How does one fete a queen, particularly one who has held the same position for seven decades? With fireworks, parades, and perhaps the odd joust; in short, with all the pomp and pageantry of a Platinum Jubilee, if the lady in question happens to be Queen Elizabeth II, 95, the first British monarch to serve for 70 years.
Elizabeth was just 25 when her father, George VI, died on Feb. 6, 1952, catapulting the petite princess to the head of the United Kingdom’s monarchy. Since her coronation on June 2, 1953, at Westminster Abbey, she and her family have scarcely been out of the headlines — but the public gaze has perhaps never been more sharply focused on the queen than it is in her Platinum Jubilee year.
A variety of events and exhibitions marking this milestone will be ongoing throughout Britain this year, with key celebrations June 2-5 in London and nearby. Here are some top tips if you want to join the party as the U.K. rolls out the red carpet for well-wishers from around the world this year.
A royal long weekend (June 2-5)
June 2: Festivities commence with Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s Birthday Parade. Prancing horses, military marching bands, and gilded carriages ferrying members of the
royal family will proceed from Buckingham Palace down The Mall to Horse Guard’s Parade (HGP), followed by a Royal Air Force flyover. Catch a glimpse from the roadside or get a better view with a ticket for the ceremony at HGP, a large parade ground (from about $13.50). Later that evening, more than 1,500 beacons will be lit around the U.K. and the Commonwealth, with a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace and fireworks at the Long Walk near Windsor Castle (less than an hour from London’s Paddington and Waterloo train stations).
June 3: While St. Paul’s Cathedral is holding an invitation-only Service of Thanksgiving for the queen’s reign, consider spending the day at one of the monarchy’s ancestral abodes outside London. Hampton Court Palace (about an hour from the Waterloo station), embodies elements of Henry VIII’s Tudor design (a soaring Great Hall and ornate chapel) as well as the Baroque 18th-century grandeur of its later occupants, William III and Mary II. From June 1 to 5, the palace is hosting an added attraction: a “Jubilee Joust” in its 60-plus acres of gardens, where you can cheer for your favorite knight and his mount.
Alternatively, head to Windsor Castle, which has served as a royal residence for more than 1,000 years and is Queen Elizabeth’s preferred weekend getaway. St. George’s Chapel — the Gothic church on the castle grounds — will host a ticketed Jubilee Concert on June 3 featuring music from across the British Isles.
June 4: A horse-racing enthusiast, the queen will attend the Derby at Epsom Downs (about an hour from London’s Victoria Station). Choose from a variety of ticketed enclosures to suit your taste and budget, or watch from free areas on The Hill at the center of the course, where big screens broadcast the action.
In Windsor, the Jubilee Picnic in the Park will feature food stalls, live music, and classic cars. Big screens will show the BBC’s Platinum Party at the Palace, a Buckingham Palace concert featuring music megastars. The acts have not yet been announced, but Elton John and Paul McCartney performed at her 2012 Diamond Jubilee, so expect high-wattage entertainment.
June 5: This weekend of royal revelry culminates with a three-act Platinum Pageant that will flow past Buckingham Palace and through neighboring streets like Merry Old England’s version of Mardi Gras. There will be performers staging a fairy tale about the queen’s life, written by War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo; theatrical vignettes depicting evocative moments from her reign, including her marriage to the late Prince Philip; plus acrobats, trapeze artists, and a puppet dragon bigger than a double-decker bus. Public viewing points, including big screens where royal watchers can gather to celebrate in key outdoor locations, will be announced closer to the date.
Before and after the big weekend
If you can’t attend the celebrations in early June, don’t fret. By visiting at a quieter time, you’ll avoid the biggest crowds and be able to take in additional Platinum Jubilee exhibitions in and around London. However, you’ll still generally need to book tickets well in advance. If you plan to take in an array of London’s landmarks and attractions, Visit London and Visit Britain offer a selection of sightseeing passes.
Life Through a Royal Lens (through Oct 30): At Kensington Palace, peruse images of the royal family from the 19th century through the present, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their daughter, Princess Victoria, on her wedding day; Cecil Beaton’s vibrant coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II; and intimate family moments captured by Lord Snowdon, the husband of Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret. Included with a palace ticket($27 for adults, $22 for adults 65 and older).
A Gallop Through History at Windsor Castle (May 12-15): The old showbiz adage “Never work with children or animals” clearly does not apply to this Platinum Jubilee equestrian celebration, held on Windsor Castle’s private grounds. Be entertained by more than 500 horses and 1,000 performers as they transport the audience on a journey spanning four and a half centuries, from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of Elizabeth II. The 90-minute spectacle is sold out, but it will be televised by ITV on May 15. You can still snare tickets to the Royal Windsor Horse Show, which will take place earlier in the day in the same venue and feature categories like show jumping, dressage, endurance, and carriage driving ($34 for adults, $24.50 for adults over 65).
Superbloom at the Tower of London (June 1-Sept 18): To commemorate the Jubilee, the Tower’s former 13th-century moat will be transformed into a bloomin’ beauty, with more than 20 million seeds bursting into blossom. You can admire the floral display for free from a public viewing platform, although you’ll still need a timed ticket. For a fee ($15 for adults, $11 for adults 65 and older), you can meander along a winding footpath through the moat, perhaps even opting to make a splash (figuratively speaking) by entering via a giant slide — although organizers stress there will be a more traditional entrance as well.
Make a day of it by combining moat access with entry to the Tower complex, where highlights include the Crown Jewels; the White Tower, with its imposing displays of armor; and entertaining tours by the Tower guards, the “Beefeaters.”(Entry to both: $47.50 for adults, $40.50 adults 65 and older)
The Queen’s Accession at Buckingham Palace (July 22-Oct. 2): Admire the fresh-faced beauty of the young Elizabeth in Dorothy Wilding’s 1950s portraits, which many will recognize from the queen’s image emblazoned on mid-20th-century postage stamps and displayed at British embassies around the world. The photos will be featured alongside a selection of the queen’s jewelry, including a diamond tiara that her grandmother, Queen Mary, gave her when she wed Prince Philip on Nov. 20, 1947. Entry is included with a ticket ($41) to Buckingham Palace State Rooms. For an additional $19, you can also ogle the elaborately carved and gilded carriages in the palace’s Royal Mews (May 19–Oct. 2).
The Queen’s Coronation at Windsor Castle (July 7-Sept. 26): Marvel at the elaborate gold and silver embroidery adorning the white satin gown the queen wore at her 1953 coronation beneath the velvet, ermine-trimmed Robe of Estate, also on display. Exhibition access is included with entry to Windsor Castle (adults from $36), featuring the magnificent State Apartments and 15th-century St. George’s Chapel.
Where to stay and dine
Inexpensive accommodations will be few and far between in London over the Platinum Jubilee June weekend, with many hotels already sold out. If you spot a room deal that seems too good to be true, read the fine print. Is it in a desirable location? Does it have an en suite bathroom? Does it have a window? Is it even big enough to accommodate a Chihuahua, much less a full-sized human or two? If you’re looking for a bargain, it’s best not to visit in early June. Here are some suggestions in different neighborhoods.
Proximity for a price: If you want to be at the center of the action for the Platinum Jubilee June weekend, you can’t get much closer than The Rubens at the Palace, overlooking the Royal Mews entrance to Buckingham Palace; or The Goring, which borders the palace and is the only hotel to hold a Royal Warrant. Even if you don’t snag a room at these posh, pedigreed hotels, you can still enjoy their afternoon tea or other Platinum Jubilee dining experiences. The Michelin-starred Dining Room at the Goring is offering a menu inspired by dishes served during the 1953 coronation, and the Rubens will host several Jubilee events June 2-4, including a seven-course dinner featuring the queen’s personal bagpiper ($400 per person) and a 1950s-themed “street party” in the hotel’s New York Bar ($204 per person).
A big caveat: To be in such intimate proximity to the palace in June will set you back a bundle. Doubles start at $470 at the Rubens and $960 at the Goring, which is also offering a Platinum Jubilee package for $1,180 per night, including two nights’ accommodation, full
English breakfast each morning, the Jubilee Bollinger Afternoon Tea for two, two Jubilee Fizz cocktails with canapés, and a three-course dinner for two from a set menu in The Dining Room with champagne and petits fours.
The turreted 19th-century St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel boasts glamorous public spaces, a spa, and a pool, but its chief asset is its location, just steps from King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground Station, where six Underground Tube lines meet. It’s the perfect base for accessing sites across London, including Buckingham Palace. In June, doubles start at $468.
King’s Cross is a hub for dining, too, with nearby Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square offering dozens of reasonably priced options like Dishoom, which serves Indian dishes in a Bombay-style café, and Granary Square Brasserie, where you can savor British favorites like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and smoked salmon surrounded by crystal chandeliers and vibrantly colored velvet seating. On weekends, locals flock to Canopy Market, in Victorian steel and glass-covered hall. Vendors hawk inexpensive grab-and-go fare, like gooey meat-and-cheese-filled “toasties” and Chinese barbecue, as well as handicrafts and jewelry.
Stylish and (slightly) less expensive: For foodies and artistic souls who don’t mind sharing the sidewalk with boisterous members of Generations Y and Z, The Courthouse Hotel, a Baroque property less than 4 miles northeast of Buckingham Palace, beckons with a pool, spa and rooftop bar. In June, doubles start at $325.
Neighborhood highlights include some of London’s best street art, Brick Lane’s curry houses and vintage shops, and restaurants that run the gamut from Michelin-starred The Clove Club, across the street from the hotel, to Italian sharing plates at Popolo, where gastronomes belly up at the kitchen bar to watch the chefs at work. For a real deal, head to Padella, which serves fresh pasta dishes from $11 at two locations: Shoreditch and Borough Market, an epicurean epicenter near London Bridge, less than 2 miles away.
Outside London: Not only does Windsor boast a striking castle at its center, but hotels are generally less expensive than you’ll find in London, and it’s only 7 miles to Ascot Racecourse, where the queen will attend Royal Ascot’s opening day on June 14. If you’re flying into Heathrow, you can pre-book a taxi from the airport to central Windsor for about $30.
You’ll find a variety of accommodations in Windsor and neighboring Eton. For modern elegance in a boutique Georgian building, consider Castle Hotel, which sits almost on the doorstep of Windsor Castle. In June you can find doubles from $177.50. The hotel restaurant, Leaf, a light and airy confection draped in greenery, offers British classics starting at $20 and a Queen’s Jubilee afternoon tea for $36.
The Tube is often much faster and less expensive than a taxi when traveling around London. Plan your journey on the Transport for London website. If you’re taking a train beyond London, map your route with National Rail.