London’s magnificent Buckingham Palace is more than just the home to the British monarchy, it is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Its public art gallery, picturesque statues and ornate gates that surround the royal residence are a big draw. But, the major event happening all year round and attracting the biggest crowds is the Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard ceremony.
A Guide to Changing of the Guard at London’s Buckingham Palace
What is the Changing of the Guard
This is a formal procedure performed by the guards where the old guard protecting the palace hands over responsibility to the new guard. It’s hyped up activity is accompanied by music from the various energized bands (they played Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ when we were there!).
In an interesting twist of things, the old guards wait at the Buckingham Palace to hand over, whilst the detached old guard marches from St. James’s palace to the Buckingham Palace in a bid to hand over too. Meanwhile, the new guards’ procession marches from the Wellington Barracks up to the Buckingham Palace too, to take over a new shift. After all the formalities at the Buckingham Palace are complete, the new guards remain at the Buckingham Palace and the other new guards walk back to the St. James’s Palace to assume duties. The old guards then quickly stroll back to the Wellington Barracks.
About the Buckingham Palace Guards
Divided into five different regiments, one fascinating thing that makes the foot guards look outstanding is their signature black bearskin caps that stand tall (the caps are generally 18″ tall and 1.5 pounds!). Any of the five regiments of the British Army may be present at the changing and are identified by the plume on there bearskin cap, grouping of buttons on their tunic and color badge. Though their uniforms may seem exactly the same, making it hard to differentiate the different regiments, having an eye for detail may do the trick. Here is a quick breakdown of the regiments:
- Welsh Guards – left side, white & green in color
- Irish Guards – right side, blue in color
- Scots Guards – none
- Coldstream Guards – right side – red in color
- Grenadier Guards – left side – white in color
This is a Welsh guardsman, which is known by the green and white plume worn on the left side of his bearskin cap:
Best Place to Watch Changing the Guard
There are three main points to view the epic Buckingham Palace changing of the guard event. They are the Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and the Wellington Barracks. The Buckingham Palace area gets crowded, so you may take a more realistic approach and walk around the St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks locations to have a better, less crowded view of the processions from there.
Don’t worry if you don’t catch the guards marching to the Buckingham Palace, you can also catch them on their way back from the Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Palace and the Wellington Barracks. Since there is a lot of to and from between the three points, you are at the least assured of a peek at some point of the uniformed guards.
At 10:00, I was able to get get front row standing at the palaces gates. A half hour later the front gates were a half dozen people deep and hundreds of people cluttered Queen Victoria!
Buckingham Palace Guard Change Time & Schedule
The current schedules are every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 11.00 each day at the Buckingham Palace. Prior to the ceremony at the Buckingham Palace, you can also head over to the Wellington Barracks at 10.30 as the guards prepare to leave for Buckingham Palace. At about 10.43 you can choose to be at the at the St. James’s Palace where the old guard sets off for Buckingham Palace. The schedule is very elaborative and will give you an insight on what role each regiment will play for the day.
Point to note is that every month there is a new updated schedule rolled out and it is advisable to re-check online before confirming your trip. Keep in mind that cancellations can occur anytime especially due to bad weather conditions or other events overlapping. If it is beyond the Palace’s control especially when it comes to the weather, the cancellations can even take place a few minutes before the start of the ceremony. Always keep yourself up to date with the regular notices on the palace’s website.
Changing of the Guard Location & Directions
The best way to get to the parade is by catching the Tube to the Green Park underground station and it’s a walking distance to the St James’s Palace. Leave the station via Piccadilly South exit and get yourself to the end of St. James’s street, where you will then see the gate to St. James’s Palace. Once here you can walk your way around the other two locations and derive the best from the Buckingham Palace changing of the guard ceremony.
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The Story of My Changing the Guard Experience
We arrived to Buckingham Palace at 9:00. The early arrival did give me the opportunity to photograph the exquisitely ornate gates and the one guard stationed at his post. The official British Monarch coat of arms, The Royal Coat of Arms, adorns the front gates to the palace. I had never seen such spectacular iron and stone work.
By 9:45 we felt comfortable enough to step away from the front of the gates to inspect the statues that surround the palace. The impressive Victoria Memorial which stands directly in front. The structure is made of 2,300 tons of marble. The massive memorial is seemingly protected by a few surrounding statues; Angel of Truth, Angel of Justice and Charity. There is a similar monument for her husband, Prince Albert, that we saw while strolling through Kensington Gardens. Both are equally as grand.
By 10:00, we were ready to pick our viewing location and though there were a couple dozen people there already, we still got front row at the iron gates. By 10:30 the front gates were about six people deep.
After waking up early, and waiting an hour & a half sardine packed, the events of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace started just before 11:30 AM.
The horse and carriage were followed by the marching horses. The folks who crowded the Victoria Monument had the best view of this. But then a beautiful horse and carriage sauntered by and then the Changing of the Guard began with one guard pacing while the other sternly kept his posture and expression. Dozens of guards the marched into the gate doors, not a smile in the bunch. Being that these guards are actual serving soldiers of the British Army, they meant business. You have to respect them as they are known to be some of the most elite and skilled.
The band arrived and set up just to the left of the gates doors, this is the position I would opt for next time. The crowd was silent as we waited to see what was in their musical repertoire. They started their set with Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’, followed by Sinatra’s ‘Mack the Knife’. Completely unexpected, and awesome.
We decided to leave our front row standing position a tad early in order to avoid the crowds. We headed towards St. James Palace on our way to catch the tube and got a second show—standing guard on Stable Yard Road was one Irish guardsmen. Perfect for photo opportunities. We continued one block up to Marlborough Road and were struck by the band marching, returning back to their headquarters.
If you find yourself in London this would definitely be one of the must do tours to include in your itinerary and to make your trip memorable. There are not many palaces in the world still functioning up to date, that still embrace their old culture, so expect this to be a unique experience.
Remember London is known to be a busy city, therefore ensure you give yourself sufficient time allowance to get to your destinations on time. Whether you are traveling alone or with family this is also a kiddy friendly tour, so you need not worry about the little ones. Another great appealing thing to note is the Buckingham Palace changing of the guard attraction is free of charge to the public!
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