Whenever I was in London with new people, each of them asked me to attend the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It was a really exciting experience, but after eight times I have to say that the experience becomes very repetitive and sometimes boring.
Changing the London guard: 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.
The first is that of the mounted guard that takes place at the House Guards Parade and the other, the most well-known, of the regiment on foot escorted by the military band that takes place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace.
Choose Sunday to see two
On Sundays the change of the guard on horseback takes place at 10.00 a.m. and the one at the Queen’s Palace at 11.00 a.m. This gives us a good half hour to cross Saint James Park on foot and even take some pictures of the ubiquitous squirrels. The two historic palaces are located at the end of one of London’s green lungs and are connected by The Mall, the avenue that hosts the 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”, riding beautifully manicured horses with harnesses that shine in the sun, offers a unique spectacle as we watch the English guards cross the streets of London.
The knights representing the royal bodyguard are divided into two alternating squadrons: The Life Guards, who wear red tunics and silver helmets feathered in white, and The Blues and Royals with blue tunics and red feathered helmets.
Changing the guard on horseback as it happens
The New Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28 on weekdays and 9:28 on Sundays to go to the Horse Guards Parade. The route they take is very impressive because you can sometimes find yourself in Hyde park and when you see the regiment of riders passing by you can imagine yourself in another era. They pass through Hyde Park Corner, Constitution Hill and The Mall on their way to the changing ceremony.
The dismounting knights arrive from The Mall and take up position on the north side of the fence. At that point the upright guard comes out and takes up the south side and when they are both positioned the trumpeters of the two drapers sound the royal salute.
After a series of orders literally shouted out by their officers, the two troops crossed each other, exchanging positions and then left again, accompanied by trumpeters, one towards Buckingham Palace and the other inside the stables. The ceremony lasts about half an hour, so we still have time to reach the royal palace.
Although this ceremony is less well known than Buckingham’s, I much prefer it. Much fewer people, no barriers between spectators and the military and the presence of horses make it ideal if, as happened to me, you are facing London with young children or looking for exciting photo shoots.
When the Changing of the Guard on Horseback takes place
The institution of the Horse Guard protects the official entrance to Buckingham Palace since 1660 and the current ceremony takes place every day at 11:00 on weekdays and 10:00 on Sundays, but I suggest you always check the dates as State Occasions or other ceremonial duties sometimes lead to changes in the programme.
Other House of Guards events – Four O’ Clock Parade
The Four O’ Clock Parade, which includes the dismantling ceremony and the punishment parade, takes place at 4pm in the courtyard in front of the Guards on horseback. It began in 1894 when Queen Victoria found the entire guard drinking and gambling while on duty. As punishment, she said that they had to be inspected every day at 4pm by an officer for the following 100 years! The 100 years ended in 1994. However, the reigning queen wanted the parade to continue as a tradition.
This is also a ceremony to see!
Finished with the knights, running to Buckingham Palace.
The second London guard change ceremony, the most famous of which is held at the Queen’s Palace. The spectacular Changing of the Guard ceremony London is one of the things to see at least once when going to the British capital. It takes place several times a week for the benefit of the many admirers but it is a really crowded event with people standing at the gates even an hour earlier.
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.
Otherwise you can go and stand on the side facing 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 Guard that mounts at Buckingham Palace is called The Queen’s Guard. The guards belong to a battalion of carefully selected army professionals, but at regular intervals they are replaced by other infantry regiments: Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Welsh Guards, Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards.
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.
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 Wellington base and, with the 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.
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 changes of the Guard: The route I suggest
To optimise your half day and get out of the way of the obligatory stages for newcomers to London, I try to always be around 9:30am at the Westminster tube exit; You’ll have the chance to see Parliament and Big Ben and take your ritual 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 the Dover House and the Banqueting House where the most important high society receptions are held.
You arrive at Horse Guards
This brings us to the Horse of Guards, a white building easily recognisable because in front of it there are two large garrets where two soldiers on horseback are on guard. Entering from the main gate you can admire some soldiers in ceremonial uniforms who guard the entrance to the stables and the House of Guards Parade. Every hour you can also see the changing of the guard of these soldiers and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon the inspection ceremony. After the portico we enter the large courtyard of the parades and here we wait for the arrival of the knights.
At the end of the ceremony, crossing Saint James Park you reach Buckingam Palace to watch the most famous one.
If like me you’re up against this challenge on a Sunday, you can continue on to Hyde Park to enjoy its magical atmosphere until you reach Speaker’s Corner, where many extravagant characters hold a variety of meetings as they are allowed to express themselves freely there.