- WHERE TO STAY
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- CRUISE PORTS
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837. Today it is the administrative headquarters of the Queen.
It should be stressed for visitors that Buckingham Palace is very much a working palace, despite its undoubted treasures inside, access is very limited.
Most people's curiosity is such that they make Buckingham Palace at some time. Unless you make a visit during the eight week summer opening in August and September the closest you will get is the railing fence at the front of Buckingham Palace.
Changing of the Guard is the biggest draw for tourists and it is free. You will need to get to the palace at least 45 minutes prior to it starting at 10.45am to get a good position, the crowds are very large.
Visits inside Buckingham Palace itself are restricted to the summer months of August and September when the royal family spend much of their time in Scotland. (Further details below.)
The rest of the year you can visit the Royal Mews (the working stables for the royalty) and the Queen's Gallery a permanent space dedicated to changing exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection.
However most people come to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard, late morning and assemble at the front gates to the palace jostling for the best viewpoint they can.
Book tickets for Buckingham Palace - only available July to September
• London residence of Her Majesty The Queen • The State Rooms • The Royal Collection • Paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto • 42-acre garden • Audio tour included
Buckingham Palace is situated within the royal parks of St James and Green Park. Westminster and Trafalgar Square are a pleasant walk across St James Park and its delightful lake. Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Mansion House, Churchill's War Rooms, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street and the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are all within 10 minutes' walk.
Victoria Underground & Railway Station (Circle, District and Victoria Lines) is 5-10 minutes' walk passing the Royal Mews. A much more pleasant walk is from Westminster across St James Park, about 10-15 minutes from Westminster Abbey. You can also walk to Buckingham Palace from Hyde Park Corner or Green Park Underground Stations (both Piccadilly Lines) in 5 to 10 minutes.
All of London's hop on, hop off sightseeing buses stop at Buckingham Palace. However, immediately after the Changing of the Guard you are best advised to walk to Victoria or Trafalgar Square as waiting times to board a bus with seats available will be long.
There are several changing of the guard ceremonies besides that at Buckingham Palace. Changing of the Guards at Horseguards is popular with much less crowds and if you visit Windsor Castle you'll see changing of the guard there too at much closer quarters than Buckingham Palace.
Westminster Abbey is one of London's main visitor attractions, the busiest time of all for visitors is July and August but it is busy at all times.
Long entrance queues are a normal sight on arrival.
Best times for independent visitors is to be there for opening before the tour groups and school parties start arriving.
On Wednesday afternoons the Abbey is normally open until 6pm - this is not well publicised and for many the best part is that no groups or tours are allowed inside at these extended hours.
Audio-guides are free with your individual entry tickets. Audio guides are available in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese as well as English.
Ticketing is straight forward with concessions for children and seniors and no discounting, including on-line.
You can purchase your tickets in advance on-line where you have to stipulate your visit date.
Year round you can visit the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, the working stables for the royalty. You will see displays of carriages and cars used for ceremonial and state occasions there. A typical visit lasts 1 hour.
State vehicles are housed and maintained at the Royal Mews. They include the carriages used for royal and State occasions, such as State Visits, weddings and the State Opening of Parliament.
Carriages from the Royal Mews are also used on roughly 50 occasions each year to convey newly appointed High Commissioners and Ambassadors from their official residence to Buckingham Palace to present their credentials to The Queen.
The Royal Mews are at the southern end of the Buckingham Palace complex mid-way along Buckingham Palace Road that connects Victoria Station and the front gates of Buckingham Palace.
The Queen’s Gallery was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in May 2002, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.
You will see a wide-ranging collection of art and treasures held in trust by The Queen for the Nation. The Queen's Gallery is open to the public throughout the year. A typical visit will last about 90 minutes and admission includes an audio tour device.
The Queen's Gallery is along Buckingham Palace Road that connects Victoria Station and the front gates of Buckingham Palace between the Royal Mews and the palace.
What most people come to Buckingham Palace for, is the Changing of the Guard staged by the front entrance from 10.45am (actual handover at 11am). Daily during peak summer months (May to July) then every other day at other times.
Known as Changing the Guard or Guard Mounting, the process involves a new guard exchanging duty with the old guard. The soldiers are drawn from one of the five regiments of Foot Guards in the British Army: the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, the Welsh Guards, the Grenadier Guards and the Coldstream Guards.
The handover is accompanied by a Guards band. The music played ranges from traditional military marches to songs from the shows and even familiar pop songs.
When the Queen is in residence, there are four sentries at the front of the building. When she is away there are two.
To be honest many people are disappointed by this, the crowds also make it difficult to get decent photographs. There is no 'performance' if it rains. You may find it more enjoyable to go over the other side of St James Park to Whitehall where another Changing of the Guard takes place.
Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards takes place daily at 11am (10am on Sundays) and lasts about half an hour here. Here there are less crowds and no palace railings in your way of good photographs. You are also much, much closer to the Guards themselves and photo opportunities are far superior.
Tower of London: Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066-7 and enlarged and modified by successive sovereigns, today the Tower of London is one of the world's most famous and spectacular fortresses. In its time it has been a royal palace, a fortress, a prison, an armoury, a treasury and an astronomical observatory. The Tower of London now displays the Crown Jewels.
Kensington Palace: A rich royal history. Kensington Palace can boast of being the birth place of Queen Victoria and the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Kensington is the home of a host of Georgian monarchs and royalty including Princess Diana who have all left their mark on this impressive Palace. Explore the vast state apartments which contain an array of beautiful paintings and sculptures.
Windsor Castle: Windsor Castle is one of three official residences of The Queen and has been home to the Sovereign for over 900 years. The Queen would call Windsor Castle her home.
The Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest in continuous occupation. The imposing towers and battlements of the Castle loom large from every approach to the town, creating one of the world's most spectacular skylines.
Hampton Court: For almost 200 years, Hampton Court Palace was at the centre of English court life, politics and national history. Its most infamous resident was Henry VIII.
Today Hampton Court is an easy day trip for all visitors to London in vast grounds next to the River Thames.
Save money when you visit three of Britain's historical palaces
• Visit The Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace • Valid for 2 years from date of issue • One visit per valid palace
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