro lines in one deep-level east-west link. It opens in 2018.
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Queen Elizabeth II on Buckingham Palace balcony with family Royal.gov
History will paint Queen Elizabeth as much shrewder and more artful than she seemed at first glance. She's a monarch who understands optics—she wore this lurid green dress (marking her 90th birthday with her family on Buckingham Palace's balcony) not out of showy vanity but simply to guarantee that her vast crowd of subjects would be able to identify her no matter how far away they stood. Touring the many places she touched—and in many cases, left better than she found them—is a fitting testament to her belief that dignity and stabilty matter to a country.

Read more about these places and the rest of London in our award-winning guide, which you can find in our online store.
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