In mid-September, our extended 5-month UK trip was coming to a close, as we departed Strathkinness for the final time, bound for London. A one-way trip to London normally has many options – flying, driving or train. However with over 200lbs of baggage, flying wasn’t an option and having driven over 7,000 miles, in the past few months, I didn’t need more practice on the left side of the road. This left the train, so we booked seats on Virgin East Coast from Leuchars to London Kings Cross.
We had 2 days in London, before joining our Baltic Cruise in Tilbury. As usual, both days were packed with sight-seeing, with the first day being a “Royal Day Out” at Buckingham Palace.
During the summer months, while the Queen is at Balmoral, Buckingham Palace State Rooms are open to visitors. When visiting Buckingham Palace, you have a multitude of options:
- State Rooms
- Royal Mews (stables)
- The Queen’s Gallery (Art Gallery)
- Palace Gardens (with the State Rooms)
- Changing the Guard
We opted for the “Royal Day Out” ticket, which includes the State Rooms, Royal Mews and Queen’s Gallery. Tickets are available on the website and cost – UKP 42.30 (adult)/UKP 38.50(senior 60+). Allow about 5 hours, starting at Queen’s Gallery with a timed ticket (website recommends up to 90 mins), then to the Royal Mews (website recommends 60 mins) and finally a timed ticket at Buckingham Palace (allow 120 – 150 mins). We reserved tickets at Queen’s Gallery for 12:45, so we could watch the Changing the Guard ceremony and lunch, before starting the tour.
Tower of London when entering Tower Hill Tube Station, enroute to Palace
Changing the Guard
A free ceremony that takes place within the gates of Buckingham Palace, on a published schedule, which could be Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. However, the schedule does change, sometimes at short notice, so select here to check the current schedule.
Buckingham Palace over an hour before the ceremony
We have attended the ceremony on a number of occasions and I even researched the best place to watch it, but never did get a definitive answer. From experience, I don’t believe there is a definite best place to watch it from, it really depends which parts of the ceremony you want to see.
Victoria Memorial – opposite Buckingham Palace
After giving it some thought, we decided to stand on the Buckingham Palace side of Victoria Memorial, which provided great views of the entire Palace, The Mews, Birdcage Walk and Canada Gate. Didn’t get great views of the ceremony inside the gates, but got a great overall view.
Canada Gate entrance to Green Park
One of the first things we noted was the enhanced security measures at all gates, with raised platforms behind each gate and armed police officers.
Buckingham Palace Main Gate with raised barrier in position
Any time a vehicle enters or leave, the barrier is lowered and an armed police office appears at the gate.
Mounted Police Officers controlling the crowd, keeping roads clear
While waiting for the ceremony, we watched the procedure for a bus entering the Palace, the Horse Guards heading down Constitution Hill and an official car, which would have been transporting the Prime Minister or other senior Cabinet Minister.
Mounted Horse Guards proceeding along Constitution Hill
The Palace is normally guarded by the “Household Troops”, referred to as “The Guards”, who have performed this role since the 1600’s. Guards comprise 5 infantry regiments (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh) and 2 household cavalry regiments (Life Guards & Blues and Royals).
Guards marching up The Mall towards Victoria Memorial
Escorted by mounted police, the above Guards partially circled the monument and entered the Palace grounds, where they joined the existing Guards. Then all Guards formed into a parade.
Old Guards formed up and awaiting arrival of new Guards
Our view of the ceremony
Mounted Police paving way for incoming relief Guards & band
Guards & Band entering Palace
While the Guards changed, the band played a selection of music.
Band formed up at main gate playing music
Mounted Police monitoring and managing crowd movements
In the above photo the ceremony was nearing completion, with the barrier behind the gates lowered, armed police stationed inside the gate and mounted police outside the gate.
Band & Guards departing Palace for Wellington Barracks
On conclusion of the ceremony, we had just over an hour to the start of our Queen’s Gallery tour. Lunch, or at least a pot of tea was in order, so we walked the short distance to the English Rose Cafe and Tea Shop. A really neat, old fashioned and quaint tea shop, with real fine bone china cups and saucers. Judi had a quick lunch, while I enjoyed my usual pot of tea and scone – yes, it even came with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Yummy !!
Her Majesty’s art collection is the world’s largest private collection. Collected over hundreds of years, some items pre-date King Henry VIII in the 1500’s. The collection includes over 1,000,000 items, which includes 7,000 paintings, 30,000 water-colours & drawings, 500,000 prints and numerous sculptures, photographs, tapestries, ceramics, etc. Only a tiny percentage is displayed in the Queen’s Galley, with Venice being the focus during our visit.
The Queen’s Gallery – 3rd gallery
The gallery comprised about 4 rooms, which we moved through fairly quickly, since I wouldn’t exactly say we are art lovers. However, we did enjoy looking at the Venice pictures, since we spent a couple of days there during our 2015 World Cruise.
Some of the paintings in the 4th gallery
We probably spent just less than an hour in the gallery, which we made up for at the Royal Mews
Located at Buckingham Palace since 1820, this is a combined stables, carriage house and more recently automobile garage. It is managed by the Crown Equerry, who is responsible for the staff, horses, carriages and vehicles.
After passing through security, we received an audio guide, which provides detailed information on each of the carriages, stables and workshops. The tour starts with the carriages, with each carriage stored in separate compartments.
Semi-State Landeau Coach
1865 Queen Alexandra Coach
Pulled by 4 horses, this coach carries the Crown and other insignia to/from the Place of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament.
1851 Irish State Coach
Originally built as a speculative project in Dublin, it was spotted by Queen Victoria at the 1853 Great Exposition. She purchased it and had it delivered to the Royal Mews, using it as her coach of choice. It now carries Prince Charles to State Openings of Parliament.
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee State Coach
Pulled by 6 horses, it was originally planned for the Queen’s 80th birthday, but delays resulted in it commemorating her Diamond Jubilee. First used at the State Opening of Parliament in 2014, it is also routinely used during State visits.
1881 Glass Coach
It was purchased for King George V coronation in 1911. Currently, it is used during State visits and was the coach that delivered Princess Diana to St Paul Cathedral for her wedding.
1830 Scottish State Coach
Golden Coronation Coach
Stored and displayed adjacent to the stables, the coach is too big to fit through the doors, so the wall is dismantled to reveal a larger door. This coach is only used for coronations, so hasn’t been used since 1952.
Royal Harness Room
We enjoyed almost 2 hours at the Mews, so only had time for a quick walk through the gift shop before heading to the State Rooms.
After passing through security, we were provided with audio guides, which included detailed descriptions of each room and a selection of the displayed artifacts. No photography is permitted in any of the rooms.
The tour started at the inner square, which is the entrance to the State Rooms. On entering the Palace, we headed up the Grand Staircase, touring through each of the upper level rooms. During the summer opening, each room contains a selection of the gifts given to the Queen during her travels and hosting other Heads of State. Each room also includes some benches, so we would sit, listen to the audio guide for that room, then walk around exploring the room decor, furniture and gifts on display.
Members of staff were located in each room and they were exceptional, with many providing additional information and chatting to guests.
Buckingham Palace lawn
We took a very leisurely stroll through the rooms, soaking up the sheer opulence. After almost 3 hours, we exited the rear of the Palace into the gardens, which is where the Queen’s garden parties are hosted.
Judi sitting in the Buckingham Palace Garden Cafe
Exiting the Palace we wandered onto the patio, where we spotted the Garden Cafe, ah!! must be time for tea.
Tea & Scone with clotted cream & fresh strawberry
We sat in the cafe enjoying the tea and the brilliant sunshine, which was sliding slowly towards the western horizon. It was already after 18:00, so it was getting low in the sky.
Departing the cafe, we walked through the gardens, which leads you through the giftshop, where Judi got a new China Tea Pot, Milk Jug & Sugar Bowl, which we mailed back to Canada.
Rear view of Buckingham Palace
Walk through gardens to rear exit
This brought to an end, a truly magnificent day, so we caught the Tube back to Tower Hill, stopping at The Minories Pub for dinner.
Next post will include the Tower of London, HMS Belfast and the 300 step climb up the Great Fire of London Tower.