buckingham palace

The Ultimate Guide to Buckingham Palace

No trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace: administrative headquarters of the British monarchy, and the official home of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

From its humble beginnings as a townhouse, Buckingham Palace has been remodelled and extended over the centuries to become an iconic symbol of Great Britain. It’s the most famous present-day working palace in the world.

Who isn’t curious to see inside and get a small glimpse of what’s beyond the famous balcony?

Well, today it’s possible. For the last 24 years, Her Majesty has been allowing public access to her State Rooms between July and October, when she is at her summer residence, Balmoral. The initiative began in 1993 as a way of raising funds to pay for repairs to Windsor Castle after it was ravaged by fire the year before.

There are 19 magnificent State Rooms to discover, all lavishly decorated and adorned with sumptuous furnishings and fine works of art; just as you’d imagine a royal palace to be.

You can combine your State Rooms visit with a guided tour of the beautiful garden and lake if you wish.

If you’re planning to visit Buckingham Palace, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about this historic and iconic royal residence.

buckingham palace

History

Buckingham House

The site where the garden is today began life as a mulberry plantation during the reign of James I. The king wanted to grow mulberries to rear silkworms. However, the wrong type of mulberry trees was planted, so the project failed and was eventually abandoned.

Although it’s not certain when it was built, there’s been a house on the site since the days of Charles I, who granted it to Lord Aston in 1628.

In later years, the Duke of Buckingham took over the tenancy. However, he found the house small and dated, so in 1703 the original building was demolished and a larger townhouse built in its place. It was re-named Buckingham House, in honour of the Duke.

The Queen’s House

The house became a royal residence in 1761 when George III bought it as a private home for his wife, Queen Charlotte. During this time, it was commonly known as the ‘Queen’s House’.

Over the next 5 years, the house underwent drastic remodelling and renovation, including elaborate ceilings painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani. It was considered the most modern, sophisticated and fashionable residence of its time.

From Townhouse to Palace

George IV extended the house even further. Emotionally attached to his childhood home, he wanted to create a palace fit for a king. Architect John Nash undertook the work and created a U-shape structure.

The project was completed with a triumphal arch in the centre of the forecourt to be used for ceremonial processions. But the renovation costs were considerable, around £500,000! Nash was sacked and replaced by architect, Edward Blore who added the Ambassador’s Entrance on the south side.

Victoria and Albert

The palace became the ‘official’ residence of the British monarchy when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. She was the first reigning monarch to live there, along with her beloved husband, Prince Albert.

However, the couple (who ended up having 9 children) complained that the palace was too small to entertain guests and accommodate their ever-growing family.

Edward Blore was recalled to create a new wing on the East side to form a quadrangle, using the funds from the sale of the Brighton Pavilion. The triumphal ‘Marble Arch’ was also moved to allow for the extensions.

marble arch

The most famous inclusion was the construction of the iconic, central ‘balcony’ at Prince Albert’s suggestion. It was from here that Victoria watched her troops leave for the Crimean War, and greeted them on their return.

The refurbished palace was the perfect setting for the lively, cosmopolitan court. Victoria and Albert held lavish costume balls, banquets, concerts, ceremonies and investitures in the State Rooms you can see today.

After the untimely death of her beloved Albert, Victoria plunged into deep mourning. Possibly unable to face the pain of so many blissful memories, she spent less and less time at the palace, preferring to spend most of her days at Windsor Castle instead. When Victoria died in 1901, the palace was beginning to look tired and neglected.

It was revived by Edward VII and his consort, Queen Alexandra. The Ballroom and the Grand Entrance were lavishly decorated in golds and creams to reflect the couple’s extravagant tastes, and the palace, once again, became the centre of court life.

In 1913 during the reign of George V, the soft Caen stone on the east facade was replaced with durable Portland stone, which was more suitable for the wet weather and dirty London air.

During World War II, the palace was bombed 9 times. Although damage was minimal, the palace chapel was completely destroyed after a bombing attack during the 1940 blitz.

To mark the end of the war, on VE day, the Royal Family and the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, greeted the massive crowds in the Mall, from the central balcony. It became the focal point of celebrations and a lasting image of that joyful day.

In 1962, the chapel was rebuilt as the Queen’s Gallery: an exhibition gallery open to the public, which houses over 450 works of art from the Royal Collection.

The Gallery was completely refurbished and expanded in 2002 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee.

A 21st Century Palace

This year a large-scale project is planned to refit the palace with modern, safety-compliant electric wiring, energy-efficient LED lighting, updated combination boilers and, possibly, solar panels.

Party at the Palace

The most spectacular event ever held at the palace has to be ‘Party at the Palace’ on 3 June 2002, to celebrate the Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Who can forget the iconic moment when Brian May opened the event, performing a guitar solo of ‘God Save The Queen’ from the roof of Buckingham Palace?

The ‘Greatest Concert in Britain’ featuring legendary British performers, ended with the largest firework display in London’s history, while images of the Union Flag were projected onto the palace.

Victoria and Albert would have been most amused!

palace

Interesting Facts

  • Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.
  • There are 800 live-in staff, 2 of which are horological conservators, employed to wind up the 350 clocks by hand.
  • The palace has a post office, ATM, police station, doctor’s surgery, cinema and pool. It even has its own postcode.
  • There are 760 windows in the palace, and they are cleaned every 6 weeks.
  • Before Victoria’s marriage, the palace was a fairly unpleasant environment to live in. The windows wouldn’t open, the chimneys smoked and ventilation was bad. Before Albert took hold of the reigns and re-organised the housekeeping, it’s said the staff were lazy and lax, and the palace was dirty and smelly.
  • It takes 5 days to lay the table for a state banquet. Once done, the Queen herself inspects the work.

Tour Highlights

State Rooms

  • The Throne Room: Used for investitures, it’s adorned with red and gold, and dominated by a long walk up to the 2 magnificent thrones. William and Kate had wedding photos taken here.
  • The Music Room: Traditionally used for royal christenings.
  • The Ballroom: The largest room in the palace, it was the first to have electricity installed in 1883. Here you’ll find a U-shaped table laid for a state banquet.
  • The magnificent Grand Staircase: Designed by John Nash.
  • The White Drawing Room: This is considered to be the most beautiful room in the palace. It’s where the Royal Family congregates before official ceremonies.
  • Look out for the Royal portraits through the ages and fine works of art including paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt and Canaletto.

Royal Gifts Exhibition

The 2017 exhibition held at the Queen’s Gallery is a fascinating display of official gifts from the last 65 years that have been presented to Her Majesty from world leaders, including Eisenhower, Reagan and Nelson Mandela.

Garden Tour

rose garden

The 39 acres of ‘walled oasis in the middle of London’ has over 350 types of wildflowers, 200 trees and a 3-acre central lake. It’s the venue for Her Majesty’s summer garden parties.

During the tour you’ll also get to see:

  • The summer house
  • The rose garden
  • The palace tennis court where George VI played Wimbledon champion, Fred Perry, in 1933
  • The Waterloo Vase, an 18ft high vase carved from Carrara marble and weighing 20 tonnes, which was originally intended for Emperor Napoleon. After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the vase was presented to the Prince Regent, later George IV, as a thank you from the Duke of Tuscany.

Pre-booked garden tours are available in April, May and June, and are limited to 25 visitors.

Royal Mews

Open from 1 February to 30 November, the Royal Mews is the finest working stables in existence and where the Queen’s carriage horses are trained and cared for.

Highlights include:

  • The Cleveland Bays and White Windsor Greys that pull the royal carriages during ceremonial processions. Each horse’s name is personally approved by the Queen and is written on their stable door.
  • The Gold State Coach, which has taken every monarch to their coronation since 1821. The opulent coach weighs 4 tonnes and needs 8 horses to pull it.
  • The Glass Coach famously used to transport Lady Diana Spencer to St. Paul’s Cathedral on her wedding day to Charles, Prince of Wales.
  • The fascinating display of livery worn by the Queen’s coachmen, whose look remains much the same as it was in Victorian times.

Changing of the Guard

While you’re at the palace, be sure you don’t miss the ‘changing of the guard’.

These elite soldiers have been protecting the monarch since 1660. The event begins with the Queen’s guards riding horseback from Hyde Park Barracks, past the palace, to change guards at Horse Guard’s Parade.

The procession starts at 11.30 am and lasts 40 minutes. It occurs daily, from April to July, and on alternate days during the rest of the year. It’s extremely popular with tourists, so get there at least 30 minutes before to get a good viewpoint.

buckingham palace guard

Insider Tips

  • If you don’t wish to include the Garden Highlights Tour, you can still see parts of the garden when you exit the palace at the end of the State Rooms Tour. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes though. The visitor route along the garden wall to the exit is a good half- mile walk.
  • On entry to the palace, you have to undergo security screening. Large backpacks and pushchairs must be left at security and picked up before you leave.
  • No photographs or videos are permitted inside the palace, but you can take photographs outside.
  • Toilet and baby-changing facilities are located in the garden at the end of the tour. The State Room Tour takes around 2 to2 ½ hours, so make sure you go beforehand!
  • No eating or drinking is permitted in the State Rooms; however, there’s a very pleasant Garden Cafe with beautiful views overlooking the lawns and lake.
  • The State Room Tour includes a free audio guide, narrated by HRH Prince Charles himself.

Opening Times

22 July 2017 – 31 August 2017      09.30 – 19.30 (last admittance 17.15)

1 September 2017 – 1 October 2017      09.30 – 18.30 (last admittance 16.15)

Ticket Prices

Correct as of May 2017.

State Rooms

Adult: £23.00

Over 60/Student: £21.00

Under 17/Disabled: £13.00

Under 5: Free

Family (2 adults & 3 children under 17): £59.00

Royal Day Out (State Rooms, Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews)

Adult: £39.50

Over 60/Student: £36.20

Under 17/Disabled: £22.00

Under 5: Free

Family: £100.00

State Rooms, Garden Highlights Tour

Adult: £32.50

Over 60/Student: £30.50

Under 17/Disabled: £19.50

Under 5: Free

Family: £84.50

Getting There

Underground:

Green Park

Hyde Park Corner

St. James’s Park

Victoria

Bus:

Numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop at Buckingham Palace Road

Train/Coach

Victoria

Here at Premium Tours, we offer you the opportunity to visit two royal residences in a single day with our Windsor Castle & Buckingham Place tour. To find out more see our website, or book online for this limited availability tour.

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