Buckingham Palace ★★

The eastern façade of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial (Photo by Diliff)
The eastern façade of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial
The eastern façade of Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial, Buckingham Palace, London (Photo by Diliff)
Entrances to Buckingham Palace attractions, Buckingham Palace, London (Photo by Reid Bramblett; basemap © Mapbox, Data ODbL © OpenStreetMap contributors)
An RAF (Royal Air Force) flyover to celebrate the Queen's official birthday in 2008, Buckingham Palace, London (Photo by Cpl Scott Robertson/MOD)

London's Royal Residence, from the State Rooms and royal gardens to the Queen's Gallery and the (yawnfest) changing of the guard

Most people only stop by for the famous (but, frankly, dull) Changing of the Guard cemermony at 11:30am (daily Apr-July, otherwise on odd-numbered days). » more

Far more interesting is to tour the palace itself—when that option is available.

Visiting Buckingham Palace

You can join the other 400,000 summer visitors and take a spin through the 775-room Buckingham Palace—but only when the Queen's not at home. The Royal Family typically decamps to Balmoral Castle in Scotland in late summer (Aug-Sept), and she sometimes takes off again over the winter (Dec–Feb).

If the flag's a-waving, Elizabeth II is inside and you cannot go in. (Also, if there are four sentries standing guard, she's in; if there are only two, she's off shopping or something.)

There are actual several sections to tour, and you can get tickets to one or more:

Buckingham Palace Tours

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How long does Buckingham Palace take?

To tour it all takes a good 2–3 hours, though you could see just the State Rooms in 90 minutes or so.

Please do not tease the guards

A Royal Guard at the Tower of LondonIt is something of a London vacation tradition: To make faces at, catcall, tease, jeer, make rude gestures towards, or otherwise try to ruffle the stoically unresponsive (and long-suffering) guards flanking the Buckingham Palace gates.

The idea is to try and make them break ranks, break their stiff at-attention stance, or even just break a smile.

Please don't. That's just mean.

Let me put it this way: The Palace Guards are all British military, drawn from five infantry and two calvary regiments. A posting here tends to be relief duty for those who have seen action overseas.

Yeah. Nearly all of the guards are active duty soldiers and war veterans. So go ahead. Act like a jerk at them.

The order in which to do Buckingham Palace

If you want to visit all four Buckingham Palace attractions (and it's August or September so you can), first buy the "Royal Day Out" ticket.

Given the locations of the entrances and edits and the way the timed entires work—the Queen's Gallery has timed admissions every 15 minutes, and you will also be issued a timed entry to the State Rooms that starts 2.5 hours after your Queen's Gallery entrance—do them in this order:

  1. The Queen's Gallery (60 min)
  2. The Royal Mews (60 min)
    • Gift shop (across from the Mews; to kill time until your next timed entry)
  3. The State Rooms (90 min)
  4. The Royal Gardens (30 min)
Make this a morning sight

If you are seeing all the Buckingham Palace sights, aim for the morning, for two reasons:

  1. The last timed entry for the Queen's Gallery is 2:45pm in August, 1:45pm in September, so: the earlier the better.
  2. There is a nice little cafe as you exit the State Rooms before you wander the Garden. If you start at 10am, you'd be hitting this around 1:30pm, in time for a late lunch.
How do I get to Buckingham Palace?

You watch the Changing of the Guards from the traffic circle in front of the main gates, at the west end of The Mall where Constitution Hill meets Buckingham Gate and The Birdcage Walk (yes, in London those are all street names).

The public entrances to all of the individual palace sights are along Buckingham Gate, which runs around to the south (left) of the main forecourt of the palace.

Entrances to Buckingham Palace attractions
A map showing the various entrances to Buckingham Palace's attractions.