One of the most popular attractions in London is the famous Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. This ceremony has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world since it was introduced during the reign of Queen Victoria. Here are our top tips for how to enjoy the ceremony to the fullest.
What is the Changing the Guard ceremony?
As the name suggests this ceremony involves guards changing in front of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace. The Royal Palaces are protected by guards, these soldiers are responsible for her Majesty’s safety.
Normally these soldiers are easily recognizable, in their bright red tunics and famous bear skins in summer and grey overcoats and bear skins in winter
On certain days other regiments can be seen performing these duties. Those regiments can come from all over the commonwealth, it’s a great honour to be invited to serve her Majesty.
During the ceremony, the soldiers who have been protecting Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace are replaced by new guards. The regiments are always accompanied by military bands playing music for entertainment.
Can I see the Guard Change every day?
During a few summer months, absolutely. However, for the rest of the year, the ceremony follows a different schedule.
June-July: Daily Guard Change
August -May: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday ceremonies
During the year the ceremony can be observed on these days, However, there is a schedule published one month in advance indicating the specific dates, as well as the name of the regiments on duty. Bear in mind that the ceremony can be cancelled at any time due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances.
Where does it take place?
The ceremony is focused mainly around Buckingham Palace. The Guards begin their journey from Wellington Barracks to replace their colleagues at both St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace. Whilst this sounds quite confusing it does give you several opportunities to see the guards on their way to/from their duties.
What time does it start?
The Changing the Guard Ceremony starts around 10:30 and finishes just before noon. It is a long ceremony and it is very difficult to watch all of it in one go.
Where to stand and what time?
The Guard Ceremony is quite long, it’s tricky to see all of it in one go, but we’ve made a timetable and interactive map to help you out with some of the best spots.
Wellington Barracks 10:30-10:55
This is the start of the ceremony, where you see the new guards being inspected and getting ready for duty. The military band plays music whilst the guards are inspected.
St James’s Palace – Friary court or the palace forecourt 10:30 – 10:45
One detachment of the old guard gathers on the forecourt of the palace, ready to be replaced by the new guards.
The Mall between Marlborough Road and Buckingham Palace – 10:45
A detachment of the old guard marches out of St James’s Palace and onto the Mall, the guards are accompanied by the band. This is a great opportunity to join the guards, you can march next to them on the pavement.
Buckingham Palace gates, steps of Queen Victoria memorial – 11:00 – 11:30
Both, the old guard and the new guard meet at the forecourt at Buckingham Palace and this is where the official handover takes place, whilst the band plays. Unlike other spots, you have to arrive very early to secure a good position at the railings or on the steps. This section is always busiest and it can be difficult to move around.
Wellington Barracks – 11:35 – 11:45
The old guard leaves Buckingham Palace and marches to Wellington Barracks, the regiment regroups at the forecourt to finish their duty.
The Mall – 11:35-11:40
When the handover has taken place, to the new guards, the St James’s Palace detachment marches along the Mall back to St James’s Palace. If you didn’t march alongside earlier, why not join them now.
Whilst the ceremony is on, visitors can also spot more guards, but this time on horses. This is the mounted division either coming (10:45) or going (11:40) to and from Horse Guards Parade.
Is one spot better than the other?
That depends on how much time you have because once you get to certain spots, it can be tricky to leave.
Once you are at the Gates of Buckingham Palace or at the Queen Victoria memorial, it is likely you will have to stay put for the duration of the ceremony.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the ceremony, maybe just for a couple of minutes, head to the Mall, Wellington Barracks or St James’s Palace at times stated above.
Wherever you are, always make sure you observe your surroundings and do not stand in the Guards way. The Guards would make you aware that they are near you by shouting “Make way for the Queen’s Guard“.
Who are the Queen’s guard?
The Queen or King’s Guard (if the reigning monarch is male) are soldiers responsible for protecting official royal residences in England.
The role of the Queen’s Guard dates back to the 1660s. These regiments began their tasks as palace Guards which would later develop into what we know today with British Army having several other Regiments named “queens guard”.
The Royal Guard is an elite force of soldiers who provide a ceremonial presence outside Buckingham Palace and other royal residences in and around the country.
At Buckingham Palace, the foot guards have a Palace guard room which they can use whilst not on ceremonial guard duty.
The Guardsmen are all actual members of the British Army infantry division, meaning they train for regular duties just like any other soldier!
The Guards – the history and the uniforms
There are five British Army regiments serving as Foot Guards that provide the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace and other Royal Residences (Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Welsh Guards)
The guards wear their standard scarlet uniforms, black trousers and bear skins in summer. During the winter months, the red tunic is exchanged for a grey coat.
Even though the uniforms of the five regiments appear the same at the first sight, there are some small differences that help us tell them apart.
Grenadier Guards – The most senior regiment, formed in 1656. Uniform consists of a white plume on the left of the bearskin, grenadier design on the collar with buttons single-spaced on the jacket.
Coldstream Guards – The oldest part of the Guards division still in active service since 1650. Uniform consists of a red plume on the right of the bearskin, star design on the collar with buttons in groups of two on the jacket.
Scots Guards – Formed and integrated into the British Army in 1686. Originally Bodyguards of Charles I of England and Scotland. Uniform consists of no plume on the bearskin, a thistle design on the collar with buttons in groups of three on the jacket.
Irish Guards – Formed in 1900, one of only two Irish regiments still serving the British Army. Uniform consists of a blue plume on the right of the bearskin, a shamrock design on the collar with buttons in groups of four on the jacket.
Welsh Guards – The youngest regiment formed in 1915. Uniform consists of a white and green plume on the left of the bearskin, a leek design on the collar with buttons in groups of five on the jacket.
The Guards Band
From the stirring military march to popular tunes, bands provide musical support at Buckingham Palace during Changing of Guard ceremonies.
During Changing The Guard at Buckingham Palace, these musicians provide musical support playing military marches to popular tunes including theme music from films and TV shows.
You can identify the band in the same way as the regiment, just observe the subtle changes on their uniforms
How to get to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace
The centre of London is best explored on foot. To get close to Buckingham Palace use one of the few Underground Stations that are nearby and walk the short distance to various spots of the ceremony. Use our interactive map to help you navigate your way around.
- St James Park station – District, Circle lines – 10-minute walk
- Hyde Park Corner station – Piccadilly line – 15-minute walk
- Green Park station – Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria lines – 10-minute walk
- Victoria station – Victoria, District, Circle lines – 15-minute walk
- Westminster station – Jubilee, District, Circle – 15-minute walk
Bus Numbers: 11, 211, 239, C1 & C10 Stop on Buckingham Palace Rd.
Is the ceremony wheelchair accessible?
The footpaths in the area are paved and therefore easily used by anybody in a wheelchair. However, those are all public paths and there is no special area reserved for wheelchair users.
The key is to turn up early and get a spot very close to the railings of Buckingham Palace, ideally between the South Centre Gate and the Main Gate.
If you are in doubt about where to go, approach one of the Policemen on duty. They are usually very friendly and will go out of their way to try to get you to the best accessible spot possible.
Where else can I see a Changing of the guard ceremony?
There are two main places, where you can see the Changing of the guard frequently. One is at Buckingham Palace and the other one is at Windsor castle.
Windsor Castle is the country residence of the monarch and as such is the oldest living and working castle in the country.
The Changing of the guard takes place at Windsor on the alternate days to Buckingham Palace
What else can I do before or after the ceremony?
With the central location of Buckingham Palace, you are truly spoiled for choice. Here is a list of just a few of our favourite places that you can visit after changing the guard.
- Westminster Abbey to marvel at the spectacular architecture
- Cabinet War Rooms for the war enthusiasts
- Houses of Parliament and Parliament square for a bit of political history
- Whitehall to visit Downing Street
- Trafalgar Square to be right in the city centre
- Picadilly for the keen shoppers amongst you
- The Household cavalry museum to learn more about the mounted division
Horse Guards Parade
There is another ceremony close by, that takes place every day even during very wet weather. Found at Horse Guards Parade, even though it is conducted on a smaller scale, it doesn’t take away any of the pomp and circumstance.
It only takes about 30 minutes and this time it is the mounted decision that is being changed. Two regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals regularly swap their duties every day at 11 o’clock (Sundays at 10 o’clock).
If you miss the morning change, don’t worry, come back at 4 pm to witness the later parade when the guards with their horses are taken off their posts for the day.
We hope this guide will help you make the most of this wonderful ceremony. If you’d like to see it as part of a guided tour then we offer several options linked below which would take in the ceremony.