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Secrets of Queen Elizabeth’s private homes

Her Majesty’s palatial pads

The news that Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II’s London bolthole, is set to undergo a major makeover comes as no surprise. The crumbling palace hasn’t been renovated since the 50s and is in dire need of a facelift.

As UK taxpayers mull over the expense of the $456 million (£369m) 10-year refurb, which is scheduled to begin next April, we take you through the keyhole and into the Queen’s official and private residences.

Buckingham Palace

The Queen’s official London home dates from 1703 when the Duke of Buckingham built a fine townhouse in the capital’s fashionable St James’s district. The townhouse was acquired by King George III in 1761 and lavishly enlarged in the 19th century.

Buckingham Palace

The 830,000-square foot palace comprises a total of 775 rooms, which include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms, none of which are ensuite, a sign of the palace’s old-fashioned layout. This photo shows the swish White Drawing Room.

Buckingham Palace

The Queen is ensconced in the palace during weekdays, when she conducts official business, from investitures, State banquets (pictured) and garden parties, to meeting and greeting dignitaries – the palace welcomes more than 50,000 VIP guests a year and is open to the public during the summer.

Buckingham Palace

King George VI, who extended the palace in the 19th century at massive expense, was big on bling, and while crying out for a revamp, the gilded State rooms put Trump Tower to shame. They include the opulent 1844 Room (the photo shows the Queen presenting Angelina Jolie with her honorary damehood in the room).

Buckingham Palace

Other highlights include the Throne Room (pictured), Music Room and Picture Gallery, which includes works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. The palace also boasts 40 acres of grounds, a swimming pool, the Royal Mews stables and the Queen’s Gallery, which exhibits 450 paintings at any one time.

Buckingham Palace

The Queen, who lives in a nine-room private apartment, isn’t especially fond of the place; it is her place of work after all. She famously wanted to reside in nearby Clarence House, but was persuaded to move into Buckingham Palace by Sir Winston Churchill.

Windsor Castle

In contrast to her disdain for Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle is thought to be the Queen’s favorite official home. The 1,000-room castle, which is located in Windsor Great Park, just west of London, dates from the 11th century and sprawls over 484,000 square feet.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is the Queen’s official country residence and although some formal engagements are conducted at Windsor, it’s essentially her place to unwind. Her Majesty spends most weekends at the castle and stays there during Easter, as well as in June for Royal Ascot and the Order of the Garter service (pictured).

Windsor Castle

The castle is famed for its magnificent State Apartments, considered by many experts to represent some of the finest examples of Georgian style. The gilded rooms are decorated with priceless antiques and paintings by Rubens and Canaletto.

Windsor Castle

Other highlights include the medieval St George’s Chapel and Hall (pictured), and a wealth of treasures, from the artworks that are displayed in the Drawings Gallery, to King Charles II’s bed and Queen Mary’s sumptuous dolls’ house.

Windsor Castle

The private apartments at Windsor are hardly ever photographed. This rare glimpse inside the Queen’s private sitting room, which shows Her Majesty meeting New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, was shared via the British Monarchy’s official Twitter account last year.

Windsor Castle

Like Buckingham Palace, maintaining Windsor Castle is a costly process. The infamous 1992 fire caused $44.5 million (£36.5m) worth of damage, and the UK government has recently signed off a $33 million (£27m) refurbishment project.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Queen’s official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse sits at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The palace has been the home of Scottish kings and queens since the 16th century, and past residents have included Mary, Queen of Scots.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Holyroodhouse dates way back to 1128 when it was founded as a monastery. It was converted into a palace by Scottish King James IV in the early 16th century and further additions were made by James V of Scotland and later kings and queens of the United Kingdom.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Her Majesty is resident at the palace in early summer for Holyrood Week and stays there when she has official business to take care of in Scotland. Holyrood Week is a series of events that celebrate Scottish culture, history and excellence, and includes an investiture (pictured).

Palace of Holyroodhouse

When the royals aren’t in residence, the palace is open to the public. The star draws include Mary, Queen of Scots’ private bedchamber (pictured), the Throne Room, the Evening Drawing Room and the splendid Great Gallery, the largest room in the palace.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Great Gallery displays 100 portraits of Scottish monarchs, both mythical and real. The palace is said to be haunted. The naked ghost of ‘Bald Agnes’, a woman who was executed for witchcraft in 1592, has been spotted walking through the State rooms on more than one occasion.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The upkeep of the Queen’s official Scottish residence doesn’t come cheap, and like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, Holyroodhouse is in serious need of modernization. Luckily, a $12 million (£10) refurb has recently been green-lighted that should restore the palace to its former glory.

Balmoral Castle

Staying in bonnie Scotland, Balmoral Castle is the Queen’s Highlands vacation home. Unlike Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse, which are owned by the Crown Estate, it is the personal property of the Queen. Balmoral has been a royal residence since 1852, when it was acquired by Prince Albert.

Balmoral Castle

The Scots Baronial-style castle, which sits in 50,000 acres of wild Highlands countryside, is decorated in traditional Caledonian style – think lots of tartan, thistle designs and stag antlers. The estate also includes two historic lodges and various outbuildings.

Balmoral Castle

As an escape from her hectic schedule, the Queen spends her summer vacation at Balmoral in August and September. While Windsor is said to be Her Majesty’s favorite official home, Balmoral is thought to be her preferred private residence.

Balmoral Castle

In fact, Balmoral lacks adequate central heating of any kind. Guests often remark how cold and draughty the castle can get, even on the warmest sunny days, and many pack extra thermals to keep warm during their stay.

Balmoral Castle

Most of the castle is out of bounds to the general public, particularly during the late summer when the Queen and her family are in residence. Fee-paying visitors can however view the grounds and the castle’s ballroom at other times.

Sandringham House

Like Balmoral, Sandringham House in Norfolk is one of the Queen’s private homes. Her Majesty spends Christmas at Sandringham and stays until February. It is from here that she has recorded many of her famous annual messages to the nation.

Sandringham House

Situated in 20,000 acres of grounds, the house dates from Elizabethan times and was snapped up by Queen Victoria in 1862 as a gift for her son, the future King Edward VII. He rebuilt it in 1870 in suitably sophisticated style.

Sandringham House

Described as ‘the most comfortable house in England’, Sandringham featured the latest domestic technology following its rebuild in 1870 – the regal residence was one of the first country houses in England to boast gas lighting, flushing toilets and working showers.

Sandringham House

Sandringham is less grand and more relaxed than the Monarch’s other residences. The ground floor, which is open to the public when the Royals aren’t in residence, is decorated in elegant Edwardian style.

Sandringham House

The rooms are decked out with valuable antiques, which include Dresden pottery and Fabergé eggs. The Big Game Room (pictured), which used to display the Royal’s hunting trophies, has recently been cleared so as not to offend modern sensibilities.

Sandringham House

The spacious estate, which once housed a menagerie of animals, includes several well-appointed houses. The Georgian Amner Hall, for instance, is the country home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Hillsborough Castle

The least lived-in of the Queen’s homes, Hillsborough Castle near Lisburn is the Monarch’s official Northern Ireland residence. Her Majesty stays at Hillsborough when she has official business to conduct in the province.

Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough was built in the late 18th century by Wills Hill, first Marquess of Downshire and remodeled in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More country house than castle, the two-story Georgian mansion is set in 96 acres of grounds.

Hillsborough Castle

The estate was sold to the British government and became an official Royal residence following the creation of Northern Ireland in 1922. Hillsborough Castle was the location of the signing of the historic Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

Hillsborough Castle

Hillborough’s ornate State rooms never fail to impress. They include the glorious Throne Room, the State Dining room which can seat up to 32 guests and Lady Grey’s antique-packed Sitting Room.

Hillsborough Castle

The extensive grounds are a gorgeous mix of ornamental gardens, woodland and waterways, and include a number of must-sees, including the Lady Alice Temple (pictured), the statue of Ossian and the Quaker burial ground.

Hillsborough Castle

Like the Queen’s other residences, the castle isn’t completely closed off to us commoners. If you want to take a peak inside the castle yourself, Hillsborough is open to the public on weekends in April, May, June and September.

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