Since my visit to the garden party at Buckingham palace in July, I wanted to see more of the place that the Queen lives and works. The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace were first opened in 1992 to raise money for the damage caused by the fire at Windsor Castle. Now they open in August and September each summer, while the Queen is enjoying her Scottish holiday at Balmoral. I arrived with my son a little early for our tour, and we established ourself in a prime position in front of the palace, hoping to see the changing of the guards, but no guards appeared so we decamped to the nearby St James’s park for a picnic.
It reminded me of that poem by AA Milne (see it all here)
They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
“Do you think the King knows all about me?”
“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea,”
At the appointed time we arrived at the side of the palace and took a while to get through security, but once in and plugged into the audio-guide it was worth the wait. Even for the traveller on a budget, I’d recommend you splash out for the unique opportunity to see the grand and opulent rooms and view of the back garden too.
The tour takes you through the central lobby where all visitors arrive and up the Grand staircase with its gilt bronze balustrade, which gives you a taste of the ornate gilded plasterwork to come in the series of first floor reception rooms. All the rooms were filled with treasures and portraits of Royalty down the centuries – apparently Queen Victoria especially loved to have pictures of her family waiting to receive her guests.
These were the highlights for me; Seeing the throne room, with the raised dais where the Queen’s wedding photos were taken; The music room with the grand piano and windows overlooking the gardens where the Queen’s children were christened with water from the River Jordan;
And the White drawing room which was redecorated by Edward VII in a theme of white and gilt, with a portrait of his consort Princess Alexandra in a froth of white net and the secret door complete with mirror and cabinet which swings open to let members of the Royal family to enter from their private appartments.
This summer there was a special exhibition in the ball-room showing the tables laid out as if for a state banquet. Any visiting head of state would be impressed, with the silver-gilt plates and cutlery, the six different crystal glasses and the displays of flowers and fruit.
It took me a second glance to realise that the footmen standing by the table ready to serve dinner weren’t the real thing. You can see a video about the elaborate preparations for a state banquet here – you might be inspired to get the tape measure out or fold the napkins just so, next time you’re having friends round for dinner.
After seeing all the state room, we arrived at the Bow room which leads out onto the terrace at the back of the palace, and down the steps into the gardens. There was the opportunity to buy some tasteful Buckingham Palace gifts – no shortage of bone china mugs, chocolates and fudge and books about the Royal Residences.
We walked on past the lake and out the garden gate to be hit by a rush of traffic fumes after the green oasis of calm. If you get your ticket stamped on the way out you can come again for free in the next 12 months – now that’s a deal!
You can read more about visiting Buckingham Palace here.