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A pussycat visits the Queen
Buckingham Palace (London)
Member Name: catsholiday
Buckingham Palace (London)
Date: 06/09/10, updated on 27/10/11 (123 review reads)
Advantages: Great for those who have yet to get their Garden Party invite
Disadvantages: Expensive souvenirs, on line tickets are for one use only
When the Royal family finally decided that they were going to open the doors of this beautiful building to the paying public for two months each year to help pay for its upkeep we decided it would be a very interesting visit one day.
Many years later in 2010 and we finally got around to booking this visit on lastminute.com. It cost us £17 for me and my husband got a concession and paid £15. Just be aware though if you buy your ticket on line or through an agent then you can only use the ticket once. If you buy it from the ticket office at Buckingham Palace you can convert it into an annual ticket at no extra charge and use it all that season. They don't tell you that on line and we only discovered this when we got to the ticket office at Buckingham Palace. All that we got from llastminute.com was a voucher which had to be taken to the ticket office and changed into a proper ticket with 2 cannot be converted into an annual pass" stamped on it. The official opening hours are 27 July - 1 October 2010 and tours go almost constantly from 09:45-18:00 with the last admission at 15:45
There are several ways to get to the palace
By train: London Victoria and then walk
By underground: Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner.
By bus: Numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop on Buckingham Palace Road.
By road: Buckingham Palace is situated within the London Congestion Charge zone and heaven only knows where you would park unless you were staying at a hotel nearby so I would not think this would be a great option unless dropping off someone with a mobility problem.
By coach: Victoria Coach Station is a ten minute walk from the Palace.
We were booked for the 3pm session and so we arrived, as we always do, with oodles of time to spare. We had enjoyed a picnic of our Subway sandwich in St James' Park and then made our way to the palace. It was a gloriously sunny summer's day and so it looked especially photogenic from the front. After we had taken as many photos as we felt were necessary we headed to the left hand side of the palace to the ticket office area. There were many rather confusing signs and it was not especially clear what you were meant to do. We showed one person our voucher who told us we had to go to the ticket office to change it to a proper ticket. That was relatively painless as we were fast tracked past all the other people waiting to purchase tickets and so it took about 5 minutes to do this. Should you want to buy tickets from here I would suggest you buy them a day or so before you need then just to make sure as they do get very busy at times.
Armed with our correct tickets we found we still had some time to fill so we went and had a wander down the road past the Royal mews. We had planned to walk around the block of the palace but hadn't realised quite how far this was and time was getting closer so we turned around and headed back to the palace ticketing area.
They allow you in to the waiting area only minutes before your tour departs. Once through the waiting area where you go through a security check similar to that at an airport then you are handed your personal audio guide and pointed in the right direction. No photography is permitted in the palace but you can take photos for personal use only in the garden area. Mobile phones must also be switched off all the time you are in the actual palace. The tour is a self guided one using the personal audio guide which was actually very efficient and an interesting commentary.
Initially you are taken to the point where you can see the private quarters and the business section of the palace across the courtyard. Then you are turned and taken into the State rooms and more public areas of the palace. These are the areas used for meeting and greeting dignitaries and also the sections where those invited for the garden parties at the palace pass through. Although these are not private quarters they are not open to the public at any time it is only during August and September when The Queen makes her annual visit to Scotland that the Palace's nineteen state rooms are open to paying visitors.
Everywhere is really sumptuous. The rooms are enormous and the decor is elaborate to say the least.
The paintings were like a gallery with examples from Holbein Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto to name only those I remember there was a sculpture by Canova and so many fantastic examples of Sèvres porcelain.
The furniture was amazing with some similar to those I saw in the palace of Versailles and obviously of French origin while others were some of the finest English furniture I have ever seen. I suppose they don't get used as such and they are really being preserved as museum and collectors pieces. It must all be worth a fortune.
I was really interested in seeing the room where the queen performs the ceremony of knighting people. The sword used for the purpose on also on display. It is actually quite small but then she is tiny so it couldn't be too big. At one end there were the throne chairs where the Queen sits prior to performing the ceremony.
My favourite rooms were those overlooking the beautiful gardens. One was an enormous dining room with huge table and quite a lot of this elaborate porcelain on display. The ceilings were not just blank canvases either. These were decorated with many designs and painted with crests and emblems and some embellished with gold trimmings too.
Apart from the experience of the state rooms we were also able to see a special exhibition which was a first this year which went through the Queens's year and gave a good insight into the principal national and ceremonial events in the Queen's year.
This Display showed ceremonial robes, gifts, uniforms, dresses and jewellery of the Queen. I couldn't get over how tiny she must be as her dresses were minute. There was also some very interesting archive photography and film You got a very good idea of the pageantry, tradition and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament, the historic Garter Day ceremony at Windsor Castle which I had never heard of before this exhibition. There was a recording of a high ranking officer explaining how proud soldiers were when they were invited to take part in the Trooping the Colour. As I am not a big Royal family follower and I am not very well informed about all the pomp and ceremony that goes along with the Royal family I did find this was quite interesting.
Once you leave the actual palace and arrive at the terrace café area you are requested not to hang around on the steps. You can go into the café which is on the West Terrace overlooking the Palace's famous lawn and lake. This is where those lucky enough to get invited enjoy the wonderful garden parties while dressed in all their finery. For the paying visitor there is the opportunity to enjoy this view from the café while sipping your cup of coffee or afternoon tea. The Garden Café is open throughout the Palace's visiting hours, 09:45-18:00 with the last admission to the café at 15:45.
If you choose not to visit the café or after you leave the café you head down the stairs and past the Lavatories and baby-care facilities which are in marquee type buildings. The inevitable shop selling hugely overpriced stuff is also here. We watched one couple with two baskets full of things which cost all at least £30 and often well up in the £100s. There were cups and tea pots as well as other expensive items we reckoned there must be about £1500 worth of stuff. I queued up with my £3 postcard purchase just behind them. So if you feel you are going to want to buy a souvenir then bring your credit card or a bulging wallet.
On leaving the shop you then walk along the path through the gardens and passed several benches where you can sit and admire the gardens or people watch or enjoy an ice cream from the ice cream from the kiosk situated about half way along the path as you leave the palace gardens.
For visitors with disabilities or pushchairs
Baby prams and pushchairs are not allowed in the palace and must be left at the entrance and reclaimed at the exit. And there are baby-carriers are available for loan.
If you have trouble walking then I would suggest that this tour could be hard work. You walk a long way and there are several sets of stairs to climb up and own. They are not steep but that is the only way of passing through the palace state rooms. There are quite a number of rooms and they are huge. Once out of the palace you have to walk quite some way though the gardens before you leave the grounds. Most of the walking is on flat ground and is wheel chair friendly and of course you can get your pushchair back for the garden area to make it a bit easier if you have carried your baby around all the rooms.
Wheelchair-users are asked to book through the Ticket Sales and Information Office by telephoning 020 7766 7324. This is so that they can organize assistance and not have too many at one time.
For those with hearing difficulties there is a BSL video tours of Buckingham Palace are now available. You need to reserve your tour in advance of your visit by contacting the Specialist Sales team on 020 7766 7324 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For 2010 there was a special BSL Interpreted and Lipspeaking Guided Tour of this year's special exhibition, The Queen's Year which was on Saturday, 4 September at 17:00. Presumably this will also happen in future years on a specific date should you wish to use this service.
At the front of the Palace
If you have come to London to visit the palace and have not ever watched the Changing of the Guard then this is a must see event and it takes place at 11:30 daily from May until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. The times are a bit flexible but they are usually posted somewhere to the side of the palace on a board. In 200 the times and days are in August on odd numbered dates (1, 3, 5, etc) and in September on even numbered dates (2, 4, 6, etc)
It is quite a site as the new guards arrive at the front of the Palace at 11:30 and they come from the Wellington Barracks. The journey takes about 5 minutes and the soldiers are accompanied by a band. The ceremony takes place on the Palace forecourt and the whole thing last about forty minutes and what is more is that the whole thing is free. If you want a good view then you need to get there early and fix your nose to the railings as it can get quite crowded. If you have small children especially you need to get there so they can be near the front otherwise they will not see much.
Is it worth a visit?
I would say a resounding, yes. The Royal family is struggling financially and they need all the £15+ they can get. Seriously though, it is an amazing place and well worth the visit. It really is not that expensive compared to similar places like Chatsworth and you get a good half days entertainment for the price. The visit was a good couple of hours and we didn't hang around as we were driving back to Derbyshire that evening. We didn't have a drink in the café which would have been nice but we were very aware of the fact that we had to get the bus back to Putney and then drive back home so we didn't feel we had the time. You could sit in the garden which would have been lovely as it was a really beautiful sunny day when we had our visit. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and found it all mind blowingly opulent and worthy of Royalty. It is well worth a visit once but I would not feel the need to go again.
Thank you for reading and I hope this has been of some interest to you. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Summary: A fascinating insight into what lies behind the face of Buckingham Palace is