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Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace Tours in London

Watching the changing of the guard or visiting Buckingham Palace is a must on your trip. Here's how to do it

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

8 min read

Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace Tours in London

The changing of the guard | ©Luke Ow

Visiting Buckingham Palace and attending the Changing of the Guard is one of the most typical and essential things to do in London. Who in the world doesn't know about the "Foot Guards" in red coats and big bear-hair hats?

During a getaway to the British capital, I think the best way to see both tourist attractions is to combine the visit to the famous changing of the guard with a tour of Buckingham Palace, if you have the opportunity. Most of the year you will have to be satisfied with seeing the outside of the palace from the trellis.

However, when summer arrives and the Royal Family goes on vacation, the gates of Buckingham are open to visitors for a few weeks a year, between late July and early September. If you have always wanted to get to know the residence of the British Royal Family and its peculiar escort, here is everything you need to know.

The best option
London Pass: Includes Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and 80+ Attractions

Watch the Changing of the Guard and discover the inside of Buckingham Palace

If in addition to attending one of the most popular ceremonies in the British country, you want to discover the best kept secrets of Buckingham Palace, join this guided tour

From $ 85 at Hellotickets

Although it is not necessary to have a ticket to attend the changing of the guard in London, it is a prerequisite to enter the Palace and these are sold out quickly because there are very few opportunities to know it inside and many people who want to see it.

We reserved a day of our summer vacation in London to do something typically "British": after seeing the changing of the guard, in the surroundings of Buckingham Palace, our guide Amber was explaining to us in a very pleasant way the history of this famous building and the gardens that surround it.

It was interesting to discover that the Palace originally belonged to the Duke of Buckingham and was later bought by King George III to become his private residence. He also told us many more anecdotes about the Palace and about the Royal Family that served as context for what we would see inside.

When we arrived at Buckingham Palace, Amber told us that the tour guides could not accompany us inside as they are not allowed to speak in the different rooms of the Palace, but we had an audio guide that enlivened the tour explaining what we were seeing.

After the visit, we continued walking around the Palace with our guide, and later we enjoyed a typical British tea in a nearby hotel in the area to fulfill the most deeply rooted tradition of the country.

Why I like this tour: In addition to attending the changing of the guard, which you could do on your own, you can complete the experience with a day in the purest British style also knowing the inside of the Palace.

Recommended if... you are eager to learn the secrets and anecdotes of the British Royal Family and its famous Buckingham Palace, putting into context not only the changing of the guard but also the customs of royalty.

What is the changing of the guard in London?

London Changing of the Guard | © R Spegel
London Changing of the Guard | © R Spegel

It is a military ceremony held at the main entrance of Buckingham to relieve the guards who are responsible for the security of this Palace and St. James's Palace, another that is very close to the residence of the British Royal Family.

Those who perform the changing of the guard in London are a special section of the British army called the Queen's Guard (those in the red uniform with the huge fur hat) **whose mission is to protect the head of state **, ie, Queen Elizabeth II.

It is a very colorful parade where you will see regiments of guards on foot and horseback accompanied by a military orchestra that plays both traditional and contemporary music to liven up the show.

I was very surprised that the musicians played songs from The Beatles, Star Wars or The Lion King in the middle of the military parade, which was a lot of fun!

What are you going to see at Buckingham Palace?

Buckingham Palace | © Sung Shin
Buckingham Palace | © Sung Shin

After attending the changing of the guard in London it is time to visit Buckingham Palace inside. We knew this was a rare opportunity, as it is only open to the public a few weeks a year, so we were intrigued with what we would see behind its doors.

On this tour of Buckingham Palace, you won't see the private chambers of the Royal Family but you will see some of the rooms that make up the so-called State Rooms, that is, the rooms where Queen Elizabeth II holds her public audiences and receives her guests at official events.

I must confess that the tour of this part of the Palace is absolutely spectacular, such luxury and wonderful decoration! It is everything you expect to see when you imagine what a monarch's home is like. It does not disappoint at all.

The Grand Staircase

These are the majestic staircases that lead to the State Rooms of the Palace and are the first thing you'll see when you enter. Look at the walls! You will see some portraits of the Royal Family.

The Throne Room

This is one of the most iconic spaces in the Palace. It is decorated with red velvet inspired by the old theaters and here you will find the armchairs that were used in the coronation of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1953. It is also the place where photographs are usually taken at royal weddings.

White Drawing Room

This room is one of the most regal and beautiful in the Palace. You will be left open-mouthed contemplating its paintings and chandeliers. The Queen uses it when she wishes to meet privately with a guest before a large reception and to relax with her family.

Picture Gallery

This is a small gallery that gathers some of the most outstanding paintings of the Royal Collection. It is currently used as a waiting room for guests or for small receptions.

The Ballroom

This is one of the largest and most beautiful rooms you will see during your tour of Buckingham Palace. Royal banquets, balls, and investitures are held here.

The Buckingham Gardens

The tour ends in the Palace gardens where you can take a pleasant stroll before meeting your guide and heading to the tea ceremony.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea in London | © Jalleke Vanooteghem
Afternoon tea in London | © Jalleke Vanooteghem

After finishing the tour of Buckingham Palace we went outside and met up again with our guide Amber for a stroll through the beautiful St. James' Park, one of England's most beloved park, before going to have the afternoon tea at a nearby hotel.

Once there we settled at our table, which we shared with a very funny couple, and while waiting for our tea to be served Amber explained the origins of this curious English tradition, which is believed to have been started by one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting in the 19th century.

We were immediately brought lots of sandwiches, cakes, pies, tarts, and homemade scones with jam and a thick cream called clotted cream, as well as a variety of delicious teas to drink on their own, with milk or with lemon. After immortalizing the banquet for our social networks (this time, a very 21st century tradition) we went on to taste all the delicacies of this special snack, everything was delicious!

The decoration of the little room where the tea ceremony took place deserves a special mention. Everything was decorated with great care: the tableware, the table linen, the cutlery, the table arrangements... even the waiters were dressed in their best uniforms. The ambiance was fantastic and we felt right at home.

The afternoon tea ceremony was a perfect finishing touch to a day where we experienced the most "British" side of our trip. After this, we said goodbye to Amber who was very kind and attentive to the group. I would do it all again without hesitation!

Useful information about this activity

  • 4-hour tour of Buckingham Palace and subsequent afternoon tea ceremony at a nearby hotel.
  • Guided walking tour in English and audio guide at Buckingham Palace.
  • For the traditional tea ceremony, please advise at the time of booking of any allergies or specific dietary requirements.
  • This tour is not wheelchair accessible.

Why it's worth seeing the Changing of the Guard in London

Changing of the Guard | © Mark Leishman
Changing of the Guard | © Mark Leishman

The spectacular nature of the palaces combined with the military formality, the parade, the colorful uniforms of the soldiers, and the music of the military orchestra is an exhibition worthy of witnessing and something that attracts a lot of attention.

In Europe, several countries celebrate solemn changing of the guard in front of their royal palaces (such is the case of Norway, Denmark, Monaco or Spain) but it is England's the most popular of all and the one that turned this ceremony into a tourist attraction. So I did not want to miss it for anything in the world!

When can you see the changing of the guard in London and how long does it last?

The parade lasts approximately 45 minutes and takes place every day at 11 AM in June and July. The rest of the year it is held every other day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) except when it rains, as the display is usually canceled.

To keep up to date with last-minute cancellations in real-time, take a look at Twitter profile of the changing of the guard in London.

Isabel's Traveler Tip

Although the event starts at 11 AM crowds usually get there much earlier so I advise you to go to the palace around 10 or 10:15 AM to get a good spot.

Where is the best place to watch the Changing of the Guard in London?

Buckingham Palace Guard | © Kutan Ural
Buckingham Palace Guard | © Kutan Ural

The best views are at the Victory Monument located in the center of the traffic circle in front of Buckingham Palace Gate.

To position yourself here, either at the top of the steps of the monument or at the front, you will need to get there early because they then close the street and do not allow more people into the area.

Because so many people crowd right in front of the palace gates, I don't recommend standing there as you won't see the parade well unless you're in the front row. And that is a bit difficult but not impossible.

What else to see in London?

London's Big Ben | © Marcin Nowak
London's Big Ben | © Marcin Nowak

With its cosmopolitan and modern character, London is a fascinating city that has something special about it that everyone loves and gets hooked on. You could visit it several times and on each trip, it would still surprise you.

If it is the first time you visit it I recommend you to read the post The best things to see and do in London to know the essential tourist attractions. You can do the route on your own or admire the city from a tourist bus.

This is one of the most typical experiences to live in London, either doing the complete bus itinerary or on a Hop on Hop off bus tour, to step down whenever you want to explore an area on foot. If you want to know more about this activity, don't miss the article about The sightseeing bus tours in London.

Would you like to know what else you can do in the city? Have a look at the article The best excursions and tours in London, which will show you in the most varied ways the different faces of London and its monuments.

Finally, London is a huge city with a lot to offer but its surroundings are also worth spending at least one day of your trip to discover. Click on the article The best excursions from London to see all the fantastic getaways you can do during your trip to the British capital.

Frequently asked questions

  • Why is changing guards a huge ceremony?

    Contrary to how it sounds, the Buckingham Palace Guard consists of an entire regiment and so "Changing the Guard" involves changing over the regiment, involving a marching band and parade.

  • What time does the Changing of the Guard take place?

    The Changing of the Guard begins at 10:30, from St. James Park as a fresh regiment (New Guard) makes its way through Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace, making the change at 11:00, with the "Old Guard" now heading back to the Barracks until 11:30.

  • Where does the Changing of the Guard occur?

    The Changing of the Guard actually takes place in a number of places throughout the morning, however the most famous spot is watching the ceremony just outside the Buckingham Palace grounds.