After our look at Hampton Court Palace, we move onto what, for many, is at the heart of the British Monarchy: Buckingham Palace.
The Queen’s primary London residence stands proud at the end of The Mall in central London, flanked by Green Park and St James’s Park.
Buckingham House, as it was known before becoming a Royal residence, was bought by George III in 1762 as a private residence for his wife, Charlotte, and their family, close to St James’s Palace (the official seat of The British Monarchy). It was remodelled for The Queen and her brood, and then some more when George IV took to the throne. He spent hundreds of thousands on the house and designer John Nash lost his job thanks to the extravagance and cost of the work.
Queen Victoria was the first to take Buckingham as her primary residence in 1837, keen to free herself from her controlling mother’s grasp – she was now Queen after all!
Buckingham Palace currently has 775 rooms; these include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. In measurements, the building is 108 metres long across the front, 120 metres deep (including the central quadrangle) and 24 metres high.
Things to do at Buckingham Palace:
1. Changing of the Guard. Each day at 11am during the summer months, the Guard at Buckingham Palace is changed – an exchange of duty, where the exchange is accompanied by a military band. They have been known to play Happy Birthday, should it be one of the Royals’s birthdays, and even TV theme tunes!
Tip: book your tickets for a slot after the spectacle has finished, around 12:00pm – entrance times are staged so it will be likely to be busy at whatever time you choose to go. Check the dates on the Royal Collection website too, as it is only daily from May-July.
2. Royal Childhood exhibition. Wow – I was thrilled to see this exhibition, in honour of Prince George’s birth last year, and it was certainly the highlight of my day. There is a different exhibition each summer, so this is your only chance to see it!
The display includes many a-different item from Royal children over the past 250 years. The dressing gown of three-year-old Prince Harry, made to look like a soldier; the miniature Aston Martin DB9 given to Prince Andrew in 1966; the official announcement of Prince George’s birth, complete with easel; and a blanket embroidered by Queen Victoria for her daughter Princess Alice in 1883, are all among the masses of items to see inside Buckingham Palace.
The part I found the most touching and heart-warming was the family videos show. This part of the exhibition included a compilation of private videos of Royal children from across the decades. In one video the Duke of Edinburgh rides a child’s trike, while Prince Charles chases him on a pedal-powered mini-tractor; Princess Anne and brother Charles can be seen rolling down a small grassy bank, while corgis bathe in the sun in another video; George VI, his wife and daughters, are seen to be enjoying the Scottish summer in Balmoral…
The exhibition runs until 28th September, so you have a few weeks left to see it still! A book is available as a companion to the exhibition for £12.95 online/at other bookshops, or £9.95 at the Buckingham Palace gift shops.
3. Audio Tour. With an introduction from The Prince of Wales himself, this tour is free and is a great way to help all visitors get the best from their visit. The Prince guides you by pointing out the architecture and giving you the historical background of certain items. I could just imagine The Queen walking through the State Rooms, greeting people at a reception…
Family guides are available and are a little more child-friendly, as well as a family pavilion this summer filled with activities.
No photography is allowed, so a guidebook might be a good idea to remember the day by. They are priced around £5, and available before you enter the main part of the tour.
Tip: The entrance for the tour is on the left hand side of the Palace, and you enter what is known as the ‘Ambassador’s Entrance’ because, well, all Ambassador’s are welcomed through this door! Make sure you arrive in good time for your slot, but do expect a short wait to get through security and the short queuing process before you get inside the Palace.
4. Tea in the Garden Cafe. ‘I went to Buckingham Palace and I didn’t have cream tea’ are words that you never want to utter, if you’re anything like me. From experience, the scone is to die for (whipped cream, jam and fresh strawberries), and the drinks are pretty good too – you even get a crown of chocolate if you order a cappuccino!
It is a little pricey (scones or any sweet, like profiteroles, are £4.95 each, so are the sandwiches, with the drinks at about half this rate) but it is well worth it to be sitting at the back of Buckingham Palace, overlooking the gardens enjoying afternoon tea!
A cup of tea, a scone and a baguette was my order for lunch!
4. Garden tour. This is separate from the ticket you purchase to look around the State Rooms, but is a nice experience, particularly if the weather holds out! It includes the Herbaceous Border of the garden, the summer house, the Rose Garden, the Waterloo Vase and the Palace tennis court, where George VI played Fred Perry in the 1930s.
Tip: The garden and the tour present fantastic photo opportunities (in good weather), of the rear of the Palace and its landscaping. You also get to see what it is like to be at one of the famous Garden Parties held each year!
5. Gift Shop. I know, I have included the gift shop for all three of the places in my guide, but they are full of things I wanted to take home – I’m a stickler for souvenirs! I wanted the books, the food (yes, food and drink with the Buckingham Palace stamp on are available!) and the jewellery! I ended up coming home with two pairs of earrings, modelled on two pairs that The Duchess of Cambridge wears, but there are many pieces, including tiaras, brooches and necklaces, modelled on those that The Queen has been seen wearing too, if not exact replicas. Take your spending money!
There is a Palace Gift shop that is open to the public who do not visit the Palace on Buckingham Palace Road (this is further up the street on the left hand side of the Palace), but you can also purchase from the website, though I found it a little more satisfying to know I bought something from within the Palace grounds!
photos: (c) Chloe Howard 2013, Royal Collection Trust / (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014, Royal Collection Trust / (C) All Rights Reserved, (c) Chloe Howard 2014
What a wonderful and detailed description! Someday…. and I’ll follow your advice!