By Bryony Jones
LONDON (CNN) — Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations reached a colorful climax Tuesday as she and other members of the royal family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for a flypast.
Aircraft from the Battle of Britain -- including Spitfires and a Hurricane -- and the Red Arrows display team roared over the palace in a dramatic finale to four days of festivities, trailing red, white and blue smoke.
Huge crowds of well-wishers who had gathered to cheer the queen as she traveled by carriage procession from Westminster to Buckingham Palace surged up The Mall to hail the royals as they stepped out.
The queen's elderly husband, Prince Philip, was absent for the service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's Cathedral and carriage procession through London after being admitted to a London hospital with a bladder infection.
But the monarch was flanked on the balcony by her son Prince Charles and grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as the Duchess of Cornwall and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Soldiers fired into the air in the forecourt of the palace, giving the so-called feu de joie rifle salute, as a military band played the national anthem, accompanied by the flag-waving crowds. They then gave three rousing cheers for the queen.
The 86-year-old, smiling broadly and looking moved by the scale of the tribute, waved repeatedly before retiring back through the balcony doors into the palace. She is expected to express her thanks for the jubilee celebrations in a special televised broadcast later Tuesday.
Squadron Leader Ian Smith, the officer in command of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, said beforehand that the group was honored to be taking part in the jubilee event.
"As a service, the RAF is enormously proud of its heritage, and the opportunity to fly over Buckingham Palace for her majesty with the nation's aviation heritage is something that will remain with us for the rest of our lives," he said.
Barbara Robinson, from Hartlepool in northern England, spent four hours waiting on The Mall for the queen's procession to pass by, before walking down to the palace.
"We saw the queen on the balcony, and the flypast, sang 'God Save the Queen' and gave her three cheers," she said.
"It's been a wonderful weekend, the atmosphere was just fantastic, everyone has been so excited, and so friendly. Right the way through, from Sunday until now, there hasn't been one cross word. It's a cliche, but this really is what we do best."
Her husband, Charlie, added: "It was lovely to see so many Union Jacks everywhere -- it would be great if they stayed out on display."
The queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had been expected to lead the carriage procession to the palace in the 1902 State Landau, the horse-drawn open-top carriage used by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge after their wedding at Westminster Abbey last year.
But instead, the queen, who smiled as she waved to those lining the route, was accompanied in the ornate carriage by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the prince also doffing his hat to those they passed.
Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry followed in a second carriage.
Prince Philip, who is 91 this weekend, is recovering at a central London hospital and is expected to remain under observation for several days. He was visited in a hospital Tuesday by Prince Edward, his wife, the Countess of Wessex, and their two children.
As they left the hospital, Prince Edward said his father was doing much better and just needed more rest. He also said the Duke of Edinburgh had watched the day's proceedings on television.
The Countess of Wessex said the Duke of Edinburgh was in good spirits and on good form.
"He is, understandably, disappointed" not to be taking part in Tuesday's events, the queen's press secretary said in a statement Monday.
In the absence of Prince Philip, the queen had Prince Charles and her grandsons at her side for the service of thanksgiving held Tuesday morning at St Paul's Cathedral, the formal highlight of four days of celebrations to mark her 60-year reign.
Following a formal lunch, the queen and other members of the royal family returned in procession to Buckingham Palace, through streets lined with members of the armed services and enthusiastic well-wishers.
On The Mall, near Buckingham Palace, umbrellas went up as raindrops fell, just as a 60-gun salute began. But unlike on Sunday, when torrential rain soaked the jubilee pageant on the River Thames, the showers did not become a downpour.
A wave of cheers echoed along the tree-lined road leading to the palace as the sound of horses' hooves signaled the approach of the procession.
The roar of the crowd, which had been waiting hours for a glimpse of the queen, reached a crescendo as the royal family passed by in open-topped carriages.
Military marching bands made their way up The Mall after the royals, followed by thousands of spectators hoping to get close to the palace for a glimpse of the royal family on the balcony.
On her arrival at St. Paul's in the morning, the queen was heralded by a fanfare of trumpets and cheered by thousands of onlookers. Inside, the congregation included Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
During the service, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, praised the queen's devotion and service -- and wished Prince Philip well.
"She has made her 'public' happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home in these encounters," Williams said in comments reported by the UK's Press Association. "The same, of course, can manifestly be said of Prince Philip; and our prayers and thoughts are very much with him this morning."
"We are marking six decades of living proof that public service is possible and that it is a place where happiness can be found," Williams added in comments reported by the agency. "To declare a lifelong dedication is to take a huge risk, to embark on a costly venture. But it is also to respond to the promise of a vision that brings joy."
Ahead of the service, thousands of well-wishers crowded against security barriers, flags at the ready, cheering as guests arrived at St. Paul's. During the thanksgiving, those outside, who listened through loudspeakers, joined in as the congregation sang "God Save the Queen."
Later, cheers and applause -- and the pealing of church bells -- greeted the queen and the royal family as they emerged from the cathedral.
Lyn Holgate of Staffordshire said she was sorry to have missed a glimpse of the monarch as she passed by, but she had thoroughly enjoyed the celebrations.
"We were lucky enough to go to the picnic garden party yesterday, and we met Princess Beatrice, who said she liked my fascinator," she said. "And on Sunday, the queen waved at us as she was driven past, so there's been a little something every day. It's been well worth the trip."
Sylvia Corin had an even longer journey, having traveled from her home in Auckland, New Zealand, to be in London for the jubilee.
"I come over for all the big royal occasions," she said. "I was here for the royal wedding last year and for Charles and Diana's wedding, too. Everyone laughs at me, but I think it's worth coming from half a world away."
The grandmother of 14 said she had met several members of the royal family on their trips to New Zealand.
"I took my son to meet the queen when he was 8, to give her a bouquet of flowers, and I've met Prince Charles and Prince William, too."
The most notable absentee at St. Paul's, Prince Philip, had been at the queen's side throughout the lengthy jubilee pageant on the Thames on Sunday, as heavy rain lashed the seven-mile flotilla along the river. His illness meant he was not able to attend Monday night's pop concert at Buckingham Palace.
Outside the cathedral, Pip Sweetman of Portsmouth, southern England, said she had come to show her support for the queen in his absence. "I suppose she's feeling a bit lost today, without Prince Philip," she said.
A small demonstration by an anti-monarchist group was dwarfed by the hordes of royal supporters but still took a prime spot in front of St. Paul's, where a long-running Occupy protest took place earlier this year.
Graham Smith, CEO of pressure group Republic, admitted that the demonstrators were outnumbered but insisted that their presence at the event was important.
"We are here to make sure that the millions of people in the country who oppose the monarchy have their opinions heard," he said. "It is only a token protest, but we're here so the monarchy don't get away with thinking that the whole country is in love with them."
But as the queen arrived, the republican shouts of "Make monarchy history!" were drowned out by deafening shouts of "God save the queen!"
Members of the three armed services, military bands and huge crowds of flag-waving well-wishers lined the route as the royals made their way from a reception in the City of London to a formal lunch at Westminster Hall.
The 700 or so guests at the lunch included young people and representatives of different trades, crafts and professions from around the country, with the National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain providing music during the meal.
The route of the royals' horse-drawn procession from Westminster to Buckingham Palace took in some of the capital's most famous landmarks, including Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch.