I always love to participate in native, cultural events whenever I am traveling. Sometimes they are super touristy, but they always give insight into the people and place that I am visiting.
While in England, it’s always a little fun to get swept up in the romantic haze that surrounds the royals. In London, one of those iconic events is the Changing of the Guard. I find it fascinating to sit and watch a tradition that supports a lifestyle so foreign to my own. I can just imagine myself on the other side of the palace walls, chatting with the Queen and looking down at all the commoners swarming around outside my gates.
A girl can daydream, right?
While I will probably never experience life inside the palace walls, I do love catching a glimpse of it during this old, yet still entertaining, ceremony. If you’re thinking about participating, here is your quick guide to watching the Changing of the Guard.
What is the Changing of the Guard?
The Changing of the Guard refers to the ceremonial passing of the protection of the Queen (including Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace) from one of her five guards to another. It’s a grand display of British pomp and circumstance at it’s finest, featuring parades of marching soldiers in full regalia and lots of music. You’ll feel very patriotic, even if you’re not British.
When Does the Changing of the Guard Happen?
The Changing of the Guard takes place almost every day at 11am sharp. However, due to other potential ceremonial commitments, there are occasional days when it doesn’t happen, so it’s best to always check the official schedule before you head out.
Where do I Go to Watch the Changing of the Guard?
Because the Changing of the Guard involves the moving of the regiment and bands from the barracks to their post of duty, the whole ritual actually happens in 3 places: Wellington Barracks, St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace. It is actually possible to follow the regiment all the way through the change. However, the most popular place to watch the Changing of the Guard is outside the gates at Buckingham Palace.
There are two places that offer the best views of the Changing of the Guard. The first is right up against railings of the gates itself. This is the most popular place and the one that most people try and get. While it provides the best view for the ceremony that happens within the palace forecourt, it can be much more difficult to see the parade of the soldiers entering and exiting.
Another great place to watch is from the steps of Queen Victoria memorial. This offers best views of the parades of soldiers and calvary entering and leaving the palace, which still offering good views of the ceremony.
If you really don’t like the crowds (or if you arrive late), you can watch the parade of soldiers from Spur road. It is, however, nearly impossible to see the ceremony happening inside the gates from this vantage point.
What Should I Do to Prepare for the Changing of the Guard?
All you have to do is show up! There are no tickets or reservations required.
There is, of course, one small catch. As you can imagine, the Changing of the Guard is an extremely popular ceremony with tourists. Which means the whole area gets packed with people. Weekends are the worst offenders, so if possible, plan to go on a weekday. Even then it is important to get there early if you want a good spot. I personally suggest arriving no later than 10am (earlier is even better). Just make sure that you bring a bottle of water, some snacks (I recommend some Cadbury chocolate or some Carmel McVities!), and something to keep you (and any kids) entertained if you get tired of people watching (though there is really good people watching to be had) or daydreaming about having tea with the Queen. If you leave your spot, you most likely won’t be able to get it back.
What Will I See During the Changing of the Guard?
At Buckingham Palace, the ceremony starts with the arrival of the New Guard. These are the famous guards with the red tunics and bearskin hats. They march from St. James’s Palace following the rhythm of the drums and the music of the band.
Check out this video of their arrival.
Once the New Guard has arrived at the palace forecourt, there is a symbolic ceremony when the Queen’s Guard hands its duties over to the New Guard, turning them into the new Queen’s Guard. This is down by the traditional handing over of the palace keys.
Once the new Queen’s Guard is in place, there is a live performance by the Regimental Band from Wellington Barracks.
Check out this video to see a snippet of the performance.
All in all, the whole ceremony lasts about 45 minutes.
What Happens Next?
You will find that people come and go throughout the ceremony. However, once the last note is played and the final guard is in place, the ceremony is over for another day. If you happen to be in London during the time that Buckingham Palace is open for tours, an ideal thing to do is line up your entrance time with the end of the ceremony. Then you get to have a full morning at the palace! Otherwise, you are free to move on to the next item in your day’s itinerary.
While people definitely have their different views on the royal family, I appreciate that there is this chance to watch such a historic ceremony – one that really highlights the idea of the rule of the monarchy – by anyone who is willing to come. Plus, who doesn’t love a good drumming demonstration?
And who knows, maybe one of these days, you just might see the Queen herself peaking through the window, looking down at the ceremony held in her honor.
Have you watched the Changing of the Guard? What was your favorite part?