The official London residence of Queen Elizabeth II is a familiar sight to many of us, from the ceremonial Changing of the Guards to the balcony where royal newlyweds kiss for a cheering crowd. I wanted to peek behind the palace walls so I timed my trip to England for the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.
|Buckingham Palace, London|
|Memorial to Queen Victoria|
Buckingham Palace State Rooms
This British royal palace hasn’t always been open to the public. Tourists were first welcomed in 1993 as a way to help finance repairs after a fire at another of The Queen’s residences, Windsor Castle.
Buckingham Palace now opens annually in August and September, allowing curious visitors to tour the public areas where palace guests are received and entertained. My favourite room was the Throne Room where Prince William and Catherine Middleton posed for their official wedding photos. A major 10-year refurbishment of Buckingham Palace is expected to begin in 2017.
|Wedding Day of Prince William and Catherine Middleton|
Every year there’s a new exhibition held in conjunction with the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. This year Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe celebrated Her Majesty’s ninetieth birthday. The displays included her christening, wedding, and coronation gowns. (I was close enough to see the Canadian maple leaf embroidered on the silk skirt of the Coronation Gown.) Photography isn’t allowed in the palace but the Royal Collection Trust web site has many photos of the State Rooms as well as highlights of the exhibition. This is also the web site for purchasing tickets.
Garden Highlights Tour
We upgraded our tickets to include a tour of the palace gardens. Unlike a formal French garden, this traditional English garden is comprised of natural spaces and a large manmade lake. Our guide also showed us the Rose Garden, the Palace tennis court, and the massive Waterloo Vase commissioned by Napoleon. Photographs aren’t allowed in the garden either, except along the pathway leading to the gift shop and exit. (The PBS documentary The Queen’s Garden provides an interesting look at the four seasons of Buckingham Palace Gardens.)
|Pathway to the Exit from Buckingham Palace|
|The Garden Shop|
|Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh|
|Royal Souvenir Tea Cups|
|The Queen's 90th Birthday Souvenirs|
|Plush Royal Corgis|
Before leaving the grounds we stopped for refreshments at the open air Garden Café on the palace’s West Terrace. The café overlooks the expansive lawn where The Queen hosts her annual summer garden parties. Alas, my cup of cappuccino with a powdered chocolate crown was the closest I’ll ever get to afternoon tea with royalty.
|West Terrace of Buckingham Palace|
|The Garden Café|
|Strawberry Fraisier and Cappuccino|
The Royal Mews
The nearby Royal Mews houses The Queen’s ceremonial horses, state coaches and automobiles. Unlike Buckingham Palace, the stables are open to visitors most of the year (February through November) so it’s not necessary to buy tickets in advance and photography is allowed.
|The Riding School|
|The Gold State Coach (1762) Used for Coronations|
|Royal Motor Car|
|The Royal Mews Courtyard|
|Daniel and Marquetry, Windsor Grey and Cleveland Bay Horses|
St. James Park
On the doorstep of Buckingham Palace, St. James Park is the oldest of eight Royal Parks. The grounds include The Mall (the ceremonial red road linking the palace with Trafalgar Square) and Horse Guards Parade (where Trooping the Colour takes place).
After strolling through St. James Park we continued down The Mall toward Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch, which was also commissioned in memory of Queen Victoria. Next time we’ll catch an iconic double-decker bus to the area of London known as ‘The City’.
My Tip for the Day:
Buckingham Palace is only opened to the public in August and September while The Queen vacations at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Next: The Great Fire of London