Everything You’ll See on a Buckingham Palace Tour

If you plan to take a vacation to London — or even if you’re just daydreaming about it — you’ve probably thought about booking a Buckingham Palace tour. The palace serves as the London residence of Queen Elizabeth II and the administrative headquarters of the monarchy. But what can you see if you pay for a tour to check out the palace? Read on to check out the highlights.

A Buckingham Palace Tour gives you access to 19 rooms

The State Dining Room at Buckingham Palace
The State Dining Room at Buckingham Palace | Nick Ansell/ AFP/ Getty Images

Buckingham Palace has a total of 775 rooms. U.S. News reports that a tour of the palace will give you access to 19 of them: the State Rooms where Queen Elizabeth II hosts guests for state, ceremonial, and official affairs. The Royal Collection Trust reports that the decor of the State Rooms reflects the taste of King George VI. George VI commissioned architect John Nash to turn the relatively modest Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace in 1825.

Many of the State Rooms have very specific uses today. Queen Elizabeth II uses the Throne Room for court ceremonies and official entertaining. (That’s also where Prince William and Kate Middleton took their wedding photos.) And the White Drawing Room serves as the royal reception room. There, the queen and other members of the royal family gather before official occasions.

You’ll get to the State Rooms by walking up the Grand Staircase

When you take a Buckingham Palace tour, you’ll feel like royalty. Especially when you enter the State Rooms by walking up the Grand Staircase. The staircase was designed by John Nash. You’ll notice that the design references his experience working at London theatres, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

CNN reports that the staircase features a gilt-bronze balustrade decorated with designs of acanthus, oak, and laurel leaves. A dome in the ceiling lights the staircase. Full-length portraits of members of Queen Victoria’s family — Queen Elizabeth II’s ancestors — adorn the walls along the upper part of the staircase. And as the Trust explains, walking up the staircase “provides a sense of excitement and expectation for the rooms that follow.”

You can see the Chairs of Estate in the Throne Room

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace | Paul Rogers/ WPA Pool/ Getty Images

When you walk into the Throne Room, what will probably draw your eye first is the dramatic arch and canopy over the thrones. And you’ll also see the pair of throne chairs, known as the Chairs of Estate. They played a role in the coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953.

You’ll also see the chairs made for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. And the Throne Room also features a single throne chair made for Queen Victoria in 1837. But just remember: You can’t sit on any of the thrones, as per CNN. But as the network notes, “being in the presence of the thrones at the palace is something of an experience” all on its own.

The Picture Gallery displays artwork from the Royal Collection

The 19 State Rooms feature opulent decor and art. You’ll see beautiful chandeliers and candelabras. And you’ll also spot both English and French furniture. But the rooms also display what U.S. News characterizes as “some of the most magnificent pieces from the Royal Collection.” The Picture Gallery inside Buckingham Palace displays a rotating selection of paintings. It currently focuses mainly on Italian, Dutch, and Flemish works from the 17th century, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

The Royal Collection encompasses more than a million objects, all-told. It gives a fascinating look at the taste of Kings and Queens over the past 500 years. Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t personally own the collection, as many people assume. Instead, she holds it in trust for her successors and the nation. You can see pieces from the Royal Collection not only at 13 royal residences (and former residences) across the United Kingdom, but also at other museums that receive them on loan or as part of touring exhibitions.

The White Drawing Room offers plenty to look at

The White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace
The White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace | Nick Ansell/ AFP/ Getty Images

A Buckingham Palace tour will also get you access to the White Drawing Room. This room sets records as one of the most opulent spaces in the palace. CNN reports that its standout piece is the beautiful grand piano made for Queen Victoria. S&P Erard built it in 1856, and François Rochard gilded it. Then, it was decorated with oil-painted scenes of cherubs and singeries (monkeys playing instruments and causing trouble).

Also in the White Drawing Room — and in other State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, too — you’ll want to look up. The high ceilings feature dramatic chandeliers. That includes the waterfall chandelier at the center of the White Drawing Room. Plus, the White Drawing Room is connected to Queen Elizabeth II’s private rooms by a secret door. You may even spot it if you look carefully.

You can take in the grandeur of Queen Victoria’s Ballroom

The Royal Collection Trust reports that the Ballroom is the largest of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. It was completed in 1855, during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Ballroom features a musicians’ gallery, complete with an organ. And if you stop by during a Buckingham Palace tour, you’ll also see two thrones in the Ballroom. Both featured in the coronation ceremony of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902. According to the Trust:

The thrones are located in a dramatic setting. Statues by William Theed stand on top of a triumphal arch, flanked by sphinxes and enclosing the throne canopy. The winged figures at the top of the arch symbolise History and Fame and support a medallion with the profiles of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The garden is the perfect place to finish your Buckingham Palace tour

Queen Elizabeth II (wearing pink) stands with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on the top of the steps in front of members of the public
Queen Elizabeth II hosts a garden party at Buckingham Palace | Alastair Grant – WPA Pool/ Getty Images

When you conclude your Buckingham Palace tour, you’ll get to walk through the beautiful gardens on the palace’s property. The garden features a summer house, a rose garden, the Waterloo Vase, and the Palace tennis court. (King George VI and Fred Perry played there in the 1930s.) The Royal Collection Trust reports that the garden also serves as the venue for Queen Elizabeth II’s garden parties. Those parties typically happen in July.

U.S. News reports that if you spring for the Royal Day Out Ticket, the cost of entrance also includes admission to the Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews. CNN characterizes the Royal Mews as “one of the finest working stables in the world.” There, you can see historic coaches and carriages. (The royal family still uses some of them, including the Gold State Coach.) Plus, many of the Queen’s horses stay at the Mews.

An audio guide will give you all the history

When you take a Buckingham Palace tour, you can explore the State Rooms at your own pace. But you can also use the audio guide. The guide comes included with the cost of admission. And it gives you the scoop on all of the history that the palace has witnessed. Even if you typically skip the audio tour at museums, you don’t want to miss this one.

As CNN reports, “No one knows the palace better than the royals themselves, so who better to introduce the audio guide than Prince Charles, who was actually born there?” Every visitor who takes a Buckingham Palace tour receives the free audio guide. The palace offers the guide in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Mandarin, according to CNN.

You can watch the Changing of the Guard

Buckingham Palace
Guards at Buckingham Palace | Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images

Whether you pay for a Buckingham Palace tour or not, you can plan to watch the Changing of the Guard, also known as the Mounting of the Guard. During this ceremony, one regiment takes over from another. The Queen’s Guard is made up of the St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace detachments, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

The New Guard — who, during the ceremony, become the Queen’s Guard — march to Buckingham Palace from Wellington Barracks with musical accompaniment. The ceremony happens in the palace’s forecourt. So if you plan carefully, you can time your visit to catch the iconic sight.

Read more: Inside the Stunning Homes of the British Royal Family

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