Six of the best London palaces not called Buckingham

THE TOWER OF LONDON

How times have changed. The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror after his Norman Conquest in 1066 and subsequently became associated with violent death – The Bloody Tower, Traitor's Gate, endless beheadings. It has always, however, been a royal palace and it recently hosted an after-hours LBGT+ tour. Visitors were told to expect an hour "exploring changing attitudes to gender and sexuality from medieval times to the present". Edward II, who took Piers Gaveston​ as his lover, is the most famous gay monarch.  The tour also explored "how the same-sex relationships of kings became major political scandals". For other contemporary interpretations of this enduring World Heritage site, see hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london

HAMPTON COURT PALACE

The classic view of Hampton Court from the River Thames today is of Christopher Wren's superb Versailles-like palace, begun under William III and finished under Queen Anne. Wren's building destroyed half of the rambling Tudor Palace which had been the principle royal residence for Henry VIII. He'd "inherited" it from Cardinal Wolsey, his first Lord Chancellor (equivalent of a prime minister today). William's original plan had been to replace the entire Tudor palace. Fortunately, however, he and future monarchs ran out of money and what remains is now the greatest Tudor-era building left in Britain. Highlights include the magnificent chapel, the Great Hall (the last medieval great hall built for the English monarchy), the enormous kitchen (now superbly interpreted), the Royal Tennis Court and, of course, the incredible gardens, including the famous maze. See hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace.

THE BANQUETING HOUSE

The present Banqueting House, designed by Indigo Jones and finished in 1622, lies on the site of Henry VIII's Palace of Westminster, which he "acquired" when he fell out with the aforementioned Wolsey (the palace had been the London abode of the Archbishops of York since medieval times). The rest of the palace burnt down in 1698 but the Banqueting House continued its regal associations. Nine ceiling paintings by Peter Paul Rubens are its crowning glory, still in place as they were installed in 1636. Ironically, the paintings were some of the last things Charles I – who had approved the Rubens commission originally ordered by his father, James I – saw before walking out to the scaffold erected for his beheading in 1649. See hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house.

KEW PALACE

There's a very poignant story behind this palace. Known as the Dutch House, and built in 1631, it lies within Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens (and is included in the entry price). The ornate red-brick mansion became the retreat of George III during his recurrent bouts of "madness" (generally now thought to be a genetic blood disorder called porphyria). George and his wife, Charlotte, lived here, away from prying eyes, with several of their daughters (they had 15 children) and the monarch was confined to a single room while being treated by clueless doctors. Charlotte died in the Dutch house. No other royal ever lived in it again, which means it remains unchanged since their day. Haunting. See kew.org

KENSINGTON PALACE

The birthplace of Queen Victoria is now indelibly associated with Diana, Princess of Wales and her two sons, William and Harry. Diana lived here for most of her royal life (and is well represented in the exhibitions held in the public spaces). The Palace Gates became the focus of the largest impromptu floral display in British history following Diana's death in 1997. Her memorial fountain (the starting point of an 11-kilometre memorial walk around west London) is less than 10 minutes away, midway through Hyde Park. Originally designed by Wren in the 17th century, Kensington Palace is now home to royals-in-waiting and royals-who-have-done-their-dash. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) and their three children live in the "apartment" once occupied by the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Harry and Meghan) live in Nottingham Cottage ("Nott Cott"), a two-bedroom, Wren-designed, self-contained house within the palace grounds. See hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

ST JAMES' PALACE

Alas, this is the one palace in London you can't visit (except by special invitation). It was constructed on the orders of Henry VIII ( him again) as a bolt hole from Whitehall Palace so he could "entertain" Anne Boleyn (it is decorated with the initials HA). Clarence House, the former home of the Queen Mother and now the official residence of Charles, Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, lies within its grounds. It was originally designed by John Nash, though mostly destroyed in the Blitz. Foreign ambassadors to Britain are still welcomed here "to the court of St James". Several "minor royals" – Anne, Princess Royal and Fergie's daughter, Princess Beatrice of York – live here. You can see the exterior by taking a five-minute walk from Trafalgar Square along Pall Mall. See royal.uk/royal-residences-st-jamess-palace

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Cathay Pacific and Visit Britain.

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