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Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton is the biggest Royal Wedding for 20 years, which means millions want a piece of the action. On 29th April, the streets used for the short procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace will be awash with flag-waving merry makers and well-wishers. Beyond the parade itself though, what is there to see? Well, plenty. Here we look at the places of interest along the route through this most historic section of London…
Westminster Abbey to Parliament Square
One of the first great buildings the procession will pass before crossing Parliament Square is The UK Supreme Court. While the institution itself was only established in 2009, the marvellous ornamental neo-gothic structure has been here since 1913. And though the legal proceedings happening inside may be deadly serious, you're free to watch. There's also a permanent exhibition about the law, some historic portraits and even a pretty good café.
Next of course, come the Houses Of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster as the building is more properly known). The West Face where Big Ben stands will be a great vantage point for viewing the early part of the procession as the couple begin their journey from Westminster Abbey, before turning up Whitehall.
Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade
As the home of government, Whitehall is an important part of the celebrations, but a tiny sidestep off the wedding route onto Bridge Street will land you at the rather distinguished St Stephen's Tavern pub. Serving great real ale amongst old-fashioned furnishings, during its 130-years it's been frequented by the likes of Prime Ministers Harold MacMillan and Winston Churchill. These days it's a staple after-work haunt of civil servants and government-related workers, where you might even overhear some juicy gossip.
Also very slightly off-route and of even more historical importance than the pub, are the Churchill War Rooms. Possibly the most significant of all the Imperial War Museum’s branches, the site beneath the Treasury building is where the Prime Minister directed the British war effort between 1940 and 1945. The perfectly preserved rooms offer some of the best insights into WWII, while the adjacent museum explores Churchill's life.
The next street up on Whitehall is Downing St, which is naturally worth a glance and perhaps a quick snap, though you'll never see as much of the Prime Minister's house as you can online.
Shortly after passing the impressive Women of World War II monument on Whitehall, the parade begins its move away from the world of politics and back towards the regal, crossing Horse Guards Parade.
They may look like strange statues sat astride their mounts, but the soldiers (they do serve as an operational regiment) on duty here are very much real and alive and have a serious job. The unique Household Cavalry Museum, just behind where daily ceremonies take place, lets you behind-the-scenes at their stable block where you can see the horses and hear firsthand accounts of their training. You might even catch a smile.
The Mall to Buckingham Palace
What might be seen as the Queen's front garden (she has three in total), beautiful St James’s Park is the oldest of all the Royal Parks and dates to the time of Henry VIII. Wedding Day will probably see it packed tightly, but it's still a great space to rest and contemplate the stillness of the lake when all the excitement is over. Its café/restaurant Inn The Park is the place to stop for a bite too, with seasonal dishes truly fit for royalty.
Two of the best institutions housed opposite the park have nothing to do with the royal family. The lovely Mall Galleries, which are dedicated to contemporary British figurative art will be closed on the day of the Wedding, but the ICA, London's great bastion of vanguard arts will be open. Where else but London could you catch a royal wedding and a Korean thriller in the same place on the same day?
Parallel to part of The Mall is Carlton House Terrace, which claims the true address of the ICA (the main entrance is really at the back). A short street of two halves, it features two grand yet unassuming classically-styled terraces, which house the likes of serious institutions like the British Academy and the Royal Society. Number 5 however, is different: this is the address of The Turf Club, perhaps the most exclusive of all Gentleman's Clubs and one to which Wills himself allegedly holds membership. Quite what goes on inside will remain a mystery to most of us, especially since the club's own website was taken down some time ago.
Buckingham Palace might be where the Queen takes tea and watches telly, but St James’s Palace on Pall Mall remains her official residence and the most senior royal palace. Tiny by comparison, Clarence House, which stands within the sprawling complex is the current London residence of Wills, his brother and the Prince of Wales.
If you want a classy tipple befitting a spot of royal revelry, head up slightly further to Berry Bros & Rudd in St James’s Street. A 300-year-old wine merchant, the shop is essentially the Queen's local off-licence – they hold official Royal Warrants to supply both the monarch and Prince Charles (as well as supplying wine for Virgin Atlantic flights). Don't worry though, there are affordable bottles to be had and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.
Thanks to Flickr photographers Shark Attacks, avinashkunnash, grogri87 and Charlie Dave and to patrickwang on Dreamstime.com. Header image of Buckingham Palace in spring © Roland Nagy | Dreamstime.com.
Whether you're going to watch the procession or heading into town and want to avoid it, check Transport for London’s advice page for the day.
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About the author: andrewAndrew Bowman
Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.