Last Updated on October 9, 2023
Buckingham Palace Changing Of The Guard Ceremony Guide
Every year, millions of people gather to witness the spectacular Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London. This iconic event is a must-see, offering a glimpse into the rich traditions and history of the city.
The changing of the guard ceremony is a tradition that has been practiced for centuries, symbolizing the transfer of power from one group to another. This historic event can be found in different cultures and countries all around the world, each with its unique customs and significance.
One of the most famous changing of the guard ceremonies takes place at Buckingham Palace in London, England. This ceremony is a popular tourist attraction, drawing in crowds of thousands each year. The guards are responsible for protecting the royal family and their residence.
But before you go to witness this grand event, it’s important to know some key details beforehand to fully appreciate the experience. This guide will provide you with valuable insights and tips to fully appreciate and enjoy the occasion.
What Is The Changing Of The Guard?
The Changing of the Guard is a ceremonial event where the current Foot Guards responsible for protecting the monarchy (known as the Old Guard) are relieved of their duty and replaced by new soldiers (known as the New Guard).
Although kings had always been protected by an army of men, it wasn’t until Henry VII established the Royal Body Guard as an official institution that it became a permanent job role. As a result, these soldiers have been faithfully guarding monarchs for over 520 years, proving their exceptional skill and dedication to their duty.
The Old Guard ceremoniously passes on the duty of protecting the palace to the New Guard, presenting them with a symbolic set of keys. This tradition, known as Guards Mounting, involves soldiers from the Foot Guards who are renowned for their impeccable ceremonial duties.
You’re familiar with them, right? They don those impressive black bearskin hats and vibrant red tunics (although they switch to grey in winter), creating a striking contrast against the backdrop of historical landmarks. The precision and discipline with which they carry out their duties is a testament to their unwavering commitment to upholding the traditions and heritage of the British military. It’s a captivating sight that captures the attention of both locals and tourists alike, leaving a lasting impression of the rich history and pomp that surrounds the changing of the guards.
What could have been a simple handover is transformed into a stunning military procession, where soldiers in their immaculate uniforms march with precision and grace. The sound of drums reverberates through the air, synchronized with the rhythmic footsteps of the soldiers. Flags flutter proudly in the wind, adding a touch of patriotic grandeur to the scene. This regal display of discipline and honor is captivating.
What Music Does The Band Play?
As the guards march with grace and precision, you may find yourself wondering what type of music accompanies such a grand ceremony. The band that leads the procession plays traditional military tunes, including “God Save the King,” “The National Anthem,” and other classic marches. These songs have become synonymous with British patriotism and are an integral part of any ceremonial parade.
But it’s not just traditional military tunes that fill the air during the changing of the guards. The band also performs popular songs from various genres, including contemporary hits and even movie soundtracks. This eclectic mix of music adds a modern touch to the ceremony while still paying homage to tradition. The James Bond theme is a popular choice!
The Changing Of The Guards As A Symbol Of British Heritage
Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the changing of the guards holds great cultural significance for the people of Britain. The ceremony represents a long-standing tradition that dates back to the 17th century when guards were first tasked with protecting and defending the monarch’s residence.
Today, it serves as a symbol of British heritage, showcasing the country’s proud military history and serving as a reminder of its strong values and traditions. The precision, discipline, and honor displayed during the ceremony are a reflection of the British people’s character and values, making it an important part of their national identity.
The Guard Regiments, specifically the ones you’ll witness at the parade, were established in 1656 with the noble purpose of safeguarding the exiled King Charles II during a tumultuous period in British history. Comprised of highly skilled and fiercely loyal soldiers and officers, these regiments hold a prestigious rank as some of the oldest and most revered in the British army.
Over the centuries, they have stood as a symbol of strength and honor, their distinctive uniforms and precise drill movements captivating spectators and inspiring awe. Their unwavering dedication to duty and unwavering commitment to protecting the monarchy is a testament to their enduring legacy and the deep-rooted traditions they embody.
As you observe their immaculate formations and hear the rhythmic beat of their marching drums, you can’t help but be transported back in time, feeling the weight of history and the pride of a nation that has relied on their steadfast presence for centuries.
A guard regiment, renowned for its iconic distinctive hats, has actively participated in every significant conflict that the UK has been engaged in since the 1600s. Throughout history, their unwavering commitment to duty and remarkable distinction on the battlefield have earned them numerous prestigious medals for valor and bravery. The unique charm bestowed upon these men by their distinctive hats adds a touch of historical grandeur and serves as a symbol of their enduring legacy.
How Has The Ceremony Evolved?
Over the years, the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard has evolved to reflect changes in society and advancements in technology. While it still remains steeped in tradition, some elements have been added or modified to adapt to modern times. For example, today’s guards use advanced weapons and equipment compared to their predecessors from centuries ago.
Moreover, as the monarchy has evolved and changed, so has the role of the guards. While their primary function is to protect the monarch and royal residences, they also serve as ambassadors for the UK, participating in various ceremonial events and representing their country on a global stage.
Buckingham Palace, the iconic residence of British royalty, has not always held this distinguished title. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1837 that it officially became the official residence of the monarchy. Prior to this, the esteemed royals called the Palace of Whitehall their home. It is interesting to note that the historic Changing of the Guard ceremony, which is now closely associated with Buckingham Palace, was originally established during the time when the royals resided at the Palace of Whitehall. However, tragedy struck in 1698 when a devastating fire engulfed the Palace of Whitehall, forever changing the course of royal history.
After their initial move, they gracefully transitioned to their new abode at St James’s Palace, a historic and regal residence that has stood the test of time. Here, the captivating tradition of the changing of the guard persists, a symbol of continuity and grandeur. While Buckingham Palace remains the primary residence for the esteemed royals, St James’s Palace continues to hold its significance as a functional royal edifice. Its stately halls have witnessed the presence of foreign dignitaries, and it warmly accommodates family members during their visits to the vibrant city of London.
Where To Stand For The Changing Of The Guard?
The Changing of the Guard spans three locations: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks.
To get the best view of the Changing of the Guard, it’s recommended to stand at least an hour early in front of Buckingham Palace. The area in front of the palace gates and around the Victoria Memorial is usually crowded but offers a prime spot for viewing the ceremony.
However, if you prefer a less crowded experience, you can also watch from outside St James’s Palace or Wellington Barracks. These locations provide a closer view of the guards as they march to and from Buckingham Palace.
If possible, we highly recommend watching the ceremony from The Victoria Memorial or near the Gate of Buckingham Palace. Both offer the advantage of being in the heart of the action. You can witness the arrival of the New Guards, the handover ceremony, and the departure of the Old Guards.
From the elevated steps of the Victoria Memorial, you can enjoy a splendid view of the ceremony without the need to arrive excessively early, as you would if you aimed for a spot at the front near the gates. This way, you can savor the experience with convenience and still capture the essence of the event.
To add to the confusion, there are, in fact, three distinct ceremonies that are commonly known as the Changing of the Guard. In this post, we focus on the most grand of them, Buckingham Palace. However, another ceremony takes place at Horse Guards, and a third at Windsor.
Know The Schedule
The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace takes place daily at 11:00 AM from April until July, and on alternate days for the rest of the year. However, there are exceptions to this schedule due to special events or weather conditions, so it’s best to check the official website before visiting. If it is raining, a basic ceremony will replace the full one.
Normal timings for the Changing of the Guard are:
- 10:43 – Old Guard leaves St James’s Palace
- 10:57 – New Guard leaves Wellington Barrack
- 11:00 – Official Start Time
- 11:10 – St James’s Palace relief leaves Buckingham Palace
- 11:25 – Relieved sentries leave St James’s Palace
- 11:40 – Old Guard leaves Buckingham Palace
- 11:45 – St James’s Palace Guard leaves Buckingham Palace
Check the Weather
The ceremony takes place rain or shine, but it’s always good to be prepared for inclement weather. If it is raining, bring a raincoat or umbrella and wear appropriate shoes. Also, keep in mind that during extreme weather conditions, the changing of the guard may be canceled.
Fun Facts About The Changing Of The Guard
- It is a popular tradition for tourists to try and make the guards laugh or move, though they are trained to remain stoic at all times.
- The guards in red uniforms are from the King’s Guard, while those in grey and black are from the Coldstream Guards.
- The ceremony is accompanied by music played by a military band, adding to the grandeur of the event.
- The guards change their uniforms based on the season, donning vibrant red tunics in the summer and practical, muted grey tunics in the winter. However, their iconic bearskin hat remains a constant throughout the year.
- The ceremony is officially known as Guard Mounting.
- The guard’s hats, called bearskins, weigh around 1.5 pounds, are 18 inches tall, and are made from real bear fur.
- During World War II, the ceremony was temporarily suspended due to security concerns.
- It takes around 45 minutes for the entire ceremony to be completed.
- If you happen to obstruct the path of the King’s Guards, they won’t simply walk around you; instead, you will be directed to “make way for the King’s Guards”.
- The guards undergo rigorous training to handle and disregard public disturbances. However, in exceptionally rare and grave situations, they are authorized to aim their weapons at an individual and detain them.
- While it may be tempting to get as close to the action as possible, keep in mind that the guards are on duty and should be respected. Keep a safe distance and do not touch or interfere with them in any way.
- During the ceremony, there will be police officers present who will give instructions to the crowd. It’s important to follow their directions for safety reasons and to ensure that everyone has a good view of the ceremony.
- Take a moment to observe the flag fluttering above Buckingham. Should you spot the Royal Standard in all its regal glory, it signifies that the King is currently in residence within the palace.
Tips For Attending The Changing Of The Guard
- Pickpockets are known to target large crowds, so be sure to keep your valuables secure at all times.
- Arrive early to secure a good spot for viewing the ceremony. The best spots tend to fill up quickly. 45 minutes to an hour is recommended if you want to view the ceremony from Buckingham Palace. As mentioned earlier, the changing of the guard is a popular tourist attraction, which means large crowds. This will also give you time to find a good spot and take some photos before the ceremony starts.
- It’s also recommended to read up on the history and significance of the Changing of the Guard ceremony beforehand. This will enhance your overall experience and understanding of the event.
- The closest underground stations to Buckingham Palace are Victoria, St James’s, and Green Park. Additionally, you could also walk from Hyde Park Corner station.
- Remember to be respectful and mindful of your surroundings during the ceremony. This is a significant event for the Royal Family and British culture, so it’s important to maintain a level of respect.
- Don’t forget to bring your camera or phone to capture this iconic ceremony. However, it’s important to be respectful and not obstruct the views of others with your filming or photography. Also, make sure to turn off any flash on your camera as it may be disruptive during the ceremony.
Explore The Area
While you wait for the ceremony to begin, take some time to explore the area surrounding Buckingham Palace. You can stroll through nearby parks or visit other nearby attractions such as Westminster Abbey or Big Ben. This is a great opportunity to learn more about London and its rich history.
Attending the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is a must-see for any visitor to London. It’s a truly special experience that combines tradition, entertainment, and history into one event. With these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to have an enjoyable and memorable time at the Changing of the Guard. Make sure to add this iconic event to your itinerary and witness a piece of British culture come to life!
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