Buckingham Palace has just opened its doors to the public for 10 weeks, giving us mere mortals the opportunity to see behind the doors of one of the most photographed and recognised palaces in the world. Its also an opportunity to see some of the most extravagant rooms most of us will ever see. The State rooms are those rooms in Buckingham Palace used extensively by The Queen and members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain their guests on State, ceremonial and official occasions. Even if your taste in interiors doesn’t include endless gold leaf, brocade and paintings by old masters, I defy anyone not be impressed by the splendour of these rooms. This is a palace that feels like a palace. Sweeping staircases, swathes of luxurious fabrics and of course a throne room. Many of the rooms will even seem familiar. The Throne Room is immediately recognisable as it was the setting for the photographs from the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. There are plenty of opportunities to dawdle beside priceless treasures or sweep down staircases as you imagine daily life inside the palace, although sadly no opportunities to try out the thrones or pop on a tiara.
As part of your entry ticket you receive a headset and multi media guided tour. This really does add to the experience. The palace is brought to life via historical facts, insights in to how banquets and other royal occasion are prepared for and some of the most striking works of art are explained. There is never too much information and it is all presented in such a way that the whole experience is enhanced. I will always remember there are 78 bathrooms in Buckingham Palace. Thats a lot of toilets to clean! There is also a special multi media tour for children under 12. Alice the Footman, and Rex the Corgi give their own particular take on the State Rooms. Maybe we will try this on our next visit.
There is a strict ‘mobile phones must be switched off policy’. Initially this may feel disappointing, who doesn’t want to take pictures inside the palace? However, the result is that instead of everyone looking at things though a digital screen or obscuring views for others by sticking mobile phones where they probably shouldn’t be stuck, visitors actually look at the displays and the wealth of treasures properly, and through their own eyes. Now this may seem counter intuitive today when we want to record everything, but I am all for it, it really worked, and I would say added to the overall experience. Of course the down side of that is that I can’t share with you pictures from inside the palace.
This year tickets include the exhibition Royal Gifts, which tells the story of The Queen’s reign through a display of official gifts presented to her during the past 65 years. It was both fascinating and slightly bemusing to see what the Queen is presented with, staggering to imagine how many gifts she has collected in her long reign, and even more staggering to think that they all have to be housed somewhere.
The tour ends in the garden, and although a tour of the gardens is not included the walk to the exit is long enough and pretty enough to get a little feel for them. There is a cafe serving royal tea and cake and a garden shop selling all things royal including a rather adorable collection of cuddly corgis!
At £23 for adults, £13 for under 17’s (under 5’s go free), its not a cheap excursion but with over 14 rooms to see, a vast collection of masterpieces and a head set tour I felt it was good value. We were there on the second day of opening and it never felt overcrowded. Entrances are timed and the rooms are so colossal it is very easy to see everything you want to. It never felt rushed, in fact it almost felt respectful, maybe because everyone is plugged into head sets and listening, it isn’t noisy or boisterous in any way.
I should also add that your entry entitles you to a free 1 year pass. This may not be so great for visitors from overseas or outside of London but for those of us who live in the capitol this is a definite bonus and means we could go along again for free should we want to.
Image of the throne room via The Royal Collection