Day 2: La-Di-Da! Harrods + Buckingham Palace + The Ritz!

When I was growing up, “Buckingham Palace” and “The Ritz” were terms frequently used by my family to denote ultimate, nigh-unattainable levels of class and elegance (as in “Pick up my toys? What is this, Buckingham Palace?!” and “Put on pants? What is this, The Ritz?!”). On our first full day in London, I finally got to see both of them in the space of a few hours!

The whole day was one big monarchy-fest, starting with a trip to Westminster Abbey (where royalty is married and buried), then a visit to the Banqueting House (scene of the only regicide in English history), followed by a trip to Harrods (site of a controversial tribute to Princess Di) before our Buckingham Palace tour and dinner-dance at The Ritz.

We started our day early, with a room-service breakfast to save time. They brought us a huge bucket of ice but no water or anything else to put ice in except, I guess, the orange juice? Apparently Americans have a reputation for loving ice! I was still feeling a little spacey and decided not to fuss with re-learning the subway yet, so we took a black cab over to Westminster Abbey. London was DESERTED on Saturday morning at 8:00! We asked the cabbie if it was always this dead, and he said, “Only in January and February.” So there’s a hot tip if you want to know when crowds are lowest in London…

Another hot tip is to get to Westminster Abbey an hour before it opens, like we did! We were first in the non-existent line, which gave Patrick time to run around taking photos of the exterior. And I’d purchased our tickets online to make our entry that much quicker. By the time we were almost done with our tour, the place was PACKED, so I highly recommend going first thing in the morning.

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This is the main entrance, but to get in, you have to go around to the right where the two towers are. We know this because we played a game of Human Ping Pong instigated by two staffers at either end who kept sending us back and forth between them until a third staffer gave us the definitive answer!

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Actual entrance!

A couple of these shots were taken later in the day, when it began to get crowded, but I wanted to show you the whole thing now!

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My absolute favorite thing about Westminster Abbey is the new statues over the Great West Door. In 1998, these 10 vacant niches were filled with depictions of 20th Century Christian martyrs, including Martin Luther King, Jr.! How cool is that? An American on one of  Europe’s most famous chuches! There’s also a guy with glasses—you don’t see that on Notre Dame or the Duomo of Milan! You can read the full list here.

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The statues were added in 1998. The yellow safety cone was added in 2018.

About 20 minutes before the abbey opened, the guards moved our tiny line up to the North Entrance. This gave Patrick a chance to shoot some of the goofy gargoyles overhead.

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Say “Ahhhhh…”

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OK, now here is the bummer part: No photography is allowed inside Westminster Abbey. They say it’s because they don’t want the act of taking photos to distract from the atmosphere of a working church, and I can see their point. They do have a gallery of photos online, so I’ll add a few of those here.

There is an excellent audio guide with visual accompaniment, interviews with curators and conservators, and even reflection audio at some spots where narrator Jeremy Irons invites you to think about your place and purpose in the universe. (If you miss his narration from Spaceship Earth, you will be happy to know that every audio tour you take in England will be narrated by Jeremy Irons!)

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© Westminster Abbey

The tour starts at the north entrance and has you walk down along the aisle behind the pillars on the left of the photo below, toward the The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior, one of the most somber and touching memorials in the abbey. In 1920 an unidentified British soldier killed in World War I was interred here in a casket made of oak from trees at Hampton Court Palace, affixed with a medieval crusader’s sword chosen from the Royal Collection by King George V. It was covered in soil from each of the major battlefields of WWI during a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of mourners. The black marble plaque laid on top is the only memorial in the entire Abbey over which no one may walk. Queen Elizabeth II’s mother started the tradition of royal brides leaving their bouquets on the tomb when she laid hers atop it (in memory of a brother killed in WWI) on the way into the Abbey for her wedding.

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© Westminster Abbey

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© Westminster Abbey

The nave houses a series of chambers, starting behind the elaborate Quire screen.

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© Westminster Abbey

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© Westminster Abbey

The Quire, looking toward the Sanctuary and High Altar

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© Westminster Abbey

Looking back toward the Nave and Quire Screen

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© Westminster Abbey


The High Altar is where daily religious services are held, as well as, you know, the weddings of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Prince William!

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© Westminster Abbey

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© Westminster Abbey

Behind the High Altar is the Shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor, the king who built the first royal church on this site as a place to house his own tomb. He died a week after it was finished! This area was under restoration when we visited, so I was glad to find a photo on the abbey website.

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© Westminster Abbey

Off to the sides of this area are numerous other tombs, but the monument to Lady Elizabeth and Joseph Nightingale is my favorite, cuz it’s the creepiest! Apparently it may have been based on a nightmare experienced by Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, who dreamt of a skeleton standing at the foot of his bed before it slithered up under the covers up between him and his wife. Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving called this monument “among the most renowned achievements of modern art” (and we know what kind of taste he had)!

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© Westminster Abbey

The North Transcept is the top of the cross formed by the wings of the abbey and where some of the most famous burials are, including…

Queen Elizabeth I…

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© Westminster Abbey

Mary, Queen of Scots…

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© Westminster Abbey

and Elizabeth of York and Henry VII…

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© Westminster Abbey


… who built the magnificent Lady Chapel in which his tomb lies.

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© Westminster Abbey

The chapel is dedicated to THE lady, The Virgin Mary, not, like, all the ladies of the world

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© Westminster Abbey

The tour takes you back down the nave to Poets’ Corner, a cluster of memorials to poets, writers, playwrights and musicians. Among those actually buried in the abbey are Geoffrey Chaucer (the first person interred in Poets’ Corner), Charles Dickens, George Frideric Handel, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Laurence Olivier.

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© Westminster Abbey

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“Pose for my what…? Look, I’m busy—this Messiah ain’t gonna write itself!”

At this point the tour leads you out into the Cloisters to see some of the oldest parts of Westminster Abbey, including the Chapter House, which dates to about 1250. Originally it was used by Benedictine monks for daily meetings, but it later became a meeting place for the King’s Great Council and the Commons, predecessors of Parliament. We’d seen it multiple times on Monarchy, so we were very excited!

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© ChrisVTG Photography

All around the room are original paintings from the 1400s and 1500s depicting scenes from Revelation, except for a set known as “the Last Judgment or Doom Group” (either of which would be an excellent name for a metal band!).

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© Klaus D. Peter

In the Chapter House’s vestibule is Britain’s Oldest Door, dating from 1050. Behind it is Britain’s Oldest Broom Closet.

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I think this may have been where it finally started to dawn on us that all this stuff is not just really old, it is really REAL. It’s especially revelatory for American Disney fans, who are not surrounded by this kind of antiquity in their daily lives and have only seen facsimiles in Disney parks.

Our last stop (before the obligatory gift shop) was the Coronation Chair commissioned by Edward I to hold the Stone of Scone, which he stole from Scotland in 1296. Scottish kings had been crowned on the stone for centuries, and it has been used in every English coronation ceremony since 1308. In 1996 the stone was finally returned to Scotland (on the provision that it be leant out for each subsequent coronation) and you’ll get to see it when I write up the first Edinburgh day of this trip report!

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© Westminster Abbey

So is Westminster Abbey worth a trip? If you are an English history buff, a fan of the monarchy, a lover of gothic architecture or have binge-watched the entire David Starkey Monarchy series, yes. If you’re not as familiar with these people and what they represent, then maybe not. As we shuffled past each tomb, it did feel a bit like our final exam after months of cramming on the subject. (“Henry III… was he the one played by Peter O’Toole or the one played by Kenneth Branagh?” Answer: Neither! Nobody’s made a movie about poor Henry III!).

But it was also fascinating to finally be able to put all the pieces together as we gazed on effigies of kings and queens whom we’d only seen in paintings. A lot of the carvings are based on death masks, so it’s kind of like looking at the real person. And believe me, Elizabeth I was no Cate Blanchett! (Although, if all the Lola visual-effects rumors are true, Cate Blanchett is no [longer] Cate Blanchett either!)

Before we left, we grabbed a quick bite in the cafe, which is housed in the monks’ former food vaults. I highly recommend their Millionaire’s Shortbread, and Patrick loved his first English tea.

We had a lot of time to kill before our Buckingham Palace Tour, so we decided to hit up a nearby site covered by our Historic Royal Palaces membership, Whitehall’s Banqueting House. It was a short walk away, right past another classic tourist spot…

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Yep, that’s Big Ben under there! (Side note: Be prepared to be told that “Big Ben” is actually the name of the bell, not the tower or clock, NUMEROUS times during your stay in London, usually by Jeremy Irons.)

Way to go, England! Our one big trip over, and your No. 1 landmark is under refurbishment? Disney needs to at least lend these guys some tarps with a photo of the tower on them…

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“I’m hideous—look away until at least 2021!”

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Along the way we discovered a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of Parliament Square! It turns out to be one of several copies of a statue in Chicago that was created based on a life mask and hand casts of Lincoln’s. This one was a 1920 gift to the British, who naturally followed proper etiquette and placed the statue out where the givers can see it whenever they visit.

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“Well I don’t know what to do with it either, Prime Minister. Just set it next to Big Ben so the Americans will be sure to see it!”

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This Abe can’t sit down the way Disney’s can, but he doesn’t leak oil either!

Also, there was a pigeon.

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“Cor’ blimey! Ain’t you Yanks ever seen a pigeon before?”

When we reached the Banqueting House, we were delighted to discover that the Horse Guards, headquarters of The Queen’s Life Guard, is directly across the street, and you can take pictures of the guards on duty.

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They do a smaller guard-changing ceremony that is not quite as spectacular as the one at Buckingham Palace, but here you can get right up close to the horses and guards.

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Like, dangerously close!

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The Banqueting House is cool for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s the last remnant of the ginormous Palace of Whitehall, Henry VIII’s 23-acre, 1,500-room government seat and royal residence that was bigger than The Vatican and only eventually eclipsed by Versailles. Second, it is the site of the 1649 beheading of King Charles I, the only English monarch ever executed by his people.

But my favorite aspect is that this building launched the trend of neo-classical architecture that took England (and subsequently America) by storm. Think about the architecture of Washington, DC and basically every state capital in the US. All of those buildings look the way they do because of this building by Inigo Jones (not to be confused with expert swordsman and father-avenger Inigo Montoya). When it was built, the Banqueting House was surrounded by Tudor buildings and stuck out like a sore thumb. Now it looks just like every other building on the block!

But of course we didn’t know any of this when we were standing outside shivering in the rain, so we didn’t take a photo. I found this Wikimedia Commons image that illustrates how anonymous this groundbreaking building looks today.

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© Paul the Archivist

The Banqueting House’s other claim to fame is the magnificent set of ceiling paintings by Peter Paul Reubens (not to be confused with Pee-Wee Herman alter ego Paul Rubens) commisioned by King Charles I to glorify the reign of his father, King James I (of King James Version Bible fame). Since the paintings are basically the only reason tourists visit the Banqueting House, Historic Royal Palaces has cleverly provided numerous beanbag chairs for guests to lie on so they can study the ceiling!

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© Grahampurse

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There is a super-detailed audio guide—perhaps too detailed, considering that you’re just looking at the one room and the only thing in it besides the paintings is a fancy chair. It’s the only audio tour we gave up on before the end (don’t tell Jeremy Irons!). Soporific narration + bean bag chair = naptime for Lurkyloo!

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“Zzzzzzzz—SNORT!—Where am I? Why is Patrick on the ceiling?!”

After that, it was off to Harrods! Once again, we were too distracted to get an establishing shot. Fortunately, my Twitter pal ZZ Gator visited just a few weeks after we did and supplied me with this fabulous photo!

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Harrods started on this site in 1851 as a one-room operation and is now the largest department store in Europe, covering 5 acres with 1 million square feet of retail space. In December 1883 it burned to the ground, but Charles Harrod still managed to fulfill all of his customers’ Christmas orders and make a record profit. The store’s motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, which means “All things for all people, everywhere.” Although today it should probably be “All things for rich people, everywhere…”

Harrods was a BIG DEAL to me when I lived in London. I was a starving student who ate almost nothing but mashed potatos, which I could stir on the stove while sitting on the bed in my closet of a flat. I used to wander around Harrods’ magnificent food hall, pressing my nose against all the glass cases like a Dickensian street urchin before finally settling on which single piece of candy I was going to buy. So I was very excited to be able to return at a time in my life when I can afford at least two pieces of candy!

It took me a while to find the food hall. Like a dad on a road trip, I refused to ask for directions or rely on anything but a 20-year-old memory of the store layout, which meant we went up and down the same elevators and escalators multiple times, trudged through endless labyrinthian corridors reeking of posh perfume, and passed this guy at least twice!

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Please look after this bear? This bear needs to look after ME!

At last, the scent of the carvery grabbed us by the nostrils and dragged us in the right direction.

Each room of the food hall has a different theme. One room is full of different counters where you can eat prepared food, sort of like LA’s Grand Central Market or Original Farmers Market, only super-swanky: caviar, sushi, Champagne, seafood, steak. Another room has produce, meat, fish and all the other raw ingredients of a fancy meal. And then there’s my favorite room, which has all the candy and cake counters, plus coffee and flowers.

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“‘Allo, guv’ner!”

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Coffee beans, not chocolate chips (or am I the only one who thought this could possibly be a vat of chocolate chips?)

For my fellow cake lovers….

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A uni-cake!

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But a funny thing happened when I finally got back to my Mecca. We were standing in a snaking line to buy pastries, jostled on all sides by the Saturday afternoon crowds thronging the windowless, stuffy food hall when something snapped and I wanted out. Immediately! I could tell just by looking at the crumbling, barely frosted slices of cake they were cutting that no dessert I bought was going to taste as good as it looked, and it wasn’t worth it to me to be in that stifling atmosphere one second longer.

Here are some of the pastries we didn’t buy…
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Instead we escaped to the fourth-floor Terrace restaurant, an airy sort of greenhouse that is possibly the only place in Harrods with windows.

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© Harrods

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The food was just OK, but we were cozy inside with a view of the rain soaking the Knightsbridge rooftops—I was in heaven!

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Spatchcock Chicken

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Fish & Chips with Mushy Peas

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Fried Artichokes

On our way out, I wanted to show Patrick Harrods’ fanciful Egyptian room, which apparently so overwhelmed him that he didn’t even take a picture. Wikimedia Commons to the rescue again!

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© Targeman

Right around the corner is the sort of cheesy but still touching Princess Diana memorial that Dodi Fayed’s dad installed when he was owner of Harrods. The store is now owned by the State of Qatar, and apparently there are plans to remove the memorial.

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I actually saw Princess Di at a makeup counter in Harvey Nichols, a posh department store right down the street from Harrods, about a month before her death, and somehow it made the tragedy even more traumatic for me. It felt a bit ghoulish to see a lipstick-smeared glass from her last meal on display in the middle of a department store.

So on that somber note, we stumbled out of Harrods and into a taxi to… Buckingham Palace!

Right as we hopped out in front of the palace, a helicopter made a dramatic landing in the park across the street. As a dumb American, I was hoping against hope that this was the Queen returning home from Balmoral, but of course there’s no way they would have let us do a tour of her house if she was due back that day, and they certainly wouldn’t set her down on the other side of a sprawling boulevard. (Unless the pilot was an Uber driver.)

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“Welp, it’s as close as I could get, Your Majesty—mind the traffic!”

Buckingham Palace was the first thing I booked for our trip. Never visiting the palace is probably my biggest regret from the time I lived in London (well, that and eating mashed potatoes for every meal…). Usually, they’re only open for tours for a couple of months in the summer, while the Queen is on vacation. But I was thrilled to discover they’d introduced an Exclusive Evening Tour for a few weeks this past winter, and the last two days happened to coincide with the first two days of our trip! (The tour has since been extended, and it runs March 31-May 7!) The group is limited to 30 people, and you get a souvenir guide, a glass of Champagne (or cider) and a 20% discount in the gift shop. I can’t figure out if we got to see more rooms than are on the regular tour or if the “exclusive” part was that we got to go when it wasn’t summer. Either way, it was a fantastic tour!

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© Royal Collection Trust — This totally was not happening when we arrived!

First, the bad news: No photos are allowed inside. Fortunately, the souvenir guide is full of great photos, drawings and paintings, so you can just focus on seeing the rooms without a camera in front of your face.

Also, if you are a fan of The Crown, I must warn you that the inside of the real Buckingham Palace looks nothing like the one on the show. But the place they use, Lancaster House, is right around the corner! If you’re interested, here is a super-comprehensive look at the actual places used for filming Season 1 of The Crown.

There are some wonderful online resources if you want to see more of the inside of Buckingham Palace. The official website has some excellent 360-degree tours of several rooms.

Even cooler, Google Expeditions has created an amazing virtual tour of the palace interior that allows you to click around 360 degrees while the video is playing.

The Google Expedition begins in the same place we started our tour, the Marble Hall. We were introduced to a cheerful young tour guide who’d just returned from a week’s holiday at Walt Disney World! She had all the qualities you want in a guide: enthusiasm, knowledge and a strong set of pipes!

We learned that the Queen was due to return in just a few days, so things might be in a bit of disarray for our tour as the staff prepared for her arrival. (The disarray consisted primarily of a large dining table that had been moved from one room to another, and BOY did it throw our guide for a loop!) We also learned that the Queen comes in the very same entrance we did whenever she returns to Buckingham Palace, and she walks through the Marble Hall to the Grand Staircase. And that’s what makes Buckingham Palace unique: It’s one of the few working palaces left in the world, where people actually live!

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© Royal Collection Trust

Buckingham Palace came about when King George IV (whom Regency novel fans will know as “Prinny”) bought Buckingham House and set about making it into a palace with the aid of architect John Nash. But the first monarch to actually live in the palace was Queen Victoria. She had portraits of her greatest forebears hung all around the Grand Staircase to help symbolically establish her right to rule.

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© Royal Collection Trust

I love this 1845 watercolor of the Grand Staircase by court artist Eugène Lami. It makes our tour group of 30 look positively dinky!

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© Royal Collection Trust

Through the doors at the top of the stairs is the Guard Room, an antechamber leading to the Green Drawing Room, and inside it were my favorite pieces of art on the whole tour: life-size statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that made you almost feel as if you’d seen them in person (albeit in an idealized, give-Emily-Blunt-and-Rupert-Friend-a-run-for-their-money sort of way).

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© Royal Collection Trust

This is the second version of the statue Prince Albert gave to Queen Victoria for her birthday in 1842. Apparently he decided the shorter kilt and bare feet on the original made it “too undressed.” It’s like a boudoir portrait in marble!

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© Royal Collection Trust

The Green Drawing Room is home to a collection of rare Sèvres porcelain and some elaborate window treatments that would make Carol Burnett one heckuva Scarlett O’Hara dress!

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© Royal Collection Trust

This exquisite portrait of King George III’s three youngest daughters by American artist John Singleton Copley is our guide’s favorite piece in the whole palace. Apparently it was originally criticized because, instead of prim and stately poses, the children were depicted behaving like, well, children!

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© Royal Collection Trust

The Green Drawing Room opens onto the Royal Throne Room. It looks more grandiose in this photo than in person. For some reason, it didn’t feel all that imposing to me in person—maybe because of the rando dining table dumped in the middle of it!

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© Royal Collection Trust


There… fixed it…

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© Royal Collection Trust

The room that really took everyone’s breath away was the Picture Gallery. You round a sort of anonymous corner and then there is this HUGE long hall stretching away to infinity! For a moment you could hear nothing but a series of gasps as each cluster of tourists rounded the corner.

This photo must’ve been shot about half of the way down the hall—it runs the length of the building and is about half the length of an (American) football field. Nash placed the gallery on the first floor, in the center of the building so that it would be used as a reception hall rather than just a hushed, empty museum stuck away someplace. William and Kate’s wedding cake was displayed in this room.

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© Royal Collection Trust

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© Royal Collection Trust

At the end of the gallery, through the Silk Tapestry Room (three guesses what’s in there, and the first two don’t count!) is the East Gallery, home of my favorite painting in the Royal Collection.

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© Royal Collection Trust

Painted by Franz Xavier Winterhalter in 1846, this portrait of the Royal Family is notable for a number of reasons: It skillfully depicts Victoria as both sovereign and mother (giving Albert a little more prominence as the traditional head of the family); it is the first royal family portrait to be almost photojournalistic, because the subjects aren’t looking directly at the viewer; and Victoria later said it was one of her three favorite portraits of Albert. But the reason I love it is… LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE BABY! She’s doing exactly what a baby would do if you were trying to get a candid photo of a family!

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© Royal Collection Trust

Our next stop was The Ballroom. By this time we’d pretty much been beaten into submission by all the gilt and crystal and opulence, so we didn’t even gasp when we entered the largest room in the palace (and formerly the largest room in London!).

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© Royal Collection Trust

In addition to state banquets, this room hosts about 25 investiture ceremonies per year. This is where the Queen or another member of the Royal Family bestows an honor like an Order of Merit or a knighthood on about 50 people at a time. Twenty-five ceremonies per year is like twice a month! This is when I started to realize how much work it must be to be part of the Royal Family.

If you go through the door on the right in the photo above, you get to the State Dining Room, where smaller events or things like post-dinner coffee are held. (“Smaller” events, like for 100 people!)

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© Royal Collection Trust

The Blue Drawing Room is not blue. I mean, the wallpaper supposedly is, but…. come on! How hard would it be to splash a bit of blue paint around? This room served as the palace ballroom before Victoria had the big ballroom added in 1855.

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© Royal Collection Trust

One of the main attractions in this room is the Table of the Grand Commanders of Antiquity, which is a sort of monument to hubris. Napoleon commissioned it right after he conquered all of Europe and crowned himself emperor. It depicts Alexander the Great and 12 other great military leaders of ancient times in porcelain and gilt-bronze. But it was not finished until 1812 (see “War of…”), and then it sat in the Sèvres factory until Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. Eventually it was given to King George IV by France’s Louis XVIII to commemorate their allied victory over Napoleon. Moral of the story: Never get involved in a land war in Asia, go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, or commission a fancy table likening yourself to great military commanders of antiquity!

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© Royal Collection Trust

From there we were lead to the Music Room, where, we were told, Prince Charles’ 40th birthday party was held. Apparently Elton John and Stevie Wonder played! We also learned that the man who created the parquet floor boasted at the time, “At 50 years hence it would be good as it is now; you might drive carriages over it.” Judging by the fact that there’s a rug in this photo, I’m thinking they drove one too many carriages over it!

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© Royal Collection Trust

The last room on the tour was the White Drawing Room, which we were told was done over by Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, whose portrait hangs over the fireplace.

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© Royal Collection Trust

Our guide said that everyone who sees the painting thinks the artist, François Flameng, did a little old-school Photoshop on the Queen because she was 64 when her portrait was painted. But she actually looked that good! Check out this photo of her taken the same year the portrait was painted (she’s the one on the right). She also started the trend of high necklines and choker necklaces at the turn of the last century (think Gibson Girls), simply because she was hiding a scar. Even crazier, society ladies would affect the “Alexandra limp” she acquired after an illness in 1867!

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© Royal Collection Trust

OK, back to the room.  One of its most famous features is the door hidden behind one of the grand mirrors flanking the fireplace. It leads to a secret passageway the Queen uses to get to the state rooms from her private quarters, and sometimes guests get thrown for a loop when she magically appears or disappears during a function!

But the funniest story was a continuation of the “Stevie Wonder plays Prince Charles’ birthday bash” tale. Apparently Stevie Wonder was escorted into this room afterward and, upon learning there was a piano in there, plopped down at this priceless 250-year-old antique belonging to Queen Victoria and started playing. Isn’t she lovely, indeed!

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© Royal Collection Trust

The tour was probably the perfect length, but I was still bummed when our guide announced that we’d reached the end. I mean, there are 775 rooms in the joint, and we only saw 10!

We were led down the Ministers Staircase…

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© Royal Collection Trust

…to the Marble Hall, where they had glasses of Champagne, cider, sparkling water and still water waiting for us. This hall was designed for displaying sculptures but lacked natural light, so most of the sculptures on display here now were originally displayed elsewhere. Our guide told us to take as long as we liked to admire the artworks, and that we were all welcome to enjoy 20% off in the gift shop.

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© Royal Collection Trust

The merchandise was surprisingly well designed, and with 20% off burning a hole in my pocket, I broke down and got a fancy teacup to use for my traditional rainy-day hot chocolate.

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I have been going through a 12-step program to curb my addiction to stuffed animals, but Patrick finally enabled me into a little stuffed corgi that we named Willow, after the Queen’s favorite dog.

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Just like the Queen’s corgis, but with less pooping!

As we waited in line to check out, we got to talking with The Other Americans on the tour. They are from Omaha, but the woman’s mom lives in the tiny little town of Grass Valley, CA, where I grew up. Small world!

When we were ready to leave, the guides handed us a bag with our two souvenir guidebooks. Then a nice girl escorted us across the famous courtyard, through the arch that Prince Phillip is always grumpily speeding out of in a convertible on The Crown, and right out the front gates. It was surreal!

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We were just IN there!

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Patrick and I agreed that Buckingham Palace was the highlight of the day. The tour was so well organized and executed, and what we saw was amazing. I would actually do the same tour again. Patrick said he had to keep reminding himself that if it looked like gold, it was real gold. If it looked like marble, it was real marble. Nothing was a Disney fabrication here! At the same time (and especially compared to, oh, Versailles) the place felt… cozy? Human-scaled, at least. Nothing was SO over the top as to be incomprehensible. It definitely has a British sensibility.

OK, how’re you doing? You still with me? We’re almost done… Just one last amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to recount…

After the tour, we took a cab back to the room and got gussied up for Live at the Ritz, a weekly supper club held in the Michelin-starred Ritz Restaurant, an over-the-top ornate room in THE Ritz Hotel. I mean, there are others, but this is the Ritz that Irving Berlin was talking about in the song “Puttin’ On the Ritz” fer cryin’ out loud!

I almost wished we were just going for lunch so we could really see the amazing interior in daylight…

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© The Ritz London

But I’ve had a fascination with supper clubs ever since I saw The Rocketeer, so I knew we had to splurge on the full experience.

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The Ritz… has a lot of ceilings, I guess..?

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Apparently Patrick didn’t think anything in the lobby at eye level was worth photographing, but I kind of agree. I was surprised how small and sort of anonymous the lobby was. Maybe it’s one of those places that doesn’t have to be grand because all the luxury is in the service.

The Palm Court Tea Room is pretty spectacular, and it’s another place I wish we could have photographed in daylight.

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© The Ritz London

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We were down the hall in the Ritz Restaurant. I’d mentioned our anniversary when I made our reservation, so they seated us in this prime table right by the dance floor!

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We decided to order off the a la carte menu and pay the £30/person “entertainment charge” instead of ordering from the £110 set menu. I dunno if it saved us that much money, but at least we got something we wanted to eat!

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Our amuse bouche: Looks like dessert, tastes like fish!

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Foofy drink!

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Scallop appetizer

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Beef Filet with Ox Cheek, Onion and Red Wine

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Fillet of Sika Deer with Red Cabbage, Elderberries and Chestnut

The food was good but not amazing, and pricier than it should have been for the quality. Like Disney Signature Dining food! Actually, the whole experience was pretty much like an International Food & Wine Festival or Tables In Wonderland event. You pay a bit too much, but you get to do something slightly unusual for that place.

As the live band played a sedate mix of standards, pop and R&B, a few couples took the floor. There was one couple who seemed like regulars and danced to almost every song. There was a family who all danced in a big group. And there were a few other couples like us who seemed to be celebrating a rare special occasion. Well, not exactly like us… Let’s just say we put the “trip” in “trip the light fantastic.” (Ten years is a looooong time to go without dance lessons!)

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At the band’s first set break, somebody fired up a smoke machine and put on a brassy recorded tango as two dancers sashayed onto the floor. I got my eyeballs all loosened up and ready for some major rolling, but the dancers were so dang good that you had to admire them through all the cheese…

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Good and FAST!

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That’s some real poltergeist stuff right there!

They did three sets with three costume changes in between the live band’s sets, so there was always something to look at besides, you know, each other.


After dinner, our waiter surprised us with a tiny and tasty little cake! It was the only free anniversary dessert we scored on the whole trip (Walt Disney World, this ain’t!) and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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And then he surprised us again with a tray of tiny fancy desserts to help the bill go down smoother.

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And then we dropped dead of sheer exhaustion. No! We made it back to the hotel and got in our jammies and slept on the floor cuz the dog called dibs on the bed.

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Up Next: Sir John Soane’s Museum, Kensington Palace, National Portrait Gallery + Amazing Dim Sum!