Many images will come to mind when you think of Britain – and, in particular, England. Royalty is often the first thing that visitors to London from around the world think of when planning their England travel itinerary. And nothing screams “Royal Family” quite like Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace – affectionately known as “Buck House” by Londoners – has been the official London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837.
It was originally built for the Duke of Buckingham and was purchased by George III in 1762. It was later expanded in 1825 by George IV’s court architect, John Nash.
The east wing was added in 1846, and the east front was given its current Neoclassical look in 1913, during the reign of George V.
The Royal Standard still flies over the palace when the sovereign is in residence, and units of the Guards Division, dressed in full uniform, mount a guard.
On special occasions, such as the usually spectacular royal weddings, the sovereign appears on the central balcony with members of the Royal Family for a friendly wave and a dose of adoration from the crowds.
Tourists can now visit many of the palace complex’s sightseeing areas, which include sumptuously furnished rooms and wonderful works of art. Read through our list of the top things to see and do in (and around) Buckingham Palace to help you make the most of your visit.
Since 1660, the historic Changing of the Queen’s Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, also known as “Guard mounting,” has been a treasured London tradition.
A troop of the Queen’s Life Guard rides from Hyde Park Barracks and past Buckingham Palace to change the guard at Horse Guards.
This is widely considered to be one of the best free things to do in London. Arrive a little earlier to get a good view of the pageantry.
From April to July, and on alternate days thereafter, this colourful spectacle begins at 11:30 a.m. and lasts approximately 40 minutes.
An inexpensive app available from the Buckingham Palace website is well worth downloading for those interested in learning more about this unique London experience, as well as an in-depth history of the ceremony and up-to-the-minute schedules.
Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms were open to the public for the first time for eight weeks in the summer of 1993. The proceeds from this historic event went toward the restoration of Windsor Castle, which had been severely damaged by a tragic fire the previous year.
Following the venture’s success, the State Rooms are now part of a fantastic tour that includes many excellent pieces from the Royal Collection, such as paintings (Van Dyck and Canaletto), sculptures (Canova), rare porcelain, and fine period furniture.
Your tour will also take you inside the Throne Room, the Music Room, the Picture Gallery, and the magnificent White Drawing Room.
The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace houses an intriguing collection of state coaches and carriages, some of which are still used by British monarchs on special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
The elaborate Gold State Coach, built for George III in 1762 and used for every coronation since 1821, is the most impressive of the coaches on display.
This magnificent Royal carriage is so heavy that it requires the assistance of eight horses to pull it. The horses, including the well-known Windsor Greys, are kept in the Mews.
The Australian State Coach, a gift from the people of Australia in 1988, is another item in the collection, as is the Glass Coach, which George V acquired in 1910 and primarily used for royal weddings.
A number of Rolls Royce limousines (including a rare Phantom VI), as well as Bentley and Jaguar models, are on display.
Between April and October, admission to the Royal Mews includes a free 45-minute guided tour led by Wardens dressed in navy and red.
These fascinating tours explain the roles of the mews staff and how royal travel is organised for special events. Other enjoyable activities include dressing up and riding in one of the royal carriages.
The Queen’s Gallery is an excellent public art gallery that occupies part of Buckingham Palace’s west front and hosts rotating exhibitions of up to 450 works from the extensive Royal Collection at any given time.
The gallery, which is located on the site of a former chapel, has been extensively restored and expanded and is an excellent place to view some of Britain’s most important royal art collections. On the premises, there is a fantastic shop.
The Prince of Wales’ official London residence, the superbly renovated Clarence House, just behind the Palace, has been opened to the public for tours only (duration one hour).
The formal gardens are on display, as are five ground-floor rooms used by the Prince for official engagements: The Lancaster Room, The Morning Room, The Library, The Dining Room, and The Garden Room.
The Queen’s art collection is housed here in large part, including works by 20th-century artists such as John Piper, Graham Sutherland, and Augustus John. Her porcelain and silver collection is also on display at the house. On-site, there is a souvenir/gift shop.
Green Park, which is directly across from Buckingham Palace, was once part of the palace gardens and was a favourite retreat of Charles II.
Today, the 40-acre park – Britain’s smallest Royal Park – is only separated from the palace by a roadway and provides excellent views of the royal residence.
The 39 acres of gardens behind Buckingham Palace are home to over 350 different types of wildflowers and 200 different types of trees. These are built around a three-acre lake where Queen Elizabeth and her sister used to play as children.
The Queen still throws her famous Garden Parties on the lawns and stately promenades today. The beautiful floral border, the rose garden, the Summer House, the massive Waterloo Vase, and the tennis courts where King George VI played are among the highlights of a tour of the gardens.
The Household Cavalry Museum delves into the colourful history of the British Army’s senior regiment, dating back to its inception in 1661.
Along with displays of uniforms, standards, elegant horse fittings, awards, and musical instruments, children will enjoy audio-visuals and hands-on exhibits.
You can try on real guards’ helmets and regalia, and you can also watch the guards prepare their horses in the stables through a glass wall.
It’s also possible to go outside to see the daily Guard Change at 10:50 a.m. (9:50 a.m. on Sunday), the Guard Inspection at 4 p.m., or mounted sentry changes every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Horse Guards, Whitehall, London is the address.
The large Queen Victoria memorial, designed by Sir Aston Webb and sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock, stands directly in front of Buckingham Palace.
It depicts the former Queen Elizabeth II surrounded by allegorical figures (Victory, Endurance, Courage, Truth, Justice, Science, Art, and Agriculture) and is one of London’s most popular photo locations.
This fascinating museum depicts the history of the five Foot Guard regiments and contains uniforms, weapons, and memorabilia dating back more than 300 years. A chronology of the regimental uniforms, as well as artwork, weapons, and models, are also on display.
Miniature and military collectors should pay a visit to The Guards Toy Soldier Centre, which is located on the right as you enter the main gates off Birdcage Walk. There are guided tours and walks available.
Wellington Barracks is located on Birdcage Walk in London.