It’s on – a royal wedding. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are set to tie the knot at Windsor Castle in a northern hemisphere spring ceremony. Cue the swirl of wedding dress and guest list rumours and love-struck tourists and locals eager to celebrate with the happy couple. After all, one million royal watchers lined London streets and filled parks when Prince William and the now-Duchess of Cambridge wed in 2011 and next year’s celebrations are expected to eclipse that. Will all that royal wedding ardour impact your London travel plans? What if you want to spread the love and join the festivities? We have the answers.
While the wedding date is yet to be announced, a May affair has been confirmed, avoiding any potential clashes with the birth of Kate Middleton’s third child due in April. The ceremony will be held at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, about an hour’s drive west of central London – the very same site of the low-key marriage of Prince Charles and second wife Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005. Whether you’re mad for monarchs or you’d just like to be part of the loved-up atmosphere, here’s what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to planning your trip to Blighty.
The 2011 royal wedding helped British tourism secure an additional 350,000 visitors in the same month, so anyone heading across the pond can expect a more crowded than usual city of London. Considering this, flights to London will likely be a little more difficult to secure in the lead up to the spring season, so booking earlier than anticipated could be a smart travel idea. You can also cut down on travel time by hopping on the Qantas Dreamliner non-stop service from Perth to London taking off from March, just in time for the May nuptials.
A sure-fire surge in visitors means a surge in prices: some hotels pushed their room rates up as much as 200 per cent back in 2011 during the last royal wedding in London. The influx of visitors also means there are fewer places to lay your head. With the supply and demand equation working against you, make sure you research, plan, research some more and book – now. If you’re hoping to retain some flexibility on your holiday, you still have options: some hotels have booking policies that allow free date changes – up to a certain time. If you’d prefer to avoid the crush of crowds that are sure to descend on the streets for group celebrations, nearby cities like Oxford and Ascot are just over an hour by train from central London. They’re also a comparable travel distance to the wedding site itself of Windsor Castle, if curiosity tends to get the better of you.
If you’re hoping to jump between London and Windsor – or even a few other UK destinations –try a BritRail Pass, which allows you unlimited trips on an allocated number of calendar days in a month. Some passes also cover specific regions of Britain to save a little bit extra if you’re travelling within a localised area. You can also reserve a seat for a small additional fee on busy services with your pass, saving you from missing out last minute due to crowds.
The cross-channel train provider Eurostar received a 28 per cent rise in inbound travel during the 2011 royal wedding so it pays to book any intended train journey well ahead of time. If you’re travelling into London from Paris on the Eurostar, tickets go on sale as early as 190 days before departure, with the cheapest tickets naturally being snapped up first – so it’s worth being an early bird.
Tube station congestion
Although there’s no word on whether the couple will take a wedding procession around the edges of St. James’s Park up to Buckingham Palace a la the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the area around Westminster Abbey is still likely to be crammed with frantic fans celebrating in spirit. In this event, try to avoid tube stations surrounding the area, including Westminster, Embankment, Charing Cross, Waterloo, St James’s Park, Hyde Park Corner, Victoria and Green Park and take to the streets on foot.
Windsor Castle isn’t the only landmark to be compromised for tourists during the nuptials – the potential wedding reception venue of Buckingham Palace won’t be open to visitors outside the guest list either. The expansive Hampton Court Palace, an hour south west of central London, is a worthy alternative palace to explore, with 25 hectares of carefully manicured gardens and an additional 304 hectares of parkland lining the River Thames to explore.
Instead of jostling for a space outside the Windsor Castle grounds for a peep at the exterior of St George’s Chapel, try some other impressive local churches: Southwark Cathedral on London’s Southbank, near bustling Borough Market has similarly soaring sandstone arches and the West Smithfield Priory Church of Great St Bartholomew near Barbican is often overlooked, despite its striking interior. The latter also claims the title of London’s oldest church, beating the current building of Westminster by a good 120 years.
Getting into the spirit
Sure, you can line the streets holding a Union Jack flag among a crowd of more than a million royal devotees but you can also do something a bit different to celebrate the union. In the lead-up to the big day, check in with pubs to see if they’re showing the ceremony on their screens or with tour providers such as Celebrity Planet, which ran a Kate and William walking tour in 2011 that led visitors around London-based sites of importance to the couple, including the nightclub where the Prince reportedly blew $17,580 after the 2007 split from his now-wife.