- Type: Attractions
NileGuide Expert tip:
Only open July - September, book ahead
This massive, graceful building is the official residence of the Queen. The red-brick palace was built as a country house for the notoriously rakish Duke of Buckingham. In 1762, King George III, who needed room for his 15 children, bought it. It didn't become the official royal residence, though, until Queen Victoria took the throne; she preferred it to St. James's Palace. From George III's time, the building was continuously expanded and remodeled, faced with Portland stone, and twice bombed (during the Blitz). Located in a 16-hectare (40-acre) garden, it's 108m (354 ft.) long and contains 600 rooms. You can tell whether the Queen is at home by checking to see if the Royal Standard is flying from the mast outside. For most of the year, you can't visit the palace without an official invitation. Since 1993, though, much of it has been open for tours during an 8-week period in August and September, when the royal family is usually vacationing outside London. Elizabeth II agreed to allow visitors to tour the State Room, the Grand Staircase, the Throne Room, and other areas designed by John Nash for George IV, as well as the Picture Gallery, which displays masterpieces by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, and others. You have to buy a timed-entrance ticket the same day you plan to tour the palace. Tickets go on sale at 9am, but rather than lining up at sunrise with all the other tourists -- this is one of London's most popular attractions -- book by phone with a credit card and give yourself a few more hours of sleep.
During the 8 weeks of summer, visitors are also allowed to stroll through the royal family's garden, along a 4.5km (2.75-mile) walk on the south side of the grounds, with views of a lake and the usually off-limits west side of the palace. The garden is home to 30 types of birds, plus 350 varieties of wildflowers.
Buckingham Palace's most famous spectacle is the vastly overrated Changing of the Guard (daily Apr-July and on alternating days for the rest of the year). The new guard, marching behind a band, comes from either the Wellington or Chelsea barracks and takes over from the old guard in the forecourt of the palace. The ceremony begins at 11:30am, although it's frequently canceled because of bad weather, state events, and other, harder-to-fathom reasons. We like the changing of the guard at Horse Guards better because you can actually see the men marching and you don't have to battle such tourist hordes. However, few first-time visitors will resist the lure of the Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard. If that includes you, arrive as early as 10:30am and claim territorial rights to a space in front of the palace. If you're not firmly anchored here, you'll miss much of the ceremony.
Timesaver -- With 4km (2 1/2 miles) of galleries, the British Museum is overwhelming. To get a handle on it, we recommend taking a 1 1/2-hour overview tour for £8 ($16), £5 ($10) for students and children under 11. Daily at 10:30am, 1pm, or 3pm. Afterward, you can return to the galleries that most interest you. If you have limited time to spend on the museum, concentrate on the Greek and Roman rooms (nos. 11-23, 69-73, and 77-85), which hold the golden hoard of booty both bought and stolen from the Empire's once far-flung colonies.
The Guard Doesn't Change Every Day -- The schedule for the Changing of the Guard ceremony is variable, at best. In theory, at least, the guard is changed daily from May to mid-July, at which time it goes on its "winter" schedule -- that is, alternating days. Always check locally with the tourist office to see if it's likely to be staged at the time of your visit. The ceremony has sometimes been cut at the last minute, leaving thousands of visitors feeling they have missed out on a London must-see (though we say it's overrated anyway).
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010
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- Buckingham Palace
- At end of The Mall (on the road running from Trafalgar Sq.)
- London, Greater London SW1A 1AA
- Aug 1-Sept 27 (dates can vary), and additional dates may be added. Daily 9:45am-6pm. Changing of the Guard daily Apr-July at 11:30am and alternating days for the rest of the year at 11am