I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a guidebook or forum about the ‘top things to do in London’ listing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (here’s one, here’s another, and here’s a third).
*eye roll *
Don’t get me wrong, I think Buckingham Palace is a must-see when you’re in this monarch-ruled land. The Queen’s residence is palatial and a key piece of the history of the United Kingdom (just watch The Crown on Netflix if you don’t believe me).
It’s a big deal.
What isn’t a big deal is the famous changing of the guard.
While I can get behind seeing the iconic guards in their black, fluffy, bear skin hats and red uniforms (which you can see anytime of the day at Buckingham Palace), I can’t get behind how over-hyped the whole ordeal has become… and how unenjoyable it actually is to go.
What the changing of the guard is really like
Let me set the scene:
You’ve arrived an hour early to get a good spot (like the guidebooks say), but upon arrival you find that a full layer of people have beaten you to the iron fence.
Well, you’re already here, so you may as well stay, even though your view is obstructed by both the iron posts of the fence, the heads in front of you, and the heads’ kids climbing up the stone portion of the wall for a better vantage point.
Ugh. As you stand there, feet hurting from all the walking you’ve already done in London this morning, more people begin to pack in, adding craning necks, pressed bodies, and an element of unnecessary competition and stress.
Meanwhile, you’re also acutely aware of your wallet in your pocket or the zipper on your purse or backpack and scan those around you in search of pickpockets.
Finally — and most likely after a soft sprinkling of rain during which everyone tried to scramble for their umbrellas, knocking elbows and invading space — it’s noon, and you can hear a band playing in the distance.
You swivel around as much as possible, trying to detect where the noise is coming from. You can see a group of men in tall, furry black hats walking up a side street in the distance, so far away you can barely make out their facial expressions.
What you didn’t realise is that they’d stay so far away.
They enter through a side gate, playing various marching band tunes, as the two guards who were on duty march forward, march sideways, switch their guns to the other arms, march some more, march, march, salute, march. You have to keep leaning to the side to catch their movements through various gaps between people’s heads and the fence.
Then, two guards who arrived with the band finally march, march, march around the two guys leaving, salute, march, switch-gun-arm, march into the two posting stations on either side of the door.
And that’s it. The two guys who were on duty leave with the band, the two guys now on duty stand perfectly still in their new guard positions.
The crowd dissipates, obscured iPhone videos and partially blocked photos in hand, to the next big thing the guidebooks suggest.
It is a lot of fanfare for very little (if no) reward, and at least an hour or two of your day wasted. Not. worth. it. Especially if you only have a few days in the city.
A better way to visit Buckingham
By visiting in the morning or late in the afternoon, you’ll get clear pictures of the palace and can still see the guards in their classic uniforms on duty before thousands of tourists descend. At least, that’s what I recommend in my two-day itinerary.
If you still want to see it just to say you have, then my best advice is to cross the street and get a higher post from the fountain/statue across from the palace. Your pictures will be far away, but you’ll get a better view of the full proceedings.
All-in-all though, I’d really just recommend giving this one a miss. There are hundreds of great things to do and ways to spend time in London — the changing of the guard just isn’t one of them.