CHANGING OF THE GUARD ULTIMATE GUIDE
Mon – Sat: 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Sun: 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Time Needed: 1 hour
It is often said that you haven’t really experienced London until you have seen the Changing of the Guard ceremony with your own eyes. And the truth is that, along with a free tour, this ceremony is one of the best free things to do in London.
The Changing of the Guard (also known as the “Guard Mounting”) is a ceremony during which The King’s Guard (the detachments at St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace) are replaced by The New Guard as they march to Buckingham Palace from the Wellington Barracks.
The King’s Guard have been protecting St. James’s Palace since 1689, and Buckingham Palace since 1837, and are typically dressed in traditional black bearskin hats and red tunics during the spring, autumn and summer months, or long grey coats during the winter months. The Guard consists of five different regiments (The Scots Guard, The Welsh Guard, The Irish Guard, The Coldstream Guards and The Grenadier Guards), and also post outside Windsor Palace and the Tower of London.
The ceremony officially begins at 11 a.m. (or 10 a.m. on Sundays) when the detachments at St. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Wellington Barracks all start lining up in formation. The Old Guard then marches down The Mall around 11:15 a.m. to join up with the rest of the Old Guard waiting in the forecourt at Buckingham Palace, while the New Guard (led by the Regimental Band and Corps of Drums) leave the barracks in Birdcage Walk.
By 11:30 a.m., the New Guard should be entering the Forecourt via the North Gate of Buckingham Palace, and will then march in front of the band and promptly “halt” facing the Old Guard. The band will then start performing The New Guard’s Regimental Slow March as they make their way towards the Old Guard, while they both give a “symbolic handing-over” of the keys to Buckingham Palace. Afterwards, the Old Guard leaves for the Birdcage Walk barracks, and the St. James’s Palace detachment of the New Guard start marching up The Mall to take their posts.
Where to Watch the Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place in three different locations (Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and the Wellington Barracks).
Getting a good spot to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony can be tricky, especially if you are visiting London during the summer and/or touristy seasons. However, there are some areas that offer better views, and although you may have to head to these spots extra early, it’s well worth it if you want to get the best view possible for the ceremony.
The Victoria Memorial (outside Buckingham Palace) is perhaps the most desired spot to watch the Changing of the Guard, as you can grab a spot on its steps and watch the ceremony from an elevated level. However, you will need to arrive super early (as in as early as 9:30 a.m. or perhaps even earlier during the summer months).
Most people tend to flock around the gates of Buckingham Palace, which means it can get incredibly busy during the summer months. If you don’t want to stand amongst a big crowd you may want to avoid the area altogether, and try and get a good spot along The Mall; (the long stretch of road leading to the palace), or as close to the Horse Guards Parade as possible. That way, you can watch the procession make their way down the entire length of The Mall before they arrive at the gates of Buckingham Palace. (That being said, during the winter season, you’ll probably be able to get a good view from the Buckingham Palace gates when it’s less crowded).
If you missed the Changing of the Guard ceremony, you can always snap a photo of the guards standing outside the main entrance of St. James’s Palace.
For a more comprehensive experience, you can book a free tour of Westminster and let your guide introduce you to the royal ceremonials of Buckingham.
There are several tube stations you can head to in order to watch the ceremony, such as Victoria Station, Green Park Station, St. James Park Station and Hyde Park Station.
To get a spot either near the Victoria Memorial or the gates of Buckingham Palace, you can take the tube to the Green Park or St. James’s Park stations, which are both an eight-minute walk away. You could also get to the palace by bus via routes 11, 211, C1 and C10.
If you want to see The New Guard heading to St. James’s Palace from the Wellington Barracks, the St. James’s Park underground station is only a three-minute walk away.
If you want to see the old detachments replaced by The New Guard at St. James’s Palace at 11 a.m., the nearest underground station is Green Park (which is a three-minute walk away), or you can reach the palace by bus via routes 9 and N9.
If you want to snag a good spot along The Mall for the ceremony, the nearest stations are Piccadilly Circus (a 12-minute walk away) or St. James’s Park (a seven-minute walk away). You can also reach The Mall by bus via routes 11, 211, 239, C1 and C10.
Be aware that if you are travelling by car, the area can get incredibly busy during the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and the use of public transportation is highly recommended.
Watching the Changing of the Guard
Be aware that the Changing of the Guard ceremony may be cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather, so you may want to check the official website before you head to the area.
Because the areas surrounding Buckingham Palace can get incredibly busy during the ceremony, always keep an eye on your belongings as the area is prone to pickpockets, especially in the most crowded spots.
It is highly recommended that you wear comfortable walking shoes (as you may be standing for longer periods of time), and bring an umbrella or a raincoat with you just in case it rains. If you have mobility issues please be aware that there are not many benches or seats to sit on along The Mall, or anywhere along the ceremony route for that matter.
Make sure that you use the toilet before the Changing of the Guard begins, as there are not many toilet facilities located along the route of the ceremony (the closest ones are located in St. James’s Park). You could always head to Piccadilly Circus after the ceremony (which is about a ten to 15-minute walk away from Buckingham Palace), which has a ton of different restaurants, cafes and bars that offer toilet facilities for their customers.
Prices and Hours
There is no admission cost for watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The ceremony officially starts at 11 a.m. (or 10 a.m. on Sundays) and usually lasts for 45 minutes.
The ceremony takes place every day between the months of April and July, and on alternate dates for the remainder of the year (for more information, be sure to visit the official website, which has a detailed calendar of the ceremony dates).
If you want to see the Changing of the Guard, you might want to join some of the free tours in London that run daily.