St. James’s Palace | Changing of the Guard
This post shows you how to get to St. James’s Palace in London and where to witness the Changing of the Guard. London is home to a whole host of royal palaces but St. James’s Palace may be one of the lesser known examples. Tucked away on a side street in the district of Mayfair and St. James, the Palace is a fine example of surviving Tudor architecture and the gatehouse is one of the most magnificent in the entire country.
St. James’s Palace is located in the heart of London, within the City of Westminster at St. James’s Palace, Marlborough Road, London SW1A 1BS. Due to its central location, it is accessible by most London Underground lines. The closest station is Green Park (Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly lines). The next nearest station is Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo lines). The nearest bus route is the #9 route. We recommend using this Google map for directions to St. James’s Palace from anywhere in London.
Though St. James’s Palace is absolutely worth visiting to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, the inside of the Palace is not open to the public at any time. However, there are 2 ways to enter the Palace by other means.
- Attend a church service at the Chapel Royal or Queen’s Chapel. Learn more about how to do this in the Chapel Royal section of this post.
- Visit Clarence House, the current residence of Prince Charles and former residence of both Prince William and Prince Harry. It is attached to St. James’s Palace and shares the Palace’s gardens. Clarence House is open to visitors for approximately 1 month per year, usually during August.
St. James’s Palace was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1531 and construction completed a few years later. The most impressive part of the Palace was the fine gatehouse which is still decorated with the initials “H.A.” to commemorate Henry’s marriage to his then wife, Anne Boleyn. (It is worth noting that the clock on the gatehouse today is a later addition, originally installed in 1731). The entire structure is completed out of red brick which today is not a particularly valuable material but, in the 16th century was extremely costly and luxurious.
It was here that two of Henry’s children died – his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset and his eldest daughter, Queen Mary I (whose heart is buried inside the building!). Later, the Palace was the birthplace of a number of Monarchs – King Charles II, King James II, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne. St. James’s was also the location of Queen Victoria’s marriage to her husband – and cousin – Prince Albert in 1840. Victoria was the last reigning Monarch to live at St. James’s Palace as it was during her reign that Buckingham Palace because of the primary Royal residence for the ruling family.
St. James’s Palace Today
Today, although the Queen does not reside here, St. James’s Palace is the home of the Court of Queen Elizabeth II which essentially means that it is a busy place of business surrounding the Monarch. The palace is used for entertaining guests of Her Majesty and holds the offices of the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen’s Watermen. It’s also the base of the Royal Collection Department which is the organisation which catalogues and preserves all items belonging to the royal family and it is here that the St. James’s Detachment of the Queen’s Guard mount for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
It is also here that the Accession Council meets on the death of a monarch and where the accession of the new Sovereign is officially proclaimed to the public. The small chapel inside the building – the exact location of Queen Victoria’s wedding – is still used by the royal family today and it was here in October 2013 that baby Prince George of Cambridge was christened.
The entire complex of St. James’s Palace also houses a number of other buildings which provide homes for various members of the Royal Family: Clarence House (home to The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall [previously Princes William and Harry, also], York House (home to Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice of York) and also provides households of Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Oglivy, and the Queen’s daughter, the Princess Royal.
For visitors to London from all over the world, taking in the Changing of the Guard is an absolute must-see! And it is here at St. James’s Palace that a contingent of the Queen’s Guard line up in formation to begin the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
The Guards will march from St. James’s Palace, down The Mall, and behind the gates of Buckingham Palace. Many visitors will come down to Buckingham Palace in the early hours of the morning to try to get a good spot to watch the Ceremony, but St. James’s is not as well known, which means it’s possible to beat the crowds by watching the ceremony beginning here at St. James’s! I
n fact, this is where we take guests on our Royal Westminster Tour to enjoy the Ceremony since we believe the smaller crowds make for a clearer view, better photographs, and a greater experience.
For years, St. James’s Palace was a popular place for visitors to have their photographs taken with the Queen’s Guard soldiers. Previously, they were stationed outside the Tudor gatehouse which meant visitors could literally stand right beside them.
Unfortunately, because of security, the Guards have been moved from the gatehouse and now only stand in position inside the St. James’s Palace courtyard whenever the Monarch is in residence at Buckingham Palace. So visitors can still get a great view of the soldiers, but we can no longer get close enough to have our pictures taken next to them!
For more information, check out our full post on the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
Though St. James’s Palace is technically never open to the public, you are allowed to visit the Chapel Royal and Queen’s Chapel at certain times throughout the year by attending a Sunday church service. This is the only way to enter St. James’s Palace at the moment.
Services are held in the Chapel Royal or The Queen’s Chapel on Sundays at 11:15 am, except during the months of August and September.
- Summer: services are held in the Chapel Royal from the first Sunday in October to Good Friday.
- Winter: services are held in The Queen’s Chapel from Easter Sunday to the last Sunday in July.
The Chapel Royal has been located in many places around the country over the centuries but has been in St. James’s Palace since 1703. In 2013, Prince George was christened in Chapel Royal. It is said that this location was chosen to honor the late Princess Diana, whose coffin was placed near the altar of the Chapel so that visitors could come and pay their respects.
The Queen’s Chapel is located across the road from St. James’s Palace and is considered a true hidden gem here in London. This small chapel was built in 1625 by Inigo Jones.