Taking a tour of Buckingham Palace was one of the top two things I wanted to do while I was in London; the other was visiting the Tower of London. My heart sank when we were turned away because the tickets for that day were already sold out. When I was a kid on family vacation we tried touring the White House, but missed out because we didn’t plan ahead and had no time to spare. Thankfully this time we had extra days on the back end of my trip to England to see a friend that we were able to make it happen.
We arrived two hours early at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, and that wasn’t even close to enough time. A crowd at the fence was already stacked a few people deep and overrunning the the statues by the Queen Victoria Memorial across the street. We tried to shoulder our way in closer by filling little open spaces as they became available. It wasn’t happening, though. We weren’t getting any closer. And so we ended up watching the bulk of one of the world’s most well-known military ceremonies over everyone else’s head and shoulders and through a fence.
My height was certainly an advantage, but all I could see were a couple of guards marching back and forth from their posts in no seeming pattern other than when they felt like it. As the time neared the crowd grew and filled the sidewalks surrounding the palace. Police set up barricades and patrolled the area to keep people out of the way of the guards, who were of course approaching the palace from some nearby barracks behind us – now also stacked several people deep.
Had I really thought out my plan for seeing the changing of the guard, common sense would have told me the guards had to come from nearby barracks and I may as well not waste the time and get there so early. Then I could stand along the street behind one of these barricades and get pictures of their approach. Instead I tried to photograph the courtyard ceremony over people and through a fence. Now, because or our timing, we were stuck in the middle, which made it difficult to get any good, clean shots of either side of the ceremony.
Heck, forget about good, clean pictures, we were barely able to see any of it with our own eyes. The camera actually helped, since I could zoom and snap and then look at the screen to see what was happening. It was pomp and circumstance at its best, and so I smiled. I love tradition, especially ceremonies like this. I basked in the late morning sun and smiled over my good fortune; I witnessed the inspections, saw the troops and horse guards march in, and heard the marching band perform.
It was a good day, but at a point it became too much to stand. Literally. My legs were getting tired from standing in one place for so long, since we arrived nearly two hours early. And because we weren’t able to see much from our vantage point, I suggested we push our way through and beat the crowd to the ticket office for a Buckingham Palace tour. Much to my disappointment, as I mentioned above, the day was already sold out. We should have planned ahead – see the changing of the guard at 11am, take the tour an hour or so later, and then come out in time for a nearby late pub lunch – but we didn’t think of it and buy our tickets before arriving.
A few days later we made our way back into London from my friend’s house on the north side of town specifically to tour Buckingham Palace. Sure, we were going to see a bunch of other things that day, but our specific reason for returning was to tour the palace. And thankfully, because of our pre-purchased tickets and planning, we were practically able to walk right on in.
Sadly photos inside Buckingham Palace are not allowed. I didn’t ask why, I assumed it was passed off for some sort of security reason, but I believed it was to increase sales in the gift shop and thus help with the preservation of the palace and to keep the royal coffers full. Either way it was disappointing. So many of the palace rooms – especially the throne room, a grand staircase, and a rare public display of the queen’s diamonds – are very photogenic and worth more than a few clicks of the camera. Sadly I’ll have to recall it all in my mind’s eye and suggest you see it for yourself during one of the few months the palace is open to tours. (The Changing of the Guards also doesn’t happen every day, so check their schedule on the website for details, which are, of course, all subject to change.)
There are attendants throughout the palace to answer questions, as well as (presumably) act as security. The audio guide does an excellent job covering all of the details, though, so I occasionally only paused to exchange pleasantries. I had nothing else to ask really, since so much more than I ever wanted to know was covered in the audio guide, making me happy I decided not to purchase the Buckingham Palace guidebook at the start of my tour.
Our first chance to snap a photograph was when we exited the palace on the back side. We walked down a small staircase and followed a sidewalk around to our left and into a gift shop. There was nothing I really wanted to purchase, so I only glanced briefly before clicking off several shots of the rear of Buckingham Palace. It was only after a good twenty that I realized it was essentially the same shot over and over again. So, as I try to remind myself to do, I put the camera down and enjoyed one final moment touring Buckingham Palace before heading out to grab one of those great London pub lunches with my friends.