As palaces go, I've seen better. I've even seen better in London. I went to Hampton Court and it was miles better than this. The only impressive bit about Buckingham Palace is its location. You've got that big pink road leading up to it and some beautiful parks around it, but then the building itself doesn't come up to scratch. For starters, it is too small. A palace should be a fairytale place, with turrets and huge gates and ornate decoration. But the front of it is just bland. It's just a big boring box shape. Apparently it used to be a big house which was converted into a palace, and it shows. Surely your queen could afford to get something a bit better
I've never been inside it but whenever i go past i think it;s a lousy looking palace. I want my Palaces to look like Hampton Court and Versailles, but this is just a box shape and its not even very big. If you look at the front then its got horrible tower blocks behind it. Maybe I should make the effort one day and go inside, but the outside doesnt exactly make you want to visit
Of all the tourist sites I've been too (and I'm not a tourist -- I've lived here for 20 years) the Palace is the most interesting by far. The place just impresses the moment you step through the door. The audio guide is superb and gives you an insight into everything from the events and state visist held here, to the formal dinners, investitures and awards etc. It probably takes a good 2 hours to enjoy the inside of the Palace to its full, and then you can have a rest with a cup of tea on the terrace, and look out over the gardens where they hold the famous garden parties.
Having already been to Windsor Castle and loved it, I was already knowing the kind of spendour to expect, but to say that Buckingham Palace took my breath away is an understatement! What an amazing palace. And it is even more impressive inside given that the outside is rather less than impressive. You walk in not really expecting to see the kind of riches that you do. Everything, from the furniture, ceilings (and even the wallpaper!) is sumptious. You really do appreciate the kind of impression that visiting foreign heads of state must get when they meet the Queen. Everything is designed to impress, from the scale, to the views, to the service (each guest gets their own personal butler!) Being a bit of a dimbo, a lot of the history on the audio guide went over my head, but I can see that it would be very interesting if you're into that kind of thing. But even if you're not, you can still look at the palace and dream of being a princess
[Taken from my blog.] I went on the tour and it's pretty good. 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 to their mates down below if they opened that up. 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 through a little corridor filled with modern art. Then you come out into the open and get a decent view of the inner courtyard where all the big-wigs enter, then it's straight up the Grand Staircase. The Grand Staircase is the first bit where you stop and think, jeez 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 was full of Faberge jewellery and those little easter eggs things that are covered in jewels -- they must have cost a few bob. Then you come to the best room of the lot -- the Ballroom. I didn't know this at the time, but this is that place you always see on TV where they do the 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 black mosquito net things. I'm not much into dresses 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 had 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. After that 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. Then you head downstairs into the Marble Hall, the Bow Room, and out the back.
[Taken from my blog.] I went for the first time last year and it was pretty good, so I upgraded my ticket this time and did a tour of the gardens too. So I have seen the whole thing now, inside and out, front and back. And I can confirm that is a) posh and b) 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. 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).
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. If you look at the photo I took of the back of the Palace, you can see the Music Room in the centre of the facade, jutting out in a semi-circle. 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. 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.
[Taken from my blog.] I've been here so many times now I almost know it better than my own house. I was walking round to see which bits of furniture they've moved. I remember waltzing through it last year at the speed of light, but I really took my time today -- partly because my knees are playing up again, but mostly because I just wanted to. I listened to every word of the commentary and poored over every picture, every bit of carpet, all the wallpaper and ceilings too. I definitely got my money's worth.
So, what do you see? Well, it's the same as every other year. The route hasn't changed at all. It starts off at the Ambassador's Entrance which always strikes me as a bit of a misfit. All of the art in the palace is along classical lines, whereas this one has a 60-foot long modern-art piece. It was done by a guy called Topolski in 1960 -- maybe you have visited the Topolski Gallery under the arches near Waterloo? He's the same guy. After that you look out into the Quadrangle -- the open air courtyard in the heart of the palace. If you're listening to the commentary then Prince Charles will cut in at this point and give you a two-minute speech in which thanks you for coming. Then it's through the impressive Grand Entrance and up the equally impressive Grand Staircase, all decked in gold. Next comes the Throne Room, and this is where you see the first little bits of this year's theme.
Every year they have a special exhibition on a different theme. The first year I went it was all about William and Kate's wedding, and last year it was all about Faberge Eggs. This year they decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation in 1953, so the Throne Room had a few of the famous photos taken by Cecil Beaton. The commentary really went to town about it too... normally you get a description of all the rooms and a little bit of history of what happens where, but this year all of that seemed to take a back seat so they could talk about the Coronation instead. I would rather have had both, to be honest. It's quite fun to watch all the people take a seat on the wooden pews though, by the way, only to jump up when a footman comes over and tells them off. No sitting on the Queen's furniture! In the old days you probably would have been carted off to the Tower for impertinence like that.
Next up on the tour is the Picture Gallery with paintings by Caneletto, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and the like, and then you head into the Silk Tapestry Room. The East Gallery, Ball Supper Room and Balloom follow on from that, and they are totally devoted to the exhibition this year. I'm afraid I'm going to have a tiny weeny little moan at this point because I think they messed it up. Take the Ball Supper Room for example. There is no commentary at all in this room because it's been turned into a little cinema. You are even told to take your headphones off. You are supposed to sit down and watch some old black-and-white footage from the Coronation Day. But they have projected it straight onto the wall, which is full of decorative distractions. It's not just a flat cinema screen -- the wall is full of panels, doors and other decorations. So you are trying to watch about six different TV shows at once, projected into the little bits of wall which are still flat. It's all rather clumsy and I didn't think it worked very well. I hope they haven't let Prince Edward get behind the camera again.
The Ballroom is usually one of the highlights of the tour because that's where they hold all the State Banquets. It's one of the most impressive rooms in the building. But they've put a ruddy great screen across the middle and split the room in two this year. Huh? You can't see the whole room anymore, just bits of it. And once again there's no commentary. So unless you went last year, you wouldn't even know that this is where they hold the State dinners. The second half of the room holds the real meat of the exhibition -- all the dresses and items from Coronation Day. They've even got the Queen's original Coronation gown and train. They've got the little costumes that Prince Charles and Princess Anne wore too, which are pretty cute -- they were only little kids at the time. Also on display are the programmes, invites and other interesting little momentos like that. It's a good display.
So the Coronation exhibition is pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I wish they hadn't done it at the expense of the rooms. I'm sure that most people do a tour of Buckingham Palace to see the rooms, so when they hide a load of them behind temporary walls and curtains it ruins it. The only way you can get a good look at the Ballroom this year is by flicking through the pictures in the guidebook.
The rest of the tour follows the same route as previous years -- through the State Dining Room, Blue Drawing Room, Music Room and White Drawing Room. The White Drawing Room is one of my personal favourites because the whole place looks like the centre of the sun. Think of a bright yellow room, and then double it. Add gold all over the walls and bright yellow seats, and then hang a big chandelier about six feet off the ground -- that is what this room looks like. I think they should hand out sunglasses when you enter, to protect your eyesight from the light. It's also got a secret door in the corner where the Queen springs out from her personal suite -- a nice touch.
Then it's down the Minister's Staircase for a walk along the Marble Hall, filled with statues and paintings of Queen Victoria's family. After that you head out the Bow Room and into the garden. I always enjoy this bit because you get to have a posh cup of tea on the veranda out the back. I had a little tub of Dairy Ice Cream too, which set me back about fifty quid. If you've got any money left then you can blow it in the shop, which sells everything from biscuits and chocolates to jewellery, tea-towels and regal slippers.