The Changing of the Guards is one of the most popular free tourist attractions in London but it can be quite overwhelming with crowds and wait times. This can especially complicate things if you are planning to visit with kids- we all know standing around for two hours in a very limited space isn’t on a child’s top ten list!
We have witnessed the Changing the Guard ceremony from several different viewpoints and my favorite spot just so happens to be theirs! We love to pack a picnic and head to St. James Park. St. James Park is one of the most beautiful spots in London- there are views of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye and plenty of water fowl on Park Lake. Don’t forget to visit the squirrels who will eat out of your and might even mistake you for a tree limb.
The key to this approach is to arrive by 10am and hit up the St. James Playground- located on the southwestern corner of the park across from Wellington Barracks. After some play time, you’ll want to head south in the park through the grass until you can see the Parade Ground of Wellington Barracks. Here, you can set up camp, enjoy a snack and allow the kids to run free. There is rarely anyone in this section of the park you’ll have a great view of the New Guard replacement troops getting inspected. The major bonus (major, get it?) is that the Guard Band starts rehearsing around 10:15-10:30 and will play almost a full hour concert from traditional classics to James Bond.
Around 11:27 the New Guards will head out towards Buckingham Palace so this is a great opportunity to gather the kids and run down to the corner of Spur Rd and Birdcage Walk to watch them march by. After their departure, give the kids a little bit more play time, finish your picnic and then head across the Mall (use the bridge over Park lane and follow the path north) to St. James Palace. At 12:10 the New Guards will arrive and there will be a small changing of the guard ceremony.
Buckingham Palace Tips: Arrive early- at least 10:30 if you are visiting during the summer. Grab a spot up front by the fence if you want to see the action. You can also stand next to a gate entrance, but stay by the railing for the best viewing of the marching guards (you won’t be able to see much going on inside the gates with this position). If you arrive late, your best bet is finding a higher view point at Victoria Memorial. If you are bringing the kids, pack lots of snacks, water, a stroller and an umbrella (not just for rain, but to give you some shade if its hot).
The Changing the Guard Ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year weather permitting. Check the www.royalcollection.org.uk for a complete schedule.