Buckingham Palace is a royal residence that was home to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. A house was originally built on the site in 1624, although it was not until 1703 that Buckingham House (which was later expanded to become Buckingham Palace) was built. The house was sold to King George III in 1761 as a retreat for his wife, Queen Charlotte (at the time the official royal residence was St James’s Palace). The palace did not become the principal royal residence until 1837 when Queen Victoria took to the throne.
The 775-room palace has 19 state rooms, 240 bedrooms (52 principal bedrooms and 188 staff bedrooms), 92 offices and 78 bathrooms and even has its own cinema, doctor’s surgery, post office and swimming pool. Buckingham Palace also serves as the administrative headquarters of the monarchy and many of the palace’s rooms are used as offices.
The balcony of Buckingham Palace is one of the world’s most photographed and it was one of your best opportunities to see members of the royal family who stand on the balcony for major events including the annual Trooping the Colour.
In addition to the thousands of tourists who visit each year, the palace also sees more than 50,000 official visitors annually as guests to state banquets, formal dinners, receptions and garden parties and the palace is also where Queen Elizabeth II held her weekly audience with the prime minister.
While it is the administrative centre of the monarchy and also an important venue for state functions, Buckingham Palace is also a family home. It is where the Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to King Charles III and Prince Andrew and where many royal family functions are held.
What to see at Buckingham Palace
For the first time in history, the public are allowed to visit the gardens and picnic on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Visitors to the garden can see the palace’s 156m- (511 ft)-long herbaceous border, the Horse Chestnut Avenue, the lake and plane trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
It is also possible to visit the rose garden and the wildflower meadow, although these areas can only be visited by a guided tour.
The State Rooms
The most popular (and most expensive to visit) area of the palace, is the state rooms. These are the most opulent rooms that were built for the monarch to entertain visiting heads of state and other dignitaries. The decor of these rooms reflects the taste of King George IV (1820–30) and they feature paintings by Canaletto and Van Dyck and sculptures by Canova and Sèvres porcelain.
When you visit the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace you are able to see the opulent Grand Staircase, the grand White Drawing Room (a reception room used by the royal family before official events), the Throne Room, the Picture Gallery and the enormous Ballroom (which is used for investitures and state banquets). After visiting the State Rooms you are able to walk through the Palace Garden (which is where the Queen Elizabeth II hosted her famous garden parties).
Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard – also known as Guard Mounting – is the ceremony where one regiment of the King’s Guard takes over from the other. It is a great spectacle that showcases British pageantry, although it is very popular with tourists and can get crowded. It is advisable to get there early for a good viewing position.
Visiting Buckingham Palace
Despite being one of London’s most well-known sights, Buckingham Palace is primarily used as offices for the Royal Family and for for hosting visiting heads of state and these functions take priority over its role as a tourist attraction. This means that it may not necessarily be open to visitors when you’re visiting London.
Guided tours of Buckingham Palace operate on select days during winter and spring and the State Rooms are open to visitors for ten weeks each summer and on select dates at other times of the year. It is normally open to the public from mid-July until late September.
Winter and spring guided tours only operate on Fridays and weekends. Guided tours run for 90 minutes. However, winter and spring guided tours are around three-times more expensive than visiting during the main summer season and tickets are even harder to come as fewer tours operate outside the main season.
Admission to the State Rooms is cheaper if visiting during the main summer season and pre-book your tickets in advance. Pre-booking your tickets is highly recommended regardless of any price savings as this is a popular attraction that is only open to the public for several months a year and it is unlikely that tickets would be available if you leave it to the last minute and try to buy tickets on the day.
You can watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace (Jan–Mar Mon, Wed, Fri & Sun 11am; Apr–Jul 11am daily; Aug–Dec Mon, Wed, Fri & Sun 11am).