We’ve wanted to go on the tour of Buckingham Palace ever since we began visiting London, decades ago, but there’s a window for visitors who either have to time their visit or get lucky. Lucky worked for us this time, narrowly making the September cutoff. The public opening happens during the Queen’s summer residence in Scotland at Balmoral. If the Royal standard (flag) is flying over Buckingham Palace, the Queen is in residence.
We had reserved tickets but still had to pick them up at the Palace. Our entry time was 11am and we left the hotel about 10am. Walking to the Bond Street Underground Station was about 0.8 miles , but the weather was nice, for the moment. The weather forecast today is for scattered showers. Bond street is one stop away from Green Park, which is our exit to walk ~7 minutes to Buckingham Palace.
Walking through Green Park we’re joined by a stream of other people walking towards Buckingham Palace, but the changing of the guard also happens at 11am. People waiting for the changing of the guard are clustered along the fence in front of the Palace as well as around the memorial to Queen Victoria that sits directly across from the front entrance gate to the Palace grounds. There are a LOT of people!
Threading our way through the crowd, we make our way around to the left side of the Palace to pickup our tickets. This happens pretty quickly and then we have to walk down to gate “C” for entry, which is based on the time of your tickets. By this time, it is almost 11 so we join the crowd waiting, waiting… Other ticket times are still ahead of us, so we have to wait for our turn to go through security screening. Yes, it’s the same kind of screening you’d go through at the airport (except you don’t have to deal with the TSA). Once this starts, it moves reasonably well, then on to pick up our multimedia guide and headset which (like Holyroodhouse) guides you through each room open to the public.
What are open to the public are public staterooms, portrait galleries, reception areas, state dining rooms. Royal apartments are not open ; curious as you might be, would you really want thousands of strangers going through your personal living space? Also, no photos or videos once you go through security.
Buckingham Palace as it appears today is the product of a long history of expansion, renovation, turning a country townhouse (acquired in 1761) into a Palace and (during Queen Victoria’s reign) not only a working Palace but a family home (Queen Victoria). Its grandeur today is a testament to the continuity of the royal family and as an institution. We’ve visited many palaces and castles over the dozens of trips to Europe we’ve made over 33 years, but the sheer size (over 700 rooms) and the elegance and detail of decorations is unlike any we’ve ever seen. If you were to imagine what a royal palace, in what was once the most powerful country in the world might be like, Buckingham Palace is the embodiment of that. Undisturbed by the destructive upheaval and vandalism of revolutions, the lavish art and furnishings remain intact.
It was Queen Victoria who really transformed Buckingham Palace into a royal residence and, in conjunction with her beloved Prince Albert, turned Buckingham Palace into not only the working seat of a (constitutional) monarchy, but into a home for their nine children. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert contributed greatly to the art collection we saw in the portrait gallery.
We spent a bit over two hours touring the staterooms, finally exiting after 1pm. There is a large outdoor café outside that overlooks the rear garden where the Queen holds her annual garden party.
We walked around the path that eventually leads out, but not until the inevitable gift shop. We hadn’t been inside for long when a hard downpour started. By the time we finished browsing, the rain had stopped.
The path continues, eventually taking you to an exit, but with nice views of the acres of gardens and lakes that surrounds the back of the Palace.
We haven’t had lunch, so we’re going to make our way back in the direction of Hyde Park and see what we can find. It starts to drizzle a bit, but mostly lets up by the time we find a place to sit down for lunch, then on to the Underground and our hotel.
There is an RAF Bomber Command memorial, dedicated by Queen Elizabeth, to the men who served and died in WWII as part of the bomber air crews. Over 55,000 of these men died in WWII. Great Britain had 3 times the losses of military personnel (as a percent of its population, almost 1% of their population) than the US, so it is unsurprising to see how the war(s) affected them.
The weather this week has a lot of showers, but we’re hopeful that tomorrow will allow us to spend some time outside at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.
Brexit continues to dominate news headlines here after Boris Johnson’s five week prorogation of Parliament was ruled illegal by their Supreme Court.
Our own President ‘s travails and impeachment investigations are also in the news here, on the BBC as well as Sky News, but doesn’t even rank in the first few pages of the newspapers.