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Off to see the Queen!
Buckingham Palace (London)
Member Name: Whizz11
Buckingham Palace (London)
Advantages: Beautiful, great British site to be seen
As we all know Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British Monarch. In recent years they have taken the decision to open up some of the state rooms to the public to keep up with the times and promote themselves as a forward thinking monarchy. This only happens in summer (this year, 29th July to 29th September) as the rest of the time the family still live there. Buckingham Palace is one of the last working palaces in the world.
My visit first started out with the purchase of tickets. I decided to do this online as I know it gets very busy and wanted to make sure that I was able to get tickets without having to queue up on the door. The official website can be found at www.royalcollection.org.uk. Tickets are £15.50 for adult and there are concessions for students/OAP's etc. To book online I also had to pay a £1.25 per ticket service charge. I only booked about a week before so the tickets were not sent to me, I had to pick them up when I got there. The closet tube to Buckingham Palace is Green Park and it is then very well signposted. Picking up the tickets was a bit annoying. I had to get them from the Buckingham Palace Road Shop which was located down the road from the Palace. I was told this when I booked the tickets but did find it strange that we had to go to a shop to get them and not the actual ticket office at the Palace. The tickets I bought were the cheapest selection and allow access to tour 19 of the State Rooms that form the heart of the working palace and are used regularly by the Royal Family for official entertaining and State functions. You can buy other packages that give you access to the Royal Mews and The Queen's Gallery but these are more expensive.
Anyway, we got the tickets and the joined the queue (well, it wouldn't be an English tourist attraction without a queue!). The tickets have a timed entrance, 15 minutes apart to keep the flow of people going. This worked fairly well as, yes it was busy but not so overcrowded that you couldn't see anything. We went through some metal detectors and then into the Palace. Each guest is given a complimentary headset with an audio tour that talks about royal history, the history of the Palace and includes interviews with Royal Household staff about the working Palace. This was a really good comprehensive tape and I definitely learnt a lot about the Palace and found it very interesting. The tape machine itself was very easy to use and told you when to play the next section when you entered the different rooms. What I found really helpful was when we were in the portrait galleries there was a number under certain painting that you could key into your machine and then hear about the painting and what to look out for. Some of the paintings they talked about included Rembrandts and Van Dyke's. The guide book had pictures of these but it does not do it justice when you have seen the real thing.
In my opinion the palace is absolutely stunning and you really get a feel for it from the rooms you are able to visit. What you see though is only a tiny portion of the actual Palace, for example in total she has 78 bathrooms (imagine having to clean those!!), but the rooms are beautiful, from the decorations, the art and furniture collections and such a national treasure that it must not be missed.
This year for the first time they have a Ballroom which is set up for a State Banquet. All the china, plates and glasswear are on the table as well as the flowers etc and it is truly an amazing site. The tables are laid 3 days before the dinner so they get them just right and everything is measured on the table so it is all uniform. If you look down the line of the table you can see this and it is amazing. It is so unreal to actually see this and know that this is the place where the Queen sits and entertains her guests and you get a feel for the way they are treated during the dinner.
The visit is at your leisure but in total it probably took us about and hour and a half and we did listen to the extras on the tape. I like that you are able to go at your own pace and stop in certain rooms and take more time if you wish. At the end of the tour you give back the headphones and then walk a little way through the gardens. Apparently she has about 30 acres and it feels like you are not in London at all when you walk through them but as we were on one side you could hear the traffic although I assume further in it would be quite peaceful. There is a porta-cabin at the end of the tour with toilets and a little café set up but the café is really just a little stall and doesn't have anywhere to sit so anyone hoping to sit down and have "tea with the Queen" will be disappointed. You are then lead in to the shop which has a wide variety of souvenirs to buy, commemorative china, guide books, gifts for kids, gifts for dogs, etc.
All in all a great day out and one not to be missed!
Summary: Buckingham Palace