There are so many things about London that make it one of the most magical cities in the world. Café balconies overflowing with vibrant roses. The London Eye illuminated at night. Westminster Abbey, regal and stately against the city skyscrapers.
And to top it all off, a residence of the British royal family, one of the most famous and long-standing monarchies in the history of the world.
When I first went to London, I only had two short days and tons on my list to explore. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Canary Wharf, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and, of course, the Buckingham Palace made the top of my list. What I did not expect to find and enjoy so much was the nearby St. James’ Park, a bright spot in a sunny, yet cool and windy, early summer day.
We were staying at an Airbnb on Tiverton Street, with a clear view of the Shard and a stone’s throw from the cool, authentic Mercato Metropolitano. This quaint market with food stands from all over the world is owned by an Italian family, and hosts concerts and outdoor events.
We ate about half of our meals there, just sampling the delicacies from all around the world. Some of my favorites were the vegan stand with traditional British fare and the Venezuelan stand.
How to get to the Buckingham Palace
There are many underground stations near the palace, the closest are Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, and Victoria. From any of them, you will be just a short walk away from Buckingham Palace. Please check the Underground map of London here.
For those who prefer taking a bus, you should look for the number 11, 221, C1 and C10. They all make stops at the Buckingham Palace Road, the road adjacent to the palace.
If you go for the Hop On Hop Off bus, which is the most comfortable option, don’t worry, the buses also make a stop at Buckingham Palace Road.
Buckingham Palace History
In all of its splendor, Buckingham Palace is an iconic residence. However, is not the royal palace. Rather, it is one of the royal palaces. Plural. Technically, Buckingham Palace is the London residence and state affairs location of the British royal family. It is one of 18 throughout the kingdom, some of which are located in Scotland.
In fact, Buckingham Palace was not the original London residence of the monarchy. From the 16th century to the 19th, the city royal residence was actually St. James’ Palace. Some of the palaces are used as summer residences; others are private for the royal family and not state-funded. But, still. 18 residences! That alone can make you wonder how the other half lives.
Buckingham Palace was not always this splendid and magnificent palace we see today. Its history dates back to 1703 when it was built as a townhouse for Duke of Buckingham. Before its construction, the area has been a mulberry garden planted by King James I in order to rear silkworms, it never really took off, so a noble residence was built in the place.
In 1761 it was bought by King George III, who turned the house into a royal, yet not an official palace.
It only became the official royal residence with the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837, who decided to move to the palace. During all these years, many renovations were made until Buckingham Palace acquired the appearance it has today.
Visiting the Buckingham Palace will be an immersive experience that will take you through 315 years of British history.
Visiting the Buckingham Palace
Upon arrival, you’ll know where you are. Not from seeing, not from hearing, but from feeling. And unless you’ve managed to visit London on the least-crowded day of the year, you will be greeted by selfie stick-clad tourists. Tourists galore.
On the day of my visit, it wasn’t too dreadful. But, be prepared for tons of people standing in front of the gates, and know that trying to get photos can be a bit of a struggle.
Regardless of the crowds, the grandiosity and elegance of Buckingham Palace will leave you speechless. The building itself is 830,000 square feet, has 775 rooms, and an ATM that only prints pounds sterling for the royal family.
One of my favorite aspects of travel is just how much it has taught me about the world. And, more specifically about how open and accessible, the world is—if you’re willing to explore it. The fact that I can stand a walking distance from a royal residence 100% for free is mind-blowing.
That’s one of my favorite things about Buckingham Palace specifically. Sure, there is a giant black iron gate with gold embellishments to remind you where you are, and of your place in its context. However, its visibility alone is such a gem.
I highly recommend going just to look at it, to soak in its grandeur and elegance. Imagine you’re there. You’re standing outside the palace. You see the guards walking back and forth, and maybe you’ll see them perform the Changing of the Guard.
You take in how grandiose and beautiful the architecture is, with its stately columns and ivory accents. The reality of where you are at this moment is baffling.
Changing of the Guard
Definitely one of the most famous attractions in London, is the Changing of the Guard, in front of Buckingham Palace. The iconic ceremony also called Guard Mounting, is also performed in Windsor Castle, but definitely the one in Buckingham Palace is still more famous.
The Foot Guards, wearing their red tunics and Bearskin hats guards the Sovereign and the Royal Palaces since 1660.
The ceremony starts with the ‘new’ guards gathering outside the Wellington Barracks, which is their base in front of St James Park at 10:30 am. While they are being inspected, the band will often play songs, some are traditional, others are popular songs adapted by them.
I really recommend watching them while they get ready, if you get the chance, as it is a really fun part of the ceremony.
The changing officially starts at 10:45 and lasts around 45 minutes. The actual handover happens at 11 am in front of the Buckingham Palace, inside the gates.
It is completely free to watch, and I recommend arriving at least one hour prior to make sure you will grab a good spot to watch. During Summer, the high season, the place can get even more crowded.
Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews
After going to London and seeing the palace for myself, I wondered if tours are offered for visitors to go inside. That seems like one of the most amazing opportunities on any bucket list. So, here’s the magic question: is Buckingham Palace open to the public for visits? Yes, and no.
Some parts of the palace are open to the public, and some are not. The answer to this question can vary quite a bit from season to season, and the palace may be completely closed to visitors for special holidays or other reasons.
The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews are open to the public for most of the year, so you can likely visit these parts of the palace, it is necessary to buy a ticket.
Depending on the period of the year it is also possible to visit some of the rooms inside Buckingham Palace. To do this, you have to book a tour.
The Staterooms, for example, is opening for visitors during summers and will give you an idea of the Queen’s daily life, as these are the rooms used by the royal family to receive state guests.
The Queen’s Gallery
The Queen’s Gallery is an art museum showcasing works from the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, and pieces depicting ancestors of the British monarchs.
It was created over 40 years ago, on the site of a bomb-damaged chapel located at the west front of Buckingham Palace.
The hours range depending upon the season, but tend to stick towards 10 am to 5 pm daily, and to visit it, you must buy a ticket, which you can buy here.
The entrance for the Queen’s Gallery is free if you have the London Pass.
The Royal Mews
The Royal Mews is responsible for the travel and transport arrangements for the entire royal family. Inside you will find the state coaches and other carriages, as well as around 30 horses.
Similar to The Queen’s Gallery, the hours of operation for The Royal Mews can change depending on special events and the season. However, you can mostly count on them being open at 10 am, and closing at 4 pm.
As with any other popular attraction, plan your excursion and buy those tickets as soon as you can! They’re sure to sell out, which speaks to the uniqueness and quality of the experience.
Inside Buckingham Palace: State Rooms
When the Queen goes on holiday, the State Rooms are also available for visits from the public. The 19 State Rooms in Buckingham Palace are used to entertain guests, showcase paintings, and host music performances, amongst a wealth of other purposes.
State Rooms is the term applied to palace rooms designed as public rooms, where the monarch receives, rewards and entertains the visitors and guests.
This is such a meaningful way to quite literally walk the path of some of the most highly-respected people in the world, making of this, an unforgettable experience.
During the 10 Summer weeks which visiting the Buckingham Palace inside is available, you will be able to visit all of the 19 State Rooms of the palace, it will give you access to the rooms used by the world authorities when they visit the Buckingham Palace, as it is here that the Queen receives her guests.
Among the most famous rooms are the Ballroom, White Drawing Rooms, Music Room and the iconic Throne Room.
The tour through the State Rooms also includes the yearly exhibition that takes place inside the Buckingham Palace, they are rotation exhibitions always related to the Royal Family and exhibits artifacts and items of the royal family.
The largest room that you will visit and one of the most iconic. The Ballroom was completed in 1885 during the reign of Queen Victoria, this is where the State Banquets take place.
In the room, you will see the stunning Alhambra Table fountain, which is the centerpiece of the Ballroom, the thrones were used in the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, the thrones are located under a triumphal arch adorned by statues.
World-famous, this is the room where all official wedding and coronation photos are taken. It is used by The Queen for court ceremonies and official entertaining.
White Drawing Rooms
This is probably the finest of the State Room, it is used by The Queen and the Royal Family to gather before official occasions. The furniture was brought from France and on the wall, there is a big portrait of Queen Alexandra.
Buckingham Palace has so much to offer the world and not only as a residence of one of the most well-known monarchies in the world. Its architecture, museum, and insight into the realities of how the royal family operates are fascinating in and of themselves.
But, it gets even better. Once you step outside those palace gates, bountiful florals and relaxing, beautiful gardens await you. That is if you can get in.
Most of the gardens are closed off because they are for the Queen’s personal use. Remember all of those adorable photos of Queen Elizabeth II and her corgis? That’s where she took many a stroll with her beloved pets.
The Queen also shares her gardens with select guests for her famous garden parties. It is even rumored that these are open to the public on occasion!
St Jame’s Park
If you’re in the area, St. James’ Park is right next to the front of Buckingham Palace and is certainly open to the public. Visiting this park was a highlight of my trip to London. We adored our afternoon in the winding pathways and soaking in a few moments of sun.
It was a way for everyone in my party to decompress, enjoy nature amidst the city, and take a leisurely stroll. I highly recommend adding this to your itinerary, even if you don’t go inside the palace or plan to stop outside it for photos.
This park alone is more than worthy of your time, whether it be a few minutes to a few hours and a picnic.
Now that Buckingham Palace is on your list for your London itinerary, it can feel overwhelming to choose which experiences to invest in, and how much time to allot. I do recommend at least giving yourself half a day for this visit, and try not to plan anything else for the evening.
You’ll want to savor this experience, particularly if you opt to buy tickets for The Queen’s Gallery or other tours.
Spend some afternoon hours in St. James’ Park, snap a few photos for memories, and soak in the unparalleled, timeless beauty of Buckingham Palace.
Bio: Sarah is a writer and creative from Nashville, TN, the USA with a serious case of the travel bug. On
her blog, Sarah L. Travels, she writes about her treks around the world, veganism, and whatever else
strikes her fancy. When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book or planning
her next adventure.