Enjoyed the West End musical last night? Good. Now that one’s weary bodies and tired feet has been rested, its Day Two of our recommended London itinerary. Being the economic, political and social life of the nation, London is a vibrant city that has everything from ancient history, modern art, opera to underground raves, London has it all. This megalopolis is known for many things, perhaps one of the more poignant one is that the royal family, in particular the Queen, lives in the capital. Now that is the first stop on our list of things to do.
Buckingham Palace – Located in the city of Westminster, Buckingham Palace is the London home and primary residence of the British Monarch, Her Majesty The Queen, as well as the administrative headquarters of the Royal Household. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today. Today the State Rooms are used extensively by The Queen and Members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain their guests on State, ceremonial and official occasions. During August and September when The Queen makes her annual visit to Scotland, the Palace’s nineteen state rooms are open to visitors. The State Rooms form the heart of the working palace and are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection – paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto; sculpture by Canova; exquisite examples of Sèvres porcelain; and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.
Royal Mews – One of the finest working stables in existence, the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace provides a unique insight into the department of the Royal Household that provides transport by road for The Queen and other members of the Royal Family. The Royal Mews houses the State vehicles, both horse-drawn carriages and motor cars, used for coronations, State Visits, royal weddings, the State Opening of Parliament and official engagements. Visitors can see the Gold State Coach which was last used during The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 to carry Her Majesty and Prince Philip to the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.
For most of the year the stables are home to the working horses that play an important role in The Queen’s official and ceremonial duties. They are mainly Cleveland Bays, the only British breed of carriage horse, and the Windsor greys, which by tradition always draw the carriage in which The Queen is travelling. As they may be on duty, undergoing training or having a well-deserved rest away from London, the horses are not always on view.
Changing the Guard – For a display of British pomp and ceremony, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace. Changing the Guard or Guard Mounting is the process involving a new guard exchanging duty with the old guard.
The Guard that looks after Buckingham Palace is called The Queen’s Guard and is divided into two Detachments: the Buckingham Palace Detachment (responsible for guarding Buckingham Palace) and the St James’s Palace Detachment (responsible for guarding St. James’s Palace)
These guard duties are normally provided by a battalion of the Household Division and occasionally by other infantry battalions or other units. When Guardsmen are on duty, the soldiers are drawn from one of the five regiments of Foot Guards in the British Army: the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, the Welsh Guards, the Grenadier Guards and the Coldstream Guards. The handover is accompanied by a Guards band. The music played ranges from traditional military marches to songs from films and musicals and even familiar pop songs. When The Queen is in residence, there are four sentries at the front of the building. When she is away there are two. The Queen’s Guard usually consists of Foot Guards in their full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins.
Quick tip: If you’re planning on watching the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, it is best to arrive early to get the best spot to watch the ceremony. The ceremony at St. James’s Palace is great for families with kids or elderly as there are less people watching.
St. James’s Park – After visiting Buckingham Palace and watching the Changing the Guard, walk over to St. James’s Park for some time with nature. Once a marshy water meadow, St. James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London and is surrounded by three palaces. The most ancient is Westminster, which has now become the Houses of Parliament, St James’s Palace and of course, the best known, Buckingham Palace. With royal, political and literary associations, St James’s Park is at the heart of London and covers 23 hectares (58 acres). Also home to the Mall, with many ceremonial parades and events of national celebration. The pelicans are fed every day at 2.30pm), and there are water birds, plus owls, woodpeckers and bats. There is a children’s playground, deck chairs (Apr-Sept), and guided walks. Free weekend concerts at lunchtime and early evening (mid June-end Aug). If the weather permits, have a nice picnic and just take in the lush greenery of this historical park.
Trafalgar Square – Trafalgar Square, at the heart of London, is one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces. Managed by the Greater London Authority, Trafalgar Square is a landmark in central London enjoyed by Londoners and all visitors alike. It is a lively place often used for a wide range of activities including: special events and celebrations like the Royal Wedding, Olympics One Year to Go, St Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year; filming and photography; and rallies and demonstrations. Home to Nelson’s Column, the famous stone lions, the infamous fourth plinth and a lot of pigeons, the square is rich in history and provides a platform for new artistic performances and events. It’s a must-see destination for visitors to London, where one would often find cultural events, performances, shows and other special activities going on in the square by the fountains.
National Gallery – End the day by visiting one of the best art museums in the country. Founded in 1824, the national gallery houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900 including work by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh. There are also special exhibitions, lectures, video and audio-visual programmes, guided tours and holiday events for children and adults. Entry to the main collection is usually free of charge while visitors may have to pay to visit special exhibitions.