Instantly recognised around the world, Buckingham Palace acts as the Queen’s official London residence and is the focal point for both national and royal celebrations. A home to the monarchy since Queen Victoria took residence in 1837, the East Front facing the Mall includes the famed Royal Balcony – a place where the Royals gather to mark significant occasions such as the Queen’s official birthday at the Trooping of the Colour and Royal Weddings.
Behind the stately façade is a buzzing hub of activity, as the palace acts as the administrative centre of the British Monarchy. Her Majesty has weekly audiences with the Prime Minister in the palace, while it is also home to both the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office, and the Private Secretary’s Office.
The core of the building dates back to the early 1700s, with additions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries helping to create the extravagant palace that stands today. Within its walls are 775 rooms, including 19 State Rooms that open to the public for 10 weeks each summer and on other selected dates. They are regularly used for events and ceremonies throughout the year, while both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew were born at the palace.
When visiting the palace, look out for the spectacular Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11am, when one guard regiment, in their bright ceremonial uniforms and extravagant bearskin hats, takes over from another, complete with a musical accompaniment.
What not to miss
Although the State Rooms are only open to the public for a short period each year, there remains a great deal to see within their beautifully adorned walls. The majority of the rooms reflect the tastes of King George IV and are a treasure trove of artefacts and fine furniture from the Royal Collection.
Today, each room has a specific use. The grandeur of the White Drawing Room acts as a royal reception room where the royals can gather before state visits and special occasions, whereas the Throne Room is used for official entertaining. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also had their wedding photos taken there, following their wedding in 2011.
The Grand Staircase
In order to access the State Rooms, you first need to climb the Grand Staircase. Full length portraits of Queen Victoria’s immediate family adorn the walls, including her grandparents, parents and uncle.
The Throne Room
Home to a pair of throne chairs, known as Chairs of Estate, that were used for the Queen’s coronation in 1953, the Throne Room features an incredible arch and canopy designed by architect John Nash. Thrones for Queen Victoria and those from the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth can also be found in the lavishly decorated chamber.
The White Drawing Room
One of the grandest State Rooms, the White Drawing Room contains an incredible gilded piano by Érard, supplied during Queen Victoria’s reign. Look out for the striking Riesener roll-top desk and for the portrait of Queen Alexandra that hangs proudly over the fireplace.
The Picture Gallery
Home to some of the Royal Collection’s most stunning artwork, the 47-metre-long Picture Gallery is often used for official entertaining. The recipients of honours also wait in the Picture Gallery, prior to receiving their investiture in the Ballroom. The collection includes pieces by Anthony van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt, among others, although the artwork on display is changed regularly. This is because many of the works are lent to exhibitions and galleries all around the world.
The largest of the 19 State Rooms, the Ballroom provides the setting for State Banquets and investitures. Dating back to 1855, the room features two thrones from the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, a musician’s gallery and a spectacular statue-covered arch.
The Royal Mews
The Royal Mews holds responsibility for all road travel arrangements for the Queen and the Royal Family. It is also home to a number of historic royal carriages and state cars, as well as an exceptional working stables. See the Gold State Coach in all its glory, as well as the Diamond Jubilee State Coach and an array of carriage horses, including Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays. Open annually from February to November, tickets for the Royal Mews can be purchased from the Visit Britain shop.