The death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has led to astonishing scenes in the UK.
Over the past few days, the accession of King Charles III has taken place and the Queen’s coffin has traveled through the Scottish Highlands to Edinburgh, before being flown into London and brought to Buckingham Palace for a private ceremony.
On Wednesday, the coffin was transported to Westminster Hall, where it will lie until the state funeral – the first to be held in the UK since the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 – on Monday.
The UK is currently in a period of national mourning, which is to last until the end of the day of the funeral, and well-wishers from around the world have been flocking to the capital in order to witness these historic events up close.
In fact, on the day of the Queen’s death, travel app Hopper reported a 49% spike in flight searches from the US to London compared to the previous day.
“We are expecting an increasing number of international visitors to travel to the UK, in particular London, in the coming days to not only mourn the passing of Her Majesty the Queen but also celebrate her life,” Joss Croft, CEO of tourism trade association UKinbound, tells CNN Travel.
Shortly after the news was announced, Rachel Shoemaker from Louisa White Travel, a boutique tour operator specializing in tailor-made travel to Britain, received several requests from people wishing to travel to London, while some travelers who were already in the UK at the time were keen to extend their trip.
“The Queen had an extraordinary ability to inspire people all around the world and there are many Americans, myself included, who feel a particular connection to her and want to pay their respects,” explains Shoemaker.
But while some tourists have made, or are making, last-minute travel arrangements, there are many others who just happen to be arriving for their pre-planned trips during a totally unprecedented time.
Those arriving last minute will likely struggle to find a hotel room, particularly if they’re planning to stay in London.
Many hotels in the capital are now fully booked, while room rates have tripled in some cases, as visitors descend on the city in the hope of either seeing the Queen’s coffin at the Palace of Westminster between Wednesday and Monday and/or being amongst the many mourners lining the streets on Monday, which has been declared a public holiday.
Mourners were already beginning to form queues to view the coffin on Tuesday.
“London is pretty well full over the coming days, with many hotels closing off online bookings so they can manage availability and prices manually for foreign delegations,” Paul Charles, founder of travel PR agency The PC Agency and a commentator on the travel and tourism industry, tweeted earlier this week.
Budget hotel chain Travelodge, which operates close to 80 hotels in the UK capital, has reported a surge in bookings, with a spokesperson commenting that staff are “gearing up for a busy period in the lead-up to the Queen’s state funeral,” before noting that its hotels in central London and Windsor “are literally sold out.”
Justin Allen, from Illinois, who has visited London several times in the past, is thrilled that his pre-planned trip to the UK capital with partner Matthew Anastasia has coincided with these historic events.
“It’s made the trip even more historical for my partner who has never been out of America,” Allen tells CNN Travel over email.
“For his [Anastasia’s] first trip to Europe, he gets to experience so much more than just a regular London getaway.”
The pair were among those lining the streets to watch King Charles III’s motorcade emerge after he was formally proclaimed the UK’s new monarch on Saturday morning, and Allen says that being in the city during this particular moment in time has been incredibly special.
“The city has been bustling even more with so many people coming in,” he adds. “I have never seen this amount of people on the streets in all of the times I have come to London in the last 18 years.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the busiest sections at present is the area around Buckingham Palace, which has become one of the main focal points for people paying their requests to the Queen, while a memorial flower garden has been set up in nearby Green Park.
Several roads surrounding the area are currently closed to traffic, and Monday will bring about even more closures.
Sharron Stone, from Toronto, was enjoying a Baltic cruise with her husband that happened to dock in London on Friday, a day after the Queen’s passing.
“After we checked into our hotel we walked to Buckingham Palace,” she says. “We didn’t need directions, we just followed the crowd.
“Many of the hundreds of people walking with us clasped bouquets of flowers. All of the people around us were polite and friendly, as were the police who lined the road as we got closer to the palace.
“It was clear that people were heading to the palace because they wanted to be a part of this world-changing event.”
While Stone has already flown home, Allen and Anastasia are still in the capital, and hope to view the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall on Sunday, provided they “can wait out the crowds.”
And there certainly will be crowds. Network Rail, Transport for London and industry body the Rail Delivery Group have gone as far as to release a joint statement advising those planning to use public transport during this time to plan their journey in advance due to “unprecedented travel demand in the capital.”
“We recognize that many people will travel to Buckingham Palace and other Royal Residences as a mark of their respect,” reads a statement issued by the UK government earlier this week.
“We expect large crowds, which can pose risks to public safety. Those who do travel are asked to follow any instructions given to them by stewards and the police.”
Some level of flight disruption is also expected, particularly at Heathrow Airport, over the coming days.
When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Heathrow Airport confirmed that some flights on Wednesday would be disrupted to ensure silence over central London during the ceremonial procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.
“Passengers will be notified by their airlines directly of any changes to flights,” reads a statement provided to CNN.
“We anticipate further changes to the Heathrow operation on Monday September 19, when Her Majesty’s funeral is due to take place, and will communicate those in more detail over coming days.
“We apologize for the disruption these changes cause, as we work to limit the impact on the upcoming events.”
While tourists such as Stone and Allen are relatively pleased to have ended up in the UK during this time, others will have a slightly different view, particularly if their plans are heavily affected.
“After postponing my trip to England several times, I finally got here,” says a traveler named Rebecca from Florida, who’s currently visiting the UK. “The next day the Queen passes away.
“All the roads around Buckingham Palace were closed. Couldn’t visit any of the planned venues.”
As most of the events are taking place in the capital, tourists staying outside of London are unlikely to be impacted by the crowds.
However, business closures are pretty unavoidable, particularly on the day of the funeral, regardless of where you happen to be located.
Several major supermarkets and shops will close on Monday, some for the whole day, others for part of the day.
Travelers who’ve pre-booked restaurant and theater tickets for Monday are advised to check ahead, as many are temporarily closing.
The National Theatre in London is shutting its doors on Monday, and evening performances of popular productions such as “Hamilton” at Victoria Palace Theatre and “Mamma Mia!” at the Novello Theatre have been called off.
The majority of major UK cinema chains won’t be open for business on the day of the funeral either, although some, including Vue and Curzon, will be open for one screening – a free broadcast of the funeral.
Meanwhile, popular royal estates and attractions such as the State Rooms, the Royal Mews and The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, have been closed since last Friday, and will not reopen for the duration of the mourning period.
The state funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey, which means the famous church, which is also a popular attraction, will be closed to tourists until September 21.
Madeleine Fournier, from Puerto Rico, is scheduled to arrive in London on September 15 for a trip with a group of friends to attend ABBA Voyage, a virtual concert residency by iconic Swedish group ABBA at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.
“We are a group of 32, so we have hotels, tours, restaurants, bus to/from concert etc.,” she explains of the visit, which had been almost a year in the making.
So far, aside from a pre-booked restaurant reservation on Monday, none of their plans have been hugely affected.
But like many other travelers due to arrive in the UK, Fournier is wary that things might change, and has been contacting her hotel, as well as some of the companies the group has made bookings with, to make sure that everything is still going ahead.
Meanwhile, Cindy Martin, from Texas, is due to fly from Budapest to London on Sunday, after wrapping up a Danube River cruise, and is looking forward to being able to “experience some of the events surrounding the Queen’s passing that we could never have planned on when we booked this trip months and months ago.”
Martin, who has a room booked at the Doubletree By Hilton London, Hyde Park, says the rate had tripled when she visited the hotel website on Saturday. Like many hotels in the central London area, it’s now fully booked on Sunday evening, the night before the funeral.
“[We’re] hoping against hope that our British Airways flight from Budapest will be able to land at Heathrow on time on Sunday (not held up by dignitaries landing) and we can get to the hotel,” says Martin.
“Since Monday is a national holiday, we won’t be able to visit any museums or do much sightseeing, as planned, but [we’re] hoping to witness a bit of history in exchange.”
Top image: Crowds watch the hearse carrying Queen Elizabeth’s coffin depart from St Giles Cathedral en route to Edinburgh Airport on September 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr Josek)