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!
With 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.
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).
The kids can play at the playground (instead of waiting and getting bored staring at the palace).
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:Like this!
And there you have it. The full changing of the guard with kids experience – minus the waiting and whining!