Buckingham Palace: State Rooms ★☆☆
Visiting the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is arguably one of the two or three most famous houses on the planet, 775 rooms decorated with the finest antique furnishings, 18C and early 19C Sèvres porcelain, and priceless works of art Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Canova.
It has 77,000 square meters (830,000 square feet) of floor space—that's 19 acres—including 240 bedrooms, 78 bathrooms, 92 offices, a swimming pool, cinema, post office, and doctor's office.
Buckingham Palace was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 (hence the name), bought by King George III in 1761 for his Queen Charlotte.
George IV had John Nash expand it to its current grandeur in the 1820s, and Queen Victoria made it the official London royal residence in 1837, expanding it yet again in 1847 (adding the famous balcony from which the Royals wave on major State occasions).
George V and Queen Mary added the current Portland Stone facade featured in a million visitor snapshots.
Peep the flag atop the palace. If it's the Royal Standard, the Royal Family is at home. If it's the Union Jack, the Queen's away—and, when she's away, you can tour Buckingham Palace... or at least some of the 19 State Rooms. Among the highlights:
The White Drawing Room
The White Drawing Room of gilded stuccoes and golden-upholstered furnishings contains a roll-top desk with fret marquetry originally made for a daughter of Louis XV.
The large portrait of Queen Alexandra above the fireplace was painted by François Flameng in 1908.
Look for the secret door in the corner Queen Elizabeth II uses to pop into the State Rooms from her private apartment.
The 1855 Ball and Concert Room—all golded stuccoes, gold embroidered velvet, and Gobelins tapestries—is large enough to fit 84 double-decker buses.
Queen Victoria could host parties of up to 2,000 guests in here.
The chandeliered red-and-stucco throne room contains—surprise!—the royal thrones used for investitures and other ceremonies.
The royal settees themselves are, charmingly, little more than late 17C gilded and upholstered chairs, not overwrought thrones—though there is an imposing burgundy canopy.
The room is also familiar as the backdrop to the official portrait photographs of the newly extended Royal Family following the 2011 wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Prince William and Kate Middleton).Tickets
Tours of Buckingham Palace that might also include State Rooms
These might include State Rooms
- London Super Saver: Exclusive Small-Group London Sightseeing Tour and a Stonehenge, Windsor and Bath Day Tour
You could see just the State Roome in 1.5 to 2 hours or so.
However, to tour all the parts of Buckingham Palace takes a good 3–5 hours.
Prepare for airport-style security to get in (and budget an extra 30 minutes for that, just in case).
Note that the last admission is 2.5 hours before closing (so at 5:15pm in August, 4:15pm in September).
If you happen to be in London between December 11 and January 31, you might still be able to tour the State Rooms—but it will cost you a royal £75 per person.
- HOW: You must book this "Exclusive Guided Tour" in advance (preferably via the website). Each tour is limited to 30 participants.
- WHAT: The tour lasts about 2–2.5 hours and includes a few fun extras, like a glass of champagne and a commemorative guidebook.
- WHEN: It runs only on selected dates—usually Friday–Sunday, with a few midweek dates Christmas week—between December 11 and January 31. There are only a half-dozen tours per afternoon, the first one starting at 1:30pm, the last at 6pm.
- HOW MUCH: £75.
The entrance to the Buckingham Palace State Rooms is on Buckingham Gate, around to the south (left) side of the forecourt.
You can enjoy sandwiches, cakes, pastries, and other danties at shaded tables along a balustrade on the West Terrace overlooking the gardens at the Garden Café (only open in summer, when the State Rooms and Gardens are open).
This isn't exactly royal dining—the tea comes in paper cups, not fine china—but it is probably as close as you will come to having tea with the Queen.
Most year on the West Terrace, near the cafe, is a special exhibition aimed at families where kids can play, read, and have fun setting a faux royal banquet table, drawing up royal invitations, and dressing up as king, queen, or furry-hatted palace guard to clamber up on thrones and play at knighting their subjects, issuing decrees, and otherwise just kinging or queening around.
It's open in August and the first week of September, and on weekends through the rest of September.