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St James's, Buckingham Palace, Mayfair & Belgravia
Buckingham Palace, London (© Anthony Baggett | Dreamstime.com)

Introduction

Mayfair, London (© Eupedia.com)

These three districts of London are among the upmarket it can get. Belgravia is located immediately west of Buckingham Palace. Characterised by a Regency architecture reminiscent of Bath, it comprises the greatest share of foreign embassies in the United Kingdom.

Locked between Green Park, Hyde Park, Oxford Street and Regent Street, Mayfair is home to the well-to-do, as well as a few top-notch hotels and, among others, the US embassy.

St James's is basically everything between Piccadilly Circus, Green Park and St James's Park, including the famous Pall Mall. Tourists will have to contend themselves by watching the many luxurious houses of these neighbourhoods from outside.

St James's Park & St James's Palace

Unfolding from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace, St James's Park is one of London's eight Royal Parks. It has a lake with two islands, and plenty of ducks, geese, pelicans and other birds. The park commands great views on the famous buildings of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace and Carlton Terrace.

North of the park is the upper-class district of St James's, running between The Mall (from Admiralty Arch to St James's Palace), Piccadilly and Haymarket. Many 19th-century gentlemen's clubs are to be found there, including the Reform Club (104, Pall Mall) made famous by Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days. On the Mall is the reputed Institute for Contemporary Arts

St James's Palace is currently the residence of Charles, Prince of Wales, and his two sons. The palace was built in 1530 by Henry VIII in the red-brick Tudor style. It has been the principal residence of the British monarch in London from 1699 to 1762 after the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by a fire. It is the oldest surviving Royal Palace in London, and is still the administrative centre of the monarchy.

A short walk north of St James's Palace is the Palladian-style Spencer House, built between built in 1756 and 1766 by the first Earl Spencer, an ancestor of the late Lady Diana. The Spencer family occupied the house until 1895, then let it to other aristocrats until 1910, and finally moved away to their country home of Althorp in 1927.

Buckingham Palace

Royal guards marching down the Mall, towards Buckingham Palace, to celebrate the Queen's birthday (© oversnap | iStockphoto.com) The Queen's birthday parade of 'Trooping the Colour', outside Buckingham Palace (© oversnap | iStockphoto.com)

At the end of the Mall is Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen.

The palace was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham. It was acquired by King George III in 1762 as a private residence, and was subsequently enlarged until it replaced St James's Palace as the official residence of the monarchy in 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria. It remains the largest "working" royal palace in the world.

There is a tour around the State Rooms in August and September only. The rooms contain exquisite English and French furniture, Sèvres porcelain, while the Queen Victoria's Picture Gallery has paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Vermeer, Canaletto, and Poussin, among others.

The Queen's Gallery is open daily all year round and exhibits various items from the Royal Collection, with displays constantly changing. It was first used as a conservatory, then transformed into a chapel under Queen Victoria, but was badly damaged by the Luftwaffe in 1940. It has been open to the public as a gallery since 1962.

The Royal Mews is open from late March to late October, and displays the vehicles of the monarchy, including a lavish 18th-century Gold Coach used for all coronations since George III, and a Glass Coach used for royal weddings.

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