The wedding of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle is just days away, and London is sparkling as if it’s been dusted in glitter by an unbridled 5-year-old.
Cardboard cutouts of the prince and Markle, the first American to marry into the royal family since 1937, peek out of gift shops and pubs throughout town and in the countryside, and the Buckingham Palace gift shop is filled with trinkets — from heavy coins to miniature champagne bottles — boasting their initials: H&M.
Restaurants and hotels are gearing up, too, with wedding-themed menus and cocktails as well as specialty brunches that will be served the morning of the May 19 nuptials.
After a long, cold winter and, for some, great unrest about Brexit — the prospective withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union — the royal wedding is a happy diversion, like getting extra sprinkles on an ice cream sundae.
With royal fever in full swing and a new Norwegian airline nonstop flight from Austin to London Gatwick now available, now is an ideal time to visit the United Kingdom.
Want to follow in the footsteps of the royals? Here are some crown-centric destinations to consider in London and the outskirts.
It’s a recent Friday afternoon in Windsor, located about 30 minutes from London, and customers crowd the picnic tables outside the Two Brewers pub to bask in the warmth of the sun, which has finally re-emerged after a cold and rainy winter.
The pub lies in the shadow of Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry and Markle will be married, and signs are already posted warning visitors that no street parking is allowed May 17-19. Today, pub visitors don’t seem to mind, especially with the cardboard heads of Prince Harry and Markle watching them benevolently from a window above.
In a souvenir shop a few doors down, you can again view the royal couple (cardboard version only) and also get some of the town’s best gossip, which includes a rumor that Beyonce will be attending the wedding and singing as part of the choir.
Across the street inside St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the wedding ceremony will take place, the mood is notedly more somber, with visitors bowing their heads in prayer as they have here since the 14th century.
The royal family’s ties to St. George’s Chapel and Windsor Castle are indelible and longstanding — Windsor Castle is a principal residence for Queen Elizabeth II, and its chapel is her planned burial site. Prince Harry was christened at the chapel, and his father, Prince Charles, had his marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles blessed here.
Walking through the chapel, which is stunningly adorned and houses the tombs of monarchs including Henry VIII, his third wife, Jane Seymour, and Charles I, you can easily picture a royal wedding taking place, although it does seem too small to house the expected 800 wedding guests.
Located in the heart of London, Kensington Palace offers a beautiful and easy-to-access glimpse at royal life. The current home of Prince William and Kate and the future home of the newlyweds are located on the grounds, although you can’t access those, naturally.
Visitors can, however, snap photos at the Sunken Garden, where Prince Harry and Markle announced their engagement, and also take a tour of the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments, which offer a fascinating look at what royal life entailed centuries ago.
For a more updated history lesson, take in “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” which showcases various outfits, and the statements they made, worn by Princess Diana prior to her death.
“She’s still such a presence, and people still connect with her,” said Isabella Coraca, curator of the exhibition. “We wanted to celebrate her life and her achievements as a humanitarian and as patroness of the arts and fashion through her style.”
A ROYAL STAY
Across the street from Kensington Palace lies a hotel, the Milestone, that’s more than up to the task of giving you the royal treatment.
Part of Red Carnation Hotels, the five-star Milestone combines a traditional British vibe with gorgeous, modern rooms — some of which happen to overlook Kensington Gardens.
Perhaps my favorite experience at the hotel was taking afternoon tea. My yellow-flower-burst tea actually bloomed as I was drinking it, and the three-tiered tray of finger sandwiches, cupcakes, tartlets and macarons offered endless temptation. The showstoppers, though, were the warm scones served with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade preserves, each rich, tangy bite better than the last.
To learn more about the upscale Kensington neighborhood where the hotel is located, book a tour with London’s most dapper Blue Badge tour guide, Russell Nash, who can fill you in on everything from the house where T.S. Eliot once lived to more recent neighborhood gossip.
IN THE AIR
Think London is out of reach for you or your family? It might be more available than you think.
Thanks to the new nonstop service from Austin to London Gatwick on Norwegian airlines, you can book a summer or fall flight for as low as $229 each way, depending on dates. Learn more at norwegian.com.