We took a tour of Buckingham Palace on Saturday, which is the pinnacle of any trip to London! It also requires a bit of planning as the palace is only open to visitors for two months out of the year (August and September) when the Queen is away in Scotland for her summer holidays. And it did not disappoint!
This was probably one of the best tours that we’ve had, if for no other reason than we did not bring our son! Don’t get me wrong, we love him like crazy, but for once we didn’t have to chase him down the hall, attempt to keep him from touching everything in the room with a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign on it, or carry him out of the building screaming. We were able to go at our own pace, enjoy the fine things and actually listen to the audio tour the whole way through…in every room!
And the rooms were absolutely stunning. There were no photos allowed inside, so I have a few exterior shots and then a couple borrowed from the official website of The British Monarchy. It seemed like every square inch was covered in gold trim, beautifully carved moldings or silk wallpaper, and the picture gallery was full of Rembrandts, Canalettos and Rubens.
There was also a lovely exhibition called Royal Childhood that covered 250 years of family life at the palace with “objects from the Royal Collection, the Royal Archives and the private collections of members of the Royal Family, as well as previously unseen photographs and film footage.” I was particularly impressed by a watercolor of a children’s ball and the massive cake made for the sixth birthday of Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son.
For a little history, Buckingham Palace was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham and used to be called Buckingham House. Originally it was just the main front building. “It was subsequently acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and was known as ‘The Queen’s House’.
“During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who formed three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.” (Wikipedia)
So many of the monarchs in the 100 years before Queen Victoria (King William III and Queen Mary II, Queen Anne, and Kings George I & II) actually lived in Kensington Palace in Hyde Park.
Speaking of Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace also has a pleasant garden area that can be included in your tour. The back lawn is huge, and it’s easy to visualize it full of garden party-goers, but the gardens themselves were pretty low maintenance and felt more like a park than a manicured garden. The arrangements in the public space in front of the palace and in St. James Park across the street are much more impressive. But there’s a little lake, a small rose garden, and a tennis court.
The most interesting part was probably the Waterloo Vase, which is “the great urn commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his expected victories, which in 1815 was presented unfinished to the Prince Regent. After the King had had the base completed by sculptor Richard Westmacott, intending it to be the focal point of the new Waterloo chamber at Windsor Castle, it was adjudged to be too heavy for any floor (at 15 ft high and weighing 15 tons). The National Gallery, to whom it was presented, finally returned it in 1906 to the sovereign, Edward VII. King Edward then solved the problem by placing the vase outside in the garden where it now remains.” (Wikipedia)
We had about an hour and a half to kill between the end of our tour in the palace and the beginning of our tour through the garden. So we spent the majority of the time goofing around in the gift shop. Should you ever decide to visit the palace, the rates really are quite reasonable…£17.85 for adults, or £26 if you want to include the gardens. And there are some fun things in the gift shop as well. :)