Red coats, furry black hats, a brass band and a lot of marching in step. It must be time for Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Here’s how to see it in person during your London trip.
Throughout the year, a regular ritual takes place in the heart of London that ranks high on the ‘to see’ lists of visitors: Changing the Guard. This ceremonial event could easily be a rather dour, repetitive affair, but, with some tight drumming, fun uniforms, elegant horses and a boisterous brass section, it might just be one of the world’s most entertaining shift changes.
There are many royal families across the world, living in extravagant residences, and even more democratic and autocratic rulers residing within presidential palaces. Each one of these mighty piles elicits mixed reactions from the general population, including ire, jealousy and inspiration. As a result, these places receive a great deal of attention and often attract visitors from around the world.
Nowhere is this truer than at Buckingham Palace, which has been the official seat of the British Royal Family, and the ruling monarch especially, since Queen Victoria moved there at the start of her reign in 1837. No other royal family receives quite so much attention for its antics behind the scenes, or for the hope it inspires through its charitable deeds and increasing will to fraternise with ordinary people in the public eye.
There have been numerous break-ins at Buckingham Palace over the years. Perhaps the most startling instance came in 1982, when a Londoner named Michael Fagan climbed over the perimeter fence and entered the Queen’s bedroom as she slept. As a result, powerful people and powerful places are guarded around the clock. The Household Division’s Foot Guards, known as the Queen’s Guard, are the popular face of that defence at Buckingham Palace.
In many countries similar guard changes are a rather dry affair, complete with goose stepping officials in funny garb, shouting commands and generally putting on a vaguely outdated militaristic show. But Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace (known officially as Guard Mounting) has evolved to become a fascinating spectacle; a show, almost.
The pomp and ceremony are still there, but they come with a brass band, who often play show tunes and musical theatre numbers. Bread and circuses, it may be, but as the New Guard takes over the duty of protecting the Queen from the Old Guard, you get a fascinating insight into a tradition dating back to the time of King Henry VII in the late 15th century.
Top tip: When you stand outside the front gates of Buckingham Palace, how many guards in red coats can you count? If there are two, it means the Queen is not home. If there are four guards, it means she is somewhere inside that vast palace or its sculpted gardens.
Hours & Public Transport
Hours: Changing the Guard takes place on most days of the year, running daily for much of the spring and summer, and around four times a week, on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sun for most of the autumn and winter (usually late August to April), although dates are liable to change. For up-to-date information, visit The Household Division’s website.
Timings are dependable and precise (it is a military handover, after all), at 11am, although you will be able to see the New Guard marching along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace from 10:45, and the Old Guard leaving the palace at 11am and marching back along The Mall. Please note that when the weather is particularly bad, the official Guard Mounting ceremony is usually cancelled.
Public Transport: Many of the roads around Buckingham Palace close to allow the ceremony to take place, so it’s best to take public transport to a nearby station or stop and walk the rest of the way. After all, there’s plenty more to see in this area of Central London.
The nearest Underground stations are Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Green Park (Piccadilly, Jubilee and Victoria lines), and St James’s Park (District and Circle lines). Buses come in to this part of the city from all parts of London, mainly due to the station at Victoria, which also has an Underground and inter-city train station. Both Big Ben and Trafalgar Square are a 15-minute walk away.
Tickets & Tours
Changing the Guard is one of the best free London experiences available. No tickets are required. If you want to get a good spot, standing nearer to Buckingham Palace’s gates, or on the steps of the Victoria Memorial, then you might want to consider arriving a little earlier in the morning, from around 10:30am.
Tours: However, if you’re keen on exploring the wider area of St James’s Park, Trafalgar Square and more London highlights beyond, you might want to consider taking a guided walking tour that includes Changing the Guard in its itinerary. The best options include expert knowhow on the best places to stand to get the best view of the event. Here are four of the best tours that include the Changing the Guard ceremony.
London: Changing the Guard Walking Tour – £18 per person – The best Changing the Guard walking tour starts at the Duke of York Monument, at the opposite end of The Mall from Buckingham Palace. From here you will begin a walking tour designed to explore the entire ceremony from start to finish. This means getting a view of the New Guard’s horses and foot guards as they first emerge for duty at the Horse Guard’s Parade. Your guide will lead you through the crowds to the best vantage points along the way, while offering the full story about this event. Book at Getyourguide.com
Top 30 Sights London Walking Tour – £78 per person – If you’re happy just posting up at one spot along the parade route to see the guards, then this longer walking tour is a great option. Designed to incorporate as much of London as possible into six hours, you will also see the HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and a few dozen other London landmarks. Please check in advance to make sure the Changing the Guard ceremony is running on the day you wish to take this tour. This tour also includes a ticket to ride the London Eye. Book at Getyourguide.com
Buckingham Palace Queen’s Gallery Ticket – £15 per person – Although this option does not officially include a visit to see Changing the Guard, it makes for a great accompaniment to do before or after the event. The Queen’s Gallery is the Royal Collection’s very own art exhibition. It includes masterpieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer and Leonardo da Vinci. The entrance is just around the corner from the main palace gates, meaning it’d be ideal to see the event and then head straight for the gallery afterwards. Book at Getyourguide.com
Westminster to the Tower of London tour with Changing the Guard – £95 per person – The best day-tour of Central London to include a trip to see the Guard Mounting takes guests on foot and by boat along the Thames, as well as including an official Beefeater-led tour of the Tower of London. The tour starts with a three-hour walk from Green Park, stopping early on to watch the Changing the Guard. You will see top sights such as Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, take a Thames sightseeing cruise, and glimpse the Crown Jewels along the way. Not bad for a single day’s adventure. Book at Getyourguide.com