Changing the Guard Ceremonies in London: Everything You Need to Know
February 12, 2020
One of the first things everyone thinks of when visiting London is to see the changing of the guard. And rightfully so! It’s such a unique and iconic experience. But did you know that there are three different Changing the Guard ceremonies in London? That’s right! Even better, on our recent trip to London, we got to see all three: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Horse Guards Parade. Lucky for you, I’m here to give you advice and when and where to see all three ceremonies on your next trip to London.
Even after the royal family moved into Buckingham Palace in the 1800s, the Royal Guard remained at St. James’s Palace. This means that only a small group of soldiers are on duty protecting Buckingham at any given time. Which leads to the need to change the guard.
The ceremony is an elaborate demonstration during which the Old Guard retires to the barracks and the New Guard takes over. During this time the Captain of the Old Guard hands over the key to the palace and forwards any pertinent information to the Captain of the New Guard.
The Changing the Guard ceremony takes place in three different locations. The two in London are both free to watch, whereas the ceremony at Windsor Castle requires an admission ticket (and does not take place every day).
Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Without a doubt, the most famous of the Changing the Guard ceremonies.
Where: Right at Buckingham Palace When: Daily at 11am
The Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace is just as captivating and amazing as you’d imagine. The precision that the guards have is incredible to watch. Make sure to take lots of photos and videos to capture the memory. I honestly loved listening to the band play throughout the ceremony – that’s the part that has stuck with me the most.
The very start of the festivities is actually at 10:30 when the Old Guard gets into formation in front of the palace and the New Guard forms at Wellington Barracks. The actual changing of the guard happens at 11am. The ceremony lasts for about 45 minutes, after which the crowds disperse and it’s the perfect time to get up close to get photos of the palace.
Fun fact: If the Royal Standard flag is flying above the palace, that means that the queen is in residence! There will also be more members of the guard present.
Please note that the guard ceremony can be canceled at the last minute due to inclement weather. Unfortunate, but it can happen! Plan to see the ceremony earlier during your trip so you have a chance for a back-up date.
As with Buckingham, you’ll know if the queen is in residence at Windsor Castle by the flying of the Royal flag. In that case, the ceremony is moved to the Castle Forecourt.
When I was visiting Windsor Castle, I didn’t realize that there was going to be a Changing the Guard ceremony. After just stepping out of the State Apartments, my husband and I heard some shouting. Not knowing what was happening, we turned around to see the guards marching down the pathway, shouting “Make way for the Queen’s Guard!” We then made our way across the castle grounds to watch the Changing the Guard ceremony… and then got back to our tour bus a few minutes late. But it was worth it! And the tour guide expected it with the ceremony taking place (we weren’t the only ones).
Changing the Guard at Horse Guards Parade
Probably the lesser known of the three changing of the guard ceremonies in London, and also the most unique.
Where: The front of Buckingham Palace When: 11am on weekdays and 10am on Sundays
The Changing the Guard Ceremony at Horse Guards is a smaller affair, yet still very interesting to watch as it contains the cavalry. This ceremony contains The Queen’s Life Guard, all of whom are on horseback. The festivities begin at 10:30am when the New Guard forms at Hyde Park Barracks. The cavalry passes Buckingham Palace on its way to Horse Guards.
Because the ceremony is held inside the gates of Horse Guards Parade, it is crucial to arrive early, as the entrance tunnel gets very crowded, and then closed off shortly before the ceremony starts for the cavalry to get through. The ceremony itself is again a handover of responsibilities from the Old Guard to the New for the next 24-hour shift.
After a brief ceremony at 4pm, the entrance is guarded by two unmounted sentries until the gates close at 8pm. At that point, only one soldier remains at watch overnight until he is joined by another at 7am.
Important Tips for the Changing the Guard Ceremonies in London
It’s no surprise that the Changing the Guard is a popular attraction – all three of them! But that also means that they are incredibly crowded. This requires a bit of careful planning to have the best possible experience.
Arrive Early Best the crowds. If the ceremony starts at 11, get there by 10:30, or even better, 10.
Listen to the Cops Of course every ceremony is full of security, whether or not the royal family is present. Be prepared for the cops to tell you where you can and cannot walk, and which areas to keep clear.
Watch your Stuff With all the crowds at each ceremony, you’ll likely be pushed up against other people if you’re trying to get the best views. Watch your stuff! Wear your backpack on the front, make sure your purse is zipped, keep an eye on your child’s stroller. Just be smart! There are even signs everywhere around Buckingham Palace warning visitors about pickpocketers. The cops may even warn you as well. Don’t be a victim! The last thing you want is for your wallet or passport to be stolen.
Of course, there are other ceremonial events utilizing the Queen’s Guard throughout the year for special occasions and such. You’ll be lucky if you come across them!
Have you ever seen the Changing the Guard? Where was it and what did you think?