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Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace –
Buckingham Palace Summer Opening –
Buckingham Palace Tour, with Garden Highlights –
> See all events at Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace was built by the 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1702. It was originally intended as a country mansion at the edge of St. James’s Park, but then George III purchased it in 1762, and later embellishments by George IV and John Nash turned it into a royal home.
Most of what you see today is relatively new. The front facade facing The Mall was only added in the 1850s, and Queen Victoria added the famous balcony where the British Royal Family wave at the crowds.
The Queen’s private rooms are in the north wing, overlooking the 40-acre gardens. The State Apartments (including the famous Throne Room, Ballroom, State Dining Room and Music Room) are reserved for official occasions like State visits by foreign leaders, and most of them can be visited during the Summer Opening.
The famous Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at 11.30 AM on the Buckingham Palace forecourt, and lasts for approximately 40 minutes. Read our review of Changing the Guard if you would like to visit.
It’s that time of year again… the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening. I upgraded my ticket this year to include a tour of the Buckingham Palace gardens as well. So I have seen the entire palace now, and I can confirm that is a) posh and b) very nice.
After you’ve been through the airport-style security and picked up your audio guide, the whole thing starts round the lefthand side at the Ambassador’s Entrance. This is basically the non-posh entrance for all the total nobodies (ie. politicians). It’s got a few paintings and busts but nothing special. Then you come out to your first view of the Quadrangle (the interior courtyard). This is the bit where the Queen’s carriage disappears too once she’s passed through the central arch. Then it’s up the little stairs and into what I reckon is my favourite room of all – the Grand Entrance and Grand Hall. It’s the first room that everyone sees when they enter the Palace, and it’s a blinder. Unfortunately they don’t allow you to take any pictures of the inside, so you’ll just have to take my word for it (you can trust me though, I’m not lying). I don’t know how much the rent is, but I would be happy living in this one room alone.
After that you wind your way up the Grand Staircase with the golden ballustrade, which is just as impressive, and into the tiny Guard Chamber and Green Drawing Room. Then it’s the Throne Room, which you’ve probably already seen on the telly (it’s the red room where they always take the wedding photos and family snaps).
While all of this is going on you are listening to your audio guide, which is explaining the history of each room, what it’s used for, and a bit about the architect and Queen who commissioned it. It whips along at quite a pace I thought, the guide, because they are trying to stop people dawdling and holding others up. The whole thing only took me an hour this time, which was pretty speedy.
After the Throne Room you come to the long Picture Gallery, which is hung with stuff by Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer and Canaletto. The you’re into the East Gallery and the Ball Supper Room.
The Ball Supper Room is where they hold a little exhibition. Last year it was all about Faberge Eggs. This year it was all about diamonds, in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It was pretty boring for a bloke (I’m a bloke), but I’m sure the ladies would love it. They like looking at all those sparkly rings and things.
After that you come to the Ballroom. This is where the do all the investitures… giving out the knighthoods and gongs. It’s also where they host all the State Banquets. Then you move onto the West Gallery, the State Dining Room (which is not where they hold the State Banquets, confusingly), Blue Drawing Room and Music Room. The Music Room is one of the stand-out rooms of the tour, because it bows out and overlooks the gardens.
Then you come to the White Drawing Room, which has got to be the most garish room in the Palace. It’s all white, yellow and gold, like you’re sitting inside a sunflower. Imagine having all your seats and furntiture painted bright yellow. That is what it is like.
The final bit of the tour takes you down the Minister’s Staircase, which is basically a poor man’s version of the Grand Staircase for the politicians, and through the Marble Hall. The Hall is a kind of like a twin to the Picture Gallery upstairs, but contains the Queen’s collection of fine white statues and marble sculptures. Then it’s past the Grand Hall again and out of the Bow Room, and into the garden.
Once you are into the garden it’s time for a rest, because they’ve set up a little cafe on the veranda selling very expensive tea and cakes. But how can you resist having a cup of tea on the Buckingham Palace veranda? I had a tuna roll too, which set me back about a million quid. If you’ve got any money left after that then you can have a look around the shop as well, and whip out your camera to take some shots of the lawn. (This is the only part of the palace tour where they allow you to take photos.)
It was at this point last year that I went home, but I’d splashed out on the garden tour as well this time, so I had to wait around for an hour for that to start. So I sat there sipping my hundred quid cup of tea on the Queen’s back porch.
You always get to see a little bit of the garden even if you don’t take the tour, because the route out takes you down the lefthand-side of the grounds, to the exit out the back. Unfortunately you don’t see much though, just the huge lawn and glimpses of the sprinklers and the lake. When you do the tour you go down the righthand-side instead, past the Queen’s private apartments (although you can’t actually see into them, of course). The guide then takes you all the way round (roughly parallel to Constitution Hill) and up past Wellington Arch. You then bend round the back to the same exit as before.
Our guide was pretty good. He was a posh guy called Mr Wild (true!) and if the Buckingham Palace bosses are reading this then you should give him a payrise. He was exactly the kind of guy that you would imagine working at the Palace… a teeny-weeny bit posh, friendly and quite funny too. He told us all about the famous flowers and shrubs, and which Queen planted which tree, and built which little building etc. There was a lot of history to cover, and he kept it interesting. But I think it would mainly appeal to gardeners. It was that type of tour – if you like your flowers then you will be well happy. You also get to see parts of the garden that no one else does, and there are some very pretty views. Unfortunately you don’t quite get to see it all, because you aren’t allowed to leave the path. So it never ventures into the centre. But there is more than enough there to make it worthwhile.
> Read Craig’s latest review of Buckingham Palace “I wonder how difficult it would be to find an empty cupboard at Buckingham Palace and hide in it when no one is looking? I’ll wait until one of the tourists tumbles into a piece of furniture (because that always springs the guards into action) and then I’ll jump behind a heavy velvet curtain until nightfall. Then when I hear the Queen coming past in her pyjamas I’ll jump out and say hello and bore her for five hours with my ideas about how we can improve England. I’m a taxpayer and I pay her wages, so the least she can do is offer me a cup of tea and a slice of cucumber cake. And after that she can take me to the Tower of London in handcuffs and shoot me… continued.”
London: A Visitor’s Guide
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If you enjoy your visit to Buckingham Palace, then there are several other Royal palaces in London. The best one is Windsor Castle, followed by Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace. You might also like the Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews and Clarence House. And check out our guide to Royal events and exhibitions in London.