Happy Birthday Queen Victoria! 200 years ago on May 24 Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace. She and I share a birthday (I’m not quite 200 but it sometimes feels like it) so come with me on a birthday tour of Queen Victoria’s London.
Queen Victoria’s London
London was a very different place when Queen Victoria was born, many of London’s landmarks like the Houses of Parliament weren’t built until well into her reign. Let us discover the buildings she lived in and loved to visit.
Kensington Palace was Queen Victoria’s childhood home, it was here that she first laid eyes on Prince Albert and here that she became Queen. In later life she painted her childhood as being lonely, but her diaries indicate a happy time and in reality she had her step-sister Princess Feodora of Leiningen to play with and visits from her step-brother Prince Carl of Leiningen.
On 24 May 1836 Princess Victoria looked down these stairs at the guests gathering for her 17th birthday party. It was here that she first laid eyes on Prince Albert and liked what she saw. Although the two danced together that night it was to be four more years before they married.
Kensington Palace has two special exhibitions on to mark Victoria’s 200th birthday one looks at her childhood and the other at her life as Queen.
Visiting Kensington Palace
- Kensington Gardens, W8 4PX
- Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
- Admission: Adults £17.50, concessions available, members go free
Royal Opera House
Queen Victoria loved the opera and ballet. When she was a child she made over 300 dolls many of whom represented her favourite characters from shows that she had seen. She would often visit the Royal Opera House, sitting in the Royal Box with the best view in the house. Her favourite singers were Luigi Lablache (who also came to Kensington Palace to five her singing lessons) and Giulia Grisi. Tickets for the Opera can be expensive but the Royal Opera House is open every day from 10am and has an array of activities that will not break the bank.
Queen Victoria was crowned in Westminster Abbey, as have all but two monarchs ever since 1066. Those exceptions, Edward V, who was one of the Princes in the Tower and was presumed murdered before he could be crowned and Edward VIII who abdicated before being crowned. You can see the Coronation chair which she sat in for both her coronation and during the service to celebrate her diamond jubilee. So much more than just a chair, the Coronation Chair, was commissioned by Edward I in 1300 to contain the Stone of Scone and has been used at every coronation since. Whilst you are in the Abbey you can pop in and see the truly spectacular royal tombs, not Victoria and Albert though as they rest in Frogmore.
Visting Westmister Abbey
- 20 Dean’s Yard, London, SW1P 3PA
- Open: Monday – Friday 9.30am – 3.30pm, Wednesday lates 4.30pm – 6.30pm, Saturday 9am – 3pm (1pm in the winter)
- Admission: Adult £21, family tickets and concessions available
- Services: Attending a service is free, check website for details
- There are always long queues for Westminster Abbey, book online to avoid them.
Victoria and Albert’s London
Prince Albert was only a few months younger than his wife, so it is his 200th anniversery this year too. Victoria and Albert lived and loved in London, many of the landmarks that we know and love today were in part their creation.
Chapel Royal, St James Palace
Victoria and Albert got married in the Chapel Royal at St James’ Palace in 1841. This may sound really, really odd but the Chapel Royal is not really a building. It has wall and windows and looks like a building. No the Chapel Royal is an establishment. A collection of priests and singers ready to serve the spiritual needs of the Sovereign. Once upon a time the Chapel Royal used to travel around until permanent chapels were established. Visiting the Chapel Royal is only possible if you attend one of the regular Sunday services at 8.30am or 11.15. Sometimes there are other services for special religious days or just evensong. Check out the Chapel Royal website for details. Do bear in mind that these are religious services and not performances for tourists. For the less religiously minded the Chapel is usually open during Open House weekend in September.
Just as soon as she became Queen, Victoria moved to what was then Buckingham House, the first reigning monarch to do so. It was a grand house but by no means grand enough so she set about transforming it into a Palace. Buckingham Palace was Victoria and Albert’s London home. You can tour the State Rooms every summer, read about our visit to Buckingham Palace here.
Visiting the Buckingham Palace State Rooms
- Open: Late July – late September, Daily 9.30am – 5,15pm
- Admission: Adult £25, family and concessions available
- Have your ticket stamped when you leave and it becomes an annual pass enabling you to visit as often as you want.
- Booking is essential via the Royal Collection Trust website
- Combined tickets including the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery are also available.
The Royal Mews are where the Royal horses and carriages are kept (and nowadays the Royal cars too) round the back of Buckingham Palace. Unlike the Palace you can visit the Mews all year round. Queen Victoria described the mews as being like a small village that belongs to Buckingham Palace, she established a school for children of the people who worked here. Prince Albert had a forge created for shedding the horses and maintaining the carriages. You can see the Gold State Coach that Victoria (and every other monarch since George IV) rode to her coronation in.
Visiting the Royal Mews
- Open: Daily 10am – 4.15pm (3.15pm in the winter)
- Admission: Adult £12, family and concession tickets available
- Combination tickets with Buckingham Palace available
- Have your ticket stamped on your way out and it becomes an annual pass enabling you to visit as often as you want for a year.
- The Royal Mews are part of the working palace and may be shut on certain days for state occasions, check the website for details.
Queen Victoria took her first train journey from Slough to Paddington on 13 June 1842. The 18 mile journey took a little over half an hour and was two hours quicker than the same journey by horse and carriage. It become her regular way to travel between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. When Queen Victoria died aged 81, her body was taken by train from Paddington to be buried next to Albert at Frogmore.
Prince Albert came up with the idea of the Great Exhibition, held in a magnificent Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. His idea was much derided to begin with but was a magnificent success. He used the profits from the exhibition to buy a plot of land to south of the exhibition site to house a series institutions, schools, museums, universities and a concert hall to ensure that the legacy of the Great Exhibition continued. Most were built after his untimely death but you can wander around Albertopolis today and see his dream come true. Wander around and you will see the Royal College of Art, Royal College of Music, Royal Geographical Society, Imperial College, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. All his idea and all still here.
Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861, he was only 42. Queen Victoria was devastated, she wore black mourning for the rest of her life. The Albert Memorial within sight of the Great Exhibition site, was paid for by public subscription and took ten years to build. George Gilbert Scott designed the 176 foot tall arched canopy, John Henry Foley created the golden statue of Prince Albert. Around the base of memorial are statues representing Argriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Manufacturing, Africa, America, Asia and Europe.
Royal Albert Hall
Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the building in 1867 and declared that she wanted the building to be known as the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences. When it was opened in 1871 that was just what it was called. Over the years it has become known simply as the Royal Albert Hall. You can take tours of the building. My favourite way to visit the Royal Albert Hall is during the annual music festival known as the BBC Proms. You can either book concert seat tickets or simply turn up on the day to promenade in the area or (my favourite) in the balcony at the top of the building for £6.
Victoria and Albert Museum
My favourite of all the museums. Grab a map and meander. Here you will find Leonardo’s notebook, vast life-size copies of the world’s wonders and much much more. Take time to visit the jewellery collection, deep within the sparkling jewel box is a tiara that Albert designed for Victoria. Diamonds and sapphires are displayed in flexible mount that can either be a very blingy way to hold your bun in place on the back of your head or worn on top like a crown. The V&A is home to world’s first museum tea-rooms, they are spectacular an attraction in their own right.
Visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum
- Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL
- Open: Daily 10am – 5.45pm (until 8pm Friday)
- Admission: FREE
MORE FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT QUEEN VICTORIA
I discovered lots of gems about Victoria that I had either forgotten or never known, in the spirit of discovery I share the best of them here:
- Queen Victoria was very short, she was only 5 feet and 1 inch. Experts now look at her clothes and think that maybe the Palace added on an extra inch and that in fact Queen Victoria was only 5 feet tall.
- Her favourite drink was Claret and Malt Whisky, not a combination I have tried or have any real desire to.
- Queen Victoria’s full name was Alexandrina Victoria but chose to be known by her second name when she became Queen.