Royal Wedding Travel Tips
There’s a titter of pre-wedding nerves in London. Hoteliers look anxiously at their reservations lists to see if any celebrity guests will be arriving, restaurants try to squeeze in an extra table, big-screen rental companies hurriedly recruit installers, betting shops take last-minute punts on whether best man Prince Harry will forget the rings for the ceremony. And everyone is praying that it won’t rain.
The wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton is the biggest royal wedding since Prince Charles made his ill-fated union to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. The capital is expecting 600,000 visitors to be jostling for a glimpse of the couple on Friday, April 29, and the occasion is expected to give a $1 billion boost to the ailing British economy.
From royal afternoon teas to raucous street parties, we’ve trawled the city to make sure you’ll have plenty to do if you don’t set your alarm clock early enough to snag a spot along the procession route.
Where to Take Tea
The taking of afternoon tea is a ritual that binds the English aristocracy together, so it is no surprise that the royal wedding has sent most hoteliers reaching for their cake tiers in an effort to entice the tourists. You don't have to be staying at the hotel, but it is advisable to make a reservation. Rubens at the Palace is serving tea in the lounge that overlooks the Royal Mews, so you'll get to watch the horses returning to their livery. Also near to the procession is the Royal Horseguards, which is laying on a themed tea that includes a miniature iced wedding cake, English rose cupcakes and William and Kate heart-shaped buttery cookies.
The executive chef of the Podium restaurant at the Hilton Park Lane has turned his attention to the engagement ring with a sapphire afternoon tea that features blue macaroons, blueberry muffins and blueberry and hibiscus jam, while Grosvenor House has a Middleton-themed tea with jams from Bucklebury, Kate's hometown.
Where to Party
While the royal family and their entourage party behind the closed doors of Buckingham Palace, you can have a right royal shindig in less stuffy surroundings. The Book Club on Leonard Street in trendy Hoxton is hosting a traditional street party complete with tug'o'war, egg and spoon races, a giant pass the parcel and all the bunting they can muster. There will also be a live outdoor screening of the wedding. After dark, you might want to head to the Royal White Wedding at 229 The Venue, where you can dance to classic wedding-reception records and have your picture taken by their wedding photographer. Or you can engage in a bit of time travel and relive Charles and Di's wedding with Club de Fromage's '80s-themed Right Royal Knees Up, or enjoy the sound of the 19th-century music hall at the East End pub The Water Poet, where there will be a pearly king and queen and a sing-along with an accordion player.
Where to Bone Up
If you feel your knowledge of the royal love affair is a little patchy, then you can take the Will and Kate Royal Wedding Walk, which will guide you around all their favorite haunts, including the Mahiki nightclub where Prince William once ran up an $8,000 bar bill, and the clothing retailer Jigsaw where "commoner" Kate once worked. If you'd rather spare your legs, then take a trip down the Thames by boat with Bateaux London, where a blue badge guide will reveal the secrets and scandals of the royal family while you sip tea.
Download a Royal App
There is a glut of smartphone applications to help you find your way around the sites of the royal wedding or, indeed, London itself. Even the royal family is in on the act, launching their first app on April 18, 2011, which will have details of all the royal weddings since the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. For details of the day, try A Royal Wedding Celebration for iPhone and Android or Royal Wedding for iPhone. For a bit of fun, you can Dress the Royals in a range of outfits and see what Will looks like in a wedding dress, available for iPhone and iPad.
To help you find your way around London, download the tube (subway) map and point your browser to the Transport for London website where a journey planner will help make it easier to plan your travels in London.
If you get puckish, there's a Royal Wedding Cake exhibition at Hyde Park Corner, with an opportunity to take a bite or 2. If you want some vintage souvenirs, head to the royal memorabilia market in Greenwich. If you happen to be called either Will or Kate, you can get a free ride on the London Eye, the large Ferris wheel on the banks of the River Thames, and free entry to the London Zoo.
For some irreverent comedy and cabaret, try the Alternative Royal Wedding Reception at the South Bank. And if you want to escape London altogether, then you could put on your tweeds and try to gatecrash the village party in Kate's hometown of Bucklebury.
Writer Antonia Windsor, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, is a regular contributor to The Guardian and The Observer in Britain.