Travel 2023: Witness History During the Coronation of King Charles III

King Charles III

King Charles III makes a televised address to the Nation and the Commonwealth from the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in London on September 9, 2022, a day after Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96. Photo: YUI MOK/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Escape and find a purpose! In our February/March 2023 issue of Zoomer magazine, we featured “23 Reasons to Travel in 2023”. In this edition, we explore historical London and the May 6 Coronation of the British monarch. Click on the link at the bottom of the story for more ideas and inspiration for your next trip.


We were all enthralled by the beautiful, sombre and archaic rituals surrounding the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II: the epic queue to see her lying in state, the Vigil of the Princes, the procession, with naval officers pulling her coffin through the streets of London to Westminster Abbey, followed on foot by the Royal Family. But what made it so viscerally powerful were the scores of people who lined the streets in London and Windsor to bear witness and pay tribute.

Visitors to London will get another chance to witness history on May 6 when King Charles III is crowned at Westminster Abbey in the first coronation in 70 years.

The start of Charles’ reign has been marked by turbulent headwinds, from calls for republicanism around the Commonwealth to criticisms lobbed at the Royal Family and the larger institution by the King’s younger son, Prince Harry. Mindful of precarious times, Charles III has stated it is his wish to slim down and modernize the monarchy, and to streamline his coronation in a nod to the current mood of post-pandemic austerity. To this end, proceedings will be much shorter than Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, clocking in at one hour compared to the Queen’s three-hour service. When Elizabeth II was crowned, Britain was also in economic turmoil as it emerged from the Second World War. The palace used the occasion to rally a weary nation’s spirits; perhaps Charles’ coronation day will have a similar uplifting effect. One rumoured update, floated in the press, is that Charles will not have all the royal dukes kneel before him or kiss his cheek; only his heir William, Prince of Wales, will do so. This neatly avoids the problem of having wayward royals, Harry and Andrew, participate in the ancient ceremony.

But make no mistake: This will be a really big show. The production, dubbed Operation Golden Orb, will follow the same basic script since coronations began at the abbey in 1066. In a religious ceremony, Charles will be anointed with holy oil made from a secret recipe of ambergris, orange flower, rose, jasmine and cinnamon. The 17th-century, solid-gold St Edward’s crown will be placed atop his head. Only a select few nobles, heads of state and international royalty will witness the ceremony, but the procession to Westminster Abbey, with Charles in the 260-year-old Gold State Coach, is your chance to get a glimpse of the action.


Tourists who visit London may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of King Charles III on his way to Westminster Abbey for the May 6 coronation ceremony, perhaps in the Gold State Coach that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, took to her coronation in June 1953. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


There will certainly be a festive atmosphere, given that Britons will enjoy two “bank holidays” on the Mondays before and after the ceremony. If you travel, you should check ahead about what will and won’t be open. Royal tourism is a big draw, according to the national tourism agency VisitBritain, with 60 per cent of visitors likely to visit royal destinations and royal fans adding some 1.7-billion pounds (the equivalent of C$2.7 billion) to the nation’s coffers each year.

The big draw is Buckingham Palace, with 30 per cent of London visitors stopping by. According to the tourism agency, the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are kept when they aren’t being used in a ceremony, is the most popular paid destination. At Westminster Abbey, the 14th-century Coronation Chair that Charles will sit in, guarded by four gilded lions, is usually on display in the nave when it’s not being used for a ceremony. Some 3,000 people are buried under the Abbey, including 30 kings and queens, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Dr. David Livingstone, the famous Scottish missionary and explorer.


At Westminster Abbey, the 14th-century Coronation Chair that Charles will sit in, guarded by four gilded lions, is usually on display in the nave when it’s not being used for a ceremony. Photo: Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images



Getting around central London on coronation day will be tricky with barricades blocking off the procession route, but scoping out the area before or after will still be deeply rewarding. The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the U.K. Supreme Court are steps away. Pop into St. Stephen’s Tavern, open since 1875, opposite the Parliament buildings; a bell rings to call MPs to vote when government is in session. Monument hunters can visit nearby statues celebrating Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Oliver Cromwell, George V, Frances Bacon, George Orwell and Abraham Lincoln. And if you’re checking off a list of statuary, no visit would be complete without a side trip to pay homage to Diana, Princess of Wales, at the statue commissioned by William and Harry that stands in the Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace. 

A version this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 2023 issue with the headline ‘Witness History’, p. 72.

For more ideas and inspiration for your next trip, go here.