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This grand walk explores the imperial and political heart of London in 5 glorious miles. See four royal parks, four royal residences and the icons of British architecture. Map and instructions included.
LAST UPDATE: 13 Jan 2024
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Our royal parks and palaces walk is one of the best ways to see London’s historic landmarks. Heading from Kensington to Westminster it passes Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, and Westminster Palace.
In 5 royally-packed miles you’ll experience one of the best walks in London.
The beautiful route crosses four royal parks on its way to the political heart of the United Kingdom before finishing at the remarkable Westminster Abbey.
You could walk the entire route in around 2 hours 30 minutes. If you decide to pop into some of the sights and take your time, you could allow a full day.
ABOUT THE WALK
This self-guided walking tour is designed to take you past the stunning imperial and political buildings in London. You can either walk the route for free or stop and pay to go into some of the sights.
The four sights that we think are the most interesting to enter are:
MAP | LONDON’S ROYAL PARKS & PALACES
We have designed this walk to see some of the most impressive palaces and parks in London. Enjoy some of the city’s top attractions by taking our map with you on this beautiful self-paced walk.
WHERE TO START?
We recommend starting at Queensway or Bayswater Underground Stations (5 minutes’ walk from each other.)
Alternatively, you could start at High Street Kensington Station on the opposite side of the park. The walk finishes at Westminster Underground Station.
You could also do the walk in reverse.
The walk is 5.1 miles (8.25 kilometres) and, if you walk without stopping, it will take about 2 hours 30 minutes. There’s plenty to see along the way, so allow anywhere from half to a whole day.
START / BAYSWATER OR QUEENSWAY STATION
Exit Queensway Station or Bayswater Station and cross over Bayswater Road to enter Kensington Gardens. Using the map above follow the main promenade down the hill towards Kensington Palace.
The first of four royal residences on this walk, Kensington Palace was the birthplace of Queen Victoria and has been home to young royals for over 300 years.
Today, the most famous residents are William and Kate. Inside there is an exhibition to Queen Victoria as well as the opulent King’s and Queen’s state apartments. Book skip-the-line tickets to Kensington Palace.
Outside the brown brick façade may be a bit underwhelming but don’t miss the Diana Memorial Garden.
The walk now meanders through the Kensington Gardens (follow the route on the map above). This Royal Park was originally part of the palace grounds but is now open to the public.
Along the way you’ll pass the Round Pond, and Kensington Gardens Bandstand before reaching the Albert Memorial. This gilt bronze statue was commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate her late husband, Prince Albert.
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
Behind the statue is the Royal Albert Hall. The 150-year-old building features the largest unsupported glass dome in the world and the largest organ in England. Hear it put to good use at the annual carol concert, one of the best things to do in London at Christmas.
The walk now heads back into the park and up to the Serpentine Gallery. This free contemporary gallery has intriguing rotating exhibits. It’s small, free to enter and well worth popping into.
Crossing West Carriage Drive, leave Kensington Gardens and enter Hyde Park, the second Royal Park on this walk. The path first passes the Diana Memorial Fountain then meets the lake in Hyde Park called the Serpentine.
Following the south bank of the Serpentine, the walk heads into the Hyde Park Rose Garden before exiting the park at Hyde Park Corner tube station.
Cross over the busy junction to the centre of a large roundabout containing a triumphal arch.
Wellington Arch is crowned by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe. Originally built as the entrance to Buckingham Palace it later became a victory arch celebrating Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. The sculpture depicts the Angel of Peace descending on a four horsed chariot of war.
The area surrounding the arch has several statues and memorials, the Australian War Memorial being the most evocative.
Exit the roundabout (opposite the way you entered) and head down Constitution Hill passing the Commonwealth Memorial gates. You are now walking along the edge of Green Park, the third of the Royal Parks on this walking route.
Constitution Hill ends at Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Originally a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 it was purchased by King George III in 1761. However, Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace in 1837.
The palace is surrounded by grand black metal railings with gold tips and guarded by the Foot Guards. Their famous bearskin hats and red tunics have defended the Sovereign and Royal Palaces since 1660.
Inside, the Buckingham Palace State Rooms are only open for 10 weeks each summer from mid-July to end of September. Book Buckingham Palace tickets well in advance.
QUEEN’S GALLERY (DETOUR)
The Queen’s Gallery is the public art gallery of Buckingham Palace. It’s open all year (closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays) and contains paintings, rare furniture, decorative arts, and photographs from the Royal Collection.
The entrance is around the back of the palace (see the map above). Book your Queen’s Gallery tickets well in advance.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
The Changing of the Guard ceremony is free to watch and occurs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday beginning at 10:45 am and lasting 45 minutes. The official ‘handover’ takes place at 11 am.
You can view the ceremony on The Mall between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace.
It takes just over an hour to walk from Queensway Station to Buckingham Palace, so if you want to catch the Changing of the Guard begin the walk around 9:30 am.
Following the walking map above, stroll passed the Victoria Memorial statue, cross over Constitution Hill to The Mall. Follow the Mall passing Clarence House on your left.
Clarence House is a genuine home and the last remaining great London house to be maintained for the purpose it was built. It was the home of the Queen Mother for 50 years, and currently, King Charles and Queen Camilla live there while renovation works are underway at Buckingham Palace.
It’s not open to the public but you catch a glimpse of the building from the road.
ST JAMES’S PALACE (DETOUR)
Continue past Clarence House and turn left off the Mall to see St James’s Palace.
It was built between 1531 and 1536 by Henry VIII and the red brick façade with a gatehouse and turrets is a commanding scene. Inside, the state apartments include two surviving Tudor rooms, but it’s only open to the public for occasional events throughout the year.
There’s a small courtyard on Marlborough Road and the main entrance (which is closed) is on Cleveland Row.
Retrace your step back along Marlborough Road and cross over The Mall to enter St James’s Park.
THE MALL & ST JAMES’S PARK
The Mall is a ceremonial route that runs between Admiralty Arch at one end and Buckingham Palace at the other. It makes a great photo opportunity in London.
The most royal of London’s royal parks, St James’s Park is bordered by three Royal Palaces. It’s at its prettiest in spring when the flowers are out. The colony of pelicans that live here were donated by the Russian ambassador in 1664.
Cross the bridge over the lake, turn left, and follow the southern edge of St James’s Park Lake to the Churchill War Rooms.
CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
The Churchill War Rooms were the underground nerve centre of the British government during the Second World War. This maze of corridors and rooms that held top secrets include the Cabinet War Room, the Chiefs of Staff Conference Room, and a fascinating Map Room.
It takes about two hours to explore, and it’s something we highly recommend doing if you have the time. Tickets must be booked in advance.
HORSE GUARDS PARADE
Turn left up Horse Guards Parade Road and then right into Horse Guards Parade. This gravel square is where Trooping the Colour is held, an annual pageantry to celebrate the official birthday of the sovereign.
Walk through the arches under the clock towers and you’ll find the building guarded by two mounted cavalry troopers of the King’s Life Guard. They are outside the building from 10 am to 4 pm every day for a nice photo opportunity.
Now turn right and head down Whitehall.
Whitehall is a road with numerous government departments and ministries. As such ‘Whitehall’ has become a metonym for the British civil service and government.
As you walk down the road you’ll pass grand buildings, the entrance to Downing Street (the home of the British Prime Minister) and the Cenotaph (a war memorial designed in 1919 to commemorate the lives lost during World War I).
Whitehall ends at Parliament Square, which contains 12 sculptures of British, Commonwealth, and Anglosphere political figures including Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.
The square looks across at Westminster Palace and Big Ben (officially the Elizabeth Tower), so is often the scene for political demonstrations.
Cross over Parliament Square and head up Victoria Street to the front of Westminster Abbey.
Originally built in the 11th century, Westminster Abbey is a Gothic masterpiece. Soaring spires sit above a facade intricate in stone carvings and ornate stained-glass windows. If you only head into one building on this walk, make it this one.
Inside the nave is grand, with high-vaulted ceilings and majestic columns. The abbey contains graves for scientists, poets, prime ministers and monarchs. The King Henry VII Lady Chapel with its fan vaulted ceiling has been described as one of the wonders of the world.
The abbey still plays an important role in British life, and you can visit the Coronation Chair, upon which King Charles III was crowned in 2023.
Book your Westminster Abbey timed entry ticket well in advance.
Head back to Parliament Square and pass St Margaret’s Church to Westminster Palace.
Westminster Palace is one of the most important buildings in English history. Built in the 11th century, it was the primary home of kings of England until 1512. Inside the palace, Westminster Hall was where the predecessor to parliament (Curia Regis) met when the king was in residence.
It is a stunning building and the famous clocktower, the Elizabeth Tower, nicknamed ‘Big Ben’ after its largest bell, looks spectacular since its restoration was completed in 2022.
We highly recommend taking a tour of Westminster Palace to see the inner workings of British government. Tours run Tuesday to Saturday during the holidays, but only on Saturday when parliament is sitting.
Now head along Westminster Bridge to get wonderful views back towards the palace. Then retrace your steps to Westminster tube station where this walk ends. We hope you enjoyed it.
If you want to extend the walk you can continue from the South Bank and complete either our Queen’s Walk (1 hour more) or our South Bank Walk (2 hours more).
MORE LONDON SELF-GUIDED WALKING GUIDES
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