Changing of the Guard London, the secrets of not missing anything

Every time I have been in London with new people, each of them has asked me if they could attend the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
I have to say that it was a very exciting experience, but after eight times I have to say that the experience becomes very repetitive and sometimes boring.

Changing of the guard London:
two for the ‘price’ of one

Over the years, by reading various guides I have managed to make this visit the most complete ever. I have discovered that on the same day you can even see two changes of guard one hour apart.

Changing the guard on horseback
Changing the guard on horseback

The first is that of the mounted guard, which takes place at the House Guards Parade, and the other, better known, of the regiment on foot escorted by the military band, which takes place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace.

Choose Sunday to see two

The British Changing of the Guard in London takes place on certain days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. On Sunday, the Changing of the Guard on Horseback takes place at 10 a.m. and that at the Queen’s Palace at 11 a.m. This gives us a good half hour to walk through St James Park and even take a few photos of the ubiquitous squirrels.
The two historic palaces are located at the ends of one of London’s green lungs and are connected by The Mall, the avenue that hosts major military parades including the Trooping the Colour, the parade in honour of the Queen’s birthday.

Queen Elizabeth’s personal guard

The Queen’s Life Guard“, mounts splendid horses perfectly groomed in harnesses that shine in the sun, offering a unique spectacle as we watch the British guards ride through the streets of London.

Queen's bodyguard
Queen’s bodyguard – Photo credit: Mikepaws on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The knights representing the royal bodyguard are divided into two alternating squadrons: The Life Guards, wearing red tunics and silver helmets plumed in white, and The Blues and Royals with blue tunics and red plumed helmets.

Changing of the guard on horseback, as happens

The New Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28 on weekdays and at 9:28 on Sundays to go to the Horse Guards Parade. The route they take is very atmospheric because one can find oneself in Hyde park at times and seeing the regiment of knights go by one can imagine oneself in another era. They pass through Hyde Park Corner, Constitution Hill and The Mall on their way to the changing ceremony.

changing the guard London - house of guards parades
Changing Guard London – House of Guards Parades

The dismounted horsemen arrive from The Mall and position themselves on the north side of the fence. At that point the mounted guard comes out and deploys on the south side and when they are both in position the trumpeters of the two squads play the royal salute.

House of guards parades
House of guards Parades

After a series of orders literally shouted by the relevant officers, the two squads crossed each other’s paths, exchanging positions and then departed accompanied by trumpeters, one towards Buckingham Palace and the other inside the stables. The ceremony lasts about half an hour, so we have time to reach the royal palace.

Although this ceremony is less well known than the one at Buckingham, I much prefer it. Far fewer people, no barriers between spectators and military personnel and the presence of horses make it ideal if, like me, you are facing London with small children or looking for exciting photo shoots.

When the Changing of the Guard on Horseback takes place

The establishment of the mounted guard protects the official entry of Buckingham Palace since 1660 and the current ceremony takes place every day at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays, but I suggest always checking the dates as State Occasions or other ceremonial duties sometimes lead to changes in the schedule.

Other House of Guards events – Four O’ Clock Parade

The Four O’ Clock Parade, including the dismounting ceremony and punishment parade, takes place at 4 p.m. in the courtyard in front of the Horse Guards building.
It began in 1894 when Queen Victoria found the entire guard drinking and gambling while on duty. As punishment, he said they had to be inspected every day at 4 p.m. by an officer for the following 100 years!
The 100 years ended in 1994. However, the reigning queen wanted the parade to continue as tradition.

This is also a ceremony to see!

Finished with the knights, running to Buckingham Palace.

London’s second and most famous changing of the guard ceremony is held at the Queen’s palace. London’s spectacular Changing of the Guard ceremony is one of the things to see at least once when visiting the British capital. It takes place several times a week for the benefit of the many admirers, but it is a very crowded event with people standing at the gates even an hour beforehand.

Buckingham Palace change of the Guard

If you come from a previous appointment you will hardly find a seat in the front row, but don’t despair, the ceremony is so long and sometimes monotonous that your predecessors after taking the ritual photos will give you the pace.

Buckingham Palace - Changing the guard
Buckingham Palace – Changing of the Guard – Photo credit: KathrynW1 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Otherwise you can go and stand on the side overlooking Hyde Park if you arrive very late, the overall view is not perfect, but still significant.

How the change of the Guard at the English Royal Palace works

The changing of the guard in London is quite a complex ritual. The Guard that mounts at Buckingham Palace is called The Queen’s Guard. The Guards belong to a battalion of hand-picked army professionals, but at regular intervals they are replaced by other infantry regiments: Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Welsh Guards, Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards.

Changing the guard Buckingham Palace
Changing of the Buckingham Palace guard – Photo credit: Gabriel Villena on Visual hunt / CC BY

The standing guard starts from Wellington Barracks and arrives in front of the palace courtyard accompanied by the music band with military marches but also pop music. The journey takes about 5 minutes but the changing ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and is held in the large courtyard in front of the palace.

Changing the guard London
Changing of the guard London – Photo credit: supersum on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The changing of the guard, also known as, the guards who are in charge of the security of the building are replaced by their colleagues in a very picturesque way.

Red uniforms and bearskin headdresses

All guards wear traditional red uniforms with unmistakable bearskin headgear.

The new guards, who will replace those who have been on duty until then, leave the Wellington base and, with music accompanying them, march together towards Buckingham Palace.

This part of the change lasts only five minutes or a little longer. It is when the guards arrive in the courtyard of the palace that the ceremony really begins. The new guard takes up residence in the southern area, and the one who is replaced in the northern area. After the march, once they have been replaced according to protocol, they march towards Wellington’s command.

Change of the Buckingham Palace Guard - exit of the military band
Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard – exit of the military band – Photo credit: Pedro Nuno Caetano on Visualhunt / CC BY

When the Queen is in the Palace you will see four guards taking up position in front of the main entrance to the Palace, while if the Queen is not present in the Palace, only two guards will take this position.

Although changing the guard is one of the most eagerly awaited attractions for visitors to London, keep in mind that it’s quite a long ceremony and can be a bit monotonous, especially if you’ve been waiting for it to start for a while.

Two Guard changes:
The route I suggest

To optimise your half-day and get the obligatory stops for London newbies out of the way, I always try to be around 9.30am at the Westminster tube exit;
You will have the chance to see the parliament and Big Ben and take souvenir photos.

Walk down Parliament Street, along the way you will find the famous Downing street, where the prime minister lives at number 10, then Dover House and Banqueting House where the most important receptions of high society take place.

You arrive at Horse Guards

This leads to the Horse of Guards, a white building that is easily recognisable because in front of it are two large sentry boxes where two soldiers on horseback stand guard.
Entering through the main gate, one can see some soldiers in ceremonial uniform manning the entrance to the stables and the House of Guards Parade.
Every hour you can also witness the changing of the guard of these soldiers and at 4pm the inspection ceremony.
Past the portico we enter the large parade courtyard and here we await the arrival of the horsemen.

At the end of the ceremony, crossing Saint James Park you reach Buckingam Palace to watch the most famous one.

Hyde Park

If, like me, you take on this challenge on a Sunday, you can continue through Hyde Park to enjoy its magical atmosphere until you reach Speaker’s Corner, where many wacky characters hold rallies of various kinds, as free speech is allowed there

Changing of the guard London timetable

As for the times, with a little attention you will be able to see both:
at the House of Guard on horseback takes place at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on holidays;
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingam Palace starts at 10.30 a.m. at St. James Palace and is completed at Buckingam palace at 11.30 a.m. and in detail:

10:30 a.m. – At St.James’s Palace, the captain inspects the guard and then begins the march to the royal palace accompanied by the military band.

10:40 a.m. – The dismounted guard enters the forecourt of the Royal Palace through the gate on the south side and joins the detachment already at Buckingham Palace.

11:15 a.m. – The Upright Guard enters through the North Gate.

11:30 a.m. – The three regiments meet and the Changing of the Guard begins with the symbolic gesture of passing the key between the captains of the two platoons.

Cambio della Guardia Londra i segreti per non perdere niente
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