Visiting Buckingham Palace: 10 Top-Rated Things to See & Do
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When you think of Britain – and, in particular, England – many images will pop into your head. For visitors to London from across the globe, Royalty is often the first thing they think of when planning their England travel itinerary. And nothing says "Royal Family" quite as loudly as Buckingham Palace.
The official London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria's accession in 1837, Buckingham Palace – known affectionately to Londoners as "Buck House" – was originally built for the Duke of Buckingham, and was purchased by George III in 1762. It was later enlarged by George IV's court architect, John Nash, in 1825. The east wing was added in 1846, and in 1913, when George V was king, the east front was given its present Neoclassical look.
To this day, when the sovereign is in residence, the Royal Standard flies over the palace, and units of the Guards Division, dressed in full uniform, mount a guard. On special occasions – such as those usually spectacular royal weddings – the sovereign appears with members of the Royal Family on the central balcony for a friendly wave and a dose of adulation from the crowds.
Tourists today are able to explore many sightseeing areas of the palace complex, from sumptuously furnished rooms to wonderful works of art. To help you make the most of your visit, be sure to read through our list of the top things to see and do in (and around) Buckingham Palace.
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1. See the Changing of the Guard
The historic Changing of the Queen's Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace – otherwise known as "Guard mounting" – has been a treasured London tradition since 1660. This must-see spectacle begins when a troop of the Queen's Life Guard rides from Hyde Park Barracks and past Buckingham Palace to change the guard at Horse Guards. This is widely regarded as one of the top free things to do in London. Try to arrive a little early to ensure a good view of the pageantry.
This colorful spectacle starts daily at 11:30am from April to July, and on alternate days thereafter, and lasts approximately 40 minutes. For those wanting to learn more about this unique London experience, an in-depth history of the ceremony, as well as up-to-the-minute schedules, an inexpensive app available from the Buckingham Palace website is well worth downloading.
2. Visit the Royal State Rooms
For eight weeks in the summer of 1993, Buckingham Palace's State Rooms were opened to the public for the first time. The proceeds of this landmark event were devoted to the restoration of Windsor Castle, parts of which were severely damaged by a tragic fire the previous year.
Following the success of the venture, the State Rooms are now part of a superb tour that features many excellent pieces from the Royal Collection, including paintings (Van Dyck and Canaletto), sculptures (Canova), rare porcelain and fine period furniture. Your tour also includes a look inside the Throne Room, the Music Room, the Picture Gallery, and the spectacular White Drawing Room.
3. Explore the Royal Mews
In the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, you can see a fascinating array of state coaches and carriages, some still used by British monarchs on special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. The most impressive of the coaches on display is the elaborate Gold State Coach, built for George III in 1762 and used for every coronation since 1821. This spectacular Royal carriage is so heavy that it takes eight horses to pull it. The horses, including the famous Windsor Greys, are stabled in the Mews.
Other items in the collection are the Australian State Coach, a gift from the people of Australia in 1988 and which the monarch drives to the state opening of Parliament; and the Glass Coach, acquired by George V in 1910 and used principally for royal weddings. A number of Rolls Royce limousines (including a rare Phantom VI), along with models from Bentley and Jaguar, are also on display.
Between April and October, free 45-minute guided tours are included with admission to the Royal Mews, led hourly by Wardens in their navy and red livery. These interesting tours explain the responsibilities of the mews staff and describe how royal travel is arranged for special events. Other fun things to do include dressing up and sitting in one of the royal carriages.
Official site: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/royalmews
4. View the Rare Artworks at The Queen's Gallery
The Queen's Gallery is an excellent public art gallery that occupies part of the west front of Buckingham Palace and houses varying exhibitions of up to 450 works from the extensive Royal Collection at any given time.
Located on the site of a former chapel, the gallery has been extensively restored and expanded and is a superb place to view some of Britain's most important royal art collections. A great shop is located on the premises.
5. Take a Tour of Clarence House
The official London residence of the Prince of Wales, the superbly renovated Clarence House, just behind the Palace, has been opened to the public for tours only (duration one hour). You'll see the formal gardens and five ground-floor rooms used by the Prince for official engagements: The Lancaster Room, The Morning Room, The Library, The Dining Room, and The Garden Room.
Much of the Queen's art collection is housed here, including paintings by 20th-century artists such as John Piper, Graham Sutherland, and Augustus John. The house also displays some of her porcelain and silver collection. A souvenir/gift shop is located on-site.
Official site: www.royal.uk/royal-residences-clarence-house
6. Take a Stroll through Green Park
Located directly across from Buckingham Palace, Green Park was once part of the palace gardens and was a favorite retreat of Charles II.
Today, the 40-acre park – the smallest of Britain's Royal Parks – is only separated from the palace by a roadway and offers excellent views of the royal residence.
7. The Garden at Buckingham Palace
More than 350 varieties of wildflowers and 200 tree varieties grow in the 39 acres of gardens behind Buckingham Palace. These surround a three-acre lake on whose shore Queen Elizabeth and her sister played as children.
Today, the Queen holds her famous Garden Parties on the lawns and stately promenades. Top attractions on a tour of the gardens are the beautiful floral border, the rose garden, the Summer House, the giant Waterloo Vase, and the tennis courts where King George VI played.
8. Explore the Household Cavalry Museum
The Household Cavalry Museum explores the colorful history of the British Army's senior regiment from its creation in 1661. Along with displays of uniforms, standards, elegant horse fittings, awards, and musical instruments are audio-visuals and hands-on exhibits that will appeal to children.
Popular things to do include trying on real guards' helmets and regalia, and you can also watch through a glass wall as the guards prepare their horses in the stables. It's also possible to go outside to see the daily Guard Change at 10:50am (9:50 Sunday); the Guard Inspection at 4pm; or mounted sentry changes on the hour, from 10am to 4pm daily.
Address: Horse Guards, Whitehall, London
Official site: www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk/
9. The Victoria Monument
Directly in front of Buckingham Palace is the large memorial to Queen Victoria designed by Sir Aston Webb, with sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock. It portrays the former queen surrounded by allegorical figures (Victory, Endurance, Courage, Truth, Justice, Science, Art, and Agriculture) and offers one of London's most popular photo settings.
10. Visit the Guards Museum
This interesting museum presents the history of the five regiments of Foot Guards and includes uniforms, weapons, and memorabilia from more than 300 years. Other interesting displays include a chronology of the regimental uniforms. as well as artwork, weapons, and models.
Miniature and military collectors should visit the shop, The Guards Toy Soldier Centre, on the right as you enter through the main gates off Birdcage Walk. Guided tours and walks are available.
Address: Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London
Official site: www.theguardsmuseum.com
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Buckingham Palace
- Tours of Buckingham Palace: You can combine a visit to the State Rooms with a guided walk through St. James Park and a prime view of the royal guards on a Buckingham Palace Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony. The 2.5-hour tour includes an audio guide to the State Rooms. For an even more iconic London experience, the four-hour Buckingham Palace Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony and Afternoon Tea finishes with an elegantly served traditional afternoon tea at a posh London hotel.
- The Queen's Gallery and Royal Mews Tickets: Both are on a timed-ticket system, so purchase tickets first, then explore the parks and monuments while waiting. Be sure to have a staff member stamp your ticket for re-entry - it's good for a year, so you can break up your visits.
- Kids: Activity bags are available free of charge, so be sure to ask for one when collecting your tickets. A kids' drawing and coloring room is available in the State Rooms.
- Security: Expect airport-style security checks, and large bags and backpacks must be left in the cloakroom provided.
- Getting to Buckingham Palace: The nearest tube stations are Victoria, Green Park, and Hyde Park Corner.
Address: Buckingham Palace Road, London
Official site: www.royal.uk