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From Alfred the Great to Queen Elizabeth II, London has been home to royalty for centuries. One of the best ways to take in the city’s regal sites is on foot, as there are plenty of stunning palaces, parks, monuments and more, all within walking distance of each other. The Royal London Walk is a popular route that takes in these sights and is an ideal way to spend an afternoon in the city.
Depending on your pace, the walk should take between one and three hours. Here is everything you need to know:
St James’s Park and Palace
Start your journey by taking the Tube to St James’s Park Station (District and Circle Lines). Here you can explore the park that is named after James I, who sat the throne from 1603 to 1625. The king used the land to house a collection of exotic animals, including elephants and crocodiles. Nothing quite so spectacular can be seen there today, but you can view the splendid pelicans, as a colony of the huge birds has been kept on the park’s lake since they were gifted to the king by a Russian ambassador in 1664.
On this leg of the walk, you can also view St James’s Palace, which was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and is still used as a residence for members of the royal family today. The palace is not open to the public, but is well worth a look from the outside.
From St James’s Park, head west along The Mall, a coloured red road that runs to Buckingham Palace. You will pass Clarence House on the way, which is the official London residence of the Prince of Wales, his wife the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry.
You’ll then reach the unmistakable Buckingham Palace, which has served as the primary London residence of the monarch since 1837. If the Royal Standard – a quartered flag featuring two sets of three golden lions, a red lion and a harp – is flying above the palace, that means the Queen is currently in residence. The palace, which was built by the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, is open to the public at certain times, so be sure to check ahead of your visit. Next to the royal residence is the Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews. The former holds regular art exhibitions from the Royal Collection, while the latter is a working stable and garage, providing transport for the royals.
Constitution Hill and Wellington Arch
The next step on the walk is Constitution Hill, a road which intersects the beautiful Green Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens. The end of the road is home to Wellington Arch, a towering monument that was built in the 1820s. It originally marked the entrance to Hyde Park, but was moved to its current location in 1883.
Across the road from the arch, you will find Apsley House. This building does not have royal connections, but it is linked to one of the key figures in British history, Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. The duke lived in the house after defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and his descendants still retain the use of parts of the building. An art gallery is housed here, containing one of the finest collections in all of London.
Your next destination is Hyde Park, one of the largest urban green spaces in the world. The park was purchased by Henry VIII to be used as a hunting ground in 1536. James I permitted entry to the nobility early in the 17th century and it wasn’t until 1637, in the the reign of Charles I, that the park was opened to the public.
There is much to see and do in the modern-day Hyde Park. At its centre lies the Serpentine lake, which was created in the 18th century and provides opportunities for boating, swimming or just feeding the many ducks. While enjoying a walk around this beautiful park, be sure to visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, which was opened as a tribute to the mother of Princes William and Harry in 2004.
Kensington Palace and Gardens
Directly adjacent to Hyde Park is the splendid Kensington Gardens, which form the grounds of Kensington Palace, a royal residence since the 17th century. The gardens are home to the Albert Memorial, a towering structure that was built in tribute to Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. Also named after the prince is the Royal Albert Hall, which is located just across the road from the memorial, and is of London’s most distinctive buildings.
Your walk ends at Kensington Palace, which is open to the public and well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in art or history. Once you’re finished, you can get back on the Tube at Queensway (Central Line) or High Street Kensington (Circle and District) stations and soak up the centuries’ worth of royal history and splendour you’ve just experienced.