Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Horse Guards review. You might like to read my review of the two parades as well: Changing the Guard at Horse Guards and the Dismounting Ceremony. The Household Cavalry Museum is worth a visit, and the Churchill War Rooms is two minutes down the road.
Horse Guards is No.3 in our list of best places to take a photo.
Horse Guards Parade is made up of a large parade ground that faces St. James’s Park, and a smaller courtyard on Whitehall. This second section is usually guarded by two cavalrymen from the Household Division – a throwback to the area’s past as a palace, even though all that remains of Whitehall Palace today is Banqueting House.
The parade ground is bordered by old military and government offices, and a brown brick wall along the side of Downing Street. It is also home to some cannons and statues of military generals, including Lord Kitchener (
Your Country Needs You!) and the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten (killed by the IRA in 1979).
Horse Guards still has a barracks for around forty mounted sentries which can be used to defend the Queen at the other end of The Mall. You can see part of their stables inside the Household Cavalry Museum.
The Household Cavalry is made up of two different regiments: the Life Guards (with a red coat and white-plumed helmet), and the Blues & Royals (with a blue coat and a red-plumed helmet). You can see them on either side of the entrance gate, and watch them change around every hour during the Changing the Guard ceremony. You can also watch the horses retire for the night during the Dismounting Ceremony.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
Horse Guards is in two bits. The parade ground is the main bit, but there’s also a smaller courtyard that faces out onto Whitehall. This is the bit where all the tourists gather to have their photo taken with the mounted sentries. Let me tell you about that bit first…
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. That’s who I had this morning. The first Foot Guard can be found on the righthand side of the courtyard, and he just marches back and forth in his gold plate armour and clutching his two-foot sword. I got there nice and early today so it was literally just me and him.
He’s usually surrounded by about a million billion tourists, who take turns walking up 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. But it was just him and me today so I asked him if it was alright to take a pic. They’re not allowed to say anything or interact with anyone, so he just gave an almost imperceptible nod, I snapped, thanked him, and left him alone.
The second sentry can be found underneath the arches. He marches back and forth between each end of the tunnel, but spends most of his time hidden in the middle, in the dark. But why are they there, you might wonder? Are they just for the tourists? Well actually they are not. The Household Cavalry still has a barracks in the building, so they are proper soldiers, guarding their property.
If you get there after 10 AM then you will see the mounted sentries instead. If you leave it too late then they’ll have swapped back to the Foot Guards during the Dismounting Ceremony.
Once you’ve had your photo taken with the guards head through the central arch into the parade ground. This is one of the best views in London, I reckon. It looks pretty fantastic if you walk into the parade ground and then turn around in the middle. Starting from the left, you will see the red-coloured Admiralty Building which used to house the Navy offices during the wars, but you can’t go in there, unfortunately.
Carrying on round to the right, before you get to the central building, is the brigade headquarters of the Life Guards and Blues & Royals (ie. the Household Cavalry). They’ve got a museum in there which you can visit if you like. You can even see them mucking out the horses in the stables.
Carrying on round to the right there’s a load more government offices, none of which are particularly interesting for a tourist. But on the far righthand side, before you hit the road, is probably the most interesting brick wall in Westminster. It’s that dark brown brick wall with a big black gate in it. You will probably also see a couple of big machine gun coppers standing nearby as well, because on the other side of that wall is the garden for No.10 Downing Street. You’ve probably seen them do a few interviews in the garden on the 10 o’clock news… well, that’s where it is. On the other side of that wall.
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Changing the Guard at Horse Guards From Horse Guards Westminster
4 O'Clock Parade, or Dismounting Ceremony From Horse Guards Westminster
See our complete list of military parades in London