It's one of the world's last working palaces. It is also one of London's major tourist attractions. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace has always attracted visitors but, since 1993, crowds have flocked to visit the State Rooms where royal ceremonies take place.
Parts of the Palace date back to the 17th century and Buckingham House, as it was then, first became a royal residence when George III bought it in 1861. It was transformed into a palace in largely its present form in the 1820s for George IV by architect John Nash (also known for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton).
Today, the Palace is home to Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip and other members of the royal family. There are 775 rooms and 800 staff. The Palace is used for many official ceremonies, garden parties and entertaining and housing visiting heads of state. More than 80,000 guests are invited every year.
Visiting the Palace
Each year, from late July to the beginning of October, half a million tourists visit the 19 State rooms such as the Throne Room, Music Room and White Drawing Room, many of them familiar from official photos. Visitors won't bump into the Queen during their visit – she is usually in her summer residence at Balmoral in Scotland.
The State Rooms first opened to the public in 1993, when the monarchy was at a low ebb. The Queen had described 1992 as an "annus horribilis" in her Christmas speech. Three of her children had separated or divorced, a biography of Princess Diana portrayed the Royal family as cold and unfeeling, and to cap it all, Windsor Castle was badly damaged in a fire. The Palace tours were designed to help pay for repairs on the Castle.
Outside the summer opening period, visitors can enjoy the daily Changing the Guard ceremony at 11.30, every day from April to July and on alternate days the rest of the year. It's colourful, musical and has lots of pomp and ceremony. On top of that, it's free. Given the British weather, an umbrella is a good idea!
Or try a virtual tour — see our article about a free app coming to a classroom near you.
Buckingham Palace Visits
24 July-1 October 2017
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