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A Brush With Royalty And History In London's Westminster Neighborhood

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With all the flurry of activity in London this weekend for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee (celebrating 60 years of Her Maj), we can't help but think about the best places in London to have a brush with the royal family. When we're seeking a dose of imperial splendor (both past and present), we pack our cameras and head straight for Westminster, the most royal borough in town.

Westminster is where The Queen herself beds down, at none other than regal residence Buckingham Palace. The palace is also where she gets down to business-the Monarch's administrative headquarters are here too (just try to make the stone-faced guards laugh!).

Great views of the palace can be had from the lake bridge at St. James's Park, which Henry VIII acquired in the early 16th century and today is a peaceful retreat for picnickers and lots of birds -- check out Duck Island!

Nearby you'll find the grand Anglican cathedral Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation for British monarchs of the Commonwealth Realms and countless royal weddings (most recently of Will and Kate). Kings are laid to rest here too, though among the royal tombs you'll also spot great "commoners" like Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton.

As ripe as Westminster is for communing with kings, it's a good place to soak up some political history as well. Being situated smack in the traditional core of the city means Westminster is loaded with key symbols of the Britannic history. An obvious starting point is the Houses of Parliament (open to non-UK residents in summer only); this grand former palace complex-turned-seat of democratic government comes complete with lively debates and the chimes of Big Ben. If you want more of an insider political scoop, make for the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, where you can peek in an underground bunker where British leaders convened during World War II.

Speaking of underground: If you're interested in excavating layers of London history, check out Westminster Cathedral. Though the cathedral itself, which dates from the 19th century, is relatively new, the site has served as everything from a Benedictine monastery and a fairground to a market and even a prison. Also sweeping from the distant past to the present is the collection at art museum Tate Britain, where the works on display range from 16th century paintings to contemporary Turner Prize-winning pieces.

When we want to play queen for a day and rest our heads in Westminster, there are lots of good hotel options nearby. In Belgravia, the tony residential neighborhood around Buckingham Palace on which Edwardian domestic drama Upstairs Downstairs was based, you can rub elbows with the buttoned-up set at The Goring, a formal British boutique with lovely gardens (Kate spent the night before her wedding here). But if you fancy your classic British formality leavened with equally classic British eccentricity, make for 41 Hotel, a business-friendly one-floor-wonder with a Mad Hatter factor in the décor.

Drinking and dining options here also tip their hats to history. The Thomas Cubitt, a posh pub in fashionably down-at-heel aristocratic digs, is our pick for British classics (think bangers and mash). We're also partial to the festivity at Gordon's Wine Bar, a romantic subterranean watering hole that dates from the 1890s. It's located near the Strand (a colorful strip that runs from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street), so once you get there, you'll be leaving Westminster's famous sights behind and heading back toward the party in areas like the buzzing West End, where you can make some history of your own.

Click here to view our Passport to Westminster

In honor of The Diamond Jubilee, The Purple Passport to London for Kindle/Kindle Apps is free in the Amazon store on Saturday, June 2. Click here to download your copy.