The royal family is nothing if not consistent. At the end of every summer, Queen Elizabeth II makes her annual pilgrimage north to Scotland for a multiple week-long holiday at Balmoral Castle.
Unfamiliar with the Queen's massive countryside estate in the Highlands? Read on for everything you need to know about the centuries-old castle that Tony Blair once called "freaky." Princess Eugenie, on the other hand, describes it as "the most beautiful place in the world."
The Queen's Annual Vacation
Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth II spends her summer holiday, is widely thought to be the monarch's favorite residence. "I think Granny is the most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands," described her granddaughter Princess Eugenie in the recent documentary Our Queen At Ninety.
Free from public duties, the monarch can relax and spend time with her family members, who also make the trip. (Both the Cambridges and the Sussexes are expected to visit later this season.)
“Walks, picnics, dogs—a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs—and people coming in and out all the time,” Eugenie continued. “It’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there, where you just have room to breathe and run.”
While at Balmoral, the royals "act as normal people—to a point," Lord Lichfield, a former photographer for the family, said in 1972. "Lunch is always outdoors and they are outside every day going on expeditions."
And after dinner, Her Majesty even does dishes. "You think I’m joking, but I’m not,” Blair once revealed. “They put the gloves on and stick their hands in the sink. The Queen asks if you’ve finished, she stacks the plates up and goes off to the sink."
Royals, apparently, really are just like us—though, only a true monarch can pull off having a pillow that says simply "It’s good to be Queen."
The first home at Balmoral was reportedly built in 1390, but the property didn't enter into the British royal family until 1852, when Prince Albert purchased the estate as a gift for his wife, Queen Victoria, who loved the Scottish countryside. However, when the residence was deemed too small, the royal couple built an additional castle—the one that still exists today—to fit their growing family. The new structure was completed in 1856, and the other building was torn down. Now, the 50,000-acre estate features 150 buildings in total.
In more modern royal history, Balmoral served as the destination for Prince Charles and Princess Diana's less-than-romantic honeymoon. It's also where Prince Harry and Prince William learned of their mother's tragic death in 1997.
Want to visit? Here's how.
When the royal family is in residence, Balmoral is closed, but they do offer guided tours on several dates throughout the winter. Additionally, in 2019, the castle was open to the public on a daily basis from April 1 through July 31.
If you'd like to visit, admission, which includes an audio tour and parking, costs £11.50 (or roughly $14). For more information, visit balmoralcastle.com. For a truly royal experience, consider booking a cottage on-site. The property offers several accommodations that are available for bookings year-round (although not during the royal visit).
Or, if you have no plans for a trip to Scotland, tune in to the Castle's squirrel cam.
The royals aren't the only "special residences" of Balmoral. The castle grounds are also home to an endangered species of red squirrels. Per the Balmoral website, "The red squirrel is one of Scotland's favourite mammals but it is declining in numbers and classified as an endangered species. However at Balmoral we are lucky to have several scurries of squirrels living and you can watch them feeding."
Check out the special video feed here.
Notably, Prince Charles is quite fond of the creatures, and sometimes even lets them run around inside his home in Scotland, Birkhall.
"He is completely infatuated by the red squirrels that live around the estate in Scotland—to the extent that he's given them names and is allowing them into the house," Prince William has said in the past.
The Prince of Wales, who is also the patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, doesn't deny it. "They come into the house at Birkhall and we get them chasing each other round and round inside. If I sit quietly, they will do so around me," he says. "Sometimes, when I leave my jackets on a chair with nuts in the pockets, I see them with their tails sticking out, as they hunt for nuts—they are incredibly special creatures."
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