London is set to become increasingly busy over the next week as people travel to see Queen Elizabeth II lying in state at Westminster Hall and take part in public gatherings and official ceremonies. There are already reports of hotel price surges, transport delays, and event cancelations with visitors urged to plan ahead before traveling to the capital.
If you are one of those people or you happen to find yourself in London, or indeed the UK, during this historic time, here’s what you need to know.
Is it easy to find accommodation?
London is expecting “unprecedented travel demand” starting Wednesday, September 14 as more than one million people are expected to make their way to the capital for the official ceremonies. If you haven’t yet secured accommodation, expect to pay steep prices for a room. According to the Guardian, prices are at their highest since the 2012 Olympics with some hotels increasing them by more than 300%.
Are museums, restaurants, and shops open?
The UK is in a 10-day period of national mourning that will end on September 19 but it will be business as usual for most places over the next few days with a statement from the government confirming that “there is no obligation on organizations to suspend business”. That said, it’s a good idea to check ahead to make sure that opening times haven’t changed, especially when visiting a museum or cultural establishment. The Royal Collection Trust, which manages royal estates and attractions, has closed all six of its sites for the duration of the mourning period, while Westminster Abbey is closed to tourists until September 21.
You’ll find that the country comes to a standstill on Monday, September 19 – the day the state funeral takes place with widespread business shutdowns including some supermarkets and holiday resorts like Center Parcs. Even the National Health Service (NHS) is canceling appointments on the day.
Will events be canceled?
Yes. If you are traveling to the UK for a particular event that’s not connected to the queen’s passing, your plans will probably go awry. All major sporting events will be canceled on the weekend of September 17 and 18. And any major events, including film festivals and Pride celebrations, have been scaled back or canceled outright.
Again, it’s a good idea to confirm that plans haven’t changed before going anywhere as it’s likely schedules will continue to change over the coming days.
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Will trains run? Can I expect transport disruptions?
You’ll likely encounter transport disruptions across the UK but particularly in London and Edinburgh where much of the official ceremonial arrangements are taking place. In London, access to some areas in the city center will be restricted as people travel to Buckingham Palace to commemorate the queen. “We expect large crowds, which can pose risks to public safety,” the government said in an earlier statement.
Planned industrial action across rail networks has been canceled for September but expect train and bus schedules to be impacted throughout the mourning period. Planning journeys in advance “will be essential,” according to a joint statement released on Tuesday from Network Rail and Transport for London. London, they said, will be “exceptionally busy” and Tube stations could temporarily close to avoid overcrowding.
“We will see unprecedented travel demand in the capital, especially from Wednesday, September 14,” the statement from the rail companies reads. “Transport providers have well-developed plans with extra staff and services coming on-stream to help people get to where they need to be.”
London Underground passengers are asked to avoid Green Park station, the nearest one to Buckingham Palace due to “high numbers of customers passing through and try other nearby options including Victoria, Piccadilly Circus, and St James’ Park.
Airports and flight schedules shouldn’t be impacted, but trains and busses to London’s airports may suffer delays and overcrowding.
How can I take part in commemorations?
The state funeral is taking place at Westminster Abbey in London on the 10th day of mourning, that is Monday, September 19. But beforehand, people have an opportunity to commemorate the queen at various events and gatherings across the UK.
How to attend the queen’s lying in state at Westminster Hall, London
On Tuesday evening the queen’s coffin is set to be flown to London, where it will be taken first to her former home at Buckingham Palace. It is expected that the coffin will be taken in a procession on a gun carriage on Wednesday from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, the oldest building at the Houses of Parliament, where it will lie in state for five days, until the nation holds a minute’s silence on Sunday, September 18 at 8pm.
All roads in central London are expected to close to traffic for the public to stand along the route. The Hall will be open to the public for 24 hours each day, with over three-quarters of a million visitors expected to file past the coffin which will be closed and placed on top of a raised platform known as a catafalque.
The British government issued guidance for anyone planning to go to parliament: “You will need to stand for many hours, possibly overnight, as the queue will keep moving.” People have been told to reconsider bringing young children given the long waiting times expected and to pack food and drink and any medication they may need.
Attendees will need to pass through airport-like security screening before entering Westminster Hall, so no liquids will be permitted through. Once inside photography is banned and those wishing to attend have been told to dress appropriately, anyone wearing clothes that are heavily marked with branding or marketing messages will not be allowed entry. Larger bags can be left at the bag-drop facility but capacity is limited.
Details on the state funeral will be released “in due course”.
Where can I leave flowers?
Buckingham Palace has become a focal point for people to congregate since her passing. Any flowers left at the Palace gates are being moved to nearby Hyde Park and the Green Park Floral Tribute Garden, which is also becoming a gathering point for visitors.
What about the coronation of King Charles?
That event won’t happen for another few months. It probably won’t even happen this year. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation took place 16 months after her accession in 1953, so her son’s coronation will likely take some time. Details haven’t been made public yet but it’s likely, despite the current cost of living crisis, it will be a major event with plenty of pomp, pageantry, and anachronistic traditions.
How do I approach discussing the queen with people in the UK?
While there’s no universality of sentiment in the UK – as even a cursory scan of the polarised world of social media will reveal – this is going to be an extraordinary few days to be in the United Kingdom. People will be going into new shared experiences and visitors will be a part of something unique. Expect wall-to-wall media coverage of funeral arrangements, and pundits discussing the queen’s legacy and what the future has in store for the monarchy.
Bear in mind that the royal family is a symbol of many things in today’s UK – tradition, privilege and, of course, colonialism. When talking to people there’s no need to shy away from the queen’s death but on the other hand, no one will expect to be offered sympathy. Meanwhile, away from royal honeypots like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle which will be busy and strewn with floral tributes, Brits will be (mostly) keeping calm and carrying on. Away from grappling with constitutional questions, most people are more worried about energy bills and inflation.