Royal sites to visit in Britain
Britain has a long history of kings and queens, whose stories are kept alive in the very places they lived, loved and ruled. Many of the current Royal family's residences are open to the public, offering a glimpse into the lives of some of Britain's most famous faces. There are too many to list them all; these are some of the most iconic sites.
1. Buckingham Palace, London
Walk among the lavish furniture and treasures from the Royal Collection at the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837, when its 19 state rooms open to the public (2016: from 23 July - 2 October). Visitors can also wander round the palace garden - home to 30 different species of birds and more than 350 different wild flowers.
In2016, to celebrate The Queen's 90th birthday on 21 April, the palace will host Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe, a celebration of regal fashion across 10 decades, from the 1920s to the 2010s (August - September). Web:royalcollection.org.uk
Getting there: The Palace is a ten-minute walk from either Victoria tube station, on the District & Circle lines, Green Park station, on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines or Hyde Park Corner station, on the Piccadilly Line.
2. Kensington Palace, London
Official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, once home to the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, and to Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as the heart of court life in the 17th and 18th centuries, Kensington Palace underwent a £12 million transformation in 2012 that has improved the visitor experience.
One of its permanent exhibitions is Victoria Revealed, exploring the life and loves of the only other British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria. Web: hrp.org.uk
Getting there: The Palace is a 15-minute walk from either High Street Kensington tube station, on the District & Circle lines or Queensway tube station, on the Central Line.
3. Hampton Court. Surrey, south-east England
Hampton Court is the story of two palaces - the Tudor palace created by Cardinal Wolsey, which he lost to King Henry VIII, and the later baroque palace created by William Ill and Mary II.
Today's highlights include the beautiful Chapel Royal, the Tudor kitchens, the magnificent Great Hall, and the Haunted Gallery as well as the 60 acres of magnificent gardens featuring sparkling fountains, glorious displays of more than 200,000 flowering bulbs and 750 acres of tranquil royal parkland. Web: hrp.org.uk
Getting there: A direct, 35-minute train journey runs twice an hour from London Waterloo -
the palace is a short 200-metre walk across the bridge from the station.
4. Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, south central England
The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, Windsor is one of the Queen's favourite royal residences. The Castle's dramatic site encapsulates 900 years of British history and, alongside the royal palace, the Gothic St George's Chapel contains the tombs of ten sovereigns, including Henry VIII. Web: royalcollection.org.uk.
Across the River Thames from Windsor is famous public school, Eton - old Etonians include the current British prime minister, David Cameron, as well as the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
To celebrate The Queen's 90th birthday on 21 April 2016, Windsor Castle is hosting 90-minute shows with music, dance and equestrianism from 12 - 15 May. Tickets are sold out but you can enter the ballot for the chance to see the 15 May event on big screens on Windsor Great Park's Long Walk.
Getting there: By train Windsor is a half-hour journey from London Paddington station or an hour's journey from London Waterloo station.
5. Sandringham, Norfolk, east England
The private residence and much-loved country retreat of the Queen, Sandringham in Norfolk has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs since 1862. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are even rumoured to have been given a house on its estate by the Queen.
Sandringham House, garden and museum are open to the public; in 2016 it will open daily from 26 March to 30 October inclusive except for 27 July. Web: sandringhamestate.co.uk
Getting there: The nearest train station is King's Lynn - six miles from the estate - and can be reached by train from London Kings Cross station in less than two hours. Sandringham is around a three-hour car journey from London.
6. Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh
The Queen's former floating royal residence - now a five-star visitor attraction - is berthed permanently in Edinburgh. The Royal Yacht has played host to some of the world's most famous people but, above all, was home for the British Royal family for more than 40 years. You can tour the ship and enjoy traditional afternoon tea and cakes on the deck.
On 21 April and 12 June 2016, the Royal Yacht Britannia will be throwing parties to celebrate The Queen's 90th birthday with free drink, cake and music. Web: royalyachtbritannia.co.uk
Getting there: Berthed in Leith, the Royal Yacht Britannia is a short walk from Edinburgh's main shopping district of Princes Street.
7. Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
Set among the magnificent scenery of Royal Deeside the Balmoral estate in northern Scotland covers just over 50,000 acres of heather-clad hills and ancient Caledonian woodland. The grounds, gardens and exhibitions are open to visit from 25 March - 31 July.
Admission includes access to the formal and vegetable gardens, wildlife, Balmoral and audio-visual exhibitions, as well as the largest room in the castle, the Ballroom. All other rooms are not open to the public as they are The Queen's private rooms. Web: balmoralcastle.com.
Getting there: The nearest train station and international airport is in Aberdeen, around 50 miles east of Balmoral. Flight time from London to Aberdeen is around 90 minutes, while a train journey from Edinburgh to Aberdeen takes two-and-a-half-hours.
8. The Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh
The Queen's official residence in Scotland, this fine baroque palace stands at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile and is closely associated with Scotland's rich history; perhaps best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Today the State Apartments are used regularly by The Queen and other members of the Royal Family for State ceremonies and official entertaining, yet the palace's Royal Apartments are open year-round except for Royal visits and certain other dates.
As part of the Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe exhibition to mark The Queen's 90th birthday, the palace will be celebrating the use of tartan in royal dress (21 April – October 2016). Web: royalcollection.org.uk/
Getting there: The Palace is a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station.
9. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh
At the other end of the Royal Mile from Holyroodhouse and dominating the city skyline stands Edinburgh Castle, where the Royal family used to stay when in Edinburgh. Perched on an extinct volcano, this instantly recognisable fortress is a powerful national symbol and part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. It is also home to the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. Web: edinburghcastle.gov.uk
Getting there: The castle is a short walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station.
10. Castle of Mey, Thurso, Caithness
The Castle of Mey, formerly Barrogill Castle, is the most northerly inhabited castle on the mainland. Having rescued it from ruin, the Queen Mother renovated it, restored it, created the beautiful gardens and used it as her summer holiday home in the far north of Scotland. Today, it is open to the public to visitors who come for the history and the magnificent views of the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Islands. Web: castleofmey.org.uk
Getting there: The nearest train station is Thurso, a four-hour journey from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, which has an international airport.
11. Caernarfon Castle, north Wales
A brute of a fortress. Caernarfon Castle's pumped-up appearance is unashamedly intimidating. Picking a fight with this massive structure would have been a daunting prospect. By throwing his weight around in stone, King Edward I created what is surely one of the most impressive of Wales' castles and a World Heritage Site to boot. In 1969, the investiture of the current Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles, took place here. Web: cadw.wales.gov.uk
Getting there: The nearest train station is Bangor, a four-hour train journey from the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Alternatively, travel from Liverpool in north-west England by train; it's a two-hour journey to Bangor.
12. Hillsborough Castle, County Down
The official residence of the Queen in Northern Ireland, this impressive 18th-century mansion was built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire. Formerly the home of the Governor of Northern Ireland, the mansion is now the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
See the State Drawing Room, Dining Rooms and the furniture plus silver from HMS Nelson. Within the grounds is Europe's largest rhododendron bush. The Castle is open for tours daily from 20 March - 3 April and from 2 July - 4 September and at weekends in April, May, June and September including Bank Holidays. The gardens are open all year. Web: hrp.org.uk
Getting there: County Down is a 40-minute drive south of Belfast.
Author: Visit Britain