Changing of the Guard | London / Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guard is the ceremony where the Old Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace to the New Guard.

Immaculately turned out guards, precision drill and bands playing stirring music all combine to make Changing of the Guard one of London's most popular attractions that epitomises the pomp and military ceremony for which Britain is famous.

Royal StandardWhen the Royal Standard is flying, from the roof of Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty The Queen is in residence and the 'Queen's Guard' will consist of 3 officers and 40 men otherwise if will comprise of 3 officers and 31 men.

Questions we are often asked about Changing the Guard are:

  • "What time should we arrive' for Changing of the Guard"?
  • "Where is the best place to stand to see Changing of the Guard"?

Before telling you about the ceremony and the post procedures for the guards lets answer those questions.

You will need to be at Buckingham Palace at least an hour before the ceremony starts, as Changing the Guard, does attract a large numbers of visitors even in winter, if you want to grab one of the best spots.

Irish Guards at Buckingham Palace

Best Spots to See Changing of the Guard

Next to the railings in front of Buckingham Palace is the spot many head for, to watch Changing of the Guard, but you will find it hard to get good pictures of the 'Guards' as they march to the Palace. (If you do want to stand at the railings take a bottle of water because if you leave for a drink or comfort break you will not get back to the front of the crowd).

The steps of the Victoria Monument provide a reasonable view of the ceremony, and let you see the Guards and Bands arriving and departing, as well as watching the Household Cavalry pass on their way to and from Horse Guards, where they change the Queen's Life Guard every day.

Spur Road, on the left facing the Palace, gives a limited view but an opportunity to watch the New Guard and band marching up Birdcage Walk on their way to Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

There are other spots along the routes the guards take to and from the Palace where you can see 'The Queen's Guard' march past, while avoiding the huge crowds in front of Buckingham Palace.

The guardsmen you see Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace are not just ceremonial guards. They are professional infantry soldiers many who have seen, or will see, active service all over the world with the British Army.

The Queen's Guard, in their scarlet tunics and iconic bearskin hats, are normally drawn from one of the five regiments of foot guards in the Household Division. During the winter months the guards wear grey greatcoats over their scarlet tunics

Occasionally other regiments will provide the Queen's Guard and they stand guard in their regimental No.1 Dress and cap or beret.

The Ceremony

Most people head for Buckingham Palace to see Changing the Guard but the ceremony actually takes place between three locations – Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks.

The St. James’s Palace detachment of the ‘Old Guard’ forms up in Friary Court at 11:00am for an inspection by the Captain of The Queen’s Guard.
(St James Palace is situated off The Mall in Marlborough Road).

This contingent will make its way down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace at approximately 11:15 preceded by a Regimental Band or Corps of Drums.

The Buckingham Palace detachment, of the Old Guard, already on duty in the Palace, are inspected whilst awaiting the arrival of the St. James’s Palace detachment.

The St. James’s detachment enters the Palace Forecourt via the South Centre Gate (left of centre facing the Palace) and takes up position beside the Buckingham Palace detachment on the left hand side of the forecourt. These are the routes the guards take to and from Buckingham Palace.

Now complete, the Old Guard awaits the arrival of the incoming ‘New Guard’ from Wellington Barracks situated at the Buckingham Palace end of Birdcage Walk.

The New Guard undergoes its own inspection. At approximately 11.10am. While awaiting the arrival of their Regimental Colour, the band, accompanying the New Guard, forms a circle and plays a few musical items.

After saluting the Colour, the New Guard steps of from Wellington Barracks preceded by a Regimental Band.

At approximately 11:30 the New Guard enters the Forecourt, via the North Gate (right of centre facing the Palace), they march in front of the Band and halt to facing the Old Guard.

The Band then performs the New Guard’s Regimental Slow March as it advances towards the Old Guard.

The Old and New Guards ‘Present Arms’ before the Captains of the Guard ceremoniously hand over the Palace keys. This symbolic gesture represents the transfer of responsibility for the Palace’s security from the Old to the New Guard who until relieved will be The Queen's Guard.

When The Queen is in residence The Foot Guards on the forecourt of the Palace, will await The Queens Life Guard and ‘Present Arms’, (salute with their rifles), as the cavalry pass between the Queen Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace.

After the ‘Present Arms’, officers of both the Old and New Buckingham Palace detachments salute the Senior Captain on parade with their swords.

Retiring to the guardroom, they will report to the Senior Captain after completing handover procedures with their Senior Non-Commissioned Officers.

During this period the Ensigns, carrying their respective Colours, patrol the area before the Palace from left to right. Officers not directly involved in the ceremony march in step along the west side of the Guards.

As each new sentry is posted, a Corporal distributes any special orders, previously collected personally from the Palace by the Captains of the Guard.

During these procedures the Regimental Band, originally accompanying the New Guard, moves to the centre of the forecourt, forms a semi circle and perform a programme of music.

Band of the Irish Guards

Pipers who occasionally accompany the Old Guard also provide music at this point in the ceremony.

The original sentries, having been replaced by sentries from the New Guard, return to complete the Old Guard.

The duty bugler informs the Director of Music that the handover is complete. The band then reforms in front of the centre gates.

At approximately 12:05 the Guards are called to ‘Attention’.

The Old Guard advances to its Regimental Slow March towards the New Guard.

Wheeling right, the Colours of the Old and New Guard exchange compliments as the Old Guard exits through the Centre Gate preceded by the band.

Having left the Palace, the Old Guard ‘breaks into quick time’ and continues its march back to Wellington Barracks.

The New Guard, remaining in the Palace, is given the order to ‘Slope Arms’ and is referred to from this point as ‘The Queen’s Guard.’

The detachment then divides into two.

Those responsible for guarding St. James’s Palace, usually led by a Regimental Band or Corps of Drums, march off down the Mall to place the Regimental Colour in the guardroom, in Friary Court, at St. James’s Palace.

The Buckingham Palace detachment of The Queen’s Guard then retires to the Palace guardroom to assume their duties.

Post Procedure For The Guards

The guards of the Buckingham Palace and St James Palace are on duty for 24 hours.

During that time a Guardsman will have 2 hours on sentry duty and then 4 hours off.

A sentry will come to attention, every 10 minutes, slope arms and march across their post, normally about 20 paces in total, having repeated this four-five times the guard halts, shoulders arms and returns to standing at ease.

Sentries are not permitted to stand easy whilst at their post, indeed it is in the orders for the sentry that are read out to them at the beginning of their 'tour of duty', "you may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty".

Foot Guards are trained on how to deal with threats and nuisances from the public.

The first way they do this is by coming to attention, as the crash of a studded ammo boot striking concrete, is a good way to grab attention, and this is usually accompanied by a shout of 'Stand back from the guard' or something similar.

Should the nuisance persists the sentry repeats the above and moves his weapon , to the slope with a similar shout.

The final warning is to issue an official challenge to the person. The sentry will slope arms and then move the weapon into a position called 'port arms' where the weapon points at the person.

This is considered the final warning and the next step would be for the sentry to either detain the person or seek assistance.

If there is a threat from arms or other weapon, the sentry can seek, or in some cases already have, permission to discharge their weapon to stop the assailant.
There have been no recorded discharging of weapons from sentries on public duties.

Should members of the public get in the way of the Foot Guards, The Guards will not march around them. The usual phrase to make people move is 'Make way for the Queen's guard'.

Getting to the Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace

Address: Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA

By Underground

The nearest tube stations are:
Victoria - About 15 minutes District, Circle &Victoria line
Green Park - 10 minutes walk Piccadilly, Victoria & Jubilee line
St James's Park - 10 minutes walk District & Circle line

By Train

Nearest, mainline, train station:
London Victoria - About 15 minutes walk

By Bus

Bus Numbers: 11, 211, 239, C1 & C10 Stop on Buckingham Palace Rd.

By Car

Not recommended, the Palace is in the congestion charge zone.
Parking is difficult to find and expensive.

Getting Around London

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Confirmed Dates for Changing the Guard

The confirmed dates and details of the regiments and bands taking part in the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace are released by the British Army in the latter part of the preceding month. For example the August schedule would be released towards the end of July