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Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace Tours

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

7 min read

Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace Tours

During 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 doesn't remember 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 Buckingham Palace, if you have the opportunity. And is that most of the year you will have to be content 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 know the residence of the British Royal Family and its peculiar escort, here is everything you need to know.

What is the changing of the guard in London

London Guard| © R Spegel
London 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, 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, that is, Queen Elizabeth II.

It is a very colorful parade where you will see regiments of guards on foot and on 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. It was a lot of fun!

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What will you see at Buckingham Palace?

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

After attending the changing of the guard in London, it was time to visit the inside of Buckingham Palace. 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 will not 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, what luxury and what 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 will see when you enter. Look at the walls! You will see some portraits of the Royal Family.

The Throne Room

It is one of the most iconic spaces of the Palace. It is decorated with red velvet inspired by the old theaters and here are 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 of the Palace. To remain with your mouth open contemplating its paintings and chandeliers. The Queen uses it when she wishes to meet in a more private way with a guest before a large reception and to relax with her family.

Picture Gallery

It 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

It 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.

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.

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Taking afternoon tea

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

At the end of the tour of Buckingham Palace we leave and rejoin our guide Amber for a stroll through the beautiful St. Jame's Park, the most beloved park by the English, before going for the famous British 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 to us 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.

They immediately brought us a lot 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 alone, with milk or with lemon. After immortalizing the banquet for our social networks (another 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 crockery, 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. At the end, we said goodbye to Amber who was very kind and attentive to the group. I would repeat this experience without hesitation!

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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 the Changing of the Guard in London is worth seeing

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

The spectacular nature of the palaces together 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 there are several countries that celebrate solemn changing of the guard in front of their royal palaces (such is the case of Norway, Denmark, Monaco or Spain) but England is the most popular of all and the one that turned this ceremony into a tourist attraction. So I didn't want to miss it for anything!

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When can you see the Changing of the Guard in London and how long does it last?

The parade lasts 45 minutes approximately 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 cancelled.

To keep up with last minute cancellations in real time, check out the London Changing of the Guard Twitter profile.

Isabel's Traveler Tip

Although the event starts at 11 AM there is usually movement 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 see 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 rotunda 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 then they close the street and don't allow more people into the area.

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

What else to see in London?

Big Ben in London| © Marcin Nowak
Big Ben in London| © Marcin Nowak

With its cosmopolitan and modern character, London is a fascinating city that has something special that everyone likes and engages. You could visit it several times and each trip 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 and, although it may seem a bit "guiri" plan, one of the best ideas to discover it, either doing the full bus tours or getting on and off (its famous "Hop on-Hop off") whenever you want to explore an area on foot. If you want to know more about this activity, don't miss the article about Sightseeing bus tours in London.

Would you like to know what other things you can do in the city? Take 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 that has a lot to offer but its surroundings are also worth spending at least one day of your trip to discover them. Click on the article The best excursions from London to see all the fantastic getaways you can make the most of your trip to the British capital.

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Frequently asked questions

  • Why is the changing of the guard such an important ceremony?

    The truth is that the Buckingham Palace Guard is composed of an entire regiment, so the changing of the guard includes changing an entire regiment which includes the performance of a military band and a parade.

  • At what time does the changing of the guard take place?

    The changing of the guard begins at 10:30, starting at St. James Park from where the new regiment (New Guard) marches through Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace, making the change at 11:00, at which time the Old Guard marches to the barracks to arrive at 11:30.

  • Where does the changing of the guard occur?

    The changing of the guard actually takes place in several locations throughout the morning, however, the most famous place to watch it is just outside Buckingham Palace.