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Changing of the Guard Ceremony: Definitive Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome to the definitive guide and timetable for Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace….St James’s Palace, Wellington Barracks and Horse Guards Parade.

Buckingham Palace

Did I just mention four locations? The answer is yes I did; and not only are four locations involved but two ceremonies are taking place at the same time!

Confused? You won’t be.

This step-by-step guide to Changing of the Guard ceremony will take you through each element with a timeline and positioning tips. It’s possible to see lots of ‘moving parts’ if you put yourself in the right place at the right time. Alternatively you can select one strategic position (see map below).

Included is a full timetable and at the foot of the blog a short timetable for Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Golden Rules:

  • The ceremonies are not static.
  • They move around and you can too if you want to.
  • You can’t be in four places at once and you won’t see everything.
  • Just enjoy what you do see.
  • Not alone but one amongst thousands – especially in high season.
  • All times are approximate. I repeat, approximate all times are.

 

What are the two ceremonies?

The most well known ceremony is Changing of the Guard. This takes place at Buckingham Palace but also includes St. James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks. It is always carried out by foot guards.

The second ceremony is the Household Cavalry guard change. This takes place on Horse Guards Parade. It is always carried out by mounted troops.

At their most basic both ceremonies are simply shift changes. The Old Guard is being replaced by the New Guard. Every soldier taking part is from an active military regiment. They are real soldiers.

When do the ceremonies take place?

Changing of the Guard: a group of people standing in front of a crowd

August – May every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

June and July the ceremony is daily.

 

Horse Guards (Change of the Queen’s Life Guard):

Daily throughout the year.

If it’s raining the ceremonies can be cancelled, even at the last moment. Foot troop movements will be carried out very quickly with no ceremony. The cavalry will have a short ceremony in the stables.

Please note this blog just covers the ceremony timetable. For a full description of the regiments taking part, uniforms, histories, origins and fun facts please read my blog ‘Changing of the Guard Ceremony: Origins and Who’s Who’.

 

Changing of the Guard Ceremony: Step-by-Step Guide (Full Version).

Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace are the two main royal residences in London. They have troops guarding them every day. If the flag flying from Buckingham Palace is the royal standard it means the sovereign is in residence. If the flag flying is the union flag (aka union jack) the sovereign is not in.

background pattern

Royal Standard

logo, company name

Union Flag (aka Union Jack)

The five regiments that carry out the majority of guard duties are from the Household Division. They are all active military regiments and are easily identified by their uniforms which include the famous red tunics and tall bearskin hats. For a full explanation of how to identify each regiment please read my blog ‘Changing of the Guard: Origins and Who’s Who’.

Other regiments are given the honour of performing guard duties. These include the Mercian Regiment, Ghurkas, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines and others from the UK and Commonwealth.

Positioning tips: The main ceremony starts at 11.00am at Buckingham Palace. Events begin from 10.25am at St James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks (see below). Many people focus on these and ignore the main ceremony. Why? Crowds, freedom to move around, access to bathrooms and kiosks in St James’s Park.

 

St James’s Palace, Marlborough Road – Timetable.

St James’s Palace is the oldest surviving royal place in Westminster. It is still a royal residence and the official palace of the royal court. St James’s Palace dates back to the 1530s and a Changing of the Guard ceremony has taken place here since 1689. The ceremony begins here.a group of people on a motorcycle in a parking lot

St James’s Palace – Friary Court

10:25am: Most of the Old Guard form up in Friary Court and are inspected by the Captain of The Queen’s Guard. They may be accompanied by a Regimental Band, Fife Band, Bagpipe Band or Corps of Drums.

10.43am: This contingent leaves St James’s Palace and marches down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. The ceremony has begun.

10.45am: The New Guard of the Household Cavalry will have been riding from their barracks in Hyde Park towards Buckingham Palace for the past 15 minutes. Their destination is Horse Guards Parade, where their ceremony to replace the Old Guard of the Horse Guards will take place (see below).

They will by now have reached Constitution Hill – you may see them approaching. If timings are perfect the Old Guard of St James’s Palace and the New Guard of the Cavalry will pass each other in The Mall. This happens by luck rather than design, so even if they don’t pass each other on this ‘sweet spot’ it is well worth waiting for the cavalry.

a group of people walking down the street

St James’s Palace Old Gaurd marching down The Mall

Positioning tips: Lots of people gather at Friary Court to watch the inspection and then move onto a position in The Mall before the Old Guard departs. I personally go straight to The Mall and take up a position, on the St James’s Park side (see map). When the Old Guard leave Friary Court and march down The Mall they will march straight past you, with a mounted police escort.

A tidal wave of people march alongside the Old Guard down The Mall. It’s fun. Join them but don’t lose the people you’re with. Pause a little further down The Mall so you can see the Household Cavalry, by now approaching from Constitution Hill. I always wait for the cavalry.

11.15am: A small detachment of New Guard arrives at St James’s Palace, having left the main ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

11.50am: The main detachment of New Guard for St James’s Palace will arrive, having marched out through the gates of Buckingham Palace and up The Mall. They will place their Regimental Colour in the Guard Room and are usually led by a Band or Corps of Drums.

 

Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk – Timetable.

Wellington Barracks dates to 1833 and is where the companies and bands whose turn it is to be the Queen’s Guard are resident during their tenure.

a tree in the middle of the street

Wellington Barracks

10.30am: In the Parade Ground a Regimental Band is warming up, usually playing non-military tunes. They like musicals (well, who doesn’t), film and TV themes (Star Wars and Game of Thrones are popular) and the occasional pop hit (Katy Perry’s ‘I kissed a girl’ has been heard). The band will revert to military tunes for the main ceremony.

10.40am: The New Guard will also be marching in the Parade Ground. They will form up on parade for inspection and the arrival of the Regimental Colour (flag) in preparation for their departure to Buckingham Palace.

10.55am: The New Guard led by the Regimental Band march out of the gates nearest to Buckingham Palace.

Positioning tips: Anywhere along the Barracks railings in Birdcage Walk to see the band and the soldiers marching. Then move nearer to the gates in time for their departure, or onto the other side of the road opposite the gates (see map).

11.45am: After the Ceremony at Buckingham Palace the combined Old Guard of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, led by the Band, arrive at Wellington Barracks having marched out through the gates of Buckingham Palace. After forming up in the Parade Ground they are quickly dismissed.

 

Buckingham Palace – Timetable.

Buckingham Palace is the new palace. It became the main royal residence in London from the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837. From this date the Changing of the Guard ceremony included St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace. As the monarch resides here, this is where the main ceremony takes place.

a small clock tower in the middle of a road with Buckingham Palace in the background

Buckinham Palace, looking through the gates to the Forecourt

10.30am: Buckingham Palace’s Old Guard forms up in the Palace forecourt for inspection. At 10:45am, the Old Guard of St James’s Palace, having marched down The Mall, enters the forecourt of Buckingham Palace through the gates on the left and take up a position beside the Buckingham Palace detachment.

Now complete, the combined Old Guard awaits the arrival of the New Guard from Wellington Barracks.

10.55am: The New Guard leaves Wellington Barracks and marches to Buckingham Palace, entering the forecourt through the gates on the right. They then march in front of the Band and take up a position facing the Old Guard.

11.00: The Band plays the New Guard’s Regimental Slow March, advancing towards the Old Guard. The Old Guard and New Guard both ‘Present Arms’ (salute with rifles). The Captain of the Old Guard then hands over the keys of the Palace to the Captain of the New Guard. This symbolises the transfer of responsibility for the Palace’s security and the New Guard are now officially ‘the Queen’s Guard’.

Officers of both the Old Guard and New Guard salute the Senior Captain on parade with their swords. The Ensigns, carrying their respective Colours, march across the forecourt from left to right. Officers not directly involved in the ceremony patrol between the Palace and both Guards.

a group of people posing for the camera11.10am: A small detachment of the New Guard for St James’s Palace march out, through the gates on the right, accompanied by a small detail from the Old Guard. They quick march up The Mall to St James’s Palace and enter the Palace through the main gates on The Mall.

New sentries at Buckingham Palace are now posted. A Lance Corporal distributes any special orders previously collected from the Palace by the Captains of the Guard. During these procedures the Regimental Band of the New Guard moves into the centre of the forecourt, forming a semi-circle, and plays a programme of military music.

The last on-duty sentries join the Old Guard. The Duty Drummer informs the Director of Music that the handover is complete. The Band then re-forms in front of the gates.

 

11.40am: The Guards re-form and are called to ‘Attention’. To a Regimental Slow March the Old Guard advances towards the New Guard. They exchange compliments as the Old Guard exits through the gates, led by the Band. Once they have left through the Palace gates, the Old Guard ‘breaks into quick time’ and continue their march to Wellington Barracks.

11.45: The New Guard in the Palace forecourt is given the order to ‘Slope Arms’ and divides into two. Those responsible for guarding St James’s Palace, usually led by a remaining Band or Corps of Drums, march out through the gates and up the Mall to place their Regimental Colour in the Guard Room at St James’s Palace. The Buckingham Palace detachment retires to the Palace Guard Room to assume its duties.

Positioning tips: A lot of people gather in front of the railings of Buckingham Palace, some of them from quite early. They will only see the Buckingham Palace elements of the ceremony. Even though they are close, it can get very crowded here so that a lot cannot be viewed.

Some people gather around the Queen Victoria Memorial. This  provides a slightly elevated view but can also get crowded. People also gather along the railings in front of the flower-beds and on the raised paving behind the flower-beds opposite Buckingham Palace, especially on the left side – this is where I tend to stand. This provides a nice view for the ‘arriving’ elements of the ceremony.

When the ceremony is over one last detail is often missed. A short while later the very last troops of the Old Guard who were guarding St James’s Palace march back to Wellington Barracks, quick time, no band. There is always an ‘overlap detail’ between the Old and New Guard, as the Palace cannot be left unguarded.

 

Horse Guards Ceremony (Change of the Queen’s Life Guard) – Timetable.

a person riding a horse in front of Horse Guards

The grand building with a clock tower in Whitehall is Horse Guards. It stands on the site of the former royal residence of Whitehall Palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1698. The main royal residence relocated to St James’s Palace and then again to Buckingham Palace in 1837. Horse Guards is regarded as the start of the royal route to Buckingham Palace.

The building is guarded by one of two mounted cavalry troops of the Queen’s Life Guard from 10.00am to 4.00pm daily.

Two cavalry regiments alternate guard duties: the Life Guards in red and the Blues and Royals in blue. The regiments are barracked and stabled in Hyde Park. The on-duty guard at Horse Guards will stay overnight in the buildings own small barracks and stable.

During the summer the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery take over guard duties.

 

Hyde Park Barracks, South Carriage Drive.

Blues and Royal riding up The Mall to Horse Guards Parade

10.28am (Monday – Saturday): The New Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks and ride along South Carriage Drive, leaving the park through Hyde Park Gate. They cross Hyde Park Corner and ride through the Wellington Arch.

If the horse in the centre of the front row is white it means the sovereign is in residence at Buckingham Palace.

 

10.40am: They continue down Constitution Hill, with the walled garden of Buckingham Palace on their right and Green Park on their left. The New Guard will continue past Buckingham Palace and ride into The Mall. At the top of The Mall the New Guard turn right into Horse Guards Road and then enter Horse Guards Parade on the left. They will now face the Old Guard to begin the Changing of the Horse Guards Ceremony.

Positioning tips: Anywhere on the route described above (see map). If timings are perfect the Old Guard of St James’s Palace and the New Guard of the Cavalry will pass each other in The Mall at 10.45am (this is by luck not design).

 

Horse Guards, Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade.

10.28am (Monday – Saturday): The Old Guard of the Horse Guards form up in the small forecourt facing Whitehall and ride through the Horse Guards arch into Horse Guards Parade. They are inspected and await the arrival of the New Guard.

King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery arriving at Horse Guards Parade (June and July)

11.00am: The New Guard arrive at Horse Guards and form up opposite the Old Guard. The ceremony begins. The sentries of the first relief ride into the Whitehall forecourt first. The sentries of the old relief will then ride out to join the main Old Guard.

a person riding a horse in front of Horse Guards

Going on guard duty in Horse Guards

11.30am: When the ceremony ends the New Guard ride through the Horse Guards arch into the forecourt in Whitehall. A short ceremony commences here and the New Guard then ride into the stables on the north side of the forecourt.

The Old Guard leave Horse Guards and retrace the ride taken by the New Guard down The Mall, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill, through the Wellington Arch and Hyde Park Gate into Hyde Park and the barracks.

Note: on Sundays the Household Cavalry start their ceremony one hour earlier at 9.28am. They will therefore not pass the Foot Troops in The Mall. It does mean that you could have the time to watch both ceremonies separately.

4.00pm: The cavalry perform the ‘Dismounting Ceremony’ daily in the forecourt of Horse Guards in Whitehall. This short ceremony marks the end of the guard for the day, before the troops and horses dismiss to the small barracks and stables within Horse Guards.

 

If you would like to experience Changing of the Guard ceremony as part of a guided London sightseeing tour that’s easy. Choose from one of my private London tours:

Private tours, door-2-door service, pickup and drop-off, 6 people maximum, I explain as we explore.

 

map

Please note this blog just covers the ceremony timetable. For a full description of the regiments taking part, uniforms, histories, origins and fun facts please read my blog ‘Changing of the Guard Ceremony: Origins and Who’s Who’.

 

Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace: Step-by-Step Guide (Short Version).

 

10.30am  St James’s Palace: Old Guard form up for inspection in Friary Court. Often accompanied by a small Regimental Band.

Wellington Barracks: New Guard for Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace form up for inspection in Parade Ground. Regimental Band warm up.

Buckingham Palace: Old Guard form up for inspection in the Forecourt.

Horse Guards Parade: Old Guard ride out for inspection.

10.43am  St James’s Palace: Old Guard leave and march down The Mall into Forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

Old Guard now combined in Buckingham Palace, the ceremony continues.

The St James Palace Old Guard may have passed the oncoming New Guard of the Horse Guards in The Mall.

The Horse Guards will be approaching from Constitution Hill, riding to Horse Guards Parade for their change ceremony (except Sundays when all cavalry timings start one hour earlier).

10.55am  Wellington Barracks: New Guard leave and march to Buckingham Palace.

 

11.00am  Buckingham Palace: New Guard face the Old Guard in the Forecourt for official change ceremony.

 

11.10am  Buckingham Palace: A small detachement of New Guard leave for St James’s Palace. They march up the Mall to St James’s Palace.

 

11.45am  Buckingham Palace: New Guard of St James’s Palace leave and march up the Mall to St James’s Palace with a band.

Old Guard leave and march to Wellington Barracks with a band, where they will be dismissed.

 

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