Royal and Ceremonial London, London
One palace after the other :-)
Before you get to the first castle from direction Trafalgar Square towards Buckinham palace you will have to pass the imposant building(s) (see picture) of the Admiralty and the Horse Guards.
Here it is you might be able to get that picture of the "guard-on-his-own".
Pass through the alley end then end up at the Horse Guards Parade square.
In front of you is the St. James's Park.
If you turn right you end up at The Mall, go left and straight towards Buckingham Palace.
On your way at the right hand side you can discover Saint James's Palace.
St. James’s Palace got constructed under Henry VIII between 1532 and 1540.
It was erected on the site of the Hospital St. James where leper women were threatened. Since Queen Ann moved into the Palace at 1702, it would remain the residence for the kings and queens during three centuries, until Queen Victoria chose Buckingham Palace as the new chief residence.
Officially however, the English court is still known as the Court of St. James.
Tip: if you after all want to take that picture with you and the royal guards, take it before or after the change at Buckingham Palace at St. James Palace.
There is a guard standing all on his own (the poor guy on my other picture) you can go and stand right next to him!
During the ceremony (at about 10.45am and again at 11.40am), the mounted guards will ride past, going up 'The Mall' and returning back down.
Built in the 1820s Wellington Arch was one of a pair by the architect Decimus Burton, celebrating and commemorating Britains victory over Napoleonic France - the other one is, of course Marble Arch.
Originally built as the entrance to Buckingham Palace it is now possible to pay a £3 entry to climb to the top for views over the Royal parks. There are three floors inside telling its fascinating history.
The Arch was once topped with a statue of Wellington on his horse (the largest horse statue ever commissioned) but it was highly unpopular and when the arch itself was dismantled and moved (due to a massive road improvement scheme) in 1912, it was seen as an opportunity to replace it with the "Quadriga" a four horse chariot at full speed, driven by the Winged figure of Peace - by sculptor Adrian Jones.
Wed-Sun & Bank Hols 10am - 4pm (5pm from 1st April)
I cannot imagine London without its ceremonies. There are barracks in several areas of London to house the troops whose duties are largely ceremonial.
The Changing of the Queen's Guards is quite regal. The uniforms are impressive, the martial music is inspiration, and the shouted commands certainly demand attention!
This ceremony is made up of Old Guard who form up in the palace forecourt to hand over their duty to the New Guard. This is a very public ceremony right in front of the Palace. When the Queen is in residence in the Palace, there is one more officer and nine more men.
I had no idea that this popular ceremony was so complicated. It begins outside Wellington Barracks. Each morning a band (one of four) of the Brigade of Guards gather and begin to play. A group of guardsmen in scarlet jackets, black trousers and boots, and, of course, bearskin helmets is inspected before beginning their guard duty. Suddenly, the guard detail marches off, and the Changing of the Queen's Guard is under way.
At about the same time, another group of soldiers (on horseback) move from Hyde Park to Whitehall to change guard duties at Horse Guards Parade. These are members of the Household Cavalry, and they are chaperoned through London's traffic by two mounted members of the Metropolitan Police.
Both of these ceremonies are colorful, musical, dynamic, and EXPENSIVE to keep up.
If you are spending more than 3 or 4 days in London, I would highly recommend a day trip out to one of the castles/palaces that are easily reachable from London via train. Windsor Castle is one of my three favorites that are close to London (the other two are Hampton Court and Warwick Castle), the trip takes about 35-40 minutes from London and can easily be a full day trip should you want to do some shopping, wander over to Eton or take a boat trip on the Thames River. Or a 1/2 day if you get an early start and all you want to see is the castle.
I've been out to Windsor several times on a daytrip from London, twice to take other people who hadn't seen it, twice on my own. Windsor is a quintessential castle, beautiful architecture, lots of history and lots to see inside the castle.
For more information on what to see in Windsor and how to get there, please see my Windsor page.
2nd visit August 2008
Warwick Castle can be visited on a long day trip from London, this is one of my favorite castles that I've visited and they have activities going on during the day that are entertaining for both adults and kids. The weekends in summer tend to have the most activities but I imagine they are also the most crowded.
There are several different ways to visit Warwick Castle:
Several companies run day trips out to Warwick by bus, these are more expensive than independent travel and also include other stops in Oxford and Stratford.
If you opt for independent travel, the journey takes about 1 hr 40 minutes by train. If you are just planning on spending the day you can get a "cheap" day return, we purchased 2 for 1 tickets in advance from Lastminute.com, you can also get a slight discount by booking on the castle's website, plus you can avoid the queues. The Castle is just a short 15 minute walk from the train station.
Or if you want to try and combine a visit to Warwick with Stratford, there was a Shakespeare Explorer pass for either 1 or 3 days that allowed you to go into Warwick and out of Stratford (or vice versa). As seeing the castle properly takes at least 4 hours, unless you get a really early start on the day, you really can't do justice to both places in one day.
I posted some additional tips and pics on my Warwick page.
It amazes me how quiet this event is from a tourist turnout perspective. It appears to be almost unknown to tourists, yet the ones that accidentally stumble across it appear a bit bewildered and fascinated in equal amounts! If you want London pageantry, this is about as good as you get, and the even better news is that it is free and also you get direct access to the participants. Not only do you get to see Pearly Kings, Pearly Queens, Princes and Princesses, you get to see a whole raft of Lord Mayors (although unfortunately Ken Livingstone always seems to have something better to do). You get the London Town Crier. Chelsea Pensioners, Shire Horses, Donkeys and lots of little carts. You also get numerous self-styled London personalities.
I would highly recommend a visit to this festival. It tends to be around Mid-September. If you want to know more, try the following website:
The event I refer to above is the Pearly Guild Harvest Festival.
In days gone by, before there were Public Address Systems and microphones and News Programmes on the TV, the way news was spread about a large town/city was to have a Town Crier who went through the town with his bell shouting out the proclamation he had been tasked with telling the population.
This is the current London Town Crier. I believe he has been in the role for several decades (he did tell me exactly how long, but I have forgotten the precise figure). Of course his role is pretty much just ceremonial these days, but is part of the pageantry of London that is still kept alive that many people may miss. The best way to see him is to either get lucky (I have seen him a few times), or to try and find an event he attends (such as the Pearly Kings Harvest Festival).
These days, most people associate Chelsea with Englands (currently) most successful Football Team. However A Chelsea Pensioner is NOT something ex-Chelsea players become when they get old (I can't see Frank Lampard or John Terry joining their ranks...). Chelsea is an area in London (a rather well to do area as it happens). The Chelsea Pensioners are old soldiers who live together in an Old Soldiers Home (unsurprisingly based in Chelsea). As with the Town Crier, they are part of London's heritage and you can often see them at ceremonies such as Trooping the Colour or the Pearly Kings Harvest Festival.
The Chelsea Pensioners live in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The building itself was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682.
The Horse Guards Parade is the second most popular ceremony outside of the Changing of the Guard. In fact, the two mounted cavalry regiments of the Queens Household Regiments, who march in the Changing of the Guard, make up the Horse Guards Parade. The parade happens every Monday through Saturday at 11.00am and on Sundays at 10.00am. It takes place outside the Horse Guards Building on Whitehall, which was built in 1745 to house the old palace guards
The Guards (Queen's Life Guards) ride along the Mall between Horse Guards parade and Hyde Park.
The Queen's mounted Life Guards hold one of the most prestigious military positions. Every afternoon at 4pm the Dismounting Ceremony takes place. First the Guards undergo an inspection - down to whether they have creases in their boots! The mounted sentries stationed outside the Horse Guards are those who did the best at Inspection.
There is limited space for spectators so be sure to arrive early!
The men you see around Buckingham Palace and around London are not only ceremonial guards. While upholding the traditions of the past, they perform duties throughout the world as professional soldiers and are known as some of the most elite and skilled soldiers in the British Army. The responsibility of guarding the Sovereign by the Household Troops dates back to the time of Henry VII (1485-1509). They take an active role in protecting their Sovereign and at night they patrol the grounds of both Buckingham Palace and St. James's Palace. These are some of the best soldiers in the British Army and have fought in many major areas of conflict since the 17th Century.
The Household Division is made up of seven Regiments and comprise of the Household Cavalry Regiment, The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals along with five other Regiments of Foot Guards, the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, The Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards.
Following is the breakdown of the dress code for the Guards:
Life Guards - Wear a metal helmet with a white plum on the helmet, red tunic no buttons
Blues & Royals – Wear a metal helmet with a red plume on helmet, blue tunic no buttons
Grenadier - Wear a bearskin cap with a white plume worn on the left, red tunic singly buttons
Goldstream - Wear a bearskin cap with a red plume worn on the right, red tunic, pairs of buttons
Scots-Wear a bearskin cap with no plume, red tunic threes of buttons
Irish - Wear a bearskin cap with a blue plume worn on the right, red tunic, fours of buttons
Welsh - Wear a bearskin cap with a white/green/white plume worn on the left, red tunic, fives of buttons
When looking at the guards at Buckingham Palace one might forget to think of which one you are looking at?
There are seven different regiments.
The one on the picture at the left is one of the 5 regiments wearing the bearskin hat.
The one on the picture has probably his bleu plume at his right side (not showing in this picture). He has his buttons with 2 x 4 on a row, so I presume this is a member of the Irish regiment.
The other four are recognizable bye the plume and the way the buttons are on the coat:
Grenadier: White plume at the left and singly buttons
Coldstream: Red plume at the right and pair buttons
Scots: no plume and buttons by threes
Welsh: white/green/white plume at the left side, buttons row of 5 each.
At the right side on the 2nd picture you can spot two members of the Life Guards. They wear the white (long) plume on their helmet, their tunics are red and they have no buttons.
The Blues and Royals have a similar red plume on their helmet and their tunics have no buttons and are blue.
Or as we say in England - A Right Royal Walk.
Follow the link for details of a walk around Big Ben; Westminster Abbey; Buckingham Palace etc.
Takes about 3 hours
Horse Guards Parade-Ceremonial mounting of the guard daily at 11:00 am (10:00am Sundays) in summer on Horse Guards Parade and in winter in the courtyard. Dismount ceremony daily at 4:00pm. The Guards (Queen's Life Guards) ride along the Mall between Horse Guards parade and Hyde Park
Visitors to London expect to see lots of ceremony and tradition and they will not be disappointed. Horse Guards Parade is a good place to see soldiers from the Household Cavalry in their crimson tunics. The guards are changed at 11am - 10am on Sundays.