Guarding Buckingham Palace is no trifling responsibility and only a select number of soldiers are deemed suitable for the job. The elite few considered worthy of the post are given the name of Queen’s Guard. Many rubbernecking tourists labor under the misconception that these dapper soldiers, with their distinctive scarlet coat and bearskin hat, are there purely for show. The truth is rather different: every guard who stands sentry in front of the official royal residences has been thoroughly trained in defense with the vast majority of them having even served overseas duty. Though these impeccably groomed guards are present at Buckingham Palace 24/7, the best time to get a good look at them is during the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Changing of the Guard History 101
The Queen’s Guard have been keeping watch over Britain’s royal palaces since 1660. At this time, the reigning monarchs would have lived mainly at the Palace of Whitehall, the vast majority of which was burned to the ground during a devastating fire in 1698. With Whitehall in ruins, the royals decamped to St. James’s Palace, which, despite later being supplanted by Buckingham Palace, remains an administrative center for the British monarchy. Today, the Queen’s Guard is stationed at St. James’s Palace and a detachment unit is sent from there to serve at Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
What Exactly Is the Changing of the Guard?
The Changing of the Guard is a 45-minute spectacle that marks the handover between the Old Guard, who are nearing the end of their shift, and the New Guard, who are readying to relieve the Old Guard of their duties. Though the switchover sounds simple, the traditional ceremony that accompanies it is anything but and involves all kinds of fanfare and pageantry, including carefully choreographed marching, counting and flag waving as well as music courtesy of a military band. The band tends to keep things traditional with military marches and the likes, though they do occasionally throw in a musical curveball, playing recognizable movie tunes and even the odd sing-along pop song.
How to See the Changing of the Guard
Spectators hoping to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony often arrive early in the morning to stake out a prime viewing spot in front of Buckingham Palace. If you are either unwilling or unable to arrive early, you may find yourself stuck staring at the backs of heads. Alternatively, you could take our Westminster Abbey Tour during which an in-the-know guide will show you around the spectacular wedding venue of Kate and Wills (and countless royals before them), before securing a first-rate viewing position.
Between late July and early October, you can follow up the Changing of the Guard ceremony with a tour around Queen Elizabeth II’s opulent London pad with our Buckingham Palace and Changing of the Guard Tour. This rare opportunity for mere mortals to gain entry to the British monarch’s main residence is available for just two months of the year, while the Queen is away on vacation in Balmoral, Scotland.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place daily between April and July and on alternate days between August and March, and may be cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Check out our London tours for a full range of options.