What it’s like inside Buckingham Palace – you can visit the 19 State Rooms over the Summer, including a special Platinum Jubilee exhibition
[FURTHER UPDATE The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace will reopen to visitors on Thursday, 22 September. The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews will not reopen to the public in 2022. The special displays at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse marking the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II will not reopen.]
[UPDATE The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are closed until further notice following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8th. The Queen’s coffin is being brought to Buckingham Palace from Scotland on the evening of September 13th and will rest in the Bow Room and then the Throne Room for family and staff respectively to pay their respects. The Queen’s coffin will leave Buckingham Palace at 2.22pm on September 14th to lie in in state at Westminster Hall. Rest in Peace your Majesty]
Walking up the red carpeted, gold leafed, double pronged Grand Staircase, it’s hard not to channel “You shall go to the ball!” I’m at Buckingham Palace to visit the State Rooms which are open to the public this summer, until October 2nd, for the first time since 2019. Chopstix had a preview of the self guided tour – a week later Jeff Bezos apparently booked on the Exclusive Evening Tour.
The State Rooms, where the British royal family meet and entertain official visitors, lie deep beyond the famous façade, in the West Wing of the Palace. Entry for the paying public (tickets for adults are £30 with concessions available) is not through the front gates but at the side on Buckingham Palace Road. Though once through “airport-style security” (where they are much more polite than at any airport I’ve been to) we access the same grand rooms as the dignitaries.
But first we’re given a few rules – no chewing of gum (“you can’t imagine where we find it”), no photographs of the State Rooms and no loos until the end of the tour.
First taste of the splendour is the aptly named Grand Staircase. The theatrical look is not accidental – the staircase was designed, like all The State Rooms, by John Nash who had a background in theatre set design. George 1V commissioned Nash to transform the then Buckingham House into a palace. Even the most jaded person couldn’t fail to be awed by the sheer magnificence and exquisite craftsmanship.
The self-guided tour (the free audio guide gives interesting insight into the history, art and design details) loops through the 19 State Rooms. Each room flows on to the next and the dramatic Throne Room comes so early on it can take you by surprise. Through the glorious in its own right Green Drawing Room my eye is drawn to two prominently placed thrones in the next room.
The theatrics are dialled up to maximum in the Throne Room: wall to wall crimson red with several crystal chandeliers and of course, thrones. One is embroidered “ER II” and the other, poignantly, “P” for the late Prince Philip. Fans of Prince William and Kate Middleton will recognise the room as the setting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding portraits.
We are gently guided one way through the Palace by a subtly roped off areas. Uniformed staffers are positioned along the route, probably to check we don’t touch or photograph anything but all unfailingly friendly.
The Picture Gallery has recently been renovated as part of a massive repair plan for the Palace. The long, glass roofed room is lined with works by the world’s most famous painters including Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer.
The presence of Queen Victoria looms large in the next room, the East Gallery, which is packed with portraits of the monarch and her family. Each year the Summer Opening includes a special display in the Ball Supper Room, commissioned by Victoria and based between the East Gallery and the Ballroom.
For 2022 in celebration of the Queen’s seventy year reign the exhibition is Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession featuring portraits taken by official Royal photographer, the late Dorothy Wilding.
Wildings’ photographs were the basis for Queen’s image on British stamps, bank notes and coins. The portraits were also distributed to British embassies around the world.
Past the exhibition the tour resumes in the enormous Ballroom, commissioned by Queen Victoria as she was running out of space for guests in the Blue Drawing Room. Today the lavish space is used for state banquets and investitures.
Following on from here the rest of the State Rooms overlook the Palace’s vast grounds. While there’s an initial urge to gawp at the Queen’s back garden, the sheer magnificence of the interiors ultimately keeps your interest inside. This run of rooms is the grandest including the Music Room, originally known as the Bow Drawing Room, with its striking blue columns and where Prince Charles was christened, and culminating in the ravishing White Drawing Room which includes a secret door used by the royals.
Downstairs, we walk through the Marble Hall which was created specifically to house marble sculptures. At the bottom of the stairs themselves is a full length sculpture of Mars and Venus carved from a single block.
The tour then leads out through the Bow Room to the garden where, conveniently, there’s a cafe set up on the West Terrace. Overlooking the lawn and lake, it’s a pleasant spot to sit for a coffee in a Buckingham Palace branded paper cup.
For more amusing Buckingham Palace branded merchandise there’s a large shop strategically placed on the way out of the grounds. You may also be tempted to stock up on an (admittedly cute) stuffed toy corgi or a bottle of Her Majesty’s gin.
As a bonus the way out is a seven minute walk around the edge of the gardens. Exiting on a busy London road which leads to “the Queen’s favourite hotel” The Goring in one direction and Hyde Park Corner in the other, no carriage awaits me. Before I set off on foot though I do feel as if I should check for a pumpkin with six mice.