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The Changing of the Guard in London | Your Complete Guide (2024)

If you’ll be spending time in London and love all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the British monarchy, then you’ll want to witness the Changing of the Guard at some point during your stay. 

The thing is, everyone knows about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. But were you aware that the ceremony also includes other key London locations, particularly St. James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks?

In fact, the reality is that the guards switch over at each location. Not only at Buckingham Palace. No site on the route that the guards take is ever left without this protective patrol. So this means that the switchover must take place seamlessly, and without any delays. 

If you want to see how the Changing of the Guard unfolds beyond the Buckingham Palace guards, then this complete guide is for you! We’ll take you through all you need to know, from the Changing of the Guard times and dates to tours you can take, plus what you can expect to see in each place. 

Continue reading for the full lowdown, including the Changing of the Guard schedule and so much more! Let’s start by taking a look at what the Changing of the Guard is all about, followed by why you shouldn’t miss it.

💂‍♀️⭐️💂‍♀️Top pick Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace Tour with Walks On this small group tour you will experience 2 separate ceremonies (including one with horses) from 4 different vantage points. Click to find out more

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

What is the Changing of the Guard?

What is the Changing of the Guard meaning – what’s the actual point of this reshuffle that takes place several times per week? 

The King’s Guard – until late 2022 the Queen’s Guard – is responsible for the security of both Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace. So those two locations are key. The third place that’s important is Wellington Barracks. 

Wellington Barracks is close to Buckingham Palace, and is where the Household Divisions of the military are based. These are the five regiments responsible for keeping the Royal palaces secure. So these soldiers have a real purpose – they’re actually protecting the King and country.  

The ceremony takes place when an entire group of soldiers takes over from the previous battalion. Individual soldiers switch over every two hours. 

The two palaces are about a five minute walk from one another. St James’s Park lies between them. These three key locations form a triangle, and the (imaginary) lines between the points cross the park. 

The ceremony takes place between 10.30 am and 11.45 am. It’s possible to see the entire process if you follow the full step-by-step instructions given below!

The King’s Guard

The King’s Guard comprises five military regiments. If there’s a female monarch, they’re called the Queen’s Guard. They are the Coldstream Guards, the Grenadier Guards, the Irish Guards, the Scots Guards and Welsh Guards. 

The Coldstream Guards are the oldest regiment, dating back to 1650. The Grenadier Guards were formed just six years later, and are the most senior of the five. 

All of these battalions are based at Wellington Barracks, near Buckingham Palace. They form part of the Household Division of the British military.  

If you want to tell which regiment each solder belongs to, the plume on their hats is the giveaway. You can also look at the collar for their emblem, as follows:

  • Coldstream Guards: Red plume, ⭐️ star emblem
  • Grenadier Guards: White plume, grenade emblem
  • Irish Guards: Blue plume, ☘️ shamrock emblem
  • Scots Guards: No plume, thistle emblem
  • Welsh Guards: Green plume, leek emblem
Uniforms worn by the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Our tour guide from Walks explaining the various uniform emblems

Why watch the Changing of the Guard?

Before moving on to when and where you need to be to see the Buckingham Palace soldiers do their thing, let’s think about why you’d want to see it. 

The military

Well, there are several reasons to watch the ceremony involving the King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. The first is seeing the guards themselves dressed in all their finery. This includes their signature red jackets and black bearskin hats, though these jackets are replaced by grey ones in winter to keep them warmer. 

The music

During the procession, these military regiments also form a band which plays music. Though you can expect to hear some rousing classics, more modern tunes are also played.

In January 2022, for instance, the Queen’s Guard played the Meatloaf classic I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) in honour of the singer’s passing.

Occasionally, no musical support will be involved in the Changing of the Guard. This may occur due to security concerns. 

The places

Follow the Changing of the Guard route and you will see some iconic London locations. There are two Royal palaces, for starters – namely Buckingham and St James’s. Then you have Wellington Barracks, where the military regiments are based.

En route, you’ll also see St James’s Park, The Mall, Clarence House, the Victoria Memorial and more. Seeing all this close-up is very memorable, and also gives you more of an insight into how London landmarks are connected. Walking around the city also gives you a feel for how Londoners live. 

Changing of the Guard Times and Dates

The first thing you need to know when planning to see the switchover of the guards outside Buckingham Palace, Wellington Barracks and St James’s Palace is when it all happens. It’s no good taking a trip to London to witness this, if you won’t end up being there at the right time!

Cancellations due to heavy rain

Before we get onto the Changing of the Guard times at Buckingham Palace and the other two locations, here’s something you’ll need to bear in mind. And it’s all to do with the unpredictable Great British weather!

If you’re unfortunate enough for it to rain heavily during your stay in London, then the ceremony may be called off. The bad news here is that it does rain in Britain pretty often. But the better news is that we’re talking about more than a brief shower here, and the UK isn’t really a place where extreme weather happens too often. 

Brits are pretty hardy when it comes to weather – something that’s borne out of necessity. So it takes a lot of rain to call off the ceremony. If this does happen, it won’t take place at another time instead. You would simply have to wait until the next time it’s scheduled for. 

If the ceremony is cancelled due to rain, you could find out within just minutes of the scheduled start time. A decision is often made at the last moment.

Changing of the Guard Dates (2024)

The entire ceremony begins at 10.30 am, and the switchover at Buckingham Palace takes place from 11 am. You can see the Changing of the Guard on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. In the summer months of June and July, though, it’s a daily occurrence. 

The dates are always subject to change and are normally confirmed about a month in advance.

Here are the dates for 2024, though do bear in mind that these are subject to change according to circumstances. You check the schedule for the current month at any time on the Household Division website. Apart from May the following dates aren’t yet confirmed, which is why they’re marked TBC for To Be Confirmed. 

May 2024 (TBC)

28, 29 and 31st

June 2024 (TBC)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30th

July 2024 (TBC)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31st

August 2024 (TBC)

1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29 and 31st

September 2024 (TBC)

2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, and 30th

October 2024 (TBC)

2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, and 30th

November 2024 (TBC)

2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28 and 30th

December 2024 (TBC)

2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28 and 30th

The Changing of the Guard Schedule Step-by-Step

Though the guard changeover is known to take place at around 11 am at Buckingham Palace, it all starts around half an hour before this. There’s some more good news here – if you want to keep up with them, note that the guards move around between locations on foot. So with a little careful planning, it is possible to see the entire thing!

Here’s how it all unfolds. As a first step, you’ll need to reach St James’s Palace. The nearest tube station is Green Park, which is on the Victoria, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. 

Alternatively, mainline plus Bakerloo and Northern line trains call at Charing Cross. This is only slightly further away. 

Do note that the following times are approximate. Though they’re usually pretty much spot-on – this is the military, after all! 

Step 1: Get ready

10:20 am: Wait across the street from Friary Court at St James’s Palace, on Marlborough Road

Step 2: Get set

10:30 am: Old Guard inspection takes place at St James’s Palace

Step 3: Go!

10:35 am: When the marching band starts to play, walk south towards The Mall and cross the road before waiting in front of the park gates

Step 4: Walk along The Mall

10:43 am: As the band and Old Guard start marching, turn the corner and walk along The Mall toward Buckingham Palace. Use the pavement – aka the sidewalk or path – rather than the road that the guards are using

Step 5: Cut through St James’s Park 

  • When the guards approach the memorial, turn left to cut through St James’s Park. Take the left just before the stoplight at the circular drive. Use the smaller path that slopes down, not the large circular path that runs by the circular drive
  • Stay right on the path through St James’s Park, keeping the lake on your left as you head towards Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk
  • Do not cross Birdcage Walk – stay over the street from the Barracks, but move slightly to the right to where Spur Road curves off Birdcage Walk: this is just up from the stop light 
  • Make sure you have a good view of the Barracks gate on the far right while looking at the Barracks, as that’s where the band and New Guard will exit from

Step 6: Head towards Buckingham Palace

10:57 am: The band will play at the Barracks and march in front of the New Guard, towards Buckingham Palace

  • Walk alongside the band and New Guards on the pavement to their right, towards the Queen Victoria Memorial. As the band goes left, you should veer around the Memorial to the right. Next, walk up a few stairs to reach the outer ring or path leaving back to The Mall
  • Cross The Mall on the north side and walk the short distance to Clarence House (which is on the first street to the left). Wait near the corner of The Mall and the entrance to Clarence House

Step 7: See the changing ceremony

11:00: The old and new guards will face one another at the front of Buckingham Palace, inside the gates. Music is usually played at this point, as the soldiers of the old guard hand over the palace keys to the new guard. 

Step 8: Go to Clarence House

11:10 am: Part of the New Guard from Wellington Barracks will leave Buckingham Palace and march to Clarence House

  • Go up to the chain barrier so you can watch the changeover at the Clarence House guard house (don’t expect to see too many people here)

Step 9: Watch the Old Guard

11:25 am: The rest of the Old Guard marches out of Clarence House, heading back towards Buckingham Palace

  • Sometimes, if you wait, you can see the cavalry come up The Mall (be sure to leave enough time to reach Wellington by no later than 11:40 am) 
  • Make your way back to Wellington Barracks as you did before (or reverse your path when following the New Guard according to step 6)
  • This time you do cross the street (Birdcage Walk), and stand on the same side as the Barracks, but near to where Spur Road leads up to Victoria Memorial. Aim for a clear view of the Victoria Memorial in the distance

Step 10: Back to Wellington Barracks

11:40 am – the Old Guard leaves Buckingham Palace and returns to Wellington Barracks behind the band

  • You should have a straight on view of the Old Guard returning to Wellington Barracks
  • Once they’re inside the Barrack gates, you can see the band stand down. Then there’s a sword salute and the Old Guard will unload their weapons. You will need to walk towards the centre of the Barracks to see this part properly

Keep your eyes peeled at all times for the cavalry (aka the Horse Guards). They also change and frequently cross paths with the other guard units.

The Changing of the Guard locations

If you don’t want to follow the entire route, the most popular place to stand and observe the ceremony is outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. But there are a few alternatives too, for those who want to miss the crowds or see things from a different perspective. 

Buckingham Palace gates

This is where most people congregate to witness the Royal Guard changing ceremony. You might get a good view of the new guards coming in, but won’t see much of the procession leading up to that moment. 

Also, bear in mind that you may have to wait for the crowds to disperse before you can get away! It is the most popular location, though, and where the handover ceremony between the old and new guards actually takes place. 

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Victoria Memorial

Instead of crowding in front of Buckingham Palace gates, stand on the steps of the Queen Victoria Memorial. This gives you a good view of Buckingham Palace and the surrounding area, as you’re in a more elevated position. 

From here, you may see part of the parade, plus the changeover ceremony taking place in front of the palace. However, your view could be obstructed if it’s very crowded, and it’s not the quickest location to leave at the end. 

The Mall

You can see quite a lot from The Mall, which is the thoroughfare leading to Buckingham Palace. Marlborough House Gardens and Marlborough Road is probably the best spot. It’s a great spot for taking pictures. 

There’s also a sense of occasion as the guards proceed towards the most famous palace on the planet. It’s also a good place for seeing the mounted Horse Guards, or Household Cavalry, passing by. You can also get away from here much earlier if you want to head elsewhere after seeing the parade. 

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
The Household Cavalry

Wellington Barracks

Other than Buckingham Palace, this is the best place to see much of the whole ceremony. The downside is that you’ll be further from the palace. 

At Wellington Barracks you’ll see the new guard getting ready for the handover. You can also see the band warming up. 

St James’s Palace

Changing of the Guard at St James's Palace.
Waiting outside St James’s Palace

To see the very start of the ceremony, get as close to Friary Court as you can. This is part of St James’s Palace on Marlborough Road. You’ll see the band forming and setting off, as they start from here. But you won’t see a lot else unless you follow the whole ceremony. 

Changing of the Guard tours

If you don’t feel like concerning yourself with Changing of the Guard times at Buckingham Palace and all that goes with it, you could book an organised tour. This will also give you access to a local expert, meaning you can really make the most of the experience. It will also help you to interpret each step. 

Here are our top three recommended tours that include the Changing of the Guard. 

Changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace walking tour

  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Locations: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, The Mall, St James’s Park, Horse Guards Parade, Clarence House

Visitors who’ve taken this tour say it made the experience far more enjoyable and informative than it would have otherwise been. You also don’t need to worry about being in the right place at the right time throughout the ceremony! 

London in a day with the Changing of the Guard walking tour (+ boat)

As well as the key locations listed above, you’ll also see iconic spots like Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Shard, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and The Gherkin while taking this walking and boat tour. Plus, of course, it also includes the Changing of the Guard. 

Westminster and the Changing of the Guard walking tour

  • Duration: 2 hours & 15 minutes
  • Locations: Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, St James’s Park

This tour is the ideal way to see not only the Changing of the Guard, but also to delve deeper into Westminster. As well as seeing key spots like Big Ben, Parliament Square and more, you’ll also be entertained by your guide’s fascinating stories along the way. You may even spy parakeets in St James’s Park! If you want to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you can also see it at Westminster Abbey.

If you want more options than our top 3 Changing of the Guard tours, here are four more to consider.

Changing of the Guard tips

Make a backup plan

Whether you’re doing it yourself or joining a tour, do make a back-up plan for the day of the ceremony. Adverse weather conditions can mean late cancellations. This won’t take place later on the same day. You’d have to wait for the next scheduled ceremony instead. 

Make yourself comfortable

Pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho and/or an umbrella, and for goodness sake do wear comfortable shoes! You’ll do a lot of standing around when watching the ceremony. Plus a lot of walking if you decide to follow the soldiers’ route. 

Make your stuff safe

Think carefully about what you need to take with you. Sadly, as with most big cities, pickpockets can be rife in crowded areas. Using an appropriate theft-proof bag is wise if you are taking along valuables. And you’re very likely to be bringing a camera or smartphone!

Make it in time

Don’t miss the whole thing by running late! Plan in advance how long it will take you to reach Green Park or Charing Cross tube or mainline stations – and allow some extra time for walking and for delays. We don’t advise getting there too early, though, if you get bored when waiting around. About 15 minutes in advance should be enough. 

Head to Horse Guard’s Parade to see more horses and watch the Changing of the Guard
Horse with rider.

Changing of the Guard FAQs

Is the Changing of the Guard every day?

During most months, the Changing of the Guard is usually scheduled to take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. In the peak summer months of June and July, though, it takes place daily. 

What time is the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace?

The Changing of the Guard takes place in front of Buckingham Palace at about 11 am. The new guard gathers at St James Palace at about 10.30 am. The entire ceremony at St James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace and Wellington Barracks lasts until about 11.40 am.

Can anyone watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace?

Seeing the Changing of the Guard at St James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, Wellington Barracks or along the route, is one of the best things to do in London. No tickets or bookings are needed, though a guided tour can make life easier while enhancing the experience.

How will you experience the Changing of the Guard?

Hopefully, this guide has made clear why the Changing of the Guard is such a quintessential London and British experience. There’s nothing quite like seeing the soldiers in their iconic uniforms, marching along to the music, as they undertake this historic ceremony.

Whether you decide to do it yourself or take an organised tour, don’t miss seeing these guards at Buckingham Palace in their magnificent hats, smart grey or red jackets and shiny shoes. It really is an unmissable London sight!

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