We waited patiently for an hour while the Queen was in Horse Guards Parade, inspecting her troops and enjoying the incredible display to celebrate her birthday. In fact, Trooping the Colour has been the official marker of the birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years – and over 60 of those have been attended by Queen Elizabeth II! Remarkable!
Then, on the dot, the parade resumed again to march back to Buckingham Palace.
A little wave from the Duchess of Cambridge. You can see how thick the pollen is in the air and the carriages moved quite quickly! It was hard to keep up with my camera but it was such a treat to see these ladies (and Harry). They all looked lovely!
A wave from the Duchess of Sussex. The Duchess of Cornwall was struggling with the pollen, too, from the looks of things.
Then the shot I’d never imagined I would ever get! Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning British monarch, looking straight at us! It was surreal and wonderful moment I hope to never, ever forget. ❤
After the Queen and all military had passed, the gates open for us to step onto The Mall so we could walk up to Buckingham Palace. I was a little worried we were going to get stuck in the crowd behind the Queen Victoria Memorial Statue in front of the palace and not be able to see anything…but we got super lucky and managed to slip through the crowd and find ourselves right at the palace gates!!
It was a short wait for the Queen and her family to come out onto the balcony. The doors opened and out she came ahead of everyone else. Some little waves from Her Majesty as the crowd burst into applause and cheers.
Then the magnificent flypast by the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows and three cheers for Her Majesty!
The balcony appearance didn’t last more than 5 minutes but it was wonderful to see the whole royal family interacting with each other. And the Cambridges were having a blast with baby Prince Louis – sooo cute! And I don’t think little Princess Charlotte stopped waving to the crowds the whole time.
Then it was some goodbye waves from the royals and back to reality for us. We did hover around a little while to see some family members leave the palace in their cars. They don’t muck around and left almost immediately! No doubt heading back home to kick off their high heels and pop the kettle on.
It was a wonderful, magical and lucky day that it really couldn’t have gone any better. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was a dream come true for me. The only thing I’d do differently is take little chairs so we didn’t have to stand so long in the morning.
Obviously, I highly recommend attending Trooping the Colour for any British royal fan. Let me know if you’ve been before. I’d love to hear about your day!
Aaand welcome to the best day ever – June 8, 2019! We planned our entire trip around this one day. It had been my lifelong dream to see the Queen and her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and I knew Trooping the Colour would be the event for accomplishing just that! Pinch me. We made it! This post covers the first part of the parade.
We got up early and had a good, hearty breakfast downstairs at the hotel restaurant and headed out into the drizzle and wind. We jumped on the Tube to St James Park and followed the signs for Buckingham Palace. We arrived on the Mall around 7:30am and found it pretty empty. Yay! We had our pick of spots so we headed towards Horse Guards Parade and found a place on the barricades that looked good to us. We were next to a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing so I asked her if we were in a good place. She replied “oh, yes! Stay right here. You’ll see everything and then they will open the gates so you can follow the Queen’s carriage to Buckingham Palace.” Excellent!
The Queen wasn’t due to come past until 11am on the dot, so we had some waiting to do. We were kept well-entertained by watching the security/military personnel do their last minute checks and get everything in order before the big moment. My sweet neighbour lady was also giving us a running commentary of the events unfolding right in front of us. She had attended the parade for many years and knew all the different groups of soldiers. It was certainly serendipitous to be waiting next to her. I just wish I’d given her my email address to share our photos with her! Argh!
The only real problem of the day was the wind. It was blowing gusts of pollen from the trees all over the gathering crowd. The coughing, sneezing and eye-watering were almost unbearable! Almost.
The guards on the Mall were very well looked after by their superiors and were checked on constantly, the pollen brushed from their uniforms and the occasional barley sugar popped into their mouths to keep up their stamina.
Here come the Royal family ahead of the Queen’s carriage!
The Queen is on her way, but first…we couldn’t get over this guy riding a massive horse playing massive drums. He was steering with his feet and keeping perfect time on those drums and the horse didn’t flinch one bit! Overall, all of the 300 horses were incredible. Some horses had feet as big as oversized dinner plates! They were truly beautiful and I felt quite privileged to see them!
Here comes the birthday girl (am I allowed to say that?!)! No doubt the wind/pollen situation prevented her from being in an open carriage this time. I felt a little sad she was in there by herself. Aww. The Duke of Ediburgh has retired from royal duties. She didn’t turn around to face our side of the Mall during this section of the parade, but she did on the return trip and that’s where my zoom lens came out so be sure to check out Part 2 next week.
Oh, she’s so lovely and was followed by her 2 future successors on horseback – Prince Charles and Prince William. What a sight! I’m absolutely beside myself at this point and struggling a little between looking through my camera lens and seeing them with my own eyes.
The Queen’s carriage and remainder of the horses and guards went into Horse Guard’s Parade behind us and would be there for the next hour while she inspects her troops as tradition dictates. I had entered us in the ballot for tickets but was unsuccessful. Maybe some other time, although I really enjoyed being on the Mall.
Tips: Arrive early. Comfortable shoes, clothes and raincoat are a must. If you can find little folding chairs, take them. If you’re prone to allergies, an allergy pill in the morning might be a good idea. That pollen was brutal! Take some snacks, but don’t drink a lot – bathrooms are few and you don’t want to lose your spot. Take your best zoom lens. The carriages move faster than I thought so be prepared with your camera! And get the Official Programme for £5; it’s an excellent memento.
Next up: the parade’s return trip to Buckingham Palace and the balcony appearance!
Can you say exhausted? This is our last stop for Day 2 but by this time, I’m surprised either of us can actually walk! It was necessary though, as I had been dying to see some real Tudor portraits and the National Portrait Gallery is the place for those!
First up, we have King Richard III. This portrait was painted long after he had died at the Battle of Bosworth Field and lost the throne to Henry VII. I have such a soft spot for this king. Aside from the incredibly inaccurate but hilarious retelling of his defeat in the 1980s sitcom, Blackadder, I feel poor Richard was totally cheated by Henry Tudor! (More about him when I get to documenting our visit to Leicester.)
Here are Henry VIII’s parents – Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Hard to believe these portraits were painted in the early 1500s. They have been preserved (and probably restored) beautifully!
Then we see a portrait of their infamous son, King Henry VIII. This one was painted during Henry VIII’s lifetime but shortly before he died. It is believed to have been owned by his personal chaplain and displayed to show loyalty to the king.
Here she is! Poor ol’ Anne Boleyn. Another royal for whom I have a big soft spot. Granted, she created some serious drama by marrying Henry VIII while he was still married to Catherine of Aragon, helping him break away from Rome to establish the Church of England so he could be head of the church and get a divorce, but she was SERIOUSLY ripped off by Henry in the end. He accused her of adultery and incest without any evidence, mostly because she hadn’t bore him a son. Then it was off to the Tower of London and off with her head! Anyway, this portrait was lovely to see. I love her little B necklace with pearl drops and her headdress. So iconic!
Now we get to the two portraits I found most intriguing. Queen Elizabeth I. The gold paint actually glittered. I walked around the portraits and saw them from different angles…they glittered! How did they do that back in the day? Real gold? I could have stared at these paintings for hours! Such intricate brush strokes they almost didn’t seem real.
Some very famous non-Tudor portraits are also housed at the NPG. William Shakespeare’s portrait doesn’t quite have the sparkle or detail of the Tudor portraits (it probably didn’t get royal-level preservation treatment) but still wonderful to see. According to the Gallery, this was the first portrait it acquired when it was founded in 1856.
Thanks again to Blackadder for giving me a rather inaccurate portrayal of British royal history; portraits of George IV will always make me giggle. But he was quite the character in real life, apparently! George IV’s father suffered from mental illness, so he stood in as Prince Regent and then only reigned for 10 years after his father died. He lived a very indulgent lifestyle and ran up a lot of debt that had to be paid off by parliament. I guess that persona actually is portrayed pretty well in Blackadder after all. Here he is…
Still on the non-royal portraits, we came across portrait of George Washington. Mostly likely painted after he died it was done by the painter for whom Washington had previously sat, so we’re all good here.
Then finally, with pure exhaustion and jetlag sinking in once again, we came across this lovely and romantic sculpture of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria before we headed back to the hotel. Aww, they were so in love.
The National Portrait Gallery is jam packed with both significant historical portraits and modern art. Again, it’s one of those places you could spend a significant amount of time and still not see it all. Can we live in London now, please? We have so much to see and learn and these short little visits aren’t nearly enough.
We headed to Westminster Abbey via the Thames from the Tower of London. On the ferry, we traveled under famous London bridges – Tower Bridge, Millenium (aka Harry Potter) Bridge and got our first glimpse of Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. It was undergoing renovations so it was covered in scaffolding.
It was just a short walk from the pier to Westminster Abbey and when we arrived, the line into the Abbey was very long and was still raining. Photography of any sort is not permitted inside the Abbey, so this post is a little light on pics but here are some outside shots.
Tip: order the guidebooks when you buy your entry tickets online. #1 you’ll save a bit of money and #2 you’ll have photos when you’re not allowed to take your own.
We had tickets to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. This is an attic-like space above the Abbey that was actually hidden from the public for over 700 years! It is chock-full of artifacts of British monarchy dating back 1000 years. Staring at the actual funeral effigy King Henry VII was remarkable and don’t get me started on the marriage license of Prince William and Kate Middleton. My calligraphy-and-royal-loving heart couldn’t take it! You are also able to peer over the open balconies for the most breathtaking view down onto the Abbey! I admit, again, I lost my mind at this sight and the tears started rolling again. 🙂 No photos allowed though, so I’m not able to share this view, unfortunately.
To get your own glimpse, click HERE for the official video about the Queen’s Jubilee Galleries.
Back downstairs the Abbey was very crowded, so it was a bit of a challenge to see everything. We somehow managed to miss Poet’s Corner completely!! It’s also a particularly tight squeeze to get in and around the area where Queen Elizabeth I is buried but still a must if you’re into Tudor history. Her sister, Queen Mary, is also buried with her but if you didn’t know it, you might miss it, so keep your eyes peeled. So much drama from this time in history! Amazing to see these things with our own eyes. Truly amazing!
The cloisters are full of different memorials and plaques and this one is dedicated to Captain James Cook, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Francis Chichester who all circumnavigated the globe. Captain James Cook in the 1700s is credited with being the first European to land in Botany Bay – the area where I grew up on the east coast of Australia.
As we were leaving the Abbey, we stopped by the Coronation Chair sitting in its own little protected room on the way out. By now, the crowds had dissipated so we were able to take our time staring at it through the glass. Such a treat to be able to see the real thing! Then, we walked out the big arched doors with the gift shop on our left and I was struck by the familiar view. As I looked back, I realized I was standing where Kate Middleton entered the Abbey to marry Prince William. Ahh! May not be a big deal for most people but it was a total fairytale moment for me. Hehe!
Again, we could have spent an entire day exploring Westminster Abbey. There is something to look at and learn about literally from floor to ceiling! I actually got a bit dizzy trying to see it all and walk at the same time. You also have to be careful and dodge the tourists who purchased the audio guides. They spend so much time staring at those silly devices, they will just stop in front of you. I’m sure they are getting a lot of good info, but goodness me…look at the real thing instead of a pic on a screen!
After the Abbey we quickly popped in to see the relatively new UK Supreme Court. We were able to wander around freely after going through security and even sit in one of the courtrooms. Then we jumped on the Tube to Soho to catch up with a dear friend over a delicious Mediterranean dinner before he dropped us off at the National Portrait Gallery.
After a good night’s rest, we were up and ready (after our breakfast including tea and mushrooms, of course!) to hit two major sites in one day – the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. I had read in Rick Steves London 2019 guidebook that you could do them both in a day so with our tickets in hand we set off.
We took the Tube to Tower Hill Station and arrived well before the Tower was open for tourists. We got a delicious hot chocolate and coffee from a little stand nearby and waited in the rain. Right in front of us was Tower Bridge and our first time seeing it. So cool!
We noticed people starting to line up under a canopy to get in, so we followed the crowd. Baa! 😉 It was also raining, so…
As we waited, we got to see the first of many pieces of the Tower of London Menagerie. These wire sculptures were commissioned in 2010 and represent the peculiar gifts given to monarchs over 600 years. I had seen a documentary about them and was excited to see them in person. They really are works of art!
The first thing we wanted to do once we got through the gates was head straight to the Jewel House and see the Crown Jewels before the crowds hit. Definitely a good decision – thanks, Mr Steves!
Basically, you’re walking into a big vault. No photos at all are allowed inside but trust me when I say…everything GLITTERED! Like nothing you’ve ever seen, ever! I thought the tiaras the previous day at Kensington Palace were sparkly, but well…the Crown Jewels blew everything else out of the water! I started to get really emotional seeing these objects that I had been obsessed with since childhood. Ok, I admit, I pretty much lost it!! They’re just such incredible, priceless objects of history and to see them in person was so surreal! 🙂
There is a moving walkway that takes you past the really big stuff of The Coronation Regalia; the Imperial State Crown, the Koh-i-nûr and Cullinan diamonds. Oh my goodness! Where are my smelling salts? Luckily, since we were pretty much the only people in there so we were able to go around twice and really take it all in. Probably could have done 3-4 times, actually! It was overwhelming and I wanted to spend all day in there just to soak each piece (and diamond) in. I just really hope I get to see them again someday.
We ventured back outside to explore the rest of the grounds. Took an obligatory photo of a red-coated guard and wandered around Tower Green to see the housing where the Yeoman Warders live and work. In the courtyard is a poignant, glass memorial dedicated to those who died at the Tower like two of Henry VIII’s wives; Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and poor Lady Jane Grey. A lovely tribute, I thought.
We then went to meet up with one of the Yeoman Warder tours. Unfortunately, due to the rain we were told it would be a quick tour and would be held inside rather than touring more outside. But fortunately, and to my delight, we were taken inside Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. This is where Anne Boleyn is actually buried so I was super excited to see this spot! Our Warder was very entertaining and knowledgeable. The warders are very proud of their service. They serve at least 22 years in the military and must be of the highest standards to be offered a position at the Tower.
We headed to the White Tower to see the Royal Armory. As a lover of Tudor history, I was particularly keen to see Henry VIII’s armor. The intricate engraving and designs were mind boggling considering when they were made! It must have taken months and months to do all that fancy work!
I really enjoyed seeing the medieval graffiti on the walls in the White Tower and the stonework was so beautiful. Definitely built to last! Traitor’s Gate itself was a treat to see. We had to stand for a moment and imagine the future Queen Elizabeth I arriving through the gate under her sister’s arrest order. In the end, she did not meet the same fate as her mother, Anne Boleyn, who never left the Tower alive.
We easily could have spent the entire day at the Tower of London but we had timed tickets to Westminster Abbey and had to get going. On our way out, we bumped into one of the real celebrities of the Tower – a Tower raven! The old tradition/superstition is that if the ravens ever leave the tower, the kingdom will fall, so seven ravens have always been kept at the Tower since the 1600s. I’ve never been so excited to see a bird in my life and I was so happy he/she posed for a photo!
We hopped on a boat to travel up the Thames to Westminster Abbey. Such a sight from the water!
Have you been to the Tower of London? What is your favourite thing to see? Would love to know what we missed first time around.
Our entire 2019 London trip was centered around the Queen’s birthday parade called Trooping the Colour which is traditionally held every year on the second Saturday of June (more on that in a later post). Our flight got us into London two days beforehand, so we had some time get ourselves settled into our hotel and on London time.
We jumped on the Tube at Heathrow and it just was a short walk from South Kensington station to the lovely Rembrandt Hotel. We dropped off our bags, freshened up and then took about a 20 minute walk towards our first stop – Kensington Palace.
As we walked through Kensington Gardens towards the palace the Albert Memorial took our breaths away! It was much larger and gold-er than we had imagined! Even under the clouds, it glittered and shone. Queen Victoria reeeally loved her husband and famously wore mourning black the rest of her life after he died at only 42. This statue is a testament to her devotion to him.
Another thing that struck me as we walked through the gardens were the flowers! Living in the desert, such simple things become quite the novelty! The foxgloves were especially exciting! Is that just me?
We finally made our way to the famous gold and black gates of Kensington Palace! This was such an exciting but also sad moment, thinking of all the flowers that were left here when Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997. I was getting a bit emotional at this point. It was finally sinking in that we were in London and walking around one of the places I never actually imagined I would visit! But what an incredible amount of history has gone on behind this gate – from King William III to Queen Victoria to the Cambridges today.
Side note: we actually got a little lost on our way to the tea room and ended up walking in the street alongside KP that appeared to be full of international embassies and very expensive cars. A lot of security staff with big guns as well! I may have tried to peek through the fence to see if I could spot Prince George or Princess Charlotte playing in their backyard but alas, no sight of them that day. 🙂
Kensington Palace was celebrating the 200 year anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth so there was a magnificent exhibition going on and this brings us to the first time I have ever seen a real British royal tiara. You ready?
My eyes watered for sure. I’ve never seen such sparkly things…and I’ve seen a lot of sparkly things. I couldn’t take my watery eyes off them. And I secretly loved it when a security guard scolded a child for putting their fingers on the glass case. Oops!
Robert finally managed to peel me away from the gems so we could see the rest of the exhibit before our afternoon tea reservation. It was so wonderful to see things like Queen Victoria’s actual handwriting and sketches. She loved writing, sketching and watercolours. Love her for that!
We walked through the room where Queen Victoria was actually born and saw many items from her childhood. She had a little travel bed that went everywhere with her when she traveled with her mother, a doll house with dolls and clothes for them she made herself, one of her sweet and fancy little dresses and a painting of her dog, Dash. Precious!
Then we went downstairs to find the restaurant. I particularly love the story about Queen Victoria not being allowed to walk down stairs by herself before she became Queen. She had to hold someone’s hand in case she fell and hurt herself, or worse…died. I liked to believe this was one of those staircases when we were walking down it. Had to take a photo so I didn’t forget I walked where she (probably) walked, too!
I’m not sure if the jetlag was setting in or our waiter was grumpy but this tea experience was a little bit of an expensive let down. We enjoyed the food, for sure. I think it was just the service wasn’t what I had romanticized in my head. What? No dedicated waiter at my beck and call? No diligent refilling of my tea cup? No one taking my empty plates as soon as I was finished? Ha! My expectations were a little high, I admit. Still, we were happy for the refreshment and ready to explore some more of the palace grounds.
The Sunken Garden was in the middle of a floral makeover so there wasn’t much in the way of flowers but still lovely to see and to watch the gardeners doing their thing. This is where Harry and Meghan announced their engagement. The sun was shining for us now, too – beautiful!!
We ventured out to the Kensington Gardens for a little weary exploring. We were getting tired but I wanted to find the Diana Memorial Fountain. There were plenty of people splashing in the water and we had a little sit and watched the water flowing around.
We decided to start heading back to the hotel for a rest but we seemed to find our second wind! We stopped by the Royal Albert Hall – mostly because I wanted to see the steps from the Spice Girls movie.
Then it was onto a sweep of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A). I wish I could say I remember every bit of it, but I think I was so exhausted by this point, my photos are few. Poor Robert had been awake for 20+ hours by this point! Still, they did have some amazing things and were also celebrating Queen Victoria’s 200 years.
One last tiara to end our first day in London. Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet was designed by her beloved husband, Prince Albert in 1840 – the year they were married. It was so tiny! And sparkly, of course.
And with that, we stumbled across the road, back to our hotel, had a bit of dinner in the hotel restaurant and went to bed!
What was your first day in London like? There is so much to see and do, you can really hit the ground running the moment you’re off the plane! I’d love to hear about your favourite things to do when you arrive at your travel destination.
Robert and I spent a week (mostly) in London in June 2019 and our short but jam-packed trip sparked a renewed passion for travel and tons of inspiration for all things beautiful, historical and precious in this world.
Having grown up in beautiful Australia and having short stints to Japan and Thailand way back when, my first trip to the UK became somewhat of an obsession. I spent a year planning one short week there and thinking that would be the end of it but I fell in love and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.
I intend for this place to be a documentation of our travels so we can remember all the good bits…but if someone else finds it enjoyable or informative, then that would be a lovely bonus!
I am looking forward to planning and documenting our next trip but first…join me as kick off this blog by revisiting London Trip #1.
Hope you enjoy!
P.S. Why Tea and Mushrooms? Because that’s what I had for breakfast every day in London and it sounded cute. 🙂 ❤