Buckingham Palace is the jewel of England, a building filled with decadence and opulence fit for the official residency of our beloved Queen and one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world. With gardens spanning across forty acres, a helicopter pad, a lake, and tennis court, it’s the ultimate place to take six year old Princess Millie, and two year old Prince Gabriele for a spot of exploring jaw-dropping royal heritage.
On the way to Buckingham Palace through St James’s Park, we were greeted by soldiers on parading horses wearing traditional red tunics and bearskin hats. The children were amazed by the sound of so many tall black horses clip-clopping past us, and how straight and official the soldiers stood with their guns. We then crossed the road to the palace where there are a series of entry gates for ticket and non-ticket holders. As we already had our tickets we were able to go straight through to security, whilst hundreds of tourists queued outside for their time slot as entry is booked throughout the day due to capacity. I asked a member of staff on our gate how many people come to the palace each day and she advised they allow three-hundred people through the gate every quarter of an hour.
Security is just like at an airport where you must remove all of your personal belongings and bags and pass through a scanner and x-ray machine in front of police. We then approached the baggage area where pushchairs and rucksacks must be checked in and children either walk or are carried with hip-seats available as the staff advised that if even fifty people tried to bring a pushchair the doorways would become congested and the stairs unmanageable as people wander freely around the rooms of the palace via a handset tour. Carrying Gabriele on my hip we then collected our handsets and headphones and the tour began.
Each handset is touchscreen, much like a mobile phone, you press the welcome icon to begin and a presenter explains how everything works and points you to the help section should you need it. There is a ‘family’ tour, ‘child’ and ‘adult’ version to choose from and as you approach each room a sign greets you with the tour number that you can type in so that it can guide you around all of the features and points of interest whilst explaining what each room is used for and showing video clips and photographs for reference. It is an incredible idea as it allows you to take your time and view everything within the grounds as you’re not straining to hear a tour guide or standing on tiptoes to look over the shoulder of the person in front. Each room is roped to guide you through the palace in order, with people walking around with their headsets, standing quietly and admiring the finery. The children’s tour featured a cheerful cartoon corgi called Rex who plays fun games and guides the little ones around and both Millie and Gabriele loved him. I was expecting Gabriele to be too young at the age of two to fully appreciate the palace and its features, but he loved having his own handset and touching the screen, and with every beautiful window, balcony and sculpture he pointed and said “Look Mummy!”
The State Rooms are the heart of the palace, used for ceremonial occasions and official entertaining. The ceilings reach as high as the heavens with an abundance of gold ornate carving, sparkling grand chandeliers and stunning sculptures and paintings by Canova, Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto. The sheer size and scale of each room is breathtaking, and the attention to detail absolutely flawless. You totally loose yourself in wonderment, with every surface, finish and dressing absolutely captivating and a feast for the eye. As a keen fan of interior design it was fascinating to see such a collection of some of the finest English and French furniture in the world, proudly displayed in such peaceful and airy, spacious rooms. I stood completely in awe, and to be a small child stood inside the palace must feel absolutely magical, making the already grand rooms seem all the more grander.
The Throne Room gave me goosebumps as I stood before the royal thrones which are used for the reception of formal addresses on important occasions, such as those present to The Queen’s Jubilees in 1977 and 2002. Beautiful family portraits were displayed either side of the thrones, showing the royal family sitting exactly where the children and I were standing. To think that we were present in such a prestigious room was awe inspiring and humbling at the same time with cascading red drapery, golden carvings and ornate floral wall coverings surrounding the thrones upon a raised platform.
After visiting the opulent drawing rooms there was a special exhibition based upon the Royal Childood, giving a rare and beautiful insight into life as a member of the royal family at Buckingham Palace. From quirky and heartfelt scribbles in school workbooks, to beloved wooden toys, dinky prams, elegant outfits and photographs. It put me in mind of a Sunday afternoon when you get the family together and pull out the old photo albums and home videos from times gone by, only these were from inside the palace and not a modest little three-bed in the country. It certainly brought the royal family even closer to our hearts, as the children pressed their noses up against the glass cases and pointed and giggled at all the of things that they too have played with. Millie was ecstatic to see the roll-top prams, little pull along carts and dolls houses similar to hers. And Gabriele pointed out the miniature cars, black and white videos and little boys outfits and Sunday best.
The tour lasted a couple of hours in total, but you can take as long as you like to stop and look as there is no hurry to proceed because there are no queues or groups to follow. Gabriele did get a little restless towards the end, as he’s used to being in a pushchair when tired so that he can rest and sleep, so by the end he had had enough of being held and didn’t feel like walking anymore. The uniformed staff were extremely helpful with several members situated in each room, and they asking if they could help me with Gabriele before showing me the way back to the baggage area so that I could get him seated in his pushchair and stop for lunch. There weren’t very many young children there at all, as Gabriele was certainly the smallest, the majority of children were aged five and above and they were fascinated by the tour, as was Millie. I think it all depends on the individual child and what they’re like with standing quietly and paying attention, if Gabriele hadn’t have gotten grisly towards the end I would have certainly stayed for another twenty minutes or so to finish looking around. But I’m glad that they both got to see the palace as it was a magnificent experience for us all and there was so much to take in.
We then stopped for a spot of lunch in the garden, watching the sprinklers on the lawn, birds swopping past and the trees swaying in the summer afternoon breeze. It was like something out of a Disney film as we ate our cucumber sandwiches and talked about everything we’d just seen inside. There is a Garden Cafe serving cakes, sandwiches and tea overlooking the gardens. After lunch we then visited the Family Pavilion which is situated on the patio area and houses fun activities and play areas for children of all ages. There was a lovely little kitchen area with a picket fence surround which Gabriele ran straight to. It had a delightful printed magnetic wall to replicate the Welsh cottage, with puzzle pieces to fit to the traditional gas stove, washing machine and mangle and wooden toys scattered amongst seating.
Millie chose an activity sheet from the colouring table of a Princess that she decorated in purple, before playing some of the magnetic royal-themed wall games, writing a chalk board thank you letter to the Queen, riding a wooden rocking horse and dressing up as a fairy. Finally we visited the gift shop where we chose a red velvet stocking for £12.95 with “Buckingham Palace” in gold stitching to hang on our Christmas tree. To exit we walked through the beautiful gardens, past the lake and tennis court and through dreamy meandering paths, swaying trees and stunning flowers. We had the most wonderful time visiting Buckingham Palace and it is an experience that we will treasure forever.
Prices: Adult £26.00, 60+/Students £23.40, Under 17’s £15.60.
By Train: London Victoria. (National Rail Enquiries Service 08457 484950 (UK)).
By Underground: Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner.
By Bus: Numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop on Buckingham Palace Road.
By Road: Buckingham Palace is within the London Congestion Charge zone. Please visit www.cclondon.com for further details.
By Coach: Victoria Coach Station is a 10-minute walk from the Palace.
Address: Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA