Should you Tour Buckingham Palace State Rooms & Gardens When Open In Summer To the Public?

This article are my tips for travelers about about the Buckingham Palace Tours: Summer Stateroom and Gardens Opening. What to see, history, tickets and must see aspects with photos and video tour

Buckingham Palace from The Mall: Photo by Gary Bembridge http://www.youtube.com/tipsfortravellers

Buckingham Palace from The Mall

Every Summer the Royal Family open Buckingham Palace to let people in to tour through the State Rooms and visit the gardens. 2012, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, is the 20th Anniversary of the opening to the public.

I have been to the Palace twice over the last few years, and these tips are based on the experiences.

Is it worth it if you have limited time in London and deciding what to see? The answer is Yes. The Official Residence of the Royal Family has very limited periods it is open to the public (August & September), and is such an icon and the family lives and works here. It is the focal point of every major function and event, including the weekly meeting between the Prime Minister and Queen. Make sure it is on your list

Opening Buckingham Palace to the Public since 1993. A time of turmoil for the Royal Family. 
There had been a lot of discussion and consternation about the role of the Monarchy, and also pressure on them to start to pay tax on revenues. The Queen agreed to pay income tax and Capital Gains Tax, and to open Buckingham Palace from 1993 during August and September. The opening was desigend to help fund the rebuilding of parts of Windsor Castle after a major fire there, and for the upkeep of Buckingham Palace. Both of which are owned by the State and not the Monrachy. They own Sandringham and Balmoral.
Previously, the public only got into the Palace if they were one of the 50000 invited each year to the huge Garden Parties held in the massive 30 acres of garden behind the Palace. 

Short History of Buckingham Palace
  • The basis of the Palace is a house originally called Buckingham House, built in the early 1700s for the Duke of Buckingham. There had been a house on the site, but this forms the basis of the Palace today. 
  • It came into Royal ownership during the reign of George III. But it wasn’t until George IV’s reign that it started to be turned into a Palace. He hired John Nash to turn the house into a grand palace. Inspired by French Architecture they proceeded to spent large amounts of money and were going way over budget, much to the concern of Parliament where were funding it. 
  • On the death of the King, they fired John Nash and brought in a new architect (Edward Blore) who worked with William IV.
  • It was only during the reign of Queen Victoria that Buckingham Palace became the Official Royal Residence. They added the 4th wing to the building creating a quadrangle. Today the East Wing that faces onto The Mall is the image one thinks of when thinking of the Palace. Including the famous balcony that the family appears on after weddings and at major events like the Diamond Jubilee.
  • During the Second World War, the Palace was bombed 7 times. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed in residence all through the war, although Princess Elizabeth (the current Queen) and Princess Margaret were evacuated (as many children were during the war). In 1940 it was a daylight bombing that destroyed the Chapel and caused the most damage.

What parts of Buckingham Palace are open to the public?
Only the State Rooms and the Garden. The best way to think of it is that you get to see the rooms and areas that previously distinguished visitors invited to State Functions and Audiences with the Royal Family would have seen.

The official site tells us that: “Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms”. It is the 19 State Rooms you get to see. You enter the Palace through what is known as The Ambassador Entrance, which is to the left hand side of the Palace as you face it from The Mall.

The key State Rooms you see on the tour are:
  • Grand Entrance, Grand Hall and Grand Staircase.  This is where official visitors enter the Palace, and where you see the Queen being “dropped off” when she returns from State Functions and Royal Weddings. In the Grand Hall is a stunning sweeping staircase that takes you up to the main State Rooms
  • Green Drawing Room. This majestic room with chandeliers is where people would wait to enter into see the King and Queen.
  • Throne Room. A very grand room which has 2 Thrones and was used by Queen Victoria for balls, but is now used more for smaller events. It is a room where most of the official photos are taken, most recently the wedding photos of Prince William and Catherine.
  • Picture Gallery. A very long hall packed with grand paintings that had been collected by George IV including Rubens and Rembrandt.
  • Ball Room. With a massive Organ as you enter, this is a vey large room and used for 20 investiture ceremonies for those who have received honours in the Queen’s New Year and Birthday Honours. It is also used for any Official State Visit Dinners were 160 people are seated at tables laid out in a “U” shape.
  • State Dining Room. This room has large windows overlooking the garden, and a large dark wooden dining table that seats about 20 people. 
  • Blue Drawing Room, Music Room and White Drawing Room. These 3 rooms which are interconnected are very grand and intricate in design. They are used for informal events and music recitals. The Music Room is where the Royal Children were baptised, with water brought from the River Jordan. An interesting feature in the White Drawing Room is one of the large gilt mirrors with a table is actually a “secret door” that opens to allow the Queen to enter the State Rooms from her private quarters!

Exhibition: Every year there is an exhibition that focuses on some aspect of the Royal Family life. Previously, for example:

  • 2009: Focus on the Commonwealth 60th Anniversary and showed 27 dresses the Queen wore on various Commonwealth Tours and gifts received on them
  • 2010: Focus on the various official events the Queen and Prince Philip are involved in and showed some of the ceremonial clothes and gifts she received while undertaking them.
  • 2011: Focus on Royal Faberge Eggs and also the Duchess of Cambridge Wedding Dress display.
  • 2012: The Royal Diamonds, showing various crowns and jewels using diamonds, and when they were worn. This was an amazing display of items you will recognise from various formal portraits across the Queen’s reign from her Coronation to Diamond Jubilee. It also included the jewels made from the famous Cullinan Diamond which was the largest Diamond ever found until another was found in 1985 at the same mine.

The Gardens

  • Tea Room: As you exit the Palace onto a large terrace, there is a Tea Room selling cakes, scones and food and also where you return your audio tour and collect any bags.
  • Gift Shop: To the left are the toilets and then a very large Gift Shop.The shop has a huge and varied collection of merchandise including books, tea towels, china, christmas decorations, toiletries, home ware items like cushions and tea towels.
  • Path: You can then stroll along a path along the side of the gardens, which also leads you after about 400 metres to the exit past the small lake. You cannot walk through the lawns and have to stick to the path. 

What Tips do I have if you visit Buckingham Palace:

  • Book in Advance. You must buy your tickets online via the official site (link below). It costs around £18, and you also book a timed entry.
  • Opening Times: The State Rooms open at 09:45 and close at 18:30, with last admission at 16:00. A visit lasts between 2 and 2½ hours. I would recommend you book when it opens as then the Palace is less crowded. By time we were part way through we could see how packed it was behind us.
  • Toilets. There are no toilets before you go into the Palace or until you head out into the garden. So be prepared! 
  • Audio Guide. This is included in the price and I recommend it. You can flick through easily if you want to move faster. But gives lots of history and also some fun facts (like the one about the secret door from Queen’s Private Quarters).
  • No Photography, so consider the Official Souvenir Book. You cannot take photos or video from time you enter the gates until you are in the garden. You can get some great photos of the back of the Palace, so I would recommend that you consider getting the Official Souvenir Guide if you want to reflect and look again at what you saw. The 70+ page book costs £10, so is not cheap but a lot of photos and history of the Palace.
  • Bags and Stuff. You have to go through an “airport style” security system (another reason for choosing a ticket at the start of the day so you do not get caught up in a line to get through that). You can take coats, cameras, handbag and umbrella but you need to check in bigger bags and rucksacks. So try and minimise what you take with you

Summary
Limited time in London and trying to decide what you should see and not see? If you are in London in August and September then make sure Buckingham Palace, Official Royal Residence, is on that list.

Watch my Video of Buckingham Palace (Shot during London 2012 Olympics, with the Women’s Triathlon Passing by the Palace)


Links:

Buckingham Palace from the Gardens: Photo by Gary Bembridge http://www.youtube.com/tipsfortravellers

Buckingham Palace from the Gardens

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2 thoughts on “Should you Tour Buckingham Palace State Rooms & Gardens When Open In Summer To the Public?

  1. I was planning to see the palace, but am not sure that I have time to receive the posting of the tickets to the US as I didn't see this until now. I leave on 28 August, sailing, and won't get there until 4 September. Will they hold tickets at the office? Maybe I could have them posted to the B&B I will stay. Is the £4.95 Palace Souvenir Guide the same as the £10 version you mentioned?

  2. There are some 3rd Party Agencies that seem to let you book online and print a vouchers to collect tickets. Such as https://www.365tickets.com/index.cfm But some sites saying they do not have any more tickets for 2102 so move fast! The one I bought that they were selling at the entrance was http://www.royalcollectionshop.co.uk/books-media/buckingham-palace-the-official-illustrated-history-softback.html but I see on the site there is also the £4.95 one which looks like a smaller sized book but may have all same content in

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