Visitors to England often have viewing the Changing of the Guard on their list of things to do. We’ll briefly cover what it is but focus mainly on the pros and cons of the best places to see it.
What is it
In simple terms it is a ceremony where the New Guard (detachment) is taking over duties from the Old Guard. What makes it so popular though is all the pomp and ceremony. The spectacular uniforms, the stirring music and precision marching make it an unforgettable experience.
There are 5 regiments of Foot Guards who share duties at Buckingham Palace & Windsor Castle:
• Grenadier Guards
• Coldstream Guards
• Scots Guards
• Irish Guards
• Welsh Guards
Eagle eyed visitors can spot the differences between regiments by looking at the grouping of the buttons on front of the scarlet tunics and / or by the colour and position of the plume on the bearskin cap.
As an example, in the first picture above the plume is red and on the right hand side of the bearskin, denoting the Coldstream Guards. In the second picture however, the plume is white and on the left hand side of the bearskin, denoting the Grenadier Guards.
There are also 2 regiments of Horse Guards who share duties at Horse Guards Parade:
• Life Guards
• Blues and Royals (Prince Harry served in the Blues and Royals)
Where to see it
There are 3 main locations to view Changing of the Guard
• Buckingham Palace
• Horse Guards Parade
• Windsor Castle
There are certain places and times you can get a better view; stand at junction of The Mall and Marlborough Street at 11:05 before the Guards march over to Buckingham Palace.
You can also stand at the railings next to Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk at 11:25 as the Guards emerge from the parade ground and march the short distance over to Buckingham Palace.
These steps can help to somewhat mitigate the number of people around you but in reality the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is always extremely crowded.
This is actually great fun as often there is hardly anyone around yet.
Horse Guards Parade is a 5 mins walk from Buckingham Palace through the prettiest park in Central London; St James Park. As the name suggests, the soldiers are on horseback which makes it very spectacular. After standing on the parade ground at 10:55 to watch the New Guard arrive, it is fun to spend some time round the front of Horse Guards Arch i.e. the Whitehall side and watch as the various stages of the ceremony unfold.
For some reason, Horse Guards is much less popular than Buckingham Palace so crowds are considerably smaller. You can get very close to the Guards but be very careful not to get in the way as they will shout at you in no uncertain terms if you seem to be encroaching!
Some visitors may also remember Horse Guards as the amazing venue for the Beach Volleyball back at the 2012 Olympics. We enclose a snap just to highlight what an amazing venue it was then and to bring back those lovely, nostalgic feelings.
Windsor Castle is the 3rd location to see Changing of the Guard. The town of Windsor is about 25 miles to the West of London and has been a home to the Royal Family for hundreds of years. A visit to Windsor is on most visitors itinerary but not many people realise that you can also get the most intimate experience of Changing the Guard there.
The ceremony takes place at 11:00 inside the Castle precincts so it’s advisable to be there by 10:30 latest to get through security and get a good spot. Normally the Guard Mounting ceremony takes place at the parade ground in the Lower Ward so stand by the railings just below St George’s Chapel.
The parade ground is already a great spot to view the Changing of the Guard but at Easter time something special happens. The Queen takes up official residence at Windsor Castle for a month, it is known as Easter Court. During Easter Court, the Guard Mounting ceremony takes place in the Quadrangle. If you’re in position at the entrance to St George’s Gate inside Windsor Castle at 10:55, the Guards will literally march right past you. You could reach out and touch them although this is definitely not advisable.
You can also watch the whole ceremony from the railings at Engine Court, although this can get a bit crowded. The section of Windsor Castle in the distance behind the soldiers is actually the Queen’s Private Residence. She has been known on occasion to come down and watch the Changing of the Guard which can be exciting for visitors.
The answer to ‘Which is the best place to experience Changing of the Guard’ does depend on what you’re looking for but our guidance is as follows:
• If you want a more intimate experience, set in spectacular surroundings and with plenty to do afterwards then Windsor Castle is hard to beat
• If you are horse lovers or don’t want to be overly crowded, then Horse Guards Parade is a great, London based, alternative
• If you’re Ok with big crowds and want to experience London at its most traditional, or perhaps are first time visitors, then try Buckingham Palace
One final note. The British weather is notoriously fickle. There is no Guard Mounting in very wet weather. Always, best to check the weather forecast.