Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Clarence House - why this royal residence is better than the Buckingham Palace

Clarence House - indiscreet white building (source)

Visitors flocking to London in order to catch a glimpse of the royalty is likely to make a beeline for the Buckingham Palace. Can't really blame them as the British monarchy is one of the few surviving monarchy in the world that still retain its pomp and reality.

By all means, if you are in London for only a weekend, the changing of guards and Buckingham Palace should be a priority. However, visitors to the Buckingham Palace State Rooms will quickly notice that the setting is rather formal and seek to awe foreign dignitaries. In other words, the Palace lacks that personal touch.

Not many Londoners, much less tourists, have visited Clarence House. Less than a couple of hundred metres away from Buckingham Palace along The Mall, Clarence House is the official residence for Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Princes William and Harry. Set back and hidden from the public view, the indiscreet white building is where the heir to the throne relaxes with his immediate family.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical paying for £8 for the entry fee. Clarence House is not exactly high up on my to do list. I mean, I've not even done London Eye yet! Apparently, you have to call to make a booking and collect the tickets on the spot.

So there we are, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, fresh from our visit to Denbies Wine Estate the day before, queuing up for the guided tour that is to last for 45min. The first impression that I have when I step into Clarence House's main corridor is one of visiting someone's home. Because unlike the Buckingham Palace, or any other palaces for that matter, this actually feels like someone's home.

Clarence+House+London+Royal+residence+entranceThroughout the tour, we are led to into rooms that display personal artefacts of the royal family. Countless photos, many of which are Princes William and Harry when they were little, personal gifts, books (now I know that the Queen is a fan of Sherlock Holmes) and even much loved paintings that are prominently displayed despite being unfinished. Also on display is the piano that both the Queen and Princess Margaret (her sister) used to play when they were kids.

Pity that, like all occupied royal residencies, Clarence House doesn't allow any photographs taken in its premises. And in case you are wondering, there are no traces of the people's Princess in Clarence House.

One thing to note if you're visiting - the main entrance is not where the two guards are stationed; they are a convenient distraction though. The visitor entrance is 20m down The Mall away from Buckingham Palace.

Clarence House
St James's Palace, London, SW1 1BA
+44 (0)20 7766 7324
all visits must be pre-booked

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Dutchie said...

Our first impression of B. Palace was its grey facade. We went straight to the Tower instead.

I wonder if the residents of Clarence House minded the intrusion into their private space ?

Summer n winter palaces in Scandinavia r (were ?) free for visitors. That, we stumbled upon by chance :-)

I'm very impressed by the Versailles. Trouble is, there is always some wings of the building under maintenance n not open to the public.

Anyone ever visited the Winchester House in California ? Fun building, that one ! Hearst Castle is an epitome of opulence. Give it a try guys.

Lastly, our dutch Palace on the Dam in Amsterdam. Worth the entry fee bec of it's historical past (as a Court building n "torture chambers" for prisoners kept in the basement).

C K said...

I assume you were there for the change of guards. Though I have only visited the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, I have a deeper impression of the Tower, mainly due to the Yeoman Wardens.

I'm not sure Prince Charles is given much of a choice. One of the condition for the Royalty to get its yearly stipend is to open up its residences to the public during summers.

Never been to Versailles. Not sure whether it's worth the distance from Paris. I heard that the queues are terrible over there. Did you have to book your tics prior to your visit?