Buckingham Palace Tours
Home, sweet home! At least that’s what the British Royal Family has been able to say about Buckingham Palace for almost 200 years. The Palace is one of the most famous buildings in the entire world and is a must-see attraction for every visitor to London. It is also the location where one can see the Changing of the Guard Ceremony – it doesn’t get any more British than that!
Because Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (though she prefers to stay at Windsor Castle), only certain parts of the Palace are open all year, while others are open only during certain months. Keep this in mind when planning your trip to London. Buckingham Palace is listed as #40 in among the attractions to see in London on TripAdvisor and is rated 4 1/2 stars by over 13,000 viewers. Whether you visit the Queen’s Gallery or the two seasonally open sights, the Royal Mews and the State Rooms, (or all three!) you can’t go wrong.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind before you plan your visit:
- Entry to the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews is included in the London Pass so if you have one, no need to buy separate tickets. If you’re not sure if a London Pass is worth getting, read our post with pros and cons of buying a tourist card.
- We visit Buckingham Palace on our name-your-own-price tour of Westminster and our All-in-One London tour.
- When visiting the Palace, please enjoy our free self-guided tour of the sights to see near Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is located in the City of Westminster which is simply a separate jurisdictional area located in the center of London. The Palace has it’s own royal gardens on the west side of the building. Two large and lovely parks, St. James Park on the east and Green Park on the north are both worth taking a stroll in.
London Underground: The palace is easily accessed by several tube stations. The closest are Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line), Victoria (Circle, District and Victoria lines). It is a bit of a walk from St. James’s Park (District and Circle lines) and Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern lines). If you are a new user of the Underground system, you may find our guide Navigating the London Underground useful as well as our advice about which ticket to buy.
Bus: Numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop on Buckingham Palace Road.
We recommend using this Google map for directions to Buckingham Palace from anywhere in London.
Queen’s Gallery Open year-round
The Queen’s Gallery exhibits selected pieces of art from the Royal Collection. As you can imagine, the collection is quite extensive. It comprises over one million objects, including 7,000 paintings, 30,000 watercolours and drawings, and about 500,000 prints, as well as photographs, tapestries, furniture, ceramics, books, sculptures, and last but not least the Crown Jewels. (To see these beauties, read our post on Visiting the Crown Jewels.) The Queen’s Gallery has rotating exhibits centered on themes or particular artists. To see what the current exhibits are check their website. An audio-guide is included in the cost of your ticket. The commentary is excellent and you also have an option to listen to music selected for its suitability to the setting. If you are an art-aficionado, check out the official The Royal Collection podcast features news of current and forthcoming exhibitions, and interviews.
The Gallery is in what was originally one of the Palace’s three identical conservatories modeled on Ionic temples. The original building was designed by John Nash and built in 1831. Unfortunately it suffered great damage in an air raid during World War II. In 1962, the building was redeveloped as a gallery for the Royal Collection. In 1997, the Gallery underwent a £20 million expansion – this was the most significant addition to Buckingham Palace in 150 years. The Queen’s Gallery has three large rooms that not only showcase the impressive pieces of art, but are also decorated in a palatial style. The curators do an excellent job of using the beautiful space for its exhibitions. The overall setting is elegant, serene and a classical art lover’s dream.
The majority of reviews on TripAdvisor are positive and the Queen’s Gallery is rated at 4 stars by over 300 reviewers. Words like “wonderful”, “beautiful” and “tranquil” appear often in reviews. Some say, however, that the Gallery’s limited size and small number of items on display at any given time (about 450) just isn’t enough to justify the cost of admission. If you have limited time in London or are on a budget, you may want to visit the free National Gallery with a larger collection. If, on the other hand, you have exhausted every other free museum in London, and still need more, the Queen’s Gallery is a must. (Our post London Itineraries for Museum Lovers may come in handy!)
- July 23 to October 2 – Daily from 9:15 am -5:30 pm
- October 3 to Dec 31 – Daily 10:00 am- 5:30pm *Closed October 10-November 3 and Dec 25 & 26.
Admission (as of August 2016)
- Adult (18-60 years old) £10.30
- Over 60 or Student (with valid ID) £9.40
- Under 17 or disabled £5.30
- Under 5 Free
- Family (2 adults, 3 children, all under 17) £25.90
Good to know
When you book your tickets you must select a time that you will begin your tour. Entry intervals are every every 15 minutes throughout the day. You can spend as much time in the Gallery as you want, though it wont take more than 45-60 minutes to see the exhibitions.
If possible, plan your visit for the afternoon when the Gallery is likely to be less crowded. Set aside additional time to pass through the airport-style security check. Large bags and backpacks must be checked at the cloakroom.
Food and drinks are not permitted. Cell phones must be turned off. Photographs and filming are allowed. There are bathrooms are on site.
The gift shop has exclusive items inspired by works of art in the Royal Collection. The shop has housewares, china, clothing, jewelry, children’s toys, books and postcards. Proceeds of all purchases go to the care and upkeep of the Royal Collection.
Royal Mews February – November
The Royal Mews are a group of working stables, housing the Royal Family’s horses and carriages. On display in the Mews is an array of beautiful state coaches and carriages, some of which are still actively used by the Royals on special occasions. A highlight is the magnificent Gold State Coach built for George III in 1762. It is so heavy it takes eight horses to pull it. The Gold State Coach has been the carriage of choice for every coronation since 1821. If horses and carriages don’t do much for you, maybe the collection of Rolls Royce limousines, Bentleys and Jaguars will get your motor running! A visit to the Royal Mews includes a free 45-minute audio tour, though you may spend more time in the Mews if you would like. Between April and October guided tours are offered at throughout the day.
- February to end March: Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (last admission 3:15 pm)
- April to October 31: Monday to Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (last admission 4:15 pm)
- November: Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (last admission 3:15 pm) *Closed November 12
Admission (as of August 2016)
- Adult (18-60 years old) £9.30
- Over 60 or Student (with valid ID) £8.50
- Under 17 or disabled £5.50
- Under 5 Free
- Family (2 adults, 3 children, all under 17) £24.10
Good to know
The Royal Mews is an active stable, not merely an exhibit. Security is quite strict – expect an “airport-style” screening. To expedite the security screening process, try to bring as little as possible with you. Certain items such as large baggage, pen-knives or scissors are not allowed into the Royal Mews. Don’t bring any with you since there is no cloakroom at the Mews.
Food and drinks are not permitted. There is no food or drink available for purchase in the Mews though you can purchase water at the Mews gift shop. Photographs and filming are allowed. Cell phones may be used, but be considerate of others. Bathrooms are available only at the end of the tour.
State Rooms August and September only
Throughout the month of August and September, Queen Elizabeth II usually goes on holiday. This is good news for visitors to London as it means that the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace open their doors to the public! Since this opportunity is available for only 8 weeks out of the entire year, be sure to plan a visit if you are in London during July or August.
Nineteen rooms are included in the tour. Among them are the the stunning White Drawing Room, the Music Room, the Picture Gallery and world-famous Throne Room where all official wedding and coronation photos are taken. There are dozens of fine art and objects on display including paintings from Van Dyck and Canaletto, sculptures, period furniture and rare porcelain.
Included in your ticket is an excellent 1-hour multimedia guide that provides commentary on each of the 19 rooms you can visit during your time there. Thought the audio tour is only one hour, you can move at your own pace. Expect to spend 2-2.5 hours marveling at the spectacular decor. There are also guides in each room who can answer questions and who may point out interesting features that are not mentioned on the audio tour, such as the Queen’s secret passageway/entrance behind a mirror. (See video below).
- July 23 – August 31 Daily 9:15am to 7:45pm (last entry 5:15pm)
- September 1- October 2 Daily 9:15am-6:45pm (last entry 4:15pm)
Admission (as of August 2016) *Entry is “timed” meaning you must select a time. Start time frequency is every 15 minutes.
- Adult £21.50
- Over 60/ Student (with valid ID) £19.60
- Under 17/ Disabled £12.30
- Under 5 Free
- Family £55.30 (2 adults and 3 under 17s)
This combined ticket gives you the opportunity after you tour the State Rooms to stroll through the largest private garden in London. You will be guided through to select sections of the garden by a live guide. The tour includes the 3-acre lake, the Rose Garden, the enormous Waterloo Vase and the Palace tennis court.
- July 23 – August 31: Daily 9:15am to 7:45pm
- September 1- October 2 Daily 9:15am-6:45pm
Admission (as of August 2016)
- Adult £30.50
- Over 60/ Student (with valid ID) £27.50
- Under 17/ Disabled £18.20
- Under 5 Free
- Family £79.20 (2 adults and 3 under 17s)
“Royal Day Out” Combination Ticket July 23 to October 2 only
This combination ticket gives the holder entrance to The State Rooms, The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews. It’s a great value if you want to make a full day out of your visit to Buckingham Palace. Your Royal Day Out will last for approximately 4 to 4 ½ hours. Note: When purchasing your ticket, the entry time you select will be for admission to the Queen’s Gallery first. You will then be allocated an admission time for the State Rooms, which will be 2½ hours after you begin your visit at The Queen’s Gallery. It makes sense to visit the Royal Mews right after the Queen’s Gallery, but make sure you finish both in time to walk over to the State Rooms at the time you have been assigned.
Hours ( slightly different schedule than hours above for each attraction)
- Queen’s Gallery: Daily 10:00am-5:30pm (last admission 4:15pm) *(Opens at 9:15am between July 23-Oct 2)
- Royal Mews: Daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (last admission 4:15 pm)
- State Rooms: Daily July 23-August 31 9:15am-7:45pm (last admission 5:15pm); September 1-October 2
9:15am-6:45pm (last admission 4:15pm)
Admission (as of August 2016)
- Adult £37.00
- Over 60/ Student (with valid ID) £33.80
- Under 17/ Disabled £20.80
- Under 5 Free
- Family £94.80 (2 adults and 3 under 17s)
You may want to time your visit to Buckingham Palace with the Changing of the Queen’s Guard ceremony, a tradition since 1660. Filled with pomp and pageantry, the ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting.
For all the information you need to know including helpful insider tips to see this incredible spectacle, read our Guide to the Changing of the Guard.
- Timing Since tickets to all of the attractions are “timed-entry” you may have a little bit of waiting time before starting your tour, you may want to stroll the surrounding parks and monuments. Our self-guided Westminster Walking Tour lists many nearby attractions to visit.
- Footwear Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for several hours, especially if you take a walk through the nearby public parks.
- Kids Family activity bags are available free of charge, so be sure to ask for one when picking up your tickets. At the State Rooms, there is a drawing and coloring room.
- Gift Shops There are three on the Palace grounds: the Queen’s Gallery Shop, Clarence House Shop and the Royal Mews Shop.
- Food and Beverages: Food and drinks are not allowed inside Buckingham Palace or its grounds (although bottled water is permitted, and you can purchase some at the Royal Mews Shop. You can purchase food at the Garden Café at the end of the State Rooms tour. The cafe overlooks the Palace’s famous lawn and lake. The Café offers a selection of refreshments, including tea, coffee, juice and a choice of cakes and sandwiches. You can also opt to get food at various shops and cafes in the vicinity of the Palace along Buckingham Palace Road.
- Security Factor in some additional time to pass through the airport-style bag-check. Large bags and backpacks must be checked in the cloakroom and collected when you leave.
- Enjoy free re-admission for a year by asking a member of the staff to validate your ticket(s). This allows re-entry for up to a year, so is you need to break up your visit into separate times, you can do so.
- Don’t forget that the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews are included in the London Pass, so if you are buying a London Pass, don’t buy this combo ticket or you will be throwing money away. That’s no way to spend a Royal Day! Instead, use your London Pass in tandem with a purchased ticket for the State Room or State Room/Garden tour, which are NOT included in your pass.
Choice of Location
Centuries ago, the land surrounding Buckingham Palace was owned by Norman kings, who eventually gifted the area to Westminster Abbey. In the early 10th century the area was home to a little village known as Eye Cross that grew up around the river Tyburn – which at that time flowed through this area of London. In the 16th century Henry VIII bought the land, which by then housed a leper hospital, and for centuries on this prime piece of location traded between royal and noble hands. It is thought that the first house to be built on this site belonged to a Sir William Blake in the 1620’s, but Buckingham Palace as we know it today began nearly another century after this initial house.
Creation of the Palace
Making up the architectural skeleton for the Buckingham Palace that is so well known today was a building known as Buckingham House. Buckingham House was built by the first Duke of Buckingham and it was a descendant of his, Sir Charles Sheffield, that eventually sold the building to the royal family in whose hands it has remained ever since.
Buckingham House was actually sold in 1761 to King George III at a cost of only £21,000! (Today that is more like £2.8 million which is still a bargain for property of this size in London). King George III and his wife Charlotte moved into Buckingham House and 14 of their 15 children were born there. The public, however, were not impressed with the fact that their King and Queen were living in a manor house – although King George III was famous for his simple tastes. To appease public appetite for pomp and splendour, the royal couple expanded the house and their son, George IV, continued renovations into the 1820s. After George died, his brother King William IV, who did not care much for the Palace, considered moving Parliament into the building!
From Royal House to Royal Palace
It is Queen Victoria who is most often credited with being the first monarch to proclaim Buckingham Palace as their official residence. She moved in shortly after she came to the throne in 1837 and her husband, Albert, is credited with modernizing the building to the standard we know today. Before Albert took on the task, Buckingham Palace was notoriously uncomfortable: the chimneys were in such disrepair that they spread smoke throughout the building which meant that fires stopped being lit which, in turn, made Buckingham Palace a rather beautiful ice box! It was said that the staff that took care of the Palace were lazy and that hygiene was not up to standard which meant that the Palace was extremely dirty. However, once Albert was done with his work, the Palace was widely accepted as a wonderful home for the monarch and it was during Albert’s work that the famous East Front balcony was built – setting the stage for public displays of the royal family for decades to come.
Besides Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh), the Palace is currently home to two of the three sons of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The Palace is also home to Prince Andrew (Duke of York), Prince Edward (Earl of Wessex) and his wife Sophie (Countess of Wessex). The Palace is decorated with many fine paintings and works of art. In addition to this, every gift that the Queen has been given throughout her reign from nations and people around the world, are displayed throughout the Palace.
More than just a home
In addition to being the London residence of the Queen, Buckingham Palace hosts events and ceremonies all throughout the year. It is in Buckingham Palace that the Queen confers knighthoods to those deemed worthy, where state banquets are held, where christenings for members of the royal family often take place, and where visiting heads of state are entertained. The Palace backs onto the largest private garden in London – over 40 acres where the Queen’s annual garden parties are held every summer.
- Dimensions: 108m x 120m x 24m/354ft x 393ft x 78ft
- Floor space: 77,000m sq/830,000 sq ft.
- Number of Rooms: 775 (78 of which are bathrooms!)
- Largest Room: The Ballroom – 36.6m x 18m x 13.5m/ 120ft x 59ft x 193ft
- Number of Windows: 760
- Number of Doors: 1,514
- Number of Light bulbs: 40,000
- Members of Staff currently employed at the Palace: 450 year round – 800 summer opening
- Born Inside: King Edward VII, King William IV, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew
- Trafalgar Square
- Changing of the Guard
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- 10 Downing Street
- Westminster Abbey
- The Churchill War Rooms
- The Horse Guards
- St. James’s Palace
For in-depth background information, watch this entertaining one hour video from the BBC (British Broadcasting System).