Postcard of the Week: Buckingham Palace, London
Visiting Buckingham Palace has long been on my list of things to do in London. I’ve seen the changing of the guard from outside of the palace, but never seen inside. As the Queen’s main residence only opens to the paying public for two months of the year while she’s holidaying in Balmoral in Scotland, from 25th July to 27th September in 2015, and as tickets can often sell out, seeing inside the palace needs a little planning. Tickets to tour the gardens are already sold out for this year, but you can still book to see the State Rooms inside the palace. My good friend Caro and I spent a relaxing Sunday afternoon inside the palace, which they kit out much like a normal museum, with audio guides, an exhibition on the inner workings of the palace to show how they prepare for a state banquet and how the state rooms are used for 14 investiture ceremonies each year to award honours such as OBEs.
The palace is comprised of a total of 775 rooms, however the State Rooms visit takes you around 19 beautiful rooms that were designed by John Nash in the 1820s when the building was transformed by King George IV from a stately home called Buckingham House into a royal palace. You pass through the main courtyard and the Australian Stage Coach, then a split-level Grand Entrance which reminded me very much of a hotel lobby in a tropical colonial outpost. Up an elegant and airy spiral bronze staircase you’re treated to a peek at some of the sculptures and paintings that belong to the Royal Collection. Our favourite was a Canova sculpture of the Greek god of war, Mars, being tamed by Venus, the goddess of love.
Entering the Throne Room we were surprised to see two very modest thrones (in typical understated British style) and I tried to picture my great-great-grandfather receiving his knighthood. Continue into the Ballroom where state banquets for 170 guests are held to celebrate state visits by foreign monarchs, presidents and prime ministers. How does one go about getting an invite to one of those we wondered?
You will also explore various other rooms such as the Music Room and the White Drawing Room, where the audio guide gives you little anecdotes about peculiar traditions and customs. In the amusing State Dining Room you can see what gifts visiting dignitaries have presented to the Queen – some are really quite peculiar! I’m looking at you Mexico… But to cut Mexico some slack, where do you start when deciding what on earth to give to the Queen?! A bottle of wine and a box of Ferrero Rocher simply won’t cut it.
You exit through a series of further drawing rooms into the pristine gardens of Buckingham Palace. While you can’t stomp all over the perfect lawn, you do get a sense of the peace and calm nestled in the centre of London’s 8-million-strong metropolis, passing the lake and past some lucky coots enjoying their regal surroundings. Each year the Queen hosts three Royal Garden Parties for her people, with 8,000 attendees each. Given how enormous these parties are, Caro and I are a bit put out that neither of us have yet had a royal invitation pop through our letterboxes! Hint, hint…
Exploring the palace indulged my nosiness, after all who doesn’t love the Royal Family. But I was quite surprised they didn’t pay more homage to the previous occupants of the palace and the Queen’s ancestors. It was very much focused on present day running of the palace, which is perhaps what sets it apart from visits to other royal palaces and stately homes.
All in all, I really like that they open up Buckingham Palace to the public and it’s a great example of how the Royal Family is going to great lengths to endear themselves to we the people. I’d definitely advise you to book your ticket soon and head to the palace before it closes again on 28th September, when the Queen returns from her summer holidays. Next up: I really should visit her majesty’s weekend pad – Windsor Castle!