Buckingham Palace is more than just another of the Queen's many residences and palaces – it's the place where Britain's fairy-tale romance with the royal family has been acted out for more than 150 years. Proud processions, balcony kisses, jubilant celebration, and bleak moments of grief have all been witnessed from its iconic gates. For most visitors to London, Buckingham Palace is where you can see that fairy-tale step off the page. The Queen lives here for much of the year, and you may catch a glimpse of her at events like the Trooping of the Colour, or the recent Coronation celebrations.
And you can even step through those gilded gates, to see the splendour of a working royal palace for yourself – where heads of state are entertained and honoured citizens are knighted. Every summer, the palace gates open to ticketed visitors, who can come and wander around Buckingham Palace's 19 State Rooms. Most of these rooms were decorated in the early 19th century by King George IV (though the palace itself dates back to the 1762) and are rich with gilt furniture, crystal chandeliers, intricately panelled rooms and rare artistic masterpieces.
The Music Room is where guests and visiting heads of state are presented to the Queen – and the Duke of Edinburgh – while the Throne Room is only used on special occasions, such as the recent Jubilee. The long fabulous corridor of the Picture Gallery is used for small receptions and glittering dinners, where the guests can share company with works by Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens or Van Dyck.
Of course, many come to Buckingham Palace for a different sort of spectacle – the Changing of the Guard. This exuberant display of military precision is made by the red-coated, bearskin-hatted Household Troops every day at 11.15 am. It is one of the most popular sights to be seen in London. And while some may be tempted to try and distract the tall, rigid guards standing to attention in their sentry boxes, beware.
The call of 'Stand back from the guard' is one to be heeded – sentry duty is one taken most seriously by the Guards at Buckingham Palace. The Palace may seem like a fairy-tale, but it's worth remembering that it's also home to one of the foremost treasures of the United Kingdom.