The Changing of the Guard – See it or skip it?

One of the most common questions that I get from families planning a trip to London is: Should I see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace with kids?

The short answer is: No.  You probably shouldn’t – at least not right in front of the Palace with thousands of other tourists.

Why shouldn’t you see the changing of the guard with kids?

For many, the Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace represents the epitome of British-ness, and they would sooner forego their selfies in front of Big Ben then miss the chance to see the guards in their starched red jackets and silly-looking hats (made with real bear fur!).

But the reality is that for most families, seeing the changing of the guard with kids consists mostly of waiting (for about 90 minutes, if you want an unobstructed view at the gate), and jostling with others for position.  Or hoisting kids onto your shoulders so that they can see the action instead of… other tourists’ backsides.  I don’t know about your kids – but for mine this sounds like a recipe for whiny, irritable kids – not what I’m looking for on vacation!

“But my kids are so excited to see the guards!”, you say?  Well here’s three alternatives for superior guard-viewing:

1.  Windsor Castle

My kids learned a rule early on in our stay in the UK: Palaces are boring, but castles are cool!  And the Queen’s two main residences prove this theory to perfection.  Buckingham Palace is essentially a big mansion – with lots of huge rooms, and fancy furniture (that you won’t be able to see).  Windsor Castle is… a proper castle!

WindsorCastle_FlagWith a moat, and turrets, and a real drawbridge!  Your kids will love it, and it has a fantastic family tour for kids.  Lots more info on Windsor Castle in our review of Lupo and the Secret of Windsor Castle.  But what a lot of people don’t know, is that the Queen’s guards are out in force at Windsor Castle!  And you can get much closer, without the crowds of Buckingham Palace.

Windsor Castle_KidsGuard WindsorCastle_guardsWindsorCastleTour

 

Guards

2.  The Tower of London

The Tower of London also has a regiment of the Queen’s Guard – as it is officially a royal residence.  I don’t believe that the Queen ever stays there – but the Crown Jewels do, so it seems sensible to have guards in bear-fur hats there to keep them safe.

3.  Buckingham Palace

If you have your heart set on the real thing – there is a much more kid-friendly way to see the Changing of the Guard.  I recommend going and checking out the palace from the gate about an hour before the changing of the guard.  Take a peek in, wave to the guards that are standing there.  Don’t be offended if they don’t wave back.  Look in the windows to see if you can spot the Queen passing by.  Then go to the playground on the corner of “Spur Road” and Birdcage walk – at the Southwest corner of St James park (check our custom Google Map for the exact location).

Playground_Map

The kids can play at the playground (instead of waiting and getting bored staring at the palace).

Playground1

And then after the changing of the guard is over at the Palace (around 12:00 or 12:15PM), the Guards parade back to their training area.  Herd your family over to the corner of Spur Rd and Birdcage Walk, and get a great view as they go right by (playing music)! Just plant your family right next to this tree:Playground3Like this!

Playground4

The best way to see the changing of the guard with kids

And there you have it.  The full changing of the guard with kids experience – minus the waiting and whining!

4 Comments

  1. Javid Jamae

    Thanks for the advice! My wife and I saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham 15 years ago (before kids) but I would definitely agree that our kids would be bored waiting around there. We’re going to take them over to Winsor and the Tower of London based on your recommendation. BTW – I had never really thought about what the difference is between a castle and a palace, so now I’m more equipped when that comes up as a trivia question. 😉

    Reply
    1. Jordan (Post author)

      Hi Javid! Glad that you found it useful. Windsor Castle is a great place to visit with kids. Make sure that you get a Friends & Family rail card before you go as it will save you ~50% on your train tickets. Also, definitely get the audio guide for your kids. Instead of just being a child-friendly version of the adult tour, the kids audio is an adventure with knights and dragons. Which is exactly what a kid should be experiencing in a castle! Have fun!

      Reply
  2. Donna P

    Agree about changing of the guards. If you do decide to go to see it, we found a spot by the center gates, near the fence but closer to the street and it was even better than watching the actual changing ceremony. New guards march to the left (facing away from the palace) and the old guards finishing their shift march to the right. If you find a spot here, you’ll see things just as well as peering through the fence.

    Our highlights included the zoo which had animals we hadn’t seen before, Midsummer Nights Dream at the Globe theatre, Churchill War Rooms, Tower of London, etc. We loved the HMS Belfast too. My 10 year olds could have stayed there for many more hours and there was no line to get in. You can walk across the Tower Bridge (taking in the glass bottom with the Tower Experience) and then walk to the ship if so desired. The promenade from the bridge to the ship was clean, safe and a nice stroll.

    If you have tweens or teens, a visit to the flagship Topshop will be on top of their wish list.

    Reply
    1. Jordan (Post author)

      Great tips! Thanks Donna. So glad that your kids loved London!

      Reply

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