From grand palaces and castles to imposing fortifications and cathedrals, throughout history, Britain's monarchs have been insatiable builders on an epic scale. Some of these buildings have stood firm for 1,000 years (think the Tower of London and Windsor Castle), while others such as Highgrove have only been part of the royal roster for 40 years. Here we pick out a clutch of the best royal castles, houses and buildings to visit, that will give you a glimpse into another world...


The best royal castles to visit in the UK

Windsor Castle

The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and has been called home by 40 monarchs. It is rumoured to have been Queen Elizabeth II's favourite residence.

Rpyal Places to visit Windsor Castle

Open to visitors all year round, the castle is brimming with wonders and treats galore, from Queen Mary's dolls' house designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin Lutyens, to the ceremonial Grand Reception Room, cloaked in gold, via some of the most famous artworks in the world painted by the likes of Van Dyck, Hans Holbein and Rubens. Van Dyck's remarkable triple portrait Charles I in Three Positions hangs in the Queen's Drawing Room, alongside some of the finest Tudor and Stuart portraits in the Royal Collection. This room was built by Charles II as part of a suite of rooms that were intended to rival Versailles.

Another highlight not to be missed is the eye-catching tester bed in the King's Bed Chamber - made by George Jacob c1775-85, it's a glorious confection in gold, green and purple, topped with a luxuriant plume of ostrich feathers.

Did you know?

The Great Kitchen at Windsor is the oldest working kitchen in the country and has served 33 monarchs, including His Majesty King Charles III. The clocks in the Great Kitchen are always five minutes fast to ensure that the food served to His Majesty is never late.

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Opening times

Every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays and other specific days throughout the year (check the website before travelling).

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Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle has been the home of kings and queens for centuries. Built in 1103AD, during the reign of King David I, this is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. While parts of it remain in military use, the castle is now a famous visitor attraction and an iconic part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site.

Royal Places top visit Edinburgh castle

There are many highlights to take in on a trip to Edinburgh Castle, a major one being the Honours of Scotland - the oldest crown jewels in Britain. On display in the Crown Room, the crown was made for James V, who first wore it at the coronation of Queen Mary of Guise in 1540. Mary Queen of Scots was the first to be crowned using the new crown and sceptre together, in 1543.

The Queen's Embroideries, meanwhile, are an exquisite set of 37 replica embroideries created by Mary Queen of Scots during her exile in England. Mary sewed the embroideries while she was under house arrest. The work was done alongside the noblewoman Bess of Hardwick, the wife of the queen's jailer.

The birthing chamber is where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England. Crowned King of Scotland at just 13 months old, he became the first monarch of both Scotland and England in 1603.

As well as a home for the royal family, Edinburgh Castle also held prisoners of war and pirates in the vaults below Crown Square. In the 1700s and 1800s hundreds of prisoners of war were held in these dark, cramped spaces. Today, a recreation of the vaults as they would have looked around 1800 offers a glimpse into the grim way of life.

Did you know?

The One o'Clock Gun is still fired at 1pm every day (except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day) surprising passers-by on Princes Street below. Ships in the Firth of Forth once set their maritime clocks by it!

Opening times

Open all year round, but from March to October 2023 the Honours of Scotland will be removed from display one at a time for conservation work.

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Balmoral Castle & Estate

Balmoral was bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852 and is the Scottish holiday home of the royal family.

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle & Estate

Because Balmoral is still a royal residence, visitors to the castle are only permitted into the Ballroom, which is the largest room in the castle. While you can't go into other rooms in the castle you can view photographs of them around the walls of the Ballroom. Another highlight is the stables which house a collection of royal carriages and cars. To get a real feel for the vast estate you can book a private expedition tour for up to six people. For £330 you get a two-hour Land Rover tour through the parkland and gardens of Balmoral, then past the farm to the old Caledonian Pine Forest and then through the heather of Lochnagar.

Did you know?

The current castle isn't the building that Prince Albert originally bought. It was decided that the original building didn't suit the royal family’s needs, so Albert commissioned a new building to be constructed nearby. The work took four years and was completed in 1856. The old building was later demolished, but the place where its front door once stood is marked with a commemorative stone.

Opening times

Balmoral Castle is open to the public from April to July each year.

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Hillsborough Castle & Gardens

Hillsborough Castle has been a grand family home and is now the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and a royal residence. When they're visiting Northern Ireland, members of the royal family stay at Hillsborough. Since 2014, Historic Royal Palaces has taken over the running of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, restoring them to their former glory.

Hillsborough Castle

Interestingly, Hillsborough is a late 18th-century Irish Big House rather than a castle. Calling your home a castle was common amongst the Anglo-Irish upper classes to reinforce their families' antiquity. Hillsborough's name refers to the original building on this plot, which was lived in by the Hill family in the late 1700s.

Wills Hill became the first Marquess of Downshire in 1789, having been created Earl of Hillsborough in 1772. Wills had been Privy Councillor to George II in 1754. In 1768 he became the first Secretary of State for the Colonies, a role created to deal with Britain’s increasingly troublesome colonies in North America. It was in this latter role that Benjamin Franklin, known as one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, paid a visit to Hillsborough Castle in 1771.

Wills Hill built not only the house, but the Court House and Market House as well, improved the Church and restored the fort, turning it into a fashionable pleasure garden.

Did you know?

Negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement were conducted here in 1998.

Opening times

The castle is open on selected dates from 5th April to 30th October for individual tours but welcomes groups of 15 or more all year round. Gardens are open 1st March to 31st October.

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The best royal houses to visit in the UK

Sandringham House & Estate

Her Majesty The Queen opened Sandringham House to the public in her Jubilee year, 1977. The gardens meanwhile were first opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908. Sandringham is perhaps the best-known stately home in Norfolk and was a favourite retreat of Her Majesty The Queen. It is at Sandringham where the Windsors traditionally spend Christmas. The eight main ground floor rooms which are regularly used by the royal family are open to visitors and the decor and contents remain much as they were during Edwardian times.

Royal places to visit Sandringham

Sandringham is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as 'Sant Dersingham', the sandy part of Dersingham, subsequently shortened to Sandringham. There is evidence of a residence on the present site of the house as early as 1296; prehistoric flint tools have been found in the area and there are remains of a Roman villa quite close to nearby Appleton Farm.

In early 1862, Sandringham Hall with its estate of 7,700 acres was identified as potentially being for sale and a possible country home for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who was due to turn 21 later that year. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had decided that he should move from the family home to a house of his own. His principal residence was to be Marlborough House in London but it was felt that he should also have a private house well away from town so that he would be able to escape when duty permitted and enjoy the benefits of a healthy country life.

After a short time living here with his wife Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the Prince of Wales realised the house was too cramped and damp so knocked it down and rebuilt it, the main part being completed in 1870.

Did you know?

There is a museum in the former stable block at Sandringham housing an extraordinary collection, from a Merryweather fire engine to tiny Indian doll dancers.

Opening times

The house is open April to October. the royal park is open daily throughout the year.

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Palace of Holyroodhouse

At the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh lies the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarchy in Scotland since the 16th century. It is still a setting for state occasions and official entertaining. Mary Queen of Scots lived here from 1561-1567 and you can visit the chambers that she occupied.

Royal places to visit Palace of Holyroodhouse

Bonnie Prince Charlie set up court here for six weeks in 1745 when he set himself on a mission to claim the British throne for his father. The Great Gallery was used as the Prince's Audience Chamber during the day, and transformed in the evening for extravagant balls and receptions.

In the Ante-Chamber you can see where the Prince dined in public, watched by crowds of admiring spectators; and in Lord Darnley's Bedchamber, the sumptuous bed where he may have slept.

Other highlights include the State Apartments, the Throne Room and Privy Chamber and the Great Gallery.

Did you know?

Mary Queen of Scots witnessed the murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio, at Holyroodhouse on 9th March 1566. He was killed by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, and a group of powerful Scottish lords. It is claimed that the bloodstains from Rizzio's body are still visible in the Outer Chamber off the tiny Supper Room where he was left for all to see...

Opening times

All year round, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays (apart from July to September when the palace is open 7 days a week).

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Frogmore House

King George III's wife, Queen Charlotte, bought Frogmore, in the Home Park of Windsor Castle, in 1790. Queen Charlotte's passion for botany is reflected in the decoration of the house. She commissioned the renowned 18th-century flower painter Mary Moser to decorate one of the principal rooms so it resembled an arbour open to the skies. The Cross Gallery, meanwhile, was painted with garlands by Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte.

Royal places to visit Frogmore House

For almost 20 years, Frogmore was the home of Queen Victoria's mother, The Duchess of Kent. Works by her and her daughter are on display in the house. Queen Victoria often visited Frogmore during her long widowhood and worked on her papers there. You can also see watercolours by her daughters, Princesses Victoria and Louise in the house.

Did you know?

The Britannia Room contains artefacts from the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997. The late Duke of Edinburgh arranged for the objects to be moved to Frogmore. The Royal Mausoleum next to the house is where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried.

Opening times

Frogmore is currently closed to visitors.

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Clarence House

For almost five decades, Clarence House was the home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Princess Margaret also lived here from 1953. The house gets its name from its first inhabitant, William Henry, Duke of Clarence, later King William IV. Until recently it was the primary London home of King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort.

The arrangement of the rooms and the groupings of their contents remain much as they were in Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s time, with important works from Her Majesty’s collection of art in their original positions. A tour of the House includes five rooms on the ground floor where official engagements are undertaken.

Royal places to visit Clarence House

Did you know?

Following the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, they moved to Clarence House in 1947. Post-war restrictions on building and materials meant that there was still an overall simplicity to the furnishings. Much of the furniture came in the form of wedding presents. In the Dining Room, the Georgian dining table and 20 ladder-back chairs were the gift of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, while the mahogany sideboard and four side tables were a present from Queen Mary.

Opening hoursClarence House is currently closed to visitors.

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Highgrove House

Highgrove near Tetbury in Gloucestershire is the private residence of King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla. It was built between 1796 and 1798 on the site of a former building. Charles's predecessor here was Harold Macmillan's son, Maurice. Charles came to Highgrove in 1980 and has created - with the help of a team of gardeners - a series of interlinked gardens in a succession of inspiring tableaux.

Royal places to visit Highgrove

Highlights of the gardens include the Arboretum, with its acer, cherry trees, beech and magnolias. In spring the woods come alive with 40,000 snowdrops. Other bulbs include cyclamen, sweet woodruff, creeping buttercup and dog's mercury. The Sundial Garden meanwhile bursts into life in summer with showstopping delphiniums.

Did you know?

A new Highgrove Estate shop is due to open in summer 2023!

Opening hours

The house is not open to the public, but you can enjoy a guided spring walk on selected dates between 8th and 30th March 2023. Other tours are available on selected dates between April and October. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

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The best royal buildings to visit

Westminster Abbey

The royal church has a history spanning 1,000 years (it was founded by Benedictine monks in 960AD) and has been the coronation church since William the Conqueror - 39 monarchs have been crowned here. Charles III will be crowned here on 6th May.

Westminster Abbey, London
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High above the Abbey floor (16m to be precise), the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries are housed in the beautiful 13th-century triforium. Treasures abound from the coronation chair of Queen Mary II to Queen Elizabeth I's corset and the marriage licence for HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Did you know?

Over 3,000 Britons are buried here including 17 monarchs and famous people including Jane Austen, Sir Isaac Newton, Noel Coward, Charles Darwin and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Opening times

Monday to Saturday throughout the year.

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St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's was founded in 604AD. After it was destroyed in 1666 during the Great Fire of London, the current building was designed in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren (who incidentally was the first to be buried in his creation's tombs, in 1723). It has been the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of London for over 1,400 years.

St Paul's Cathedral
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This iconic building is a national treasure and provides a space for reflection, discovery, learning and debate. In 2019, nearly two million people were welcomed through the doors, to worship, sightsee, and attend a lively programme of concerts, educational events and performing arts. Historic sculpture, beautiful textiles and paintings of international significance are just a few of the categories of material found within The Collections, from The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt to Mother and Child: Hood by Henry Moore. These date from the earliest history of St Paul’s right up to the present day. The survival of many of these items is remarkable in itself; some have endured fires, civil war and The Blitz.

St Paul's Cathedral boasts one of the biggest domes in the world at 366 feet high, while the Whispering Gallery can project the tiniest of whispers.

Did you know?

Martin Luther King preached a sermon here to thousands of worshippers in 1964. He was invited by the then-canon John Collins and made a flying visit on his way to collect his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

Opening times

Monday to Saturday throughout the year

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The Tower of London

Regarded foremost as a prison and site of suffering and torture (during the Tudor age, the Tower became the most important state prison in the country), the Tower also guarded royal possessions and even the royal family in times of war and rebellion. William the Conqueror intended his mighty castle keep not only to dominate the skyline, but also the hearts and minds of the defeated Londoners. But for 500 years monarchs also used the Tower as a luxurious palace.

Today it is a fascinating place to visit – as protector of the Crown Jewels, and home of the world-famous ravens, the Tower now attracts over three million visitors a year. The famous Yeoman Warders, recognised globally as symbols of the Tower, have been here for centuries. They were originally part of the Yeomen of the Guard, the monarch’s personal bodyguard who travelled with him. Henry VIII decreed that some of them would stay and guard the Tower permanently.

Tower of London
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Don't miss the magnificent armour worn by Henry VIII, Charles I and James II in the Line of Kings in the dazzling White Tower. The basement of the White Tower is traditionally thought to be the site of the torture and interrogation of prisoners such as Guy Fawkes and the Jesuit Priest John Gerard. While on the top floor you will see an original executioner's block dating to the 18th century.

Displeasing both Queen Elizabeth I and her successor James I, Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower for 13 years and wrote books and poetry as well as tending a small courtyard garden to pass the time. Be sure to see the recreated garden on the site of his original apothecary garden during your visit.

Did you know?

All coins of the realm were made at the Tower Mint from the reign of Edward I until 1810. And Henry VII's personal guards were the first 'Beefeaters', so named as they were permitted to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King's table.

Opening times

Open all year round (closed 6th May) but check the website for daily opening and closing times which vary throughout the seasons.


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