Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, Buckingham Palace is one of the places on every tourists’ wish list when they plan their trip to London. Why? The most straightforward answer, in my opinion, would be because it is the home of the Queen. People outside the Royal Family are fascinated by the life the members of the Royal Family must lead.
Getting to the Palace
If you are looking to get to Buckingham Palace, it is easily accessible via many of the Underground Tube stations, bus stops, tours, taxis or even by bicycle. The choice is up to you, but I found the Underground the easiest way to get around. I like the St. Jame’s Park stop and how much less crowded it was than Victoria Station or Hyde Park Corner. Either way, it’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the Tube stations. You can plan your trip here on the excellent Transport for London website.
Please remember that as it’s a heavy heavy tourist destination, Buckingham Palace is always extremely crowded and a place you should be extra vigilant around. Thieves love to prey upon distracted tourists. With that being said, it’s still in a fairly safe area in London. Just be aware of your surroundings and of where your belongings are at all times.
If you are not in the mood to see the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, avoid the vicinity around Buckingham Palace about an hour before and 30 minutes after it. If you are up early enough, morning time is the best time to see the exterior as people are on their way to work. There are very light crowds in the 7 and 8 am hours.
The palace entrance is the most popular spot for photographs. Be careful for traffic and cars as it is a busy intersections. Always pay attention to the signals and don’t cross without looking right first! If you are looking for photographs, the best will come from the monument to Queen Victoria across the street from the Palace and the park area across from that closest to St. James’s Park. Don’t worry if you don’t know what I’m talking about. You won’t be able to miss the giant white monument when you get to Buckingham Palace.
Tickets and Practical Info
Are you wanting to see what the interior of Buckingham Palace looks like? If you are going to London in the summer, you are in luck. When the Queen is not in residence and is at her Scottish home at Balmoral Castle, she State Rooms open for the public to see. I was lucky enough to enjoy the rooms myself this past August.
The tickets can be purchased in advance online, but will give you a date and time you must adhere to. You can always take a chance and buy tickets in person, but the State Rooms are popular and typically sell out fast. The costs this year was about 25 pounds. It is well worth the price of admission! If you are going in the Winter or Spring. Sometimes the Palace will be open on select days the Queen is not in residence. Check the official Royal Collection Trust for the most up to date information.
Please note that security is pretty tight when you take your tour. There is also no use of cell phones or any photography allowed inside. This is strictly enforced. Do not try to get away with a sneaky selfie. If you are in the Garden area, this is the only place you are allowed to take some photos. There is no eating and drinking inside. I found that the Garden cafe at the end of the tour was the perfect place for a snack and cup of tea. Restrooms are not available until the end of the tour. Plan accordingly.
I would give yourself at least 2 hours if you are doing the self guided tour in the summer. You are given a free audio guide that does a fairly good job in explaining what you are seeing. It is a lot of walking so make sure yo wear comfortable shoes!
Highlights of the Rooms
When you first enter the palace, you will walk up through the same entrance where all foreign dignitaries and ambassadors arrive. It’s surreal when you think about all of the history that has passed the driveway you are entering through. Think about the Queen’s Carriage waiting to take here to the Parliament building being in the same place you stand.
The rooms are all exquisite and at times it feels as if you are walking through a movie set or museum. It won’t sink in where you are until you are almost done with your tour. You will make your way through the White Drawing Room, the Throne Room, the Portrait Galley and Ballroom. The Ballroom is particularly large and is where all official State Dinners are held!
The tour will include access to most special exhibits that are hosted within the State Rooms. This year there were several beautiful pieces of art curated by HRH Prince Charles in honor of his 70th birthday. I loved the small candid photographs of her family that the Queen had on her desk or on some of the side tables that you may have had to look closely to see. It’s just a small reminder that the Queen herself is also human.
By the time you reach the gardens, you will be tired. Imagine that you are seeing about 10-15 rooms in all, but the palace itself has about 775 rooms. Can you imagine how long it would take to see all the other rooms? The gardens are where the Queen hosts her annual garden parties. You are able to see a small bit of them from the Garden Cafe. If you would like to see more, you are able to book a special tour to see them. It also will book quickly.
Upon your exit from the State Rooms, there is a large gift shop that will have anything Royal related you can think of. I picked up a few tea tins and some postcards of the State Rooms. The guide book is a great deal, but it doesn’t have the same interior photos as the postcards. If you want to return to shop here later you will be unable to. Once you exit the grounds, you will need to buy a new ticket to enter. There are other gift shops though outside the palace grounds.
Other Palace Facilities
If you would like to see the Queen’s horses and carriages, there is the Royal Mews you may want to consider a visit to. If you would like to see more art and treasures, the Queen’s Gallery is for you. Clarence House, official residence of HRH Prince Charles is currently closed for maintenance until 2020. All of these places average about 10-15 pounds to visit. I’ll do another post about both of these places in the future.
The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are one of the most impressive places you can visit in London. If you are only able to see the exterior of the Palace, it is still worth going to. Always go in with an open mindset and with patience for crowds. I’m hoping myself I might be able to book a Garden Tour late this summer! Until next time, happy travels.