The Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The most famous ceremony takes place at Buckingham Palace at 11am, but since 10:30am the guards have been busy finishing their shift.
Origins of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony
It is important to note that the Queen’s Guards are not only there for a ceremony. They are in fact members of the British Army, many have even been in war camps such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Their job is to guard the Palace day and night. The Changing of the Guard ceremony has its origins in the 17th century, even when Whitehall Palace was the sovereign’s residence. In 1689, the court moved to the Palace of St James, where the ceremony took place.
In 1837, when Queen Victoria decided to live at Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Guard remained at St. James’ Palace with a detachment from the same regiment that guarded Buckingham Palace. This is still the case today.St. James’ Palace, which is also guarded by the famous soldiers, the guards are on their way to Buckingham Palace where they join their colleagues.
The official shift change takes place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, lasts about 45 minutes and includes a band playing classical songs and other hits. The ceremony does not take place in heavy rain and can be cancelled or changed without notice.
Another alternative for those who want to attend in smaller numbers is to attend the changing of the mounted guard in the area called Horse Guards Parade, which is located between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, every day at 11am (and 10am on Sundays) for approximately 30 minutes. You can then go to the House Cavalry Museum, which is in the same location, and find out all about the ceremony.
And finally, for those who want to see the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle, it takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, except in the summer, when it always takes place every day at 11am.
What happens at the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace?
Buckingham Palace is guarded by the Queen’s Guard, which has two detachments : Buckingham Palace and St James’ Palace. The Queen’s Guard is commanded by a Captain of the Guard, who usually has the rank of Major. Soldiers guarding the Queen’s Guard work in shifts of 2 hours each, which means that there is a shift change every 2 hours. But the so-called guard exchange ceremony takes place when the group of soldiers who were working every two hours is replaced by a new group who will also work in two-hour shifts. At 10.30am the detachment of the Old Guard (the one who retires) meets in the courtyard of St. James Palace (Marlborough Road), and is reviewed by the Captain of the Guard. This group follows The Mall Avenue towards Buckingham Palace, accompanied by an orchestra.
The best places to see the changing of the guard
It is worth remembering that, as the guards move to different locations, it is not possible to see the entire ceremony from one place.
In general, the locations are as follows:
- Wellington Barracks – Birdcage Walk – to see the New Guards usually accompanied by a marching band marching towards Buckingham Palace.
- St James’s Palace – Friary Court, Marlborough Road – to see the Old Guard leaving St Jame’s Palace, often accompanied by an orchestra, on their way to Buckingham Palace.
- The Mall – you can see the march to the Palace. If there aren’t many people around, you can follow the soldiers’ progress, obviously without passing in front of them!
- Queen Victoria Memorial – located in front of Buckingham Palace, it offers a view of the Palace Courtyard and the side street where the New Guard arrives. If you have a high place (arriving early), and you don’t have a crowd on the day, you will have a good view.
- Close to the bars of Buckingham Palace – this is the most popular and busiest area. If you have a seat glued to the balustrade, you can watch the ceremony take place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace.
Especially in summer, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early to have a better chance of getting a good seat. If you want to stay at the Palace, arrive an hour early!