Queen Elizabeth’s birthday was April 21, but London celebrates for months to come.
London is a popular destination anytime, but this year there is even more of a reason to visit: the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Although her birth date is April 21, the city is celebrating the occasion with events starting in May.
Nicola Butler, who owns NoteWorthy, a London travel company specializing in excursions such as watching the changing of the guard from inside the parade grounds, has advice on how to take in the spectacle of the monarch’s birthday and what else travelers should see while in town. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What does the queen’s 90th birthday mean for tourists to London?
A: Tourists can partake in the festivities. Most of the celebrations are from May 12-15 in Windsor Castle, where there will be performances highlighting the queen’s love of horses and her involvement with the navy, army and air force.
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Tickets are sold out, but it’s fun to be in town when they’re going on because they’ll be airing everywhere, including on large screens throughout the city and at every pub and restaurant. Find a spot to watch and you’ll feel the excitement around you.
Q: What about events beyond May?
A: The Queen’s Birthday Parade, on June 11, is the annual pomp and circumstance ceremony to officially mark her birthday. It dates to the 18th century and involves about 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians. You can get a glimpse of the pageantry from the street along with the crowds.
Then, through Jan. 8, there’s an exhibit of the queen’s outfits called “Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style From the Queen’s Wardrobe” that will rotate among her three official residences: the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Q: What sights do visitors miss?
A: Hampstead is an overlooked area. It’s home to Hampstead Heath Park, where you can have lovely walks and picnics. Kenwood House, a stately home from the 18th century, is also in Hampstead and has a wonderful collection of fine art, including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Slightly south of Hampstead there’s Regent’s Park, also scenic and a must in June when there are thousands of roses in full bloom.
Q: The city’s culinary scene has significantly improved. What are the restaurants to check out?
A: The array of Indian places, for sure. The ever-popular Chutney Mary just relocated near St. James’s Palace. For more casual Indian, there’s Dishoom, resembling a Mumbai cafe. There are a few locations, and they are inexpensive and lively. Order the masala chai and omelet with coriander and tomatoes for breakfast and the chili cheese toast and biriyanis anytime.
Then, the English chef Marcus Wareing’s restaurants, Marcus and Tredwell’s, serve excellent and modern British food, and Sexy Fish, a seafood restaurant in Berkeley Square, has crowds lining up outside.
Q: London is pricey. What are some ways to save money?
A: Transportation can add up, so skip taxis and walk. The bonus is that London is full of nooks that can be discovered only on foot.
Food can be another big cost but doesn’t have to be. Borough Market, for example, has lots of stalls where you can buy a delicious lunch for less than 10 pounds ($14.39). Another tip is to eat a big English breakfast, either at your hotel or at a pub, and then book a traditional afternoon tea at a luxury hotel that doubles as lunch and dinner because the spreads are lavish with scones, sandwiches and tarts. You get a sense of extravagance but save money overall.
Q: For travelers who have the time to take a day trip from London, where do you recommend they go?
A: Oxford. It’s about an hour by train or 90 minutes by car. You’ll find architecture from different eras including medieval and Baroque, the famous namesake university and Harry Potter references such as Bodleian Library, part of the university and where parts of the first few movies were filmed. Just outside Oxford, there’s Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born, and a string of excellent English pubs to have a nice lunch.