On a visit to London, some of the top attractions are linked to the royal family. But nothing is quite as iconic as a visit to the one of the three official residences of the monarchy – Buckingham Palace. While it’s only open to the public on select dates, you can relish in its beauty from the regal gates, snap a selfie and catch a Changing the Guard ceremony.
How to Tour Buckingham Palace
For about 10 weeks every summer (select dates from July 11 to Sept. 29, 2024), Buckingham Palace opens its elaborate gates, welcoming visitors to explore its lavish State Rooms, grounds and Royal Collection artworks. The Royal Mews is also open to visitors from March to October, showcasing the Royal Family’s real working stables and ornate, historic carriages – including the Gold State Coach used for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Coronation in 2022
But if you aren’t here at the right time, fear not; this extravagant, 18th-century royal residence is just as impressive from the outside, making it worth a visit any time of year. Come on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday morning to see the Changing the Guard ceremony – when the red-and-black-clad Royal Guard marches toward the palace, accompanied by striking military music – and see a tradition that’s been running for more than 300 years. Combine it with explorations in the surrounding area of Westminster to see London at its most quintessential.
You can explore all of this independently, of course – but if you’re looking to dig a little deeper, hear about the king’s coronation and uncover local secrets, consider a guided London tour. Insider experts can point out the best photo spots, take you to the must-see sights and show you the ins and outs of the area while sharing knowledge of the country’s royal history along the way.
There are tons of options out there, so where do you start? Based on local knowledge and traveler review sites, here are some of the most highly rated tours.
Changing of the Guard Walking Tour
Standout perk: Witness the pomp of the iconic Changing the Guard ceremony.
Watch the Royal Guard march toward Buckingham Palace as you witness this historic, quintessentially British spectacle on a two-hour tour of Westminster’s highlights. Accompanied by a military band, you’ll see the Old Guard (soldiers on duty) switch to the New Guard as they arrive at the palace from Wellington Barracks. Your guide will explain which regiment is which, before taking you on a guided walking tour past other world-famous, attractions, including Big Ben, Clarence House, the Houses of Parliament, St James’s Palace and Westminster Abbey.
Recent travelers gave high ratings to the tour, saying guides were able to take them to the best photo spots for the ceremony, while offering a wealth of historical and entertaining insight.
Tours leave at 10 a.m. and depart from the corner of Piccadilly and Arlington Street (between The Ritz and The Wolseley), ending at Parliament Square.
Local tip: Look at the Horse Guards Clock on the Horse Guards Parade – the official entrance to Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace – to see a dark stain above the 2 (II, in Roman numerals). It marks the time King Charles I was executed outside the Palace of Whitehall in 1649, after being charged with treason.
Windsor Castle & Buckingham Palace Tour
Standout perk: Get a rare chance to explore the State Rooms with Buckingham Palace tickets, and tick off two of the United Kingdom’s grandest royal residences in one day.
This twin-castle tour offers the opportunity to enter Buckingham Palace and see its State Rooms, Royal Collection artwork and other treasures, with commentary from an audio guide. After you’ve toured the palace, you’ll travel by coach about 25 miles west of London to Windsor Castle – the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, and the family home of the monarchy for more than 900 years. Explore the castle’s lavish State Apartments and grounds, and visit St George’s Chapel – the burial place of Queen Elizabeth II alongside many other monarchs, and the spot where Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Recent travelers said the tour was a great opportunity to see inside both palaces. Several commented on the extensive art collection at Buckingham Palace, and many enjoyed hearing insights from the guides, although some complained about long lines. The tour takes place from July through September on select Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and leaves from Victoria Coach Station at 7:45 a.m. Local tip: Windsor Castle has its own Changing the Guard ceremony, as well as its own extensive art collection – the ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. on select days of the week.
Full-day London with Changing of the Guard and Private Cruise
Price: From $158; with optional London Eye or Harrods cream tea for an additional fee
Standout perk: You’ll see many of London’s key attractions in one day, and enjoy a river cruise thrown in for good measure.
If you want to combine a visit to see Buckingham Palace’s Changing the Guard ceremony with stops at several other London spots, this is a great choice. The full-day trip begins at the UNESCO listed Tower of London where you’ll have the chance to see the crown jewels.
From here you’ll visit Buckingham Palace to witness the famous pomp and pageantry of the ceremony, and get the chance to admire the palace’s impressive architecture from the outside. The day includes a tour of the elaborate St. Paul’s Cathedral (not available on Sundays), before embarking on a boat tour of the Thames, passing key attractions including Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe. The day also includes a photo stop at Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Kate Middleton married in 2011, and a brief walking tour of Parliament Square. Travelers can choose to add a ride on the famous London Eye observation wheel (or opt for a quintessentially British cream tea at Harrods instead).
Recent travelers loved the tour and praised the guides as highly knowledgeable and entertaining. Many were impressed with how much they saw in a day and said it gave them a great introduction to London (although it’s worth noting a few felt there was quite a bit of walking involved).
Tours leave from Victoria Coach Station at 7:45 a.m. and finish at the London Eye.
Local tip: If you fancy delving deeper into the Tower of London in your own time, book a ticket to see the Ceremony of the Keys. Dating back seven centuries, this nightly ceremony is when the castle gets locked up for the night, with a special exchange between the sentry and Yeoman Warder taking place at 9:30 p.m. between the atmospheric battlements – both eerie and magical.
The London Essentials Bike Tour
Standout perk: Get active on two wheels, and combine a Buckingham Palace stop with a visit to Kensington Palace and other royal sights.
This half-day guided cycling tour is a great option to get active on your London trip. You’ll start at Kensington Gardens – the home of Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived with the now King Charles, and Queen Victoria’s birthplace. From here, pedal to the Royal Albert Hall to check out this elaborate concert hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1871. Afterward, cycle through Hyde Park and on to Green Park to reach Buckingham Palace, where your guide will regale you with little-known stories about the palace. Continue on to Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as you take in some of the capital’s key highlights, before returning to the Royal Parks.
Recent travelers raved about the tour and were really impressed by the knowledge of the guide. Many enjoyed the small group size and said the cycling was a good, leisurely pace, with plenty to see along the way, and iced tea and snacks included as a bonus.
The tour leaves from outside the main entrance at Hilton London Hyde Park. The recommended minimum age is 9 – you can pre-book junior bikes and child seats. While the bicycle and helmet for use during the tour are included, attraction entry fees are additional.
Local tip: If you’ve got time after the tour, it’s well worth exploring Kensington Palace a bit more. Admire the elaborate, Georgian-era King’s Staircase and the King’s State Gallery with its fine art collection, see the Queen’s State Apartments where Mary II would come to relax or welcome guests, and visit the Sunken Garden, once a favorite spot of Princess Diana’s. After, enjoy afternoon tea or lunch at the Kensington Palace Pavilion amid the gardens.
The Premier Classic London: Private 4-Hour Tour in a Black Cab
Standout perk: You’ll see many of London’s must-see attractions, and as it’s a private tour, you can tailor the trip to your liking.
If you’re after a private tour, this half-day trip in a classic London black cab is just the ticket.
You can choose to align your visit to Buckingham Palace with a Changing the Guard ceremony, and you’ll get expert commentary from your personal taxi driver, who’s also a registered tour guide. Alongside the palace, you’ll pass must-see points including the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, St James’s Palace, the Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Shakespeare’s Globe, Borough Market and Covent Garden, with options to stop along the way.
Recent travelers loved the tour and said guides were able to tailor the trip, stopping at spots both on and off the tourist trail and offering plenty of historical insight.
Your driver-guide can pick you up and drop you off at your hotel; or a central London location.
Local tip: Make a stop at Borough Market to try some of the best food in the city, with more than 100 stalls offering everything from Persian to Italian, alongside plenty of fresh produce.
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Laura French is an award-winning British travel writer based in London. She grew up just outside the city and worked around the corner from Buckingham Palace for several years. She loves exploring the surrounding area, and used her own experience alongside online research to compile the roundup.