Sandringham House

Sandringham HouseGetty images

Queen Elizabeth's Christmas Day broadcast from Sandringham House is always one of the most-watched addresses of the year in the UK

The Queen spends Christmas at Sandringham, her country retreat near the north coast of Norfolk. Unlike the royal palaces, which are part of the Crown Estate, rural Sandringham House and its roughly 20,000-acre park and estate are the personal property of Her Majesty.

The estate contains orchards, arable farmland and livestock, and some 600 acres of country parkland open to the public throughout the year. More than 200 people work on the estate, including gardeners, foresters, farmers, folks in visitor services and workers in an apple juice processing plant. The estate has been overseen by the Duke of Edinburgh since 1952.
Sandringham House itself was built in 1870, to accommodate King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, Queen Alexandra and their rambunctious, growing family. For four generations, the rambling, red brick Victorian mansion has provided the royal family with an oasis from the formalities and responsibilities of Royal life.

The Queen will gather with her children and grandchildren at Sandringham in the few days before Christmas for their one, private, extended-family gathering of the year. Generally, the Queen will have recorded her traditional televised Christmas Day greeting to the nation before she leaves the capital.

Christmas Day finds Her Majesty and the family attending services at Sandringham’s 16th-century parish church of St. Mary Magdalene. Personal traditions prevail in the family’s Christmas. The family exchange gifts and share a traditional Christmas lunch, and for a few brief hours the curtain is closed on Her Majesty’s very public life.

While most of the extended royal family slip away over Boxing Day and the next few days, the Queen remains at Sandringham, always starting the New Year there, and taking a few weeks of relatively quiet break from the ceremonial year to come. Among the Queen’s few customary local engagements is the annual meeting of the local Women’s Institute. As Her Majesty is the president, she generally delivers a speech.



 February 6 marks Accession Day—the day in 1952 that Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne of her father, King George VI. Of course, that means the day is also the anniversary of her father’s death. The Queen always commemorates the day quietly at Sandringham. Sometimes it is the last full day she will spend in Norfolk. After Accession Day, the Queen returns to London and Buckingham Palace to begin the round of investitures, receptions and calendar events that mark the royal Spring.

When the Queen is not in residence, much of the Sandringham estate is open to the public. Her Majesty opened Sandringham House for public view in 1977, to mark her Silver Jubilee. In general, from April to October, the House and Gardens, church and eclectic Sandringham Museum (housed in the old stable block) are open 11-5. A superb visitors’ center includes a restaurant, gift shop and plant center. Check anytime for details and the further story at Meanwhile, the royal standard has been raised at Buckingham Palace. The Queen is back in her capital, and the new year begins.