SANDRINGHAM-Queen Elizabeth II missed the Christmas Day church service attended by the British royal family on Sunday because she was still suffering with a heavy cold.

The 90-year-old, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England, stayed indoors but was well enough to join in the family festivities at home afterwards, a spokesman said.

The royal family traditionally spends Christmas together at her Sandringham private estate in Norfolk, eastern England.

By custom they walk together to and from church, a rare occasion for the public to meet several members of the royal family. "Her Majesty The Queen will not attend church at Sandringham this morning," a palace spokesman said.

"The Queen continues to recover from a heavy cold and will stay indoors to assist with her recovery.

"Her Majesty will participate in the royal family Christmas celebrations during the day." The monarch and her 95-year-old husband Prince Philip delayed their departure from London to Sandringham from Wednesday to Thursday as they were both suffering from heavy colds.

Prince Philip was well enough to attend the church service and was seen alongside their eldest son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Charles's younger son Prince Harry attended, though as per royal protocol his girlfriend, the US actress Meghan Markle, was not at the family gathering.

Charles's elder son Prince William was spending Christmas 2016 with his wife Kate's family in Berkshire, southern England, for the first time since their two children were born.

They were seen taking Prince George, aged three, and one-year-old Princess Charlotte, to their first Christmas Day church service. Also absent from the public stroll in Sandringham was the monarch's eldest granddaughter, the equestrian champion Zara Tindall and her husband Mike, the former England rugby captain.

Zara was pregnant with their second child but it was announced Saturday that they had lost the baby.

Zara's mother Princess Anne, the queen's second son Prince Andrew and his daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, plus the monarch's youngest son Prince Edward, were seen leaving the Sandringham church service. Thousands had gathered outside and Harry chatted with well-wishers in the crowd.

In her pre-recorded Christmas Day broadcast to the Commonwealth, the queen paid tribute to inspirational unsung heroes, focusing on "ordinary people doing extraordinary things".

The royals exchange simple, practical gifts, though on Christmas Eve as per German tradition, and the queen leaves the room when her message comes on the television, preferring to watch it alone.