Buckingham Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. It is a working palace and the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
If you are fascinated by the Royal Family like I am, you may dream of visiting Buckingham Palace. Many assume that because it is a working palace and the residence of the Queen, it is not possible to go inside, but that is not the case.
I finally got the chance to go inside Buckingham Palace during the Summer Opening in 2019. Let me tell you more about my Buckingham Palace tour so that you will know what to expect and help you decide if it’s something that you would like to do. Keep reading for my complete review.
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Covid-19 Notice: Please use the information in this post to plan future travel. The Buckingham Palace 2020 Summer Opening has been cancelled and the Changing of the Guard Ceremony is not taking place. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms here. The Mews and the Queen’s Galleries will reopen July 23, 2020.
The History of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace was originally the home of the Duke of Buckingham. In 1763, it was purchased by George III to use as a royal retreat for his Queen Charlotte. When his son, George IV took over, he brought in his favorite architect, John Nash, to refurbish the retreat into an excellent palace that would house his art collection and also be a place to conduct official business. While the remodeling budget may have spiraled a bit out of control, much of Nash’s design work has stood the test of time.
When William IV became king in 1830, he opted to stay at Clarence House because he disliked the extravagance of Buckingham Palace. Some remodeling went unfinished and the palace fell into disrepair since it wasn’t occupied. When his niece, Victoria, became Queen she was excited to escape her childhood home of Kensington Palace and move into Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to call Buckingham Palace her official residence. It didn’t bother her that after years of being empty, the palace was in dismal condition. Her husband, Prince Albert, took the initiative to change that.
As Victoria and Albert’s family grew, they needed more space, so they added a new wing (now known as the East Wing) and Marble Arch which originally stood in front of Buckingham Palace was moved to its current location in Hyde Park. The East Wing is now the front and most recognizable part of Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria also added the huge Ballroom and Ball Supper Room so that there was more room for entertaining.
Interesting Facts about Buckingham Palace
As one of the most famous buildings in the world, people are curious about what Buckingham Palace is like behind those famous black and gold gates. The palace is as mysterious and fascinating as it is impressive. Here are some interesting facts to put things in perspective:
- The Palace was built in 1703 and originally known as Buckingham House.
- There are 775 rooms inside Buckingham Palace – including 19 State Rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. – with a floor area of 77,000 square feet.
- The palace has 760 windows and 1,514 doors.
- More than 800 people work at Buckingham Palace
- London is built on several rivers that run underground or have been diverted. What’s left of the River Tyburn (not a lot, a sewer basically) runs right underneath the palace.
- It takes two people 10 hours to adjust all the clocks in the palace when the time changes.
- The chandeliers in the palace are from the reign of George IV. All the glass was cut by hand. They were converted to electricity during the time of Queen Victoria.
- Buckingham Palace was one of the first places to have electricity, telephones, and telegraphs.
- It also has its own post office and an ATM.
- Only one monarch, Edward VII, was born and died at Buckingham Palace. William IV was also born at the palace. Queen Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Charles there too.
- It was bombed during World War II. It received nine direct bomb hits, some when the royal family was in residence. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother said: “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”
- The Queen entertains 50,000 people per year. That includes the 30,000 guests that attend the Garden Parties each year.
- The gardens contain the oldest helicopter pad in London. A helicopter was first landed in the garden in 1953, not on an official helipad, but in a helicopter landing area, which continued to be used for many years. Nearly 50 years later, in 2000, the Royal family decided they didn’t want the lawn to continue to get destroyed from helicopter landings, and built an official helipad in the gardens. A concrete helipad would have been far too unsightly, so the Royal helipad is created from a layer of matting underneath the grass.
- Buckingham Palace had its first Summer Opening in 1993 as a way to raise money to repair damage from the fire at Windsor Castle. During the 2019 open days, 500,000 people are expected to visit Buckingham Palace.
Can you go inside Buckingham Palace?
Yes, the public is allowed inside the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace during the Summer Opening when the Queen is away in Scotland. There are also select other days throughout the year when tours are allowed.
Note: The Summer Opening for 2019 is July 20th – September 29th.
Things to Know Before You Visit Buckingham Palace
As you can imagine they run quite a tight ship at the palace, so here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t bring any unnecessary bags. I had read that they do have a cloak room and large bags will need to be checked but they don’t allow suitcases. I decided to bring my smaller backpack (the one that almost fits Ryanair’s carry on baggage specifications) and planned on checking it so I wouldn’t have to carry it around. Well, they said it was too small to check and then when I got in the State Rooms they made me take it off and carry in on my side. It got heavy! (They do not allow backpacks to be worn inside the State Rooms on either your front or back, they must be carried on the side.)
- They don’t allow photography inside the State Rooms but you can take photos in the Buckingham Palace Gardens
- There are no public toilets inside Buckingham Palace. The only toilets available are in the gardens after you go through the State Rooms.
- The exhibit inside the State Rooms changes every year. For 2019, it is a tribute to Queen Victoria to celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth.
Our Buckingham Palace Tour
After security checks, you can pick up the audio tour. Technically it is a multimedia guide because on the screen they show pictures. They offer both an adult and a family version. Once we had our guides, we proceeded to go inside the Palace. We walked through a few hallways and then arrived at the Quadrangle where the tour would begin.
Through the gates, I could see the crowds of people outside. I imagined the royal procession lining up, ready to leave the palace. The different colors of stone between the east wing and the rest of the palace made sense as it’s the newest part of the palace. The Irish Coach was also on display. I couldn’t believe that this coach originally purchased by Queen Victoria was still in such pristine condition.
Inside Buckingham Palace
Walking into the palace through the same entrance that countless world leaders had used was awe-inspiring. I pictured the motorcade dropping off the president for his audience with the Queen. Then I played the next section of the audio guide and it made me smile hearing Prince Charles’s voice on the audio guide welcoming us into his childhood home. It was good to hear from a member of the Royal Family and it acted as a reminder that this is a home as much as it is a working building.
Then we turned to climb the Grand Staircase, typically the centerpiece of any palace or stately home. As you’d expect, the staircase at Buckingham Palace doesn’t disappoint. The curved staircase with the red carpet and elaborate railings reminded me of a grand entrance to a southern plantation from Gone With the Wind. There is a sense of anticipation and drama about what the rest of the palace will look like. The stairs lead to the Guard Room and into the Green Drawing Room beyond. In this room, I immediately recognized the famous portrait of George III by Ramsay.
The Buckingham Palace Throne Room
After the Green Drawing Room, we entered the Throne Room which has been used for entertaining and is a popular setting for royal wedding photos. On display as part of the special exhibit was Queen Victoria’s throne. I was surprised how close they let you get to it. Further away we could see the thrones for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. I thought it was funny that these looked more worn and faded than Victoria’s throne although they had only been used once – on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation day.
The Picture Gallery and the East Gallery
We moved on to the Picture Gallery which is a long narrow room full of famous paintings that are part of the Royal Collection. The Royal Collection actually has 1 million pieces making it the largest private art collection in the world. It includes works from Titian, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few. The ceiling in this room is made of glass and I appreciated the natural light coming in. If you are interested in seeing the Royal Collection, some of it can be viewed online here.
We walked through the lobby and the Silk Tapestry Room into the East Gallery which is another long room with some spectacular artwork. In this case, the paintings displayed were mostly large ones depicting important events in Victoria’s life – her wedding, her coronation, and the christening of her second son. The details in the paintings helped show what it would have been like to be present during these celebrations.
The Ball Supper Room and Ballroom
Next door, the Ball Supper Room was filled with interesting artifacts related to Victoria. Seeing one of her actual dresses made me realize how short she was (shorter than I am at 5’3”). I mean, it is well known that Vicky was short, but it’s not until you see one of her dresses that it actually comes to life. The size of the dress somehow made her feel fragile, almost like a doll. In addition to the dress, other artifacts in the room were her coronation cape, a cradle for Princess Louise, and a small cabinet holding her children’s teeth. I was amazed at the excellent condition everything was in. There were also projections on the ceiling to show what the room would have looked like in Victoria’s time.
As you enter the Ballroom, which is the largest room in Buckingham Palace, signs instructed everyone to remove the headsets. Then you can hear some lovely classical music playing. We walked further into the room and we could see what looked like people dancing back in Victoria’s time. It was actually a projection reflected onto glass. They used a similar technique, called Pepper’s Ghost, during Queen Victoria’s time.
The Buckingham Palace State Dining Room
After the Ballroom, we went into the State Dining Room. I was surprised that the room only holds 46 people for dinner unlike St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. Luckily they have other bigger rooms like the Ballroom or the Picture Gallery for events.
Regardless of the size, the room was a feast for the eyes. The table was elaborately set for the dessert course and the walls were filled with large portraits of Victoria’s ancestors. Like every room in the palace, large, sparkling chandeliers hung from the high ceiling. At the end of the room, you can see the Apollo clock, one of 1,000 clocks in the Royal Collection.
More Buckingham Palace Rooms
Next up are a series of rooms used for entertainment – The Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room, and the White Drawing Room. In the Blue Drawing Room, don’t miss the Table of the Great Commanders. It was commissioned by Napoleon and later gifted to George IV from King Louis XVIII of France.
The Music Room has good acoustics because of the curved walls. V & A shared a love of music and liked to spend time in this room, playing instruments with family and friends. It is fitting that you can see a bust of Prince Albert here that was commissioned only weeks after his death. The Prince of Wales, Princess Anne, the Duke of York and Prince William were all christened in the Music Room by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The White Drawing Room may have been my favorite room in the palace. It is breathtaking with elaborate chandeliers and two huge mirrors. One of the mirrors is actually a secret door between the State Rooms and the Private Apartments. The Queen uses it whenever she doesn’t want to make a grand entrance.
After leaving the White Drawing Room, you walk through the Ante Room and down the Minister’s Staircase. I assume these stairs get their name because this must be the route the Prime Minister takes for his/her weekly audience with the Queen. They may not be as dramatic as the Grand Staircase but the gold details are still awe-inspiring.
Marble Hall and the Bow Room
Next, you enter Marble Hall. This is another long room, but this one holds many classical marble sculptures. The most impressive might be the one of Venus and Mars in a lovers’ pose right at the bottom of the stairs. You can’t miss it, it is huge!
After taking some time to admire more of the artwork we made our way into the Bow Room, which would be the last one on our Buckingham Palace Tour. There you will find a painting of the Buckingham Palace Garden party from the time of Queen Victoria. It makes for a seamless transition to the next phase of the visit.
Buckingham Palace Gardens
After the State Rooms, you exit the palace into the gardens. Here you can pick up any items from the cloakroom and also take a break in the Buckingham Palace Garden Cafe. We stopped for coffee which were reasonably priced considering the venue. They also serve scones, sandwiches, and a few other snacks. The tables are under cover with a view over the lawn.
After our coffee, we took some pictures on the steps of Buckingham Palace, then we began the 10-minute walk through the gardens to the exit. The walk goes by the bathrooms, gift shop, ticket office, lake, and ice cream shop. We took our time admiring the views back to the palace and taking more pictures. Fans of the royal family will be tempted in the gift shop, but I must warn you it is expensive, so it might be a good idea to skip if you are on a tight budget.
At the ticket office, you can get your ticket stamped to turn it into a one-year pass if you bought it through the Royal Collection Trust directly. They also offer tickets to Windsor Castle. We took so long taking pictures that by the time we got to the ice cream shop it was closed! The lake was serene with several different birds. Walking through the garden, I found it hard to believe I was in the middle of London. It was so peaceful. Keep in mind, even on this walk you only see a small portion of the Buckingham Palace Gardens, which cover 39 acres. You will exit the gardens onto Grosvenor Place.
Each year, the Queen throws her annual garden parties. It is actually a tradition started by Queen Victoria. The Queen also has garden parties at Holyrood Palace when she is in Scotland.
They offer a guided Garden tour for those that want to learn more. There is an additional charge and tickets for the tour need to be purchased in advance.
Buckingham Palace Tour Review
I highly recommend taking a tour of Buckingham Palace. It’s an iconic building with lots of history so it’s fascinating to see a bit behind the scenes. I thought the audio tour was well-done and easy to use. It was exciting to hear the voice of Prince Charles during the welcome, but I would have like to have heard more from the Royal Family – the odd anecdote here and there – throughout the audio guide.
The palace definitely lives up to its billing. It is as opulent as you might expect. The collection of artwork and historical pieces is extensive, diverse, and features some of the most famous artists from the last 500 years. I learned a lot from the Victoria exhibit and enjoyed hearing Victoria’s own words (from her journals and letters) in the audio guide. Seeing some of the personal artifacts like her throne, dress, daughter’s crib, and children’s teeth provided insight into her life at Buckingham Palace as a Queen, a wife, and a mother.
The wardens were friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to answer questions. While there were more people allowed inside the palace than I expected, the staff did an excellent job of keeping things moving. I think it helped that photos are not allowed inside.
The only negative for me was having to carry my backpack at my side. It did get heavy after a bit and distracted some from the experience. I wish they would have let me store it in the cloakroom.
How Long Does it Take to Visit the Buckingham Palace State Rooms?
Visitors are allowed to go at their own pace through the Buckingham Palace rooms with the multimedia guide. We spent a little more than two hours inside the palace.
What Else Can You See at Buckingham Palace
There is more to see at Buckingham Palace than just the State Rooms and the Gardens. If you have time, consider visiting:
- Royal Mews – When you visit the Royal Mews, you can see the Carriage Horses, the State Coach, the Diamond Jubilee Coach and more. A multimedia guide is included with your admission and on some days they do have guided tours too. Allow an hour for your visit. Check opening and tour schedule here.
- Queen’s Gallery – Inside the Queen’s Gallery, they have changing exhibits from the Royal Collection. Check the opening hours and exhibition schedule here. Currently, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, more than 200 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings are on display. It’s best to buy your ticket to the Queen’s Gallery in advance as it can sell out. A multimedia guide is included with admission. Allow one hour for your visit.
Both of these attractions require tickets which can be bought with the State Room tickets or on their own. Alternatively, the Royal Mews and Queens Galley are both included as part of the London Pass. Click here to see if the London Pass can save you money on your trip to London.
They also remain open longer than the State Rooms, although they do close for times during the year. Check the schedules on the links above.
As well as these formal attractions, there is also the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace which you can watch for free. Get there early if you want to see this. It is one of the most popular things to see in London! Check the schedule here. If you want to learn more about the traditions and make sure not to miss any of the action, consider taking a Changing of the Guard tour. This tour takes you to two special vantage points for the ceremony and also includes a visit to the Westminster Dome with amazing views of central London.
If you are interested in learning more about the Changing of the Guard (while the ceremony is not taking place), there is an online tour with a London Blue Badge Guide through Take Walks. You will learn more about the tradition and can ask the expert questions in this live experience. It costs $8 for the tour, but you will also receive a $25 voucher for any Take Walks tour, valid for 2 years. Get more information here.
Buckingham Palace Tickets
For the Buckingham Palace Summer Opening, there are three ticket options:
- Standard Admission includes visiting the State Rooms with the multimedia guide and the self-guided walk through the Buckingham Palace Gardens.
- Royal Day out includes discounted admission to all the State Rooms (including the self-guided walk through the gardens), The Queen’s Gallery, and the Royal Mews.
- The State Rooms and Garden Highlights Tour includes visiting the State Rooms with the multimedia guide and a 45-minute guided tour of the Buckingham Palace Gardens.
In addition to the Summer Opening, there are select dates when they offer an Exclusive Evening Tour. This will be more expensive because it’s a small group (max 30 people) tour led by an expert guide. The tour ends with a glass of champagne and also includes a copy of the official souvenir guide and 20% discount in the shop.
It’s best to get tickets in advance as it does sell-out. All tickets will be for a specific time to help with crowd control. Proceeds from the tickets go to the Royal Collection Trust. If you buy tickets through a third-party, it cannot be converted into a one-year pass. Click here to purchase tickets online from the Royal Collection Trust.
Sometimes Visit Britain runs a sale on the tickets, so you could get them at a lower price, but it would not include the one-year pass. Click here to check prices on Visit Britain.
Are the Buckingham Palace State Rooms Accessible?
Yes, the State Rooms are fully accessible. There is step-free access via a separate entrance at the front of the palace and elevators inside. Special access tickets must be booked in advance by calling +44 (0) 303 123 7324.
How to Get to Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is conveniently located in Westminster in Central London and there are several ways to get there. It’s a short walk from the Green Park underground (tube) station through Green Park. Alternatively, it is not far from Victoria or St. James Park Stations either.
The walk through the park (one of many gorgeous parks in London) is relaxing and attractive, but if you want to approach the palace from the same direction that visiting dignitaries go, take the tube to Charing Cross Station which is just the other side of Trafalgar Square. Cross the Square, go through Houseguard Parade, and up the Mall towards the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. This is often lined with Union Jacks. You’ll also notice the tarmac is red, so it’s a bit like going to the palace along a red carpet!
You will find the entrance for the tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms on the South side. In other words, if you are facing the front of Buckingham Palace, walk around to the left side. If you already have a ticket enter through Gate C. If you have a voucher that needs to be exchanged, go to Gate A first. These are well signposted on the South side and there are uniformed staff to direct you.
Remember it is a popular attraction so there will be lines. If already have a ticket, you still need to go through the airport-style security. They don’t make anyone take off shoes or get out computers, but they do scan bags and make everyone walk through a screener. I would suggest arriving at least 15 minutes before the time on your ticket (a bit longer if you have to exchange a voucher).
Is the Buckingham Palace Tour Worth it?
Yes! The State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace did not disappoint. They were as opulent as I dreamed they would be. It was fascinating to see the artifacts and learn more about Queen Victoria. The tour may seem expensive but the proceeds are going to help preserve the history and legacy. That’s supporting a worthwhile cause and it’s an experience I don’t think I will soon forget.
Have you had the chance to visit Buckingham Palace?
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Expert Tips for Visiting Buckingham Palace
- Buy a timed ticket in advance. Check the calendar to see the days that the Buckingham Palace State Rooms are open.
- Try not to bring bags other than purses when visiting the State Rooms.
- Photos are not allowed inside the State Rooms. Take pictures in front of the palace or in the gardens instead.
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