Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace is one of the most popular of all ceremonies to watch in London. It doesn’t cost anything and is extremely colourful and lively. This is a ceremony that has taken place for many decades, marking the end of a period of duty for one group, and the start of duty for another.
The ceremony always attracts large crowds, so it is best to be there well ahead of time in order to find a good viewing position. There are no tickets, it is a matter of first come, first served. It starts at eleven o’clock promptly, but it is best to get there at least half an hour beforehand.
The event takes place in the big courtyard in front of Buckingham Palace which is not far from Mowbray Court Hotel. Spectators are not allowed into the courtyard, you have to watch from the pavement in front of the Palace just beyond the gates. The ceremony takes place every day between April and July, then on alternate days for the rest of the year.
Dressed in scarlet tunics and tall bearskin helmets, the guards are always drawn from the ranks of one of the five regiments of Foot Guards. They can be seen marching up towards the Palace from their barracks, before conducting a detailed drill within the courtyard. Officers bark out commands and the accompanying military band plays a variety of music. They even play ‘Happy Birthday to You’ when it is the Queen’s birthday. The ceremony takes around 45 minutes.
Take a look at the flag flying above Buckingham Palace. This will tell you whether the Queen is in residence or not. If she is there, then the Royal Standard is flown. If she is away, then the Union Flag (sometimes described as the Union Jack) is flown.
Another colourful changeover ceremony is held in Horse Guards Parade. This is located in Whitehall, on the far side of St James Park. People prefer to stay at cheap hotels near Earl's Court to attend this ceremony. The full ceremony takes place at 11.00 every weekday and at 10 am on Sundays, with individual mounted sentries changing every hour. This is another very dramatic ceremony. The Life Guards are mounted cavalry and when on guard duty, sit on horseback with their swords drawn. On their heads are heavy plumed helmets. They remain unmoving for their hour of duty, and even the horses hardly move a muscle.