Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Buckingham Palace review. You might like to read my reviews of the Evening tour and Changing the Guard as well. There are several other Royal palaces in London that are worth visiting. The best one is Windsor Castle, followed by Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace. If you’re interested in the monarchy then you might like the Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews and Clarence House as well.
Buckingham Palace was built by the 1st Duke of Buckingham as a country mansion at the edge of St. James’s Park. George III purchased it in 1762 and embellishments by George IV and John Nash transformed it into a royal home.
Most of what you see today is relatively new. The front facade was only built in the 1850s, and Queen Victoria added the famous balcony where the British Royal Family wave at the crowds.
Tourists can see inside Buckingham Palace during the Summer Opening. The Summer Opening is usually held from late-July to September, when the public can buy a ticket and see inside Buckingham Palace on a sightseeing tour. During the winter they sometimes hold guided tours of the palace in the evening, but the tickets are very expensive.
The State Rooms (including the famous Throne Room, Ballroom, State Dining Room and Music Room) are used on official occasions like State visits by foreign leaders, and most of them are open to the public during the Summer Opening. The Queen’s private rooms are in the north wing, overlooking the 40-acre gardens, and are not open to visits by the public.
The famous Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at 11.30 AM on the Buckingham Palace forecourt, and lasts for approximately 40 minutes.
This review originally appeared in his blog
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 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 of the Summer Opening tour that I went home last year, but I’d splashed out on a tour of the Buckingham Palace gardens as well this time, so I had to wait around for an hour for that to start.
You always get to see a little bit of the garden even if you don’t take the tour, because the exit route takes you down the lefthand-side of the grounds. Unfortunately you don’t see much, just the lawn and glimpses of 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 a posh guy called Mr Wild, and he was exactly the kind of bloke that you would imagine working at the Palace.
He told us all about the flowers and shrubs, which Queen planted which tree, and who built the little buildings, etc. There was a lot of history to cover, and he kept it interesting. But I think it would mainly appeal to gardeners. If you like flowers then you will be well happy. You also get to see parts of the garden that no one else does, but you don’t quite get to see it all because you’re never allowed to leave the path. But there’s more than enough there to make it worthwhile.
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If you enjoy this then try: Clarence House (you can walk it in 6 mins); Hampton Court Palace; Kensington Palace (catch the tube from St James’s Park to Queensway); Royal Mews (you can walk it in 6 mins) and Windsor Castle.