Guide to the Changing of the Guard
One of the most famous spectacles in London is the Changing of the Guard. This is a ceremony that takes place every day from May to July, and on alternate dates throughout the rest of the year. Thousands of people coming to London will queue up for hours outside the gates of Buckingham Palace for a chance to see part of this most famous tradition. Basically speaking, the Changing of the Guard is a process where the ‘old’ guard (those who have been on shift already) gives up their position to the ‘new’ guard (those who are just coming onto duty). However, there is nothing basic about the enormous and impressive display that goes along with this!
Some people prefer to get right up and close, standing at the gates that surround Buckingham Palace, as this is where the largest part of the Change will take place. However, this can oftentimes result in a restricted view, particularly in busier months. Also, it can lead to getting trapped in by crowds if you wish to leave at any time. Many visitors are surprised to find that once the Guards are behind the gates to Buckingham Palace, there is a lot of marching and counting but very little fanfare or performance. Others prefer to stand on the Victoria Memorial right outside Buckingham Palace. From here, you will be elevated above ground and will be able to see a bit more. However, you will not be very close to any of the guards, and unless you arrive early, it will be very difficult to secure a location.
Margaret’s Top Tip: Instead of spending an hour standing outside of Buckingham Palace – queue up and get yourself a place along the Mall (green lines). When standing on the side of the Mall that borders St. James’ Park, you will be right in place to see the ‘old’ Guard and the Band Corps march past, shortly after 10:30am. Use this Google map for directions to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Should you wish, you could even walk along the Mall beside them (but never in front of them…always remember: they won’t stop!), down toward the Palace and experience the Change for yourself.
But – as always – to get a good view, good history, and some good information about the Queens Guard in its’ entirety, join us on our Westminster City Tour! Whenever the Changing of the Guard is taking place, our tour groups will get the up close and personal experience of standing on the Mall as the Guards walk past. We also avoid all the crowds and any obstructions that could get in the way of our photos! We’ll take the hassle out of the planning for you, so come along with us!
Any day that the ceremony takes place, the public is welcome to watch! The Changing of the Guard schedule is dependent on season and weather. It is always worth taking a peak at that schedule in advance as ceremonies can be cancelled/added/amended owing to any number of events or disruptions that could be taking place in London. Here are helpful hints on planning your visit to witness the Changing.
- As of 2017, the ceremony only takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
- Officially, the Changing begins at 11:00. However, Guards begin to leave the Royal Barracks and St. James Palace by 10:40.
- The Change will not take place in bad weather. If it is raining, chances are there will be no ceremony. If the weather is a bit changeable, police officers stationed around Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial can be approached and asked if the Change is going to be cancelled.
- Join us on our Westminster Walking Tour as we take in the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
This greatly depends on the time of year you visit and where it is you intend to stand. In the summer season some visitors will arrive at the gates to Buckingham Palace or to the Victoria Memorial as early as 9:30! Earlier is better during this time of year. Guests, who are here in the winter months, and wish to stand at the Palace gates or on the Memorial will find you can arrive 15-30 minutes before and still obtain for yourself a reasonable viewing spot. If you wish to view the Guards marching from the Mall or Spur Road, you will find it much easier to secure a good location here. In the winter months, simply give yourself a few minutes to get into place. During summer, arrive earlier but 15-30 minutes should be sufficient.
There are several Tube stations servicing Buckingham Palace. Victoria Station, Green Park Station, St. James Park Station and Hyde Park Station are all easily accessible for the Change.
The Queens Guard is the name given to the infantry division responsible for the protection of the official royal residences in London (and Windsor). The responsibility and make-up of the job of the Queens Guard, as we know it today, dates from the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Soldiers in the Queens Guard have been protecting St. James’ Palace since 1689, and Buckingham Palace since 1837. Famously, the Queens Guard wear their red tunics and black bearskin hats. However, in winter weather, their uniform varies slightly in that they are all dressed in long grey coats – although the famous hats still remain!
Although ‘The Queens Guard’ is a catch-all term for the Guards stationed outside the royal residences, there are actually five regiments contained within: The Scots Guard, The Irish Guard, The Welsh Guard, The Grenadier Guards, and The Coldstream Guards. All Guards on post outside Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Palace, Windsor Palace, and the Tower of London are made up of one of these five groups. The Guard can often be seen at Hollyroodhouse in Edinburgh, although not very often.
Firstly, at just past 10:30am the ‘old Guard’ who have been stationed at St. James’ Palace, will leave the Palace in formation and head down the Mall. They will be led by the Corps of Drums, who will be playing music and marching in front of the Guard. At the same time, the ‘old’ Guard stationed at Buckingham Palace will queue up in formation in the courtyard just in front of the Palace. Meanwhile, the ‘new’ Guard form up and are inspected just outside Wellington Barracks (their base near St. James’ Park). While the Guard is being inspected, another band stationed at the Barracks will also play, and then will lead the march of the ‘new’ Guard towards Buckingham Palace where, by now, both the ‘old’ Guards of Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Palace are awaiting in formation. This will now be about 11:00.
Once in place, the ‘old’ Guard and the ‘new’ Guard present their arms to one another. The Captains of each group of Guard will march toward one another and there, the keys to Buckingham Palace exchange hands. Throughout all of this, the band (made up of 35 musicians, usually belonging to one of the Queens Guard regiments), being instructed by the Director of Music, plays music to entertain the massive crowds of people that will have come from all around the world to watch this procedure. In addition to the music, there are also Guards parading the colours (or flags) of their respective regiment, while all the soldiers are inspected and counted.
Once the inspection has subsided and the keys are in the hand of the ‘new’ Captain, the ‘new’ Guard are marched into their positions, at both Buckingham and St. James’ Palaces. The ‘old’ Guard are matched back to Wellington Barracks and are led, again, by the band. Although the band plays a lot of traditional music – particularly when the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Guards are being led to the gates of Buckingham Palace – they occasionally will branch out into some unexpected tunes. It’s not uncommon for Michael Jackson or Harry Potter theme music to be heard!
Yes! For all All-In-One Tours or Westminster Tours that run on days the Change takes place, we will absolutely stop to get a good view and take some photographs. If you go on your own, you might want to consider our self-guided Royal London Tour.
For those of you who want to see it all, there are two smaller guard changes that take place in London daily. These changes are performed by members of the Queens Life Guard (Horse Guards) at an area called Horse Guards Parade, in Whitehall. The Change takes place at 11:00 daily, or 10:00 on Sundays. Much smaller than the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the entire ceremony only takes around 30 minutes. Also, at 16:00pm there will be a ‘Four O’Clock Parade’ where the majority of the Mounted Guards are taken off post for the day and security is trimmed down to just a few sentries. This ceremony, where the Queens Life Guard are inspected and counted, is also free to view by the public.
Other Things to Do Nearby
- Buckingham Palace
- 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
TIP: If coming on our Westminster or All-In-One Tours we can usually catch the Horse Guards heading from their barracks to Horse Guards Parade, which means you can see parts of both the Changing of the Queens Life Guard as well as the Changing of the Queens Guard.
Written by Margaret Stockton