Controversy and crashing websites – royals sell ‘tour and tea’ tickets inside private retreat

Inside the Buckingham Palace renovation

Source: The Royal Family

For the first time since the British royal family moved into their Scottish summer retreat of Balmoral Castle in 1855, the doors have been opened to cashed-up tourists for a look inside.

The King’s decision has been welcomed, and criticised … and the nation is divided.

Balmoral has always been the sentimental private sanctuary for the late Queen Elizabeth, who spent her final hours there before she died in 2022, aged 96.

It was also where young Princes William and Harry – then aged 15 and 12 years old – were staying in 1991 when they were told their mother Princess Diana was killed in a car accident.

Tours of the grounds, gardens and cafe around the castle in Aberdeenshire have long been permitted, but this is the first time the public will get a look inside interior rooms.

As soon as the Balmoral Castle website opened its bookings calendar for a “tour and afternoon tea” for a hefty price of £150 ($288), the site crashed with more than 6060 people in a queue.

“Worse than Glastonbury [music festival],” wrote one disgruntled fan.

Tickets were sold out in minutes, and the next chance to visit inside won’t be until 2027.

“Charles is selling tickets to tour parts of Balmoral Castle for £100 [$192] or £150 with afternoon tea … he’s got some front considering he’s getting enough from us taxpayers as it,” wrote London radio show host Lorraine King.

On the other hand, legendary royal commentator Dickie Arbiter was thrilled, knowing the secrets, stories and history associated with the castle and its visitors (which some online sleuths noted included the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, who is serving a 20-year jail sentence for sex trafficking).

“For the keen observer keep a look out for fishing rods, wellies, door stops and lots of tartan in what must be the ultimate Balmoral experience,” he wrote on X.

The late Queen conducted her final official duties at Balmoral. Photo: Getty

Balmoral Castle was bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, having been first leased in 1848. It is privately owned by the royal family, rather than being an official Crown building.

The original buildings – considered too small – were demolished and a new castle built in 1855.

Town and Country Magazine says the royals have always “found solace and seclusion” in the nostalgic 20,000-hectare site, where they could ride horses, hunt deer and escape the public-facing duties demanded of them.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have secured a ticket, guides will take groups of 10 on “a historical journey through several of the beautiful rooms” from July 1 until August 4, when the King and Queen arrive for their summer break.

Visitors can see inside how the rooms within the castle are used by the royals, and then enjoy the “bright and spacious setting” of their renovated restaurant to “savour a selection of sandwiches, scones and cakes”.

Some general admission tickets are still available, and include the exhibition of the King’s watercolour collection of scenery at Balmoral, Highgrove and Sandringham in the ballroom.

There’s also a display of “outfits” worn by the King, Queen, the late Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother.

The so-called Castle Internal Guided Tour also takes visitors to the ballroom.

Photography will not be allowed within the castle and its ballroom, and children aren’t permitted.

If the walls … or the balcony … could talk! Photo: Getty

The balcony tour

Meanwhile, the King has also given permission for a never-before-seen tour inside the East Wing of Buckingham Palace, including access to the iconic central balcony where royals stand and wave to crowds.

The palace has been opened to the public since 1993, when the late Queen opened the doors after the 1992 fire.

The Royal Collection Trust says tickets for the East Wing Highlights Tour go on sale on April 9 for £75 ($144). The tour will open the wing via the principal floor for the first time following five years of restoration.

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