Last Saturday, I finally visited Buckingham Palace (or as some people call it, The Queen’s London home). I had bought my State Rooms and Garden Highlights Tour ticket (£30.50) back in May although I later discovered that there were plenty of tickets still available for purchase in June and early July.
Buckingham Palace began as Buckingham House, the townhouse built for the John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1703. It was eventually acquired by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their children. Their song, King George IV had it enlarged and redecorated in the 1820’s. In 1837, his niece Queen Victoria would become the first monarch to make Buckingham Palace her official residence.
Before my visit, I was full of excitement, ready for an ‘exclusive’ tour of the State Rooms. Instead, I was horrified to find myself crammed with other tourists. We were admitted in a group of 30 or more every 15 minutes. In my mind, I expected a group of 15-20 people max. After getting our bags checked, we were hurdled into the next room to collect our free multimedia guides so that we could explore the palace and see the exhibition at our own pace. Although I waited patiently for my multimedia guide, the person handing them out kept skipping me so I had to ask, ‘Excuse me, am I in the wrong queue?’ (Rant over)
Once I was in the palace, the rest of my tour was 60% amazing and 40% claustrophobic. At the very least, I could walk up the staircase on my own, without being pushed or shoved by other visitors. It was exciting to see familiar places that I had seen in photos but at the same time, too many people can ruin one’s impression of a palace.
No photos are allowed inside, otherwise I would have taken hundreds of the gilded interiors and The Queen’s glamorous gowns. After my visit, I was actually thankful that no photos are allowed because I’m sure my tour would have been awful with selfie sticks and cameras blocking everything.
If you’re a UK resident, don’t forget that you can turn your ticket into a Gift Aid donation and visit again within 1 year! Just make sure you write your name at the back and get a stamp on your way out. In hindsight, I would have gone earlier in the morning and, if I could, I would have taken a day off work to visit the palace. I plan on visiting the palace again but definitely not during summer!
(Photos of the back of the palace, the only part where photos are allowed.)
Update (2018): I visited Buckingham Palace again last July for their exhibition on Royal Gifts. I went earlier in the morning and it was not as busy. There was a new self-guided route and I could also see a lot more of the palace than I had the first time.
Garden Highlights Tour
This time ticketed tour is 2 hours and 15 min. after the visit of the self-guided tour of the State Rooms. Although I had a lovely walk around the gardens and a peek at the tennis court with our guide, I thought I could have skipped this £9 extra tour. At the same time, I don’t regret this tour and I loved the rose garden. By the way, no photos allowed in the garden.
Update (2018): When I finished the State Rooms tour last year, I noticed that we saw a lot more of the garden but maybe it was the first time I’d seen that side since the Garden Highlights covers the other side.
The Queen’s Gallery
Open throughout the year, the Queen’s Gallery houses the Royal Collection with different exhibitions during the year.
The Royal Mews
Open from February to November each year, the Royal Mews is where visitors can see the coaches and cars used by the Royal Family, including the Gold State Coach from 1762 and the ‘new’ Diamond Jubilee State Coach (first used in 2014).
Fashioning a Reign Exhibition
I absolutely loved this exhibition on The Queen’s 90 years of fashion, from a replica christening gown to her recent bright green Trooping outfit. With over 150 dresses and accessories on display – and with hundreds of visitors craning their necks to see The Queen’s wardrobe on display – it is no wonder you’ll need at least an hour to admire the details. My favourite dresses are the ones designed by Norman Hartnell and there were so many that I had never seen before. I loved that the dresses were not hidden behind glass display cases and were ‘worn’ by mannequins around The Queen’s height (although the lower legs and feet were daintily tiny). The only encased gowns were The Queen’s wedding and coronation gowns, both of which were displayed on a slanted angle, without mannequins. This made sense when I got up close to the glass because the slanted angle allows visitors to inspect the exquisite embroidery closely.
This gown by Norman Hartnell was the only one of The Queen’s dresses from Fashion Rules at Kensington Palace on display at Fashioning A Reign.
Today on ladyandtherose.com: HM The #Queen’s #vintage #dresses on display at #FashionRules at #KensingtonPalace (2015/16). Here’s one of a beaded duchesse silk satin gown by Norman Hartnell, 1963. #eveninggown #dress #HRP #QueenElizabethII #fashion #igerslondon #royal
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The only ones who probably did not enjoy the exhibit as much as I did were 1) the children who were probably elbowed and suffocated by all the taller adults and 2) the adults who were below average height and could not see the dresses behind taller people. This exhibition is on until 2 October. If you haven’t visited the palace already, I would suggest going after summer (i.e. go in September-October).