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Hitting London for the royal wedding

Guards outside Buckingham Palace in London. (August 6,

Guards outside Buckingham Palace in London. (August 6, 2003) Photo Credit: Getty Images

London is gearing up for the biggest royal wedding since Diana trailed her enormous train down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1981. More than a billion people are expected to watch the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton on television, and there will be a surge of visitors to London, eager to catch a glimpse of the future king and queen of England. Attention, Anglophiles: If you didn't receive the royal save-the-date fax, don't worry. Here's how to get to London by April 29 and be a part of the royal occasion.

Getting there

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have available flights to London at press time, but don't wait to purchase your ticket. Greg Dawson, Director of Corporate Communications at Virgin Atlantic says, "We are experiencing a strong take up of reservations from New York to the U.K. around the royal wedding weekend, but we do still have some availability for those looking to travel over." British Airways offers 12 direct flights from New York or Newark daily ($744.30 round trip on beta.itasoftware .com, or $769.30, 877-787-7186 Expedia.com), and Virgin Atlantic has 5 daily flights ($769, 800-862- 8621, virginatlantic.com). For the best rates, use a metasearch site such as momomdo.com, kayak.com or beta.itasoftware.com.

Where to stay

You can pretend you're family at the four-star Thistle Westminster at 49 Buckingham Palace Rd. From here it's just an eight-minute walk to the palace and a 15-minute walk to Westminster Abbey. The location is hard to beat, so book fast. Rooms have smart decor and are well equipped (from $461.67 a night, thistle.com).

The four-star boutique B+B Belgravia, housed in a Georgian town house, is offering a special three-night package for the wedding weekend (April 29 to May 2): $802 for two sharing a double or twin room. The offer includes a full English breakfast, a bottle of Champagne, commemorative mug for each guest, chocolates and confetti (bb-belgravia.com, ask for Royal Wedding Package).

The Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, has a three-night special offer, including a full English breakfast, afternoon tea, two tickets to Kensington Palace and complimentary use of the Soma Spa sauna and steam room facilities (from $1,353 for three nights, royalgardenhotel.co.uk).

The Regency Hotel is not only in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but has splendid royal buildings within a 20-minute radius, with nearby Kensington Palace, and the Royal Albert Hall (from $159, london regency.com).

The Prince William Hotel (from $122 per night, princewilliamhotel.co.uk) and family-run Ridgemount Hotel are cheaper, but still central, alternatives (from $103 a night, ridgemounthotel .co.uk).

All-inclusive tour

Get some right royal pampering with the luxury eight-day Royal Wedding Tour from Kensington Tours ($7,560 per person, 888-903-2001, kensingtontours.com), including a private guided tour of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Crown Jewels and a Champagne flight on the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. Price too princely? A less expensive package, also from Kensington Tours, comes in at $2,800 per person. You'll reside either at the cutting-edge Cumberland or the Art Deco-style Thistle Marble Arch (both four-star). Prices for each include accommodation, activities, transfers, meals and traveler assistance.

Royal route

At 10:30 a.m., Middleton will take her last journey as a commoner, traveling by car along The Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and then Parliament Square to Westminster Abbey. At noon, following the service, she will return a princess in a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace for the reception given by the queen.

Well-wishers will camp out to get the best views of the procession, so pack supplies and get there early if you want to see more than the tip of a guard's bearskin hat. Stay close to Buckingham Palace to see the traditional kiss on the balcony, but for an elevated view of the procession along The Mall, stand by The Grand Old Duke of York Column or on The Duke of York Steps, both located off the sidewalk at the junction of Carlton House Terrace and Waterloo Place (nearest tube stops are Green Park or Charing Cross). 

Bows and curtsies

The royalty of Greece, Serbia, Romania, Spain, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium are expected to attend, so your chances of a royal encounter may be greater than you think. Practice your bows and curtsies in front of paintings and photographs of the royal family at The National Portrait Gallery, near Trafalgar Square (admission free, St. Martin's Place, npg.org.uk).

The royal portrait collection includes the newly commissioned photograph of Prince William and Prince Harry by Fergus Greer.

A step in the royal direction

Join The Will and Kate Royal Wedding Walk, departing from 17 Bruton St., the birthplace of the queen. See St. James's Palace, where the engagement was announced on Nov. 16; Garrard, the official jeweler of the royal family; and the Polynesian-style Mahiki Club, a favorite hangout of princes William and Harry.

Also on the itinerary: the Jigsaw fashion store where Kate once worked, the offices of Kate's great-grandfather, Richard Noel Middleton, and the John Lobb Bootmakers, where English royalty from Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Harry have all been shod.

The walk also stops at Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey ($24.17, free for children under 5, 877-787-7186, expedia.com). 

Activities and special events

Hop in an original 1960s Classic Mini Cooper for the William and Kate Royal Tour. Your chauffeur will zip you to all the key sites of interest including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Clarence House (weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $224.25, smallcarbigcity.com). If you are hiring a car, extend your royal snooping with a trip to Highgrove House, the country home of the Prince of Wales. On April 26 Highgrove will be holding a one-off Wedding Celebration Champagne Tea Garden Tour ($120, highgroveshop.com).

Wrap it up

It is possible to buy a life-size commemorative cardboard cutout of the happy couple, but if luggage space is tight, you might consider some of the following as souvenirs of the special occasion. Dartington Crystal will be producing special royal Champagne flutes ($105 a pair, dartington.co.uk), perfect for drinking Prince William Champagne, supplied by the oldest established wine merchant in the U.K. (about $40 a bottle, chalierichards.co.uk).

Pre-order your official fine bone china Royal Wedding Wall Plate from the Royal Collection and look forward to all the happy memories you'll have of the time you have spent sharing in a piece of history ($52.99, www.theukgiftcompany.co.uk).

AVOIDING ROYAL PAINS IN LONDON

Prepare for the masses VisitLondon.com estimates that the day of the wedding alone will attract some 600,000 visitors. Other projections estimate that more than 1 million people will line the wedding route. Either way, there will be hordes of people bumping into you, slowing you down and stepping in front of you and on your toes.

Be ready to party London officials extended the liquor licenses for bars and pubs to 1 a.m. from the traditional 11 p.m. closing time for two nights. Nightclub closings vary from 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. But partygoers are sure to take their revelry to the streets as well.

Get rail and subway passes ahead of time If you don't buy in advance, be ready to wait in long lines. Most passes can be bought through online travel agencies or independent sites such as visitbritainshop.com, londonpass.com, tfl.gov.uk and VisitLondon.com.

Bring comfortable walking shoes There will no doubt be plenty of cabbies on the streets, but driving will be a challenge. The route between Westminster and Buckingham Palace, and most roads leading to it, will be blocked off for many hours leading up to the wedding and afterward. Security also will be tight. Moreover, the streets of London are under heavy construction as the city prepares for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Keep your eye out for freebies Free activities are abundant. Unlike most major museums and art galleries in the United States, many in London are free, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, the Science Museum and the Tate.

Make reservations in advance Book theater, restaurant, palace and museum reservations as soon as you have an itinerary in mind. OpenTable exists in the United Kingdom, as do other entertainment-reservation systems. A Three Palace Royal Pass, available for $56 at visitbritainshop.com, gives you admission to the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace. If you have trouble securing theater tickets in London's West End, there are a number of last-minute, discount-ticket kiosks around Leicester Square. McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

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