The Ultimate guide to visiting Buckingham Palace

marching guards Buckingham Palace is pretty much top of every British bucket list going. But where exactly is it? Can you go in and what can you see there? Here is our Great British Trips Ultimate Guide to visiting Buckingham Palace. What is it?

Buckingham Palace is the official home of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of England. It is also the administrative headquarters of the British Monarchy and the place that is used for many official receptions and events. Few people ever get invited to a 'Garden Party at Buckingham Palace' but those who are lucky enough to don't turn it down! It's been the official residence of the Monarch since 1837 and serves as one of a number of Royal residences around the country.

Where is Buckingham Palace?
How close can I get?
Can I get a Palace Guard Selfie?
When is the Changing of the Guard?
What happens and where should I stand?
Can I go into Buckingham Palace?
Will the Queen be there?
Can I meet the Queen?
Interesting Facts about Buckingham Palace
Things to see
Useful resources

Where is it?

It is situated in central London at the end of the Mall, right on the edge of St James's Park. See map below.

buckingham palace

The Palace is an easy walk from Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Green Park (Piccadilly & Victoria lines), Victoria (Circle, District, Victoria Lines and Victoria Bus Station) and St James's Park (Circle & District Lines) Underground Tube Stations. You can also hop off at Trafalgar Square (Piccadilly Circus Station on Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines) and take a walk down the historic Mall for a spectacular view of the Palace.

The Original Tour hop on hop off bus of course stops here and there are many London day tours including Evan Evans and Golden Tours day trips which will take you right up to the Palace gates. If you're driving around central London yourself or in a taxi, you can drive right up the Mall to the Palace yourself. This is closed on Sunday's, Public Holidays and Ceremonial Occasions though.

How close can I get?

palaceThe simple answer is very! Unlike nearby Palace's such as Kensington or St James's Buckingham it doesn't have a high wall and is not as large as you might expect and very open. Of course there are high railings surrounding the Palace, it's not like you can pop up to the door and knock on however, you can easily see the comings and goings and watch the Guards Regiment as they march around the Palace grounds.

Can I get a Guard Selfie?

The famous Palace Guards are the guys in the giant hats that you can spot outside the Palaces and around the park in their boxes. Many people try to make the guards laugh but rarely succeed as they usually look straight ahead avoiding eye contact. In 2014 an American guy did a short stand-up comedy routine by a guard, forcing a smile which made national newspapers. You can easily grab a cheeky selfie with a Palace Guard as they tend not to move a great deal. However, make no mistake. These guys are not just for show. They are highly trained members of the military who, if they feel in any way threatened will command you to step away and are not afraid to point out their rifle. See here

When is the Changing of the Guard?

guardThe Changing of the Guard is a spectacle that takes place almost daily at either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. It's the point at which the Guards change for the New Guard. It's done with precision timing, perfect drills and music; making it an absolute must for London visitors. You can check the calendar for dates here.

A few things to remember about the Changing of the Guard, it does get extremely busy, even in the winter so we highly recommend being there an hour before it starts to get a good spot. The dates can change and in bad weather cancelled all together with almost no notice given so don't plan two months in advance and assume it's fixed. The ceremony always begins at 11am and becomes visible to the public about 11.15am.

What happens and where should I stand?

guardsYou have to remember that the guards are spread around the area and have to come together to change to the new guard. Most people head straight for the Palace but this isn't actually necessary. The St James's Palace Guards will assemble there then march down the Mall about 11.15am with a Regimental Band or Corps of Drums. That group will enter the Palace grounds and join with the Buckingham Guards. They then wait for the New Guards to arrive from Wellington Barracks situated at the Buckingham Palace end of Birdcage Walk. The New Guard salute the colour before leaving the Barracks, then March to the Palace; also entering with the Regimental Band. The old and new guards will then face each other whilst the band play then the Palace Keys are ceremoniously handed over. The Guards will then go to be given their special orders and move to take up their positions until the next changeover. The band will stand in a semi-circle and perform several pieces for the on-looking crowd. The Guards will then reform and move to their respective positions with the Old Guard marching back towards the Barracks and the New Guard at Buckingham or St James's Palace.

The Palace gates are a great place to stand but you will need to get there early (at least an hour) which is not great with small children. The whole process takes around an hour. The steps of the Victoria Monument is a good place to stand, providing a little height for shorter people. There are other places along the route from Wellington Barracks to the Palace or along the Mall where you can see the Guards march past at the beginning and end of the ceremony such as Spur Road. This is also better if you just want a feel for it and wish to avoid the crowds.

Can I go into Buckingham Palace?

gardensEach year over the summer Buckingham Palace opens parts of the Palace to the general public. There are different types of tickets available and they may include the exquisite State Rooms, the Queen's Gallery, the Royal Mews and the Gardens. In 2016 tours run from 23rd July to 2nd October. Standard adult price for a State Rooms ticket is £21.50 and this will gain you access to 19 State Rooms and entry to a special Fashion exhibition. The Royal Day Out ticket includes everything and you should allow 4 ½ hours for this. An adult ticket will cost £37. It's always best to pre-book tickets as this is a popular attraction. You won't be allowed into the Queen's bedroom of course and the family part of the house is well and truly closed to visitors but still, it's well worth a visit and the claim of being able to say that you've been inside Buckingham Palace!

Will the Queen be there?

royalstandardIn a normal week the Queen will be resident in the Palace during the week and travels home to Windsor Castle for the weekend however as she is now over 90, she is spending increasing amounts of time at Windsor usually travelling there on a Thursday. She also spends the summer at Balmoral in Scotland and her time there is also going to be increasing to help her preserve energy for the hundreds of engagements she has. It's easy to know whether or not the Queen is home as when present, the Royal Standard will fly above the Palace. When she's not home, you will see the Union Flag (or Union Jack) flying proud above the Palace. A flag flying at half-mast will tell you that the country is in National mourning for someone or something.

Can I meet the Queen?

madamesThe short answer is no. Unless you've been invited by Her Majesty, the truth is you're unlikely to bump into her wandering around the Gallery or doing a bit of weeding in the garden. If you're desperate to grab a snap with the Queen, we suggest you follow up your Buckingham Palace visit with a quick trip to Madame Tussauds and grab a waxworks selfie. If you post your Buckingham snaps along with your waxworks selfie, your friends back home will never know the difference.

Interesting Facts about Buckingham Palace

  • It's named after a Conservative Politician who became the Duke of Buckingham and built it for himself.

  • In the 1800's a teenager known as 'the boy Jones' kept sneaking into the Palace. He stole food, underwear and sat on the throne. He eventually got sent to Australia where he died in 1893.

  • The Palace contains 350 clocks and 2 live-in horological conservators wind them all up by hand each week.

  • As well as the Royal Family the Palace is home to 800 members of staff.

  • As well as the galleries and ballrooms that you might expect, the Palace also houses its own Post Office, Police Station, Swimming Pool, Doctor's Surgery and Cinema!

  • The Palace is built on a series of secret tunnels that connect to surrounding streets. The Queen Mother and King George VI told the story of exploring as children and meeting a polite man from Newcastle who lived down there!

Things to see during a Palace Tour

There are so many highlights and wonderful things to see during a palace tour. The State rooms are a wonderful starting point of which there are 19 spectacular State Rooms. The Grand Staircase is nothing short of breath-taking and enough to rival and staircase in the world. Of course the throne room is not to be missed as it contains the various thrones that are used on different state occasions (one assumes that one perfers the sofa for enjoying a cup of tea however). The collection of Fine Art in the Palace is not easily forgotten. It contains paintings by some of histories most famous artists, many of which have been gifted to the family and collected over the years. The Palace houses one of the world's finest collections of Sevres Porcelain which includes many ornamental pieces as well as usable crockery (that you would never actually use!). The Palace has a special exhibition each year which is always fresh and interesting and keeps visitors returning year on year.

Useful resources

History of Buckingham Palace
Accessibility Information
Changing of the Guard Dates
Tube Map
Other Royal Properties
Book your tickets Other things to see in London
Where to stay in London


By Ruth Lancey

Date: 2017-11-28 13:18:07