If you’re a fan of the royal family or even a British history buff, then a trip planned around the regal residences of England and Scotland, past and present, will be the crown jewel in your upcoming travel plans. We’ve crafted an itinerary fit for Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch in history, complete with palaces, afternoon tea, gardens and historic hotels in four of Her Majesty’s homes: London, Windsor, Edinburgh and Balmoral.
There’s much to take in on the royal front in London, the nation’s capital and the official home of Queen Elizabeth II, so don’t delay. Start at the epicenter: Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty’s London residence and the administrative headquarters of the British royal family. The palatial 775-room property opens its doors to visitors every summer, so you can peek into select staterooms and see the gardens where, every year, more than 30,000 guests are hosted at the Queen’s Garden Parties. You’ll also want to take in the Changing the Guard, a brilliant display of British pageantry, which runs daily in the summer in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.
Next, tour Westminister Abbey, the more than 1,000-year-old church where the Queen’s wedding and Coronation were held, in addition to many more before her – every Coronation since 1066 has taken place here. Opt for the self-guided multimedia tour, available in 14 languages, to ensure you capture all the history – 30 kings and queens (including Queen Elizabeth I and her half-sister Queen Mary I) are buried here, for starters.
Plus: Speak to one of our expert Travel Designers about exclusive experiences in London, such as a private tour of Kensington Palace, a royal-themed champagne afternoon tea for two, a recital by a trio from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and more.
Rumored to be among Her Majesty’s favorite restaurants, Claridge’s Foyer & Reading Room has a long history of hosting the rich, famous, and royal. Enjoy elevated takes on British and French classics, like côte de boeuf with Dauphinoise potatoes, béarnaise, and red wine jus, and Claridge’s Cornish lobster risotto – the dish that executive chef Martyn Nail says best represents Claridge’s – in the elegant dining room complete with pristine white tablecloths, original art deco mirrors, and a grand piano.
For a traditional afternoon tea, why not head to a dining room named in honor of the Queen herself? The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly was named for Her Majesty in 2012. The afternoon tea menu includes finger sandwiches (cucumber with mint cream cheese and Suffolk cured ham with English mustard), scones with clotted cream, and Fortnum’s own preserves, a selection of pâttisseries, and, of course, a pot of tea. The best part, though, is once you’re finished, you can explore the six floors of the gourmet grocer and shop the limited-edition Platinum Jubilee collection, featuring teaware, sweets, and memorabilia to commemorate the Queen’s 70-year reign.
Since you can’t spend the night in a royal residence, checking into The Rubens at the Palace is the next best thing – the hotel overlooks the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace, which is the entrance used by the royal family. Book one of the royal-themed guest rooms, which, in addition to being outfitted with luxurious linens and furnishings, feature opulent crystal chandeliers and portraits of royals, past and present – the ideal quarters to retreat to after a day of royal-inspired sightseeing. Double down on your chances to spot the Queen or another member of her clan during your stay by booking the Royal Afternoon Tea in the Palace Lounge, which also looks out over the Royal Mews. The menu features an array of sandwiches, scones, pastries, and seasonal preserves, with special menus for kids, vegetarians and vegans, and guests looking for halal options, too.
The Queen spends most of her private weekends at Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle, located just a one-hour drive west of central London. (Look for the Royal Standard flying atop the Round Tower – it signifies the Queen is in residence.) Open year-round for visitors, you’ll see the State Apartments that the Queen and members of the royal family use today and, on the same grounds, the Gothic St. George’s Chapel, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were married in 2018 and, more recently, where Prince Philip’s funeral took place.
While there’s no connection to the Queen at the Waterside Inn, you will feel like royalty as you dine on impeccably executed French dishes at this three-star Michelin restaurant set on the bank of the Thames River. In the warmer months, a seat on its riverside terrace is the perfect setting to savor a whole braised Dover sole with lobster mousseline, asparagus tips, champagne, and chive sauce for two.
Make Fairmont Windsor Park, a brand-new 200-room property set on a sprawling estate, your home base in the Windsor area. Located at the edge of Windsor Great Park – a 4,800-acre conservation area filled with gardens, walking paths, and ponds – you’re a quick 10-minute drive from the town of Windsor, for all of your sightseeing needs. (And, if attending Royal Ascot in June, it’s just a 15-minute drive to the racecourse.) But, with a fully-equipped spa (complete with 18 treatment rooms, a traditional Hammam, indoor and outdoor pools, and a Himalayan salt room that looks out over the courtyard vitality pool), tennis courts, seven bars, restaurants, and a Truefitt & Hill barbershop, you may not want to go too far.
Situated at the base of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town, Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, as well as the home of former monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots, who lived here between 1561 and 1567. When touring the palace, be sure to see her bedchambers, located in the palace’s oldest section. You’ll also be able to view the Throne Room and Privy Chamber, where, today, the Queen hosts events and private audiences during Holyrood Week, her annual stay in June.
Another must-see royal residence in Edinburgh is on the water, in the Port of Leith. Climb aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, which served the royal family for 44 years before being decommissioned in 1997. Start at the Royal Deck Tea Room for a sandwich, scone, and cuppa while taking in views over the Firth of Forth, before touring the State Apartments, State Dining Room, and the teak-lined Sun Lounge, one of the Queen’s favorite rooms on board the floating palace.
Plus: Talk to a Travel Designer about exclusive experiences in Scotland, such as a private visit to Edinburgh Castle with dinner in the Jacobite Room, a private visit to Mary Queen Close, a private dinner in the library of the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, a Highland safari, bagpipe classes and more.
Since you’ve got a feel for that luxurious yacht life, head over to the Royal Yacht Britannia’s sister ship, Fingal, for dinner. Also permanently berthed in Leith, the 23-cabin floating boutique hotel is home to The Lighthouse Restaurant & Bar, where you’ll enjoy a view of the bustling port outside. Stick with the sea theme by starting with the salmon, which is smoked on board in the ship’s galley, followed by the Scottish halibut served with saffron spaghetti and wild leeks.
Set in the heart of Edinburgh, between the city’s Old and New Towns, is The Balmoral – the perfect home base from which to explore. You’re within walking distance to all the major sights: Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, and the Scott Monument – and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a view of them from your guest room, too. Designed by Olga Polizzi, the Director of Design at Rocco Forte Hotels, the rooms and suites pull from the dramatic Scottish landscape, featuring a palette of blue, green and grey, plus tartan textiles and nature-inspired wallpaper. Be sure to round out your tour of afternoon teas in the impossibly elegant Palm Court, seated beneath its glass dome and Venetian chandelier while a harpist plays from the balcony above.
Balmoral Castle, in the Highlands’ Cairngorms National Park, is the royal family’s summer home – and supposedly the most beloved of all the Queen’s addresses. It was originally purchased by her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert for his wife Queen Victoria in 1852, as she was besotted with the Highlands. Balmoral is open to visitors from April 1 until August 1, when the Queen and various members of her family arrive for their holidays. A tour here includes access to the grounds, gardens, and Castle Ballroom, the largest room, which is used for dances when the Queen is visiting. And not just any dance - known as the Ghillies Ball, the event has occurred annually since Queen Victoria’s reign (except for 2020 and 2021).
A private visit to the estate can be arranged, too: speak with one of our Travel Designers.
If you go to Scotland and don’t visit a distillery, were you even in Scotland? Located less than two kilometers from Balmoral Castle, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery is a small operation that produces a range of single malt whiskies. Choose from a selection of tours to learn how the whiskies are made and to sample what flows from the casks – from the signature tour and tasting, where you’ll sip four varieties, to a whisky and chocolate pairing featuring Braemar chocolates, made just down the road.
Just 15 minutes from Balmoral Castle is The Fife Arms, a 19th-century hunting lodge-turned-luxury hotel in the village of Braemar. Owned by Iwan and Manuela Wirth of the international gallery Hauser & Wirth, The Fife Arms is all about art, with more than 16,000 artworks, antiques, and artifacts on display throughout the property, including in its 46 rooms and suites. With views looking out over Cairngorms National Park and a wildflower-filled garden designed by Jinny Blom, who has worked with the Prince of Wales, you will understand what drew Queen Victoria to this stunning region, and why it’s so dear to the royal family today. Fully immerse yourself into the landscape with one of the hotel’s experiences, such as a wild sketching workshop or an outing with the in-house forager.