You can’t visit London and not visit Buckingham Palace. Being the residence and administrative headquarters of the reigning Monarch, it is a huge tourist attraction, epitomising British culture. Every time I travel abroad and I tell people I live in London, I have been met with the response “Have you had tea with the Queen?” At least now I can say no, but I have had tea at her house!
Over 750,000 people visit the palace each year as guests to state banquets, receptions and garden parties, and since I won’t be receiving my invite to one of those anytime soon, it is great that us normal folk still have an opportunity to look around. With the Queen on her annual holidays to Windsor, the palace opened its doors to the public, as it does every summer. For £23, I purchased the ticket for a tour of her State Rooms and Garden.
Interestingly, the palace wasn’t always a palace. Originally, it was a large town house, built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and was known as Buckingham House. During the 19th century, the house was enlarged by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who constructed three extra wings around a central courtyard. Since William IV died before completion, Queen Victoria was the first resident to move in, in 1837. The palace consists of 775 rooms, split into the following: 19 state rooms, 52 royal & guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms!
The Changing of the Guards
Before entering the palace, we stopped by the front gates to witness the changing of the guards. The changing of the guards has existed since 1660 and truly encompasses British pageantry. It lasts approximately 45 minutes starting at 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
So what exactly is it?
The changing of the guards is when one regiment takes over another. The Queens Guards consist of those surrounding St James Palace and Buckingham Palace, who swap places with the guards from Wellington Barracks. Those at Wellington Barracks march down to Buckingham palace on set days and take over as the Queens guards until the next change. It is definitely something worth seeing if you want to see Britain at its core, however unsurprisingly, this is a main tourist attraction meaning the area is super crowded. Unless you are at the front or on someone’s shoulders, you probably won’t see anything, so make sure you get there at least 30 minutes before.
The State Rooms
After a long queue and airport style security, we entered the State Rooms. Primarily, the State Rooms are where monarchs receive, reward and entertain their guests. The décor predominantly reflects the taste of George IV who reigned for ten years (1820-1830) during which he transformed what was previously known as Buckingham House into the Grand Palace we see today.
There is an audio tour throughout which you can listen to. Once you are in a State Room, you select the room on your handheld, and it plays you around 5 minutes worth of information regarding the history and contents of that room. There are multiple languages to choose form so it is tourist friendly.
Here is a selection of what’s on show:
Throughout each of the rooms, a variety of royal gifts presented to the Queen during her 65 year reign are on display – an incredible showcase of master craftsmanship from around the world.
The Throne room is dominated by a proscenium arch, supported by a pair of winged holding garlands above, which are originals from the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Although mainly used for Queen’s jubilees, it is also used as the setting for royal wedding photographs, most recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William & Kate). The two throne chairs have ER and P embroidered on the inside back and are 17th century style. On the right hand side, Queen Victoria’s throne chair remains, however the condition is deteriorating rapidly.
The Ballroom was completed in 1855 and is currently the largest room in the palace. With its own throne area, it has hosted the coronation ceremony of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902. Its primary function however is hosting state banquets. These are usually held on the first evening of a visit from a foreign head of state. Alternatively, if you are ever lucky enough to receive a British honour, you are knighted by the Queen in this very room!
Everyone knows an entrance down a magnificent staircase has a more dramatic effect than a door. Think Beauty and the Beast, Titanic, Cinderella – all of their iconic moments involve a good old staircase! As the entrance to the State Rooms, the Grand Staircase is no exception. With intricate patterns carved into the banister, it represents some of the world’s finest bronze casting work, illuminated by the etched glass dome above, and portraits of Queen Victoria’s immediate family are displayed on the surrounding walls
The picture gallery is also used a reception area, hosting numerous events throughout the year and holding several hundred guests in its 47m long room. It includes paintings by Holbein, Remembrand and Van Dyck, its most famous painting being ‘Vermeeth’s Music Lesson’. The display changes regularly with paintings being lent out to museums and galleries for exhibitions.
Originally intended as a library, this room is now used as a waiting room for those requiring a private visit or audience with the Queen. With a door leading out onto the garden, guests attending garden parties tend to wait here.
It probably comes as no surprise that the Queen’s garden is the largest private garden in London (40 acres) and includes acres a tennis court, rose garden and helipad. With over 350 different species of wild flowers, 200 trees and 3 acres of lake, it has a flourishing diversity of flora and fauna. The Queen hosts a number of garden parties each year, including her jubilees where over 20,000 sandwiches, 20,000 cakes and 27,000 cups of tea (how British!) are served.
As I visited in Autumn, the garden was looking especially pretty!
It’s a very British day out for anyone visiting London. If anyone fancies a nosy around the Queen’s house, then be sure to get your tickets for next summer, when she opens her doors once again from July 2018 – October 2018.
Tickets: Click here for Tickets and Info