Just another 18th century country house ?
Buckingham Palace is undoubtedly the most famous address in the Capital and has served as the monarch's London residence since 1837 (before that, it was St James Place). It has 775 rooms and hosts important state occasions in addition to providing a ceremonial backdrop for many Royal events.
If the Queen is in residence, you'll notice the Royal Standard will be flying from the flagpole over the top of the Palace. The balcony overlooking the Mall is where the Royal family gather after weddings and other important royal occasions to wave to the crowds gathered along the Mall and around the Victoria memorial below.
Visitors can buy tickets to look around the State Rooms, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews from the end of July till early October while the Queen is away for her summer holiday at Balmoral, her Scottish castle.
The best time to visit to experience some British pageantry is in the morning for the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place in front of Buckingham Palace at 11:30am and lasts for about 45 minutes. The ceremony is held daily from April to July and on alternate days from August to March. British royalty have been guarded by the Household Cavalry since Henry X11 (over 500 years!) and perform both ceremonial and active security roles. It is popular so need to arrive early to get the best view. The soldiers gather at St James’ Palace and Wellington Barracks from 11:00am and march to Buckingham Palace accompanied by music.
If you are extremely fortunate to be around in June, Trooping of the Colour is one of the most spectacular sights in England. This date marks the Queen’s official birthday and starts in Horse Guards Parade. The Queen personally carries out an inspection of the troops, which concludes by leading the troops down the Mall to the Palace (the procession can be viewed along the Mall for free; queue well in advance).
Along Birdcage Walk: if you proceed down Birdcage Walk, within 0.5 km of the Palace is the Guards Museum (£6), which has a lot of military history and a few metres further on is Guards Chapel, which is definitely worth a visit. Continue for another 10 minutes along Birdcage Walk and you arrive at the Churchill War Rooms where you should allow 2 hours. This secret WW2 bunker and museum tells the story of Winston Churchill’s life and legacy. Winston Churchill who was Britain’s prime minister during World War 2 famously later wrote, 'I felt...that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial'. It is hard to imagine the Blitz in the summer of1940 when London was incessantly bombed including on occasion for nearly two months when he made one of the most famous speeches of all time (“we shall fight on the beaches….on the landing grounds….in the fields…in the streets….in the hills; we shall never surrender.”).
Adjacent to Birdcage Walk is St James Park, which is delightfully shaded by wonderful mature trees interspersed by water. If you plan ahead and the weather allows, you can hire deckchairs and relaxed by the water with drinks and a picnic (originally a French invention from the word to ‘peck’!).
Towards Victoria: equally of interest if you head towards Victoria (named after London’s most powerful monarch, who also was a lady!). You can start your tour at Westminster Abbey and head towards Victoria itself. If time permits, the nearby Houses of Parliament, which is one of the most iconic images of London was built in Victorian times but a royal palace (Westminster Hall) has been present on this site for nearly a millennium. You can stay at the romantic Windermere Hotel, which is within a 20 minute walk of the Palace or equally well located is the high specification Eccleston Square Hotel
Towards Green Park: if you head through Green Park, don’t forget to spare a moments reflection at the Canadian memorial, a monument to the 100,000 plus troops from Canada and Newfoundland who gave their lives in the great wars. Staying immediately diagonal to the Mall, you can deviate slightly and head through the Park to wander past the Royal Palaces of Clarence House and St James Palace, through the affluent Pall Mall and up ST James Street towards Green Park. Take tea at the world famous Ritz hotel if your budget permits!
Green Park from where can walk through the Park towards the palace, Charing Cross from where you can walk through Admiralty Arch along the Mall to the Palace. Victoria is also close, but you approach the Palace from the rear.