Opening the Royal houses

Opening the Royal houses

Last spring, when Prince Harry married Toronto-based actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle,  two billion viewers from around the globe tuned in for the big day.  It was estimated that the wedding contributed $1 billion to the British economy. And now that Harry and Meghan are  having a child, the couple are on the cover of just about every magazine and tabloid in the checkout line.
People are still fascinated with the Queen and her kids and grandchildren, and while you might not have received an invitation to Prince Harry's wedding, there are plenty of places where you can get up close and personal with the British Royal Family and their history. Here are four of the best spots:

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Above: The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle touched off interest in Royal houses.


Buckingham Palace

Billing itself as the most famous palace in the world, Buckingham Palace was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1837. It is an enormous complex, featuring  more than 775 rooms, including 52 official royal bedrooms and guest rooms. (The Palace staff  alone occupy 188 bedrooms, 78 bathrooms and 92 offices.)  It's also the home to the Changing of the Guard ceremony,  which has a Canadian connection — the bearskin hats worn by the British Foot Guard, which rise 45cms high and weigh about 1kg, are made from the fur of Canadian black bears.

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Windsor Castle

Founded by William the Conqueror  and home to the British monarchy for the past 1,000 years, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It's also Queen Elizabeth's favourite place to spend her private weekends. The highlight of any visit to Windsor is St. George's Chapel, the final resting place for 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII. It’s also the place where Harry and Meghan were married. The Castle's state rooms are dotted with paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens.

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Hampton Court Palace

Anyone who watched the Oscar-winning movie, The Favourite, will have seen Hampton Court Palace, especially the scenes shot in the kitchens. (They date back to Henry VIII. He and his retinue of 800 courtiers were a hungry bunch and the cooks punched out 1,600 meals a day.) The palace and its 750 acres of parkland and gardens are located on the Thames River, just east of London's city centre, and is famous for its puzzle maze.

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Balmoral Castle

 When the Queen and family need a break from the mad rush of London, they make the trek to Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands for the months of August and September. Owned privately by the Queen, the estate stretches to nearly 50,000 acres and is home to 150 buildings, including a malt whisky distillery and cottages which can be rented by the public. The family are familiar faces in the neighbourhood. They often attend church at the small Kirk at Craithie — Princess Anne was remarried here in 1992 and John Brown, Queen Victoria's favourite servant, is buried in the Craithie churchyard. The Royals also make an appearance at the Braemar Gathering,  the famous Highland Games (Sept. 7 this year).

Other Royal houses to visit

• Westminster Abbey in central London has been the setting for every coronation since 1066 and the location for 16 royal weddings. The most recent was Will and Kate's big day on April 29, 2011.

• Sandringham House and Estate in Norfolk is owned privately by the Queen and is the spot where she and family spend each Christmas vacation. Open to the public from April to November, Sandringham recently made the headlines when Prince Philip was involved in a car accident outside of the estate and flipped his Land Rover. The 97-year-old Duke subsequently gave up his driving license.

• Kensington Palace in London has housed everyone from Queen Victoria to Princess Diana and is the spot where Queen Anne, the focus of The Favourite, died. The Palace recently featured a display of costumes worn in the movie.

• Edinburgh Castle, which rises above the city on a rocky crag, is home to the  Scottish Crown Jewels. At the bottom of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyrood, the Queen's official residence in Scotland.

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