Horse Guards Parade is the large open space that lies at the eastern end of St. James’s Park.
One side lays open to the park, and the other enters into Whitehall. This part is usually guarded by two cavalrymen of the Household Division – a ghostly throwback to its days as a Palace, even though all that remains of Whitehall Palace today is Banqueting House across the road. A favourite pastime of tourists everywhere is to try and make them smile. (Not an easy thing to do!)
The parade ground itself is bordered by an assortment of historical buildings, and the iron-gated entrance to Downing Street. It is also home to numerous statues of military generals, including Lord Kitchener (Your Country Needs You!) and the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten (killed by the IRA in 1979).
Household Cavalry, and Trooping the Colour
Horse Guards’ Barracks still house around forty mounted sentries of the Royal Guard, used to defend the Queen at the other end of The Mall.
There are two regiments in total – the Life Guards (red coat and white-plumed helmet), and the Blues and Royals (blue coat and a red-plumed helmet). You can see two on either side of the gate, and they change around every hour between 10AM and 4PM.
The most famous event to take place on Horse Guards Parade is Trooping the Colour, which always falls on the Queen’s official birthday. It first took place in 1755 and has been a regular event since 1805.
Its origins lie in the parading of the troop’s colours in front of the soldiery, so that they would know where to rally on the battlefield.
Drummerboy – “If you want to have your photo taken with the mounted sentries then you need to get there between 10 AM and 4 PM, because if you arrive outside of these times then all you’ll get is a couple of foot soldiers instead. This is what I had this morning. The first one can be found on the righthand side of the courtyard, and he just marches back and forth in his gold plate armour and two-foot sword in his hand. Usually he is surrounded by about a million billion tourists, who take their turn walking up to him and having their picture taken. This goes on all day, every day. Just a million tourists and him, snap snap snapping away on their cameras… continued.”
Drummerboy – “I finally got around to watching Changing the Guard at Horse Guards today. I’ve already done the one at Buckingham Palace, so I thought I’d give this a go and see what the difference is. It’s quite a difficult thing to watch from start to finish because the ceremony takes place in two different bits – the parade ground, and the courtyard through the central arches. My advice is to pick a bit and stick with it, and just accept that you’ll have to miss what’s happening in the other section. If you take my advice, then you should pick a plum spot in the parade ground and stay there for the whole duration… continued.”
glenking – “Definitely worth a look, as its close to Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, but its really just a big empty courtyard. there's nothing actually in it, just some nice buildings and architecture around the sides.
I've never been there when there's been… read the full review”
londonlover – “I had a walk past Horse Guards the other day and its all closed up for a beach volleyball tournament. I know it sounds daft, but they are tripping tonnes of sand into it so they can play this game. I think Horse Guards is where they are holding volleyball… read the full review”