This year, the United
Kingdom’s 62 million residents are marking the 60th anniversary of Queen
Elizabeth II’s rule with once-in-a-lifetime pageants, street parties and
museum exhibitions, giving visitors a rare glimpse of British patriotism.
Queen Elizabeth took
to the throne in 1952, though her formal
coronation happened the following year. Six decades later, the world’s most
widely recognised monarch and the only royal other than Queen Victoria to serve
60 years on the English throne, is being honoured with a year-long calendar of
events known as the Diamond Jubilee.
The celebrations will grab headlines throughout the summer, but the pinnacle of
the Jubilee will take place in London between 2 and 5 June, when a flotilla of
1,000 boats -- including a royal barge bearing the Queen -- will sail down the River
Thames, and a chain of 3,000 beacons -- a mix of modern flame-generating
devices and traditional bonfires -- will be lit around the world at various manmade
and natural landmarks.
No country on earth
does pomp and circumstance as charmingly as the United Kingdom, which is why two-and-a-half
million overseas visitors are forecast to descend upon London this June. The
event also offers the rare chance of seeing the Queen in person – an
86-year-old, corgi-loving great-grandmother who many locals admire for her
graceful, restrained behaviour through decades of service. Here are a few highlights
A seven-mile flotilla
On 3 June, the United Kingdom will assemble a seven-mile long flotilla
to sail down the Thames -- a display that is meant to reflect the nation’s
maritime heritage. A royal barge, the retrofitted Spirit of Chartwell, will ferry
the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, while another vessel will hold the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Nearly 20,000
other sailors and spectators will float by in the other boats, including a few
of the ships that rescued British troops in World War II's Battle of Dunkirk.
Daytime fireworks and other pyrotechnics are also planned.
Up to one million spectators
will line London’s riverbanks and bridges between Wandsworth and the Tower of
London, with about 50 giant BBC TV screens along the route broadcasting the
event. (There will also be TVs in 21 other UK
destinations and in the US, viewers can watch on BBC America.) The
flotilla will commence at high tide, 2:40 pm, but visitors will need to stake
out their places much earlier.
Some prime viewing spots will be on the Victoria
Embankment, north of the Thames near Westminster, along South Bank and at Battersea
Park. Lambeth, Westminster and Blackfriars bridges will be the only bridges
open to spectators.
Nationwide on 3 June,
hundreds of towns across the UK will hold afternoon street parties for a
coordinated event called the Big Lunch,
with neighbours serving quintessential British items like a Victoria sponge
(two sponge cakes layered with a cream-and-berry centre). For out-of-towners,
the most welcoming parties will be on Piccadilly in the West
End, and at Hampton Court
in Richmond, about 40 minutes from London by train.
Also on 3 June,
festivals will take place across the capital city. In South London, Battersea
Jubilee Festival will showcase British pop culture from the past 60 years, with
activities such as vintage clothing makeovers. Expect live performances of
nostalgia-inducing music by professional entertainers, with locals undoubtedly belting
out “God Save the Queen” at the park’s pop-up pub. Over in Hyde Park on 2 and 3
June, the Jubilee
Family Festival will draw up to 50,000 visitors with amusement rides for
On 4 June, a chain of
3,800 beacons will be set alight in former British territories. Tonga, a Commonwealth
nation in the South Pacific, will be the first to light a beacon. Then, as night
falls in successive time zones, lights will sequentially shine in places such
as Sydney, Hong Kong and New Delhi.
At 10:30 pm at
Buckingham Palace, the Queen will light the national beacon by putting a
diamond-shaped piece of glass in a pod, which will activate a laser and turn on
a beacon at the far end of the Mall, the tree-lined avenue running from the
palace to Trafalgar Square (visitors should arrive at the Mall several hours in
advance to get a viewing spot). Other beacons will be lit at
locations across the United Kingdom, and the chain of beacon lightings will
continue through the night, onward to Canada, with at least four beacons in the
US, including one outside the British Embassy in Washington, DC. Beacon
lighting is a centuries-old British tradition that was first invented as a tool
of military communication and that later was adopted to celebrate national
events, such as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
The best opportunity
to glimpse the royal family during the weekend is on 5 June, when the Queen and
Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and other
family members take a
carriage procession between Westminster Hall and Buckingham Palace, passing
by Trafalgar Square on the way. Queen Elizabeth will ride in the 1902 State Landau,
an open-topped, horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by the Household Cavalry
Mounted Regiment, whose shiny breastplates and plumed metal helmets look
positively medieval. Shortly after their arrival, the Royal Family will appear
on the palace’s balcony. There will be a 60-gun salute and Royal Air Force
Crown jewels in a
This spring, the Tower of London gave a full
makeover to its permanent exhibition of the Crown Jewels: the ornaments used by
the sovereign on special state occasions. New displays focus on the 1953 coronation
ceremony, including a freshly restored, three-minute colour film of the event. Visitors
can also see the very items that were used in the ceremony, such as a Roman-style
robe, solid gold crown and diamond-topped sceptre.
Tours and exhibitions
Jubilee-themed guided tours and museum exhibitions are taking place in London
for a limited time. On Mondays in May and June, London Walks is running a
Jubilee walking tour, which tells Queen Elizabeth’s life story in cute
anecdotes, such as how she was known as Lilibet when she was young. Stops
include the Queen’s favourite shops in Mayfair, like the chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker.
National Portrait Gallery curated its 60 best images of Queen Elizabeth for the
Queen: Art and Image, which runs through 21 October. The National Maritime
Museum in Greenwich has created a Royal River exhibition
that is open until 9 September and recounts past national celebrations on the
Thames with the help of evocative artworks and objects, such as Canaletto’s
1752 oil painting of the Lord Mayor’s river pageant.