Britain's Royal Birthplaces

By Rick Steves Modified: August 21, 2013 at 11:02 am •  Published: August 21, 2013

Although their kings and queens don’t come cheap and today are only figureheads, most Brits seem to thoroughly enjoy having a royal family. The country joyously celebrated the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis, who is in line to become the country's 43rd monarch since the Norman Conquest. As a bonus, economists estimate that the sluggish British economy got a $380 million boost from the festivities and sales of baby souvenirs.

      The son of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Catherine Middleton) was born in a private wing of St. Mary's Hospital, the same place where Princess Diana gave birth to his dad. But until Prince William's delivery, royal births were home births. As you visit royal palaces in and around London, you may not realize that you're also visiting the birthplaces of some of Britain's kings and queens. Here's a rundown on these royal palaces--and who was born there.

      Kensington Palace (www.hrp.org.uk) is on the royal radar because it is the London home of William, Catherine, and George. While some of the palace is open to the public, the royals' private quarters are strictly off-limits.

      The palace has long been associated with Britain's longest serving monarch--Queen Victoria--who was born here in 1819. Sitting primly on its pleasant parkside grounds in central London, the palace is immaculately restored. A visit here gives a fun glimpse into the lives of several important residents, such as William and Mary, George III, and Victoria. After Queen Victoria moved the monarchy to Buckingham Palace, lesser royals bedded down at Kensington. Princess Diana lived here both during and after her marriage to Prince Charles.

      Unless you are in London in August or September--or are on Her Majesty's A-list--it unlikely you'll get a peek inside the royal birthplace of Prince Charles--Buckingham Palace. A 41-gun salute marked his birth here in 1948. Today, the Queen opens 19 of her palace's lavish State Rooms to the public--but only in August and September, when she’s out of town. Tickets can be hard to get, so you'll need to book early (www.royalcollection.org.uk).

      Fifteen miles up the Thames is Hampton Court Palace, the 500-year-old royal hangout that was a favorite of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Charles I (www.hrp.org.uk). Henry's only legitimate son, who became Edward VI, was born here in 1537. The stately palace stands overlooking the Thames and includes some impressive Tudor rooms, including a Great Hall with a magnificent hammer-beam ceiling. The industrial-strength Tudor kitchen was capable of keeping 600 schmoozing courtiers thoroughly--if not well--fed. The sculpted garden features a rare Tudor tennis court and a popular maze.

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