Palace is `worst tour site in UK'

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The Independent Online
ONLY A fortnight after its "flock wallpaper" was mocked in the respected and popular Rough Guide series of travel books, Buckingham Palace has beenslated by another survey.

The "jewel" in Britain's tourist crown offers little apart from its history, according to Holiday Which? magazine. Sterile, staid and stuffy was the way consumer watchdogs described the Queen's home, awarding it the lowest ranking of all the 21 attractions investigated. The Palace was upstaged by everything from Alton Towers to the Jorvik Viking Centre.

Opened to the public six years ago, it was accused of old-fashioned formality, in contrast with the praised innovation of the 118-year-old Natural History Museum.

Graded separately out of five for attraction and facilities, the Palace scored one for the former and two for the latter.

An expensive guide book merely outlined the architectural and artistic masterpieces instead of bringing the palace to life, said Bob Tolliday, who wrote the report.

"It has a sterile atmosphere. There is nothing telling the story of the house, what has gone on in these rooms, the life of the servants. It is more of a museum than a country house experience," he added.

A Palace spokesman reacted indignantly yesterday: "I am not terribly sure what they want - waxwork dummies? The rooms are presented in the way they are used the rest of the year by the Queen and Royal Family for state and official entertaining. Display boards would take away from the character of the rooms.

"I think the numbers going through Buckingham Palace speak for themselves," he added.

More than 300,000 people visit the state rooms each year. Yet the trip, which lasts little more than an hour, will cost a family of four pounds 30.

This, Which? researchers said, compared poorly with the day-long experience that a family visiting Castle Howard - of Brideshead Revisited fame - can enjoy for pounds 19.50. The stately home scored five and four with particular praise for its "friendly and knowledgeable guides.

"You can see the love and care which has gone into their presentation. Buckingham Palace could learn from looking at houses such as Chatsworth and Castle Howard," said Mr Tolliday.

Other attractions awarded low marks were Stonehenge and London Zoo. The Which? report insisted that some of Britain's best-known attractions "leave a lot to be desired" with unimaginative presentation, confusing layouts, lack of appeal to children and dingy toilets.

Stonehenge, which scored two in both sections, was said to have inadequate facilities while the Zoo was criticised for its "shabbiness". With a score of three and two, it ranked lower than Windsor's "disappointing" Legoland.

In contrast, researchers felt the Natural History Museum in South Kensington could get no better, awarding it five marks in both categories.

"It really stood out. It was exceptional in everything - even the food it served," said Mr Tolliday.