North of Downing Street, on the west side of Whitehall, is the Horse Guards building, which is the headquarters of the British Army. The real draw here is the Horse Guards themselves: the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, a combination of the oldest and most senior regiments in the British Army -- the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. In theory, their duty is to protect the sovereign. Life Guards wear red tunics and white plumes, and Blues and Royals are attired in blue tunics with red plumes. Two mounted members of the Household Cavalry keep watch daily from 10am to 4pm. The mounted sentries change duty every hour as a benefit to the horses. Foot sentries change every 2 hours. The chief guard rather grandly inspects the troops here daily at 4pm. The guard, with flair and fanfare, dismounts at 5pm.
We prefer the once-daily changing of the guards here to the more famous ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Beginning around 11am Monday through Saturday and 10am on Sunday, a new guard leaves the Hyde Park Barracks on horseback, rides down Pall Mall, and arrives at the Horse Guards building, all in about 30 minutes. The old guard then returns to the barracks.
If you pass through the arch at Horse Guards, you'll find yourself at the Horse Guards Parade, which opens onto St. James's Park. This spacious court provides the best view of the various architectural styles that make up Whitehall. Regrettably, the parade ground itself is now a parking lot.
The military pageant -- the most famous in Britain -- known as Trooping the Colour, celebrating the Queen's birthday, takes place in June at the Horse Guards Parade. The "Colour" refers to the flag of the regiment. For devotees of pomp and circumstance, "Beating the Retreat" is staged here 2 successive evenings in June. It's only a dress rehearsal, though, for Trooping the Colour. See the "West End Attractions" map.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Recommended 2010