A Day Out at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace open to the public every year between July and September.  Whether you’re a local or a tourist, a monarchist or otherwise, it’s a once in a lifetime experience that only comes around once a year.  Armed with Mother Independent, Girl took it on herself to see what it’s all about.

What are the State Rooms?

These are the rooms that are used by the British Royal family to entertain guests and visiting dignitaries and have been used by monarchs since George IV in 1820. So it’s not all of Buckingham Palace that’s open, just the bits that the likes of Mandela, Obama and even Angelina Jolie might have seen in the past 200 odd years.

These rooms were designed by John Nash at the request of George IV, who wanted his modest Buckingham House transformed into a Palace. Later on, Queen Victoria added to the palace as she needed more rooms for her mahoosive family.  Apparently.

Do I need tickets?

Of course. But you can book online, and pick them up at the ticket office wen you arrive. Girl went on a Saturday and it wasn’t busy, which was surprising.

They have a very efficient system of queueing (of course they do, this is Britain!) where you can pick your ticket up and then go and wait in a little seating area when your 15 minute slot is up. When your time is ready they’ll invite you to come through the airport style security, which is still more efficient than most airports I’ve been in. It’s all so efficient it’s almost, dare I say, German.

Buckingham Palace from the back
Buckingham Palace from the back

What happens when I get in?

Once you’re through security you collect your multimedia headset, a touchscreen device in your language that talks you through the tour. It’s one of the best style devices I’ve seen like this. Very comprehensive, some really good insights into things you’re looking at, especially in the art galleries, when it told me things I didn’t know or hadn’t realised about the paintings. Or even the silk wallpaper or cornice in the ceiling.

Will I get lost and end up in the Queen’s loo?

It’s a guided path way, so you can’t get lost – of course, they don’t want people wanting the random corridors do they?

Can I take loads of photos of gold sparkly things?

Sadly they do not allow photography of any sort in the palace itself, so I can’t show any photos from inside. And to be honest once I was in, I understand why. It’s a very slick efficient machine as you walk at the same pace as most of everyone else through the pre determined path. If everyone was stopping for selfies every 30 seconds it would be a bloodbath.

Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace
Because I cant take photos inside

What will I learn?

They tell you about the history, architecture, who designed it etc. Each of the rooms has been designed in a different way, to achieve a different style or meaning. The multi media device talks you through each room, what’s on the walls, different paintings, history of the rooms etc. It’s quite fascinating.

There’s also a bit about the workings of the palace, like how they hand wash every plate (because  they’re hundreds of years old and priceless). There’s a section on how they gild objects. There’s a bit about the clocks (there are two full time horologists employed at the Palace). It’s very insightful.

There are loads of helpers and attendants scattered around too and all of them are both incredibly pleasant and very knowledgeable.

If you want to learn more, I’d recommend buying the guidebook at the front door (£5, actually not bad for a London guide book, I expected it to be more expensive), and it has a lot of extra stuff about the history of the Palace that you don’t find out from the multimedia guide.

How extravagant is it?

Very. If you’re offended by shows of opulence then this isn’t the trip for you. There are some stunning pieces of art in the palace, such as Mars and Venus by Canova, and these have all been collected by very wealthy families over the years. It’s a bit like the Vatican – there’s a lot of beautiful historically precious stuff here but you can’t help but wonder where all the money came from.

Most importantly – is there a gift shop?

Of course there is.  Once you finish your tour, it spits you out into the gardens, where you can find the gift shop.

Buckingham Palace Gardens
You can imagine Queen Victoria wandering around these Gardens
Garden View from Buckingham Palace
Even the Queen can’t do much about the cranes obstructing her view

As you’d imagine, it sells just about the most ostentatiously British stuff you can find. None of the tat you’d find on Oxford street of course. Proper stuff, so you can make your own statements of affluence to the general public. Who wants a Union Jack cushion for fifty quid?  Or a pretend (but very posh) crown?

Union Jack Cushions
Union Jack Cushions are just awesome
Buckingham Palace gift shop
Who wants their own Crown?

Much more importantly, there’s a coffee shop. Or tea shop. This is Blighty of course. Jam and Cream scones with a cup of tea will set you back £8 or so but they’re really good. And worth it. The Palace is a charity, after all.

Cream tea at Buckingham palace
It doesn’t get more British than this

Buckingham Palace State Rooms are open between now and September 27th. 

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