Events such as the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have led to a resurgence of interest in British royal affairs, for which the focal point is Buckingham Palace. As the official residence of the royal family since 1837, the palace is one of the few remaining working palaces in the world and one of London’s top tourist attractions. While most of the palace is off-limits, visitors can explore the 19 State Rooms and gardens as part of a tour, or observe the Changing of the Guard for free.
How to Get There
For the most dramatic approach to the palace, take the underground to Trafalgar Square and walk down the Mall, strolling along the celebrated London avenue lined with flags and often patrolled by royal cavalry. Finish at the palace gates, fountain and balcony where the royal family gather for photos in times of national celebration. This side of the building is actually the rear of the palace. Alternatively, get off at Green Park station and walk across the park of the same name. Either walk takes a little over 10 minutes. Passengers arriving by rail or coach can walk from Victoria station, or take one of the buses heading in the direction of the palace on their way to central London. Bus numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 all stop on Buckingham Palace Road.
When to Go
The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to the public mid-morning to early evening through August and September while the royal family are in Scotland. The Queen’s Gallery, on the other hand, is open daily throughout the year. Whereas many of London’s outstanding museums and galleries are free, admission to Buckingham Palace comes with a fee -- and a majestic one at that. The ticket can be incorporated, however, into the London Pass, which also covers public transport and entry to more than 60 attractions across the capital. Visitors are provided with a complimentary headset for audio tours in various languages, while household staff give valuable information along the way.
What to See
Tours of the palace’s 19 State Rooms last roughly two hours, with visitors shepherded in one direction only from the secure check-in barriers at the entrance. Highlights include a noted collection of artworks in the Picture Gallery by Dutch masters and French Impressionists, along with sculpture, porcelain and ornate furniture. A separate tour, which can be combined with the State Room tour, takes in the Royal Collection of art in the Queen’s Gallery and lasts about 90 minutes. In summer, visitors can also tour the palace garden, combining admission with the State Room tour if desired, to marvel at more than 350 species of flowers, 200 trees and a 3-acre lake. Out of season, exclusive guided tours of the State Rooms are offered from December to February, but these must be booked in advance.
Tours of the palace’s Royal Mews, the stables where the royal horses and carriages are kept, last 45 minutes under the guidance of a warden in full livery, and are available from April to October. The Royal Mews tour can be combined with a Royal Day Out ticket in summer, which covers all the palace attractions. At no cost, tourists can observe the Changing of the Guard ceremony from behind the palace gates. The ceremony, in which one of the prestigious Household regiments marches up from Wellington Barracks to relieve another, takes place daily at 11:30 a.m. from April to July and every other day for the rest of the year. Note that, for all tours, food and drink are not permitted and that photography is prohibited within the State Rooms.