“Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to look at the queen!” These are the starting words of a traditional children’s nursery rhyme. And it’s not only nursery-rhyme cats interested in seeing the Queen or the attractions associated with her.
Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence and the administrative headquarters of the British monarchy, is one of London’s top 10 attractions according to Visit London. Visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard, tour the State Rooms, visit the Royal Mews, see changing art exhibitions in the Queen’s Gallery, or simply enjoy views of Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Monument from adjoining Green Park.
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of British sovereigns since 1837 when Queen Victoria made it her home. But the property’s Royal Family history goes back to 1761 when George III bought Buckingham House for his wife Queen Charlotte.
Where Is Buckingham Palace?
Buckingham Palace sits at the intersection of The Mall, Constitution Hill, and Spur Road off Birdcage Walk in the City of Westminster in central London. The Palace is surrounded by gardens and green space on three sides. St. James’s Park sits on the east side and Green Park on the north side. Royal gardens run behind the Palace to the west. A number of London tourist attractions, including Westminster Abbey, the Churchill War Rooms, and Trafalgar Square, lie within a one-mile radius of the palace.
The Wellington Arch, a large stone archway flanked with Corinthian columns and topped with the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, sits at the western end of Constitution Hill at Hyde Park Corner. Originally built as the outer entrance to Buckingham Palace, the arch was moved to its current location in the 1880s. You can purchase tickets to get inside the arch, where rooms over five stories house historical exhibitions and balconies offer views of Buckingham Palace’s back gardens and London’s Royal Parks.
How To Get To Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace’s central location is easily reached by the Underground, by train, and by coach/bus.
How To Get To Buckingham Palace By Subway
London’s subway system, known as the London Underground or by its nickname, the Tube, is fast and efficient. The nearest Underground stops to Buckingham Palace are Victoria, Green Park, St. James’s Park, and Hyde Park Corner.
It’s roughly an 11-minute walk to Buckingham Palace from Victoria Station, an 8-minute walk from Green Park Station or St. James’s Park Station, and a 12-minute walk from Hyde Park Corner Station.
How To Get To Buckingham Palace By Train
The National Rail System is a passenger train network connecting London with the rest of the country. You might use this system to get to Buckingham Palace if you are coming from outside of the Greater London area serviced by the Underground. London Victoria and Charing Cross Station are the nearest train stations to Buckingham Palace.
How To Get To Buckingham Palace By Coach Or Bus
Bus numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop on Buckingham Palace Road. Victoria Coach Station is a 10-minute walk from the Palace. Use Transport for London’s Plan a Journey page to determine which bus to take from your starting location.
Buckingham Palace is also a stop on some hop-on, hop-off tourist buses.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Buckingham Palace?
If you want to get inside Buckingham Palace, summer is the best time to visit. Although the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors for a few selected dates in winter and spring, the primary touring time is in summer.
Summer also offers the best weather for viewing the Changing of the Guard. Of course, summer is the busiest tourist season and you will be jostling amongst a crowd for the best views. Bundle up or pack a poncho, and you can see the Changing of the Guard throughout the year.
The Royal Mews is open February through November. Guided tours are offered between April and October. The Royal Mews is responsible for all the road travel arrangements for the Queen and the Royal Family. Inside you’ll find historic carriages, a stable of horses, and livery worn by the Queen’s horsemen. Note that the Royal Mews are part of a working royal palace and closures sometimes happen at short notice.
The Queen’s Gallery is a public art gallery that features changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection featuring old master paintings, rare furniture, decorative arts, and photographic images. The Queen’s Gallery is open year-round.
When Is The Changing Of The Guard?
The Changing of the Guard is a ceremony in which the Queen’s Guards, clad in scarlet uniforms and bearskin caps, hand off responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace. The guards are Foot Guards, or highly trained infantry soldiers.
The ceremony, which is free to watch, takes place on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. Formation of the guards in preparation for the ceremony begins around 10:30 a.m. when the Buckingham Palace Old Guard lines up for inspection, the St. James Old Guard begins its march down The Mall, and the New Guard forms on the parade square at Wellington Barracks. Guards and bands start arriving at Buckingham Palace at 10:45 a.m. The actual handover, when the New Guard enters the forecourt via the North Gate and receives the Palace Keys, occurs at 11 a.m. sharp. This is followed by marches of the Old and New Guards. The ceremony takes approximately 45 minutes. Musical accompaniment is provided by a regimental band or corps of drums.
The Changing of the Guard is popular. It is recommended you arrive before 10:15 a.m. to get a good viewing spot. The Buckingham Palace railings are a good spot with visibility of the entire forecourt ceremony, but you need to arrive very early to situate yourself here.
The elevated position of the steps of the Victoria Monument also provides a reasonable view. Spur Road on the left facing Buckingham Palace is a good place to see the New Guard and Band marching up Birdcage Walk. Remember to “make way for the Queen’s Guard!” and not stand in the way of the Foot Guards.
Although the Changing of the Guard occurs several times a week, it is not scheduled everyday. Check the Changing of the Guard schedule before you plan your visit.
How To Tour The Inside of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, including 240 Royal, guest, and staff bedrooms, 92 offices, 78 bathrooms, and 19 State rooms. The State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace are open to visitors for 10 weeks each summer and on selected dates during winter and spring. The Queen’s private living spaces are not open to the public.
The State Rooms are the public rooms in the palace where the Queen and members of the Royal Family receive and entertain guests on ceremonial and official occasions. Rooms you will tour after entering via the opulent, red-carpeted Grand Staircase include the White Drawing Room, the Throne Room, the Ballroom, and the Picture Gallery.
Each year the Royal Collection Trust, the organization that manages public openings of the official residences of Her Majesty the Queen, curates a special exhibit for the summer opening at Buckingham Palace. In 2019, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, the Queen Victoria’s Palace exhibition will tell the story of how the young queen transformed Buckingham Palace from a private house into a working royal residence. The exhibition is included in the price of admission to the State Rooms.
You need to purchase tickets for the State Rooms tour in advance. Tickets can be booked online. Arrive at least 10 minutes before your entry time. You will go through airport-style security. Complimentary multimedia guides are provided. Photographs are not allowed. Wear comfortable shoes as there is a fair bit of walking involved. The Royal Collection Trust recommends you allow up to 2 hours and 30 minutes for your State Rooms tour. One of the available ticketing options allows you to add a 45-minute guided tour of Buckingham Palace Gardens to your State Rooms visit.
Can I See The Queen At Buckingham Palace?
The nursery-rhyme cat may have had a look at the queen, but you are unlikely to see her when you visit Buckingham Palace. State Room tours are scheduled when the Queen is not in residence. When the Queen is at home at Buckingham Palace, you’ll see her flag, the Royal Standard, flying from the flagpole on top of the palace.
If your visit to London coincides with a Royal Wedding or a special event of national significance, you may be able to get a glimpse of the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where she and Royal Family members gather to wave to crowds below.
Your best bet for getting a look at the Queen may actually be away from Buckingham Palace at one of the functions she attends. The Royal Diary on the Royal Family website contains a list of engagements to be attended by the Queen and other Royal Family members.
Two annual events offer opportunities to see the Queen. For the State Opening of Parliament in May, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travel from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in a State coach escorted by the Household Cavalry.
At Trooping the Colour, an event in June marking the official birthday of the British Sovereign, a parade of soldiers, horses, and musicians march down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Guard’s Parade in Whitehall alongside members of the Royal Family on horseback and in carriages. After an inspection and military band performance, the Queen rides in her carriage back to Buckingham Palace where she is joined by other Royal Family Members on the balcony to watch a Royal Air Force flypast.
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