The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guard

by Heather Robinette / May 15, 2015 /
Heather Robinette's picture

Everything you need to know about the changing of the guard in London while studying abroad. 

One of the top attractions in London is the changing of the guard. The ceremony is one of the ‘must sees’ during your time in London. There are a few museums that complement the ceremony if you are interested in learning more about the history. I’ve put together some information and useful tips to help you maximize the opportunity. The changing of the guard takes place between a few different locations and having the optimal viewing spot makes it worth the wait! If the ceremony isn’t on your list yet, I would highly recommend checking it out. 

 

Buckingham Palace foot guard - from The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guard

Traveling to the Ceremony 

The closest Tube Stations are Victoria, Green Park, and St. James’s Park depending on which lines you typically use to get around the city. I used Green Park and St. James’s Park while I was there and once you exit the Tube Station, it is about a 10 minute walk to Buckingham Palace. I never personally traveled by bus, but several buses made stops in the area. 

Buckingham Palace. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Buckingham Palace

Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Band at Spur Road

 

Ceremony Information 

The main location to watch the changing of the guard is at Buckingham Palace. Keep in mind, the ceremony actually takes place between three locations, St. James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, and Wellington Barracks. The ceremony at Buckingham Palace officially starts at 11:30am, but around 11:15am you’ll start seeing guards arriving from St. James’s Palace in preparation for the ceremony. You’ll also see the New Guard and band arriving. I would recommend getting there at least an hour early to be able to pick a spot. While I was in London, I saw the ceremony three different times from three different places to see different parts of the ceremony. The first time I attended the changing of the guard, I learned the hard way that you have to arrive early or it can be very difficult to see. The ceremony ends around 12pm, but it is around 12:15pm before everything is completely over and traffic is able to resume using the road. An additional note: make sure to check the schedule before planning your visit to ensure there are no cancellations or schedule changes. The schedule can be found several places online; the main site is here.  

 

 

Where to Stand

As I mentioned before, I attended the ceremony three different times. This allowed me to stand in different places where I was able to get different viewpoints. Many people usually try to stand next to the railing, which provides a good view, but it is hard to get good pictures of the guards as they march to the palace. On my first trip I stood near the railing, but I had several people in front of me so it was tough to see and take pictures. The steps of the Victoria Monument in front of Buckingham Palace also provide a good view of the ceremony and the guards and bands as they come and go. My favorite, and where I stood on the third trip, was on Spur Road. You are not able to see the ceremony very well, but I was able to get great pictures of the guards and band as they walked by for the ceremony. 

Spur Road railing. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Railing in front of Buckingham Palace

Where to stand during the Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace

Spur Road, New Guard

Where to stand during the Changing of the Guard. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Victoria Monument

 

 

Guards

If you are standing in a place where you are close enough to the guards to get a good look at their uniforms, you’ll notice a slight difference between the different groups. The guards come from one of five regiments of the foot guards in the Household Division. The five regiments of Foot Guards include the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards. The main differences between each regiment are the plumes in their bearskin helmets and the pattern of their buttons. The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment consists of a Squadron of The Life Guards, who wear red tunics and white plumed bearskin helmets, and a Squadron of The Blues and Royals with blue tunics and red plumed bearskin helmets. The Queen is the Colonel in Chief of all the regiments in the Household Division. The soldiers in the Household Division are first and foremost, combat troops and many of the soldiers you see on ceremonial duty will have seen active service and take a lot of pride in participating in the military duty.

Guards - Plumes and Buttons. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Guards - Plumes and Buttons

 

 

Flag

The flag flying above Buckingham Palace lets you know if the Queen is at one of the Royal residences. The Royal Standard is flown only when she is present. If the Union Flag flies above Buckingham Palace, it signals that the Queen is not at one of the Royal residences. 

Union flag. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

 

Other Ceremony Locations 

The Horse Guard Parade is another chance to see a changing of the guards. The Queen’s Life Guard changes guard daily at 11am Monday to Saturday and at 10am on Sundays. The Guards at Windsor Castle change daily at 11am for part of the year and alternate days during the other part of the year. Compared to the other ceremonies, you will have to purchase a ticket to go inside to see this ceremony. The last location also costs for you to see because it is within the Tower of London. 

 

Household Cavalry Museum

The Household Cavalry Museum is a museum attached to the Hyde Park Barracks. The museum presents the history of the Household Cavalry and everything relating to their ceremonial and operational duties. It gives you a unique behind-the-scenes look at soldiers working with horses in the original working stables and firsthand accounts of the rigorous and demanding training. I really enjoyed going through the museum and learned a lot of great information about the Life Guard. The Queen's Life Guard is made up of soldiers of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. The Life Guard has been mounted for over 300 years. They also guard the official entrance to the Royal residence, which is the arch seen in the image with the sentry on horse. A sentry is a soldier who stands guard at an entrance or gate. Two sentries on foot and two sentries on horses guard the entrance. A changing of the guard ceremony takes place every day just outside the museum entrance. 

 

Household Cavalry Stables sign. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Household Cavalry Stables sign

Sentry on Horse, Household Cavalry Museum. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Sentry on Horse, Household Cavalry Museum

Household Cavalry soldier on foot. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Household Cavalry Sentry on foot

Household Cavalry Museum - Hyde Park Stables. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Household Cavalry Museum - Hyde Park Stables

Household Cavalry Museum - horse guards. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Household Cavalry Museum - horse guards

 

Household Cavalry Museum - Queen's Life Guard. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Household Cavalry Museum - Queen's Life Guard

 

 

Guards Museum

The Guards Museum is another great museum to check out to learn more about the history of the Guards. It is not far from Buckingham Palace. The museum is located right next to the Wellington Barracks. You can find great information and artifacts from the long history of the five regiments of the Foot Guards. The most surprising thing I learned was that Queen Elizabeth served during World War II and remains the only female member of the royal family to have joined the armed forces. 

Guards Museum. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Guards Museum

Guards Museum - young boy dressed up! From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Guards Museum - young boy dressed up! 

Guards Museum - Wellington Barracks. From The Complete Guide to the Changing of the Guards

Guards Museum - Wellington Barracks

 
Hopefully this information and the useful tips are able to help you in planning your time in London. What I thought was just one attraction I would be seeing turned into many other museums and experiences that resulted in a very memorable time in London. Learning more about the military history was very interesting and understanding what the different ceremonies mean was eye-opening for me! 

 

 

Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me." 

All photos and video courtesy and copyright Heather Robinette