Buckingham Palace Review
It's rare to get a chance to see how the other half—well, other minute fraction—lives and works.The doors of the monarch's official residence are only open to the public in August and September, when the Queen heads off to Scotland on her annual summer holiday. (Tours are occasionally offered at other times of year, although these tend to be "exclusive" affairs with extra perks—and hefty price tags.) The standard tour covers the palace's 19 State Rooms. With fabulous gilt moldings and walls adorned with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, and other old masters, these are the grandest of the palace's 775 rooms (the north wing's private apartments always remain behind closed doors).
The Grand Hall, followed by the Grand Staircase and Guard Room, are visions in marble and gold leaf, filled with massive, twinkling chandeliers. Don't miss the theatrical Throne Room, with the original 1953 coronation throne, or the sword in the Ballroom, used by the Queen to bestow knighthoods and other honors with a touch on the recipient's shoulders. Royal portraits line the State Dining Room, and the Blue Drawing Room is dazzling in its splendor. The bow-shape Music Room features lapis lazuli columns between arched floor-to-ceiling windows, and the alabaster-and-gold plasterwork of the White Drawing Room is a dramatic statement of wealth and power. Spend some time ambling around the splendid gardens at the end of your visit.
The Changing the Guard, also known as Guard Mounting, remains one of London's best free shows and culminates in front of the palace. Marching to live military bands, the old guard proceeds up the Mall from St. James's Palace to Buckingham Palace. Shortly afterward, the new guard approaches from Wellington Barracks. Then within the forecourt, the captains of the old and new guards symbolically transfer the keys to the palace.
If bought directly from the palace ticket office, tickets are valid for a repeat visit over the course of 12 months from the first visit.
Admission is by timed ticket with entry every 15 minutes throughout the day. Allow up to two hours.
A Royal Day Out ticket, available only in August and September, gives you the regal triple whammy of the Royal Mews, the Queen's Gallery, and the State Rooms, and is valid throughout the day. Tickets cost £33.25. Allow four hours.
Get there by 10:30 to grab a spot in the best viewing section for the Changing the Guard (www.changing-the-guard.com), daily at 11:30 from May until the end of July (varies according to troop deployment requirements) and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. Want to know if the Queen's at home? If she's in residence the Royal Standard flies above the palace; if not, it's the more famous red, white, and blue Union Flag.
- Address: Buckingham Palace Rd., St. James's, London, SW1A 1AA | Map It
- Phone: 020/7766–7334
- Cost: £19.75; joint ticket with Queen's Gallery and Royal Mews £34.50
- Hours: Open Aug. daily 9:30–7 (last admission 4:45); Sept. daily 9:30–6:30 (last admission 3:45). Times subject to change; check website
- Website: www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit
- Subway: Victoria, St. James's Park, Green Park
- Location: Westminster and Royal London
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