London, United Kingdom
‘When’s the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace?’ asked Lil Sis on the day we arrived in London.
It turns out this happens every second day during autumn and winter, and this matched up nicely with our ‘rest day’ Friday. So we thought we’d go and have a look.
While we were on our Hop on Hop off bus tour on Tuesday, Steve the guide mentioned that while the Queen was away on her summer holiday, Buckingham Palace was open to the public. This only happens for about 2 months a year, so we’d come at the right time.
Despite not being particularly enthusiastic about the Royal Family, we thought it would be a good opportunity to see inside the palace, which isn’t somewhere most visitors to England would see.
So Friday would be Buckingham Palace day.
There was a huge crowd outside the palace when we got there. The viewing points were directly outside the gates, across the road outside Green Park, where we’d walked through, and behind the Victoria Memorial. The Victoria Memorial position was easiest to access and there was still plenty of front row space behind the rail – we were told the main thoroughfare between that rail and the gates had to be kept clear, as this is where the Guard would be marching. There were quite a few police officers on hand to direct people to the correct places, as well as warning punters about bag security and pickpockets.
The horseback policeman was very quick to warn people to only cross the road at the lights, not at other points of the road. ‘Don’t make me get my pen out,’ he said.
Most of the action takes place behind the gates, so the people who had got there early enough to secure a position directly behind the fence would have seen it all. From where we were, we were limited to seeing the Old and New Guard as they marched past.
We decided it would probably be a bad time to try and get into the palace immediately after the ceremony, and a glance at the line confirmed this. The attendant told us it would be a lot quieter in a couple of hours, so we wandered through Green Park before heading off to get lunch.
We returned just before the entrance closed at 4.15pm. The tour of the palace takes in the State Rooms and the Gardens. There was an audio commentary, which meant we could take our time as we made our way through. It was spectacular, filled with more gilding (if that’s the correct term) than I ever imagined to see on the trip. Not really my sort of thing. It didn’t move me in the way Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral did.
As well as being the home of the Royal Family, the palace is one of only a few working palaces anywhere, and 450 people work there. It’s huge, having been significantly extended from its previous form as Buckingham House. (The first building on the site was built in 1633.) It first became a royal residence when it was purchased by George III in 1762 for his wife Queen Charlotte. The building was extended in the 1820s and became the official royal palace under George IV.
Once we’d been through the State Rooms, we were out in the Gardens, which were lovely. A cafe and official gift shop are set up for the public season, and the gifts and souvenirs are obviously a lot classier than those in the unofficial palace souvenir shops across the road.
Once we were done with the Palace, it was time to make our way to the nearby Apollo Victoria Theatre to pick up our tickets to see Wicked. I’d been looking forward to this for months and it lived up to its reputation. I loved it, and want to see it again! It was a little strange hearing the performers’ English accents, as I was used to the Broadway cast recording, but it really is a fantastic show in any accent and definitely been a highlight of the trip.