Travel Report: The Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace.
Reading from China? This travel report contains a YouTube video, which can only be viewed with a VPN!
May 2019. “Oh my god it’s very busy” sighed The Fairy as we arrived at The Mall. Picking our way through the sea of trudging bodies, we inched closer and closer to the mall’s western end towards Buckingham Palace, home to a little old lady called Elizabeth. You may have heard of her. We thought we’d come early, what with it being a full hour before the Changing of the Guard ceremony. But it appeared we had not arrived early… not by a long shot.
There were people everywhere. I could already see there was no space left in what had been our preferred spot by the railings directly in front of the palace. Mm, time for a Plan B.
So we headed for Victoria Monument, the elegant marble and bronze memorial added to The Mall in 1911 after the death of Queen Victoria. But the memorial wasn’t just busy, it was basically occupied by chattering tourists of all nationalities. Another dead end.
May 2019. Scanning the landscape for any kind of choice viewing angle and by now my hopes were rapidly fading, the line of expectant onlookers extending further and further down The Mall alongside the edge of Green Park. Like us, they’d all come to Buckingham Palace to see the famous Changing of the Guard.
May 2019. It was at this point that I realised we were better off simply staying where we were in the rows of people set between Victoria monument and the cordoned off section of road in front of Buckingham Palace’s central gate. With a solid forty five minutes left until showtime, I entertained myself by discreetly sneaking forward through cracks between the bodies while people messed around with their smartphones. I also met an unusually friendly police officer who was game for a chat and even posed for a photograph. “Oooh no, you want to take a photo of meee?” he mock protested camply.
I can’t say I had much enthusiasm that day for the whole Changing of the Guard thing. I’d done it once as a kid and had never felt a particular desire for a repeat performance. I was doing this for The Fairy, who I knew couldn’t leave London without seeing the Queen’s magical, marching soldiers with their red tunics and bearskin hats. The ceremony takes place every morning (weather permitting) and basically involves two units of the Queen’s Guard handing over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace. It was 10:45 when The New Guard finally marched into view, accompanied by a full brass regimental band from nearby Wellington Barracks. And I have to admit it was quite charming, even more so when I noticed how utterly enchanted The Fairy was by the whole thing.
It was all over in just a few minutes and now, with The New Guard installed in the forecourt, there was very little we could see of the actual handover from our crappy vantage point. Those down by the railings had the closest view of things, while folk perched up on the top steps of Victoria Monument had an elevated spot. But you know, it’s basically lots of shouting, more marching and then the band kicks back in and The Old Guard marches off. Job done.
With over a thousand people streaming off in all directions, the moments after the Changing of the Guard can be pretty crazy. The Fairy and I wanted to duck through Green Park on our way to Trafalgar Square and as we did, I spied an opportunity to dip into the holy land of the railings. Once there we were able to pop our heads through the black bars for an unencumbered view of Buckingham Palace.
And, thanks to my camera zoom, I was also able to close right in on one of the sentry guards who’d just taken up his position. I guessed it was gonna be a loooooong shift.
My advice to people planning a visit to Buckingham Palace for The Changing of The Guard is that if you absolutely want to have ‘the’ best spot get here at around 09:00 and head down to the railings. For an exhaustive guide to the history of this tradition, a step by step rundown of the entire ceremony and advice on where to stand, check out the excellent changing-guard.com. They’ll also give you up to date information on ceremony times, which can change right up to the last moment, along with cancellation information in case of crappy weather and special royal events.
For more on my home city, why not delve through my many reports from across London.
Or maybe search further afield with my articles from all around England.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.