I finally got into the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening today. The last time I tried I queued up for ages and ages and they suddenly stopped selling tickets on the door because it was full, so I had to go home and order them online. So this time around I only had to queue to pick them up, and then join another queue to get in, and then queue again to go through the airport-style scanner and pat-down. But it was well worth the rigmarole.
You get to see all of the State Rooms and the gardens out the back too, but there are a few bits and pieces that are missing. You don't get to see the famous balcony, for example, but I imagine that everyone would be up there woo-hooing their mates down below if they opened that up. Tourists would be standing outside waving at the hoodlums thinking it was the Royal Family. And some of the rooms don't look like you imagine either, so you think you've missed some out. I thought that I'd skipped the big dining room until I read the guidebook on the train home, when I found out that the dining room you see on TV with the fifty foot table is actually the Ballroom (which you do see), and the "State Dining Room" that you go through is something else entirely. But let us start at the beginning...
You are pretty much free to walk around at your own pace, but everyone is kept moving along by the little guide on the headset, so in reality you are pushed from room to room pretty quick. The whole thing probably took about an hour and a half I reckon. You start at the Ambassador's Entrance on the leftside of the Palace, and go through a little corridor filled with modern art. It seemed a bit out of place to me, next to all the traditional portraits of kings and queens, but then you come out into the open and get a decent view of the inner courtyard where all the big-wigs enter, and it's straight up the Grand Staircase.
The Grand Staircase is the first bit where you stop and think jeez louise, this is posh. I could quite happily live out the rest of my days just sitting on those stairs. Next up is the Green Drawing Room which leads to the Throne Room. Do you remember William and Kate's official wedding photos? That is where they were taken, in the room with the red velvet walls. They even had a few on display so you could see where they were standing.
Then you go into the long Picture Gallery with the Vermeers, Van Dycks and Canalettos. After that it's along to the East Gallery and a little Faberge exhibition. That was pretty boring for the blokes but the old women seemed to like it. It's housed inside a pitch black room with little spotlights on the display cases, filled with about 100 of Faberge's best bits, and those little easter eggs too, all covered in jewels -- they must have cost a few bob.
Then you come to the best room of the lot -- the Ballroom. As I said before, I didn't appreciate this at the time, but this is that place you always see on TV where they do the investitures and State Banquets. It didn't look the same because it didn't have the table in it. They've taken that out so they can stick in Kate Middleton's wedding dress. I read in the paper that the Queen didn't like the display much because the dress didn't have a head. But it looks even worse now because the whole thing is entombed inside one of those big black mosquito net things. Maybe they had to cover it up in case all the women jumped up to try it on. I'm not much into dresses anyway, so it didn't do much for me. But she must be pretty short I thought -- judging by the dress she's only 4 foot tall. They had her Cinderella-style shoes and earrings on display too, and the little flower bouquet that she held in her hands. A few rooms later you get to see their wedding cake. I'm surprised they didn't have a video of their wedding night too -- that was about the only thing that was missing.
The Ballroom is the first room where you are actually allowed to sit down, but they make you watch a video of the dress designer explaining in great detail why she laced up this and stitched up that -- they probably do that to make sure you don't sit down too long.
After the Ballroom you go into the real State Dining Room, which I thought was the other State Dining Room, but is actually a lot smaller than the big banquet place. And then you come to probably the poshest rooms of the lot -- the Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room and White Drawing Room. All of those are at the back of the Palace and look down onto the gardens. (If you look at the picture of the back of the Palace below, then the Music Room is that big bit that bulges out from the middle.) Then you head downstairs into the Marble Hall, the Bow Room, and out the back.
When you finally get outside you're standing on a little veranda at the back of the Palace, with the gardens laid out before you. And they've got a little tea room too (the white tents in the picture), so you can tell everyone that you've had a cup of tea at Buckingham Palace.
The gardens are pretty plain to be honest. I'm sure that there are better bits over by the lake, but all they let you see is the path that runs round the south side. It just skirts a load of green grass and trees and a little pond. There are no flower beds or anything like that, no landscaping, no statues, no nothing -- just a 10 minute walk to the exit.
I’ve been here more than once… Read about my other visits…
Buckingham Palace -- Summer Opening, on 23rd August 2012