If Buckingham Palace were open year-round, it would be by far the most visited tourist attraction in Britain; as it is, the Queen’s main residence, home to every British monarch since Victoria in 1837, opens its doors to the public only in August and September. The Queen is almost never there at the time—traditionally she heads off to Scotland for a couple of months every summer, where she takes up residence at Balmoral Castle. (Here’s a quick way to tell 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 Jack.) The tour covers the palace's 19 State Rooms, with their fabulous gilt moldings and walls adorned with old masters. 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. Admission is by timed-entry ticket every 15 minutes throughout the day. Allow up to two hours for your visit. Those with impaired mobility should contact the Palace in advance, as they may have to enter a different way (it’s no bad thing, as you are sometimes taken via the front instead; practise your wave to the crowds on the Mall). Changing the Guard remains one of London's best free shows and culminates in front of the palace. Marching to live military bands, the old guard proceed up the Mall from St. James's Palace to Buckingham Palace. Shortly afterward, the new guard approach from Wellington Barracks. Then within the forecourt, the captains of the old and new guards symbolically transfer the keys to the palace. Get there early for the best view.