When empty, during the daylight hours The Horse Guards Parade looks like a deserted building and courtyard, trapped in time. At night, the area seems hauntingly spooky, as if no one has stepped foot there for centuries. But during special events like the Trooping The Colour, the Beating Retreat, and most notably, the Changing the Queen's Life Guard ceremony, The Horse Guards Parade comes to life, and remains to be a popular destination in London for both tourists and locals alike.
The Horse Guards Parade is a ceremonial parade ground and one of the largest open spaces in London which is used for both royal parades and ceremonies. The building is also the formal entrance to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace, as well as the headquarters for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.
The area has been used for countless significant events in London’s history since the 17th century. Its parade ground was originally built by Henry VIII to be used as a jousting tournament courtyard, and later it was used for various parades and ceremonies, as well as the venue for the birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I.
The building is constantly being guarded by troopers of the Household Cavalry, and the Life Guards have stood at the official entrance to St. James’ Palace and Buckingham Palace since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
The parade ground is conveniently located between Horse Guards Road, St. James's Park, the Old Admiralty, and 10 Downing Street (the official residence of the British prime minister). It is also the location where the Queen’s Life Guard ride through the streets to Change the Guard on the Horse Guards Parade.
Horse Guards Parade Highlights
It may not be as popular or well-known as the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace; nevertheless, the Changing the Queen’s Lifeguard ceremony at the Horse Guards Parade provides tourists with some spectacular photo-taking opportunities.
During the ceremony, the Old Guard lines up on the northern side of the enclosure in Horse Guards, and when the New Guard arrives, a group of trumpeters from the Old and New Guard play a royal salute. Once the two guards have lined up in the enclosure, the Corporal Major as well as the sentries of the first relief of the New Guard begin to leave for the Guard Room. When the sentries of the Old Guard are relieved, they rejoin the rest of the Old Guard on the northern side of the enclosure, and the Royal Salute begins again.
There are several buildings located near The Horses Parade that are worth checking out during your visit as well. The Old Admiralty and the Admiralty Citadel buildings are located to the north of the Horse Guards Parade, and William Kent's Horse Guards (which was the former headquarters of the British Army) is located to the east. You can also see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the south, as well as 10 Downing Street's rear garden wall; (although access to this side is strictly prohibited). The Household Cavalry Museum is located in the center of the Horse Guards Parade, which educates visitors on the history of the Household Cavalry.
There are also many important military monuments located in the Horse Guards Parade such as the Statues of Field Marshals, a Turkish cannon dating back to 1524, the Cadiz memorial (commemorating the siege of Cadiz in Spain in 1812), the Guards Memorial (to commemorate World War I), and many more.
- If you are travelling to London by train and interested in visiting the Household Cavalry Museum, make sure to take advantage of the 2-4-1 discount with the rail card promotion to save money on admission costs.
- If you want to see the Changing the Queen's Lifeguard ceremony, try to arrive before 11 a.m., or even earlier on weekends and holidays.
- All visitors are allows to take photos next to the horses, and if you're lucky enough, you may even be allowed to give them a pat or two. Try not to get too close the horses as they may try to nibble at your clothing.