This post covers how to visit the Horse Guard Parade for free, see the Changing of the King's Life Guards, and visit the Household Cavalry Museum.
- What is Horse Guard Parade?
- Changing of the King's LifeGuards
- Hourly Change & Dismounting Ceremony
- Trooping The Colour
- The Cavalry Museum
- Other Things to Do in London
Every day, we lead dozens of visitors to London through Royal London, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.
Pretty much everyone on our guided tours are aware of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
However, many fewer people are aware of another ceremony, the Changing of the King's Life Guards, at the Horse Guards Parade.
WHAT IS THE HORSE GUARDS PARADE?
The Horse Guards Parade is a large parade ground used for public and royal ceremonial events throughout the year.
It's named after the troops that have protected the Sovereign since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
The Horse Guards Parade ground was originally a palace courtyard in the time of Henry VIII and was used for tournaments.
Today it is flanked by St. James's Park, Old Admiralty (former Navy headquarters), Dover House, and No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister.
At the front (or Whitehall) entrance of the Horse Guards Parade, you will see members of the Household Cavalry Regiment, who are there to protect the official entrance to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace.
On the parade ground, is a white building, the Horse Guards Building, with an archway in the middle, capped by a clocktower.
The building dates from the 18th century and was designed by William Kent, Chief Architect to George II.
The archway in the middle of the building is used as the official ceremonial entrance to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace - located a quarter of a mile away.
The arch of Horse Guards has witnessed countless significant events.
Whenever the Royal Family is traveling to or from Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament, they normally pass under this archway as they proceed.
This is because, technically speaking, the archway is the formal entrance to Buckingham Palace.
Notice that the road leading from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace is paved in red, to represent a red carpet rolled out for the Royal Family.
Address: The Household Division, Horse Guards, Whitehall, London SW1A 2AX
Nearest Underground Station: Westminster, Embankment, or Charing Cross
Nearest Railway Station: Charing Cross
Bus Routes: 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 159, 453
Use this Google Maps link to get exact directions from your point of departure.
TIP: If you are not familiar with the subway in London, then be sure to read the following helpful posts:
Similar to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, this is a much smaller and shorter ceremony that lasts around 30 minutes daily.
This ceremony is free for the public to watch!
Whenever the guards are in position, it is possible for visitors (and locals!) to see them as well as take some photographs.
The courtyard is large so it is easy to get a good view.
The courtyard is a popular destination in central London, so make sure to head over a few minutes early to get the best vantage point.
In addition, every day, regardless of weather, there is a Changing of the King’s Life Guard at the Horse Guards Parade.
This ceremony isn’t as well known as the Changing of the Guard which takes place near Buckingham Palace.
This means this event is less busy and also you can get up close to the cavalrymen and their horses.
From the hours of 10:00 - 16:00 (4 pm), there are always two mounted sentries positioned at the front of the building.
This event sees the two Squadrons that make up the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (one squadron is the Life Guards and the other is the Blues & Royals) - end and/or begin their shift.
These sentries change every hour until the final Dismounting Ceremony occurs at 16:00 (4 pm) when the sentries are posted and the horses are returned to their stables.
TIP: Though not as well known as the Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard, people do still come to see this ceremony. Go early so you can be at the front of the crowd that gathers and have a better view.
The Ceremony Explained
The New Guard (either the Life Guards or the Blues & Royals) start their day by leaving their Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28 am Monday - Saturday (9:28 am on Sundays).
As a side note, you can tell the difference between the two units by their uniforms:
The Life Guards wear red tunics and have white plumed helmets, and the Blues & Royals wear blue tunics with red plumed helmets.
They proceed past Buckingham Palace, down the Mall, along St James's Park and into Horse Guards Parade. They line up alongside the Old Guard.
The two groups face one another for around 30 minutes while the Corporal Major and the sentries of the first relief of the New Guard leave for the Guard Room.
Once the sentries of the Old Guard are relieved, they join the other soldiers in the courtyard.
Then, the remainder of the New Guard proceeds through the archway to the front of Horse Guards to take their positions.
Meanwhile, the Old Guard travels back toward Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill, and into the Hyde Park Barracks.
If His Majesty is in residence, there will also be a trumpeter playing a Royal Salute as the ceremony begins and ends.
It is very easy to see the Household Cavalry traveling to and from Horse Guards Parade simply by awaiting their procession from their barracks near Hyde Park Corner, down Constitution Hill, and then onto the Mall, passing a number of memorials along the way.
The New Guard will pass around 10:40 and the Old Guard will pass at around 11:30.
You can see the New Guard trotting down The Mall in our video on the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
TIP: Our All-In-One Tours or Westminster Tours include a visit to the Horse Guards Parade where (weather permitting) you can see the Changing of the King’s Lifeguard up close. Our guide will get you to the best spot for a great view and perfect photographs.
The gates at Horseguards Parade are open, from 7:00 - 20:00 daily, and Mounted Sentries stay in position, guarding the entrance to Buckingham Palace, at the front courtyard from 11:00 (10:00 on Sundays) until 16:00.
While the mounted guards are present, there is a small, but still very interesting, ceremony that takes place every hour in the courtyard.
This ceremony is easily viewed by the public and you can actually get quite close to the action!
From 11:00, the Mounted Sentries are positioned in two guard boxes on either side of the main gates, facing Whitehall.
Each guard box enclosure has a door on one side, and an opening on the other, where the guards face out onto the street (and where tourists get their photos!
But carefully - the horses can bite!) The guards, on horseback, stay there - unmoving - for an hour, before they are replaced by two new guards.
Firstly, the doors on the back of the guard boxes are opened, then, two members of the Household Cavalry, on horseback, come out of the nearby stables, ready to begin their shift.
They are followed by another Guard, on foot, who inspects the soldiers, their uniform, their weapons, and the horses.
Then, the two guards on horseback head for the back of the two guard boxes.
The soldiers who are being relieved, walk their houses straight out of the guard boxes, make a U-turn, and go straight back into the courtyard.
The new guards urge their horses forward, and they then stand in the now-vacant guard boxes and the box doors are closed behind them - they are now on sentry duty for the next 60 minutes.
The soldiers who have just been relieved, halt in the courtyard, sheathe their swords, dismount, and take their horses back to the stables.
At 16:00 every day, the Dismounting Ceremony - sometimes called the Punishment Ceremony, takes place in the courtyard that faces Whitehall.
This ceremony is an official inspection of both Mounted and Dismounted members of the Household Cavalry, before members of the Cavalry, on foot (known as Dismounted Sentries), take over the job of protecting the entrance to Buckingham Palace until 11:00 the next day.
It is sometimes called the Punishment Parade because, in the 1890s, Queen Victoria came to Whitehall to see the Household Cavalry and was shocked to find them drinking and gambling while on duty!
She demanded that an official inspection of the guards should be carried out, every day, at 16:00 for the next 100 years - a tradition that has yet to cease.
Just as with the hourly ceremony, the Guards on horseback lead their mounts out of the guard boxes, make a U-turn, and return to the courtyard.
They remain there, while a group of Dismounted Sentries emerge from within the stables area and form a line.
They are all formally, and fully, inspected before being given permission to return to the building and take charge of the area.
Two of them will remain, on foot, in the courtyard until 20:00, and after that, one Dismounted Sentry will stay in the courtyard until 7:00 the next morning (these duties will be shared by the whole group of Guards, each doing an hour shift).
Then it is the turn of the two Mounted Sentries to be inspected.
When approved, they then sheathe their swords, dismount, and take their horses into the stables and the Dismounting Ceremony is complete.
This is one of the most important celebrations of the year in London.
It is the annual celebration of the Monarch's “official” birthday and is the highlight of the Royal Family’s ceremonial calendar.
The celebration occurs on a Saturday in June, even though the King’s actual birthday is November 14th.
To see the exact date in June each year, check our post on things to do in London in June that we update yearly.
During the event, over 1,500 soldiers, 200 horses, and over 400 members of the Massed Bands of the Household Division all take part.
The King proceeds down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, escorted by the Household Cavalry.
He will be followed by other senior-ranking members of the Royal Family, as well as hundreds of military personnel.
His Majesty arrives exactly as the clock strikes 11:00 and he then takes his place on the “saluting base” platform.
Here he receives his salute as the Band of the Household Cavalry, a Corps of Drums troupe, and members of the King’s Guard all play music.
After the salute, the King inspects all his troops either on foot, horseback, or in a carriage.
Then the massed bands perform a musical ‘troop’ and the Regimental Colour is escorted up and down the ranks of the Guards.
After, the Household Cavalry, the King’s Troop, and the Royal Horse Artillery march past His Majesty with their Guns.
Then the King rides back to Buckingham Palace at the head of his Guards.
He takes the salute from a raised dais in front of the Palace as the troops file past back to their barracks.
He and other members of the Royal Family then travel to stand on the balcony in front of the Palace to watch a fly-past at 13:00 by the Royal Air Force.
How Can I Watch?
A ticket is not required to watch, but a ticket allows you into the Parade ground for an up-close look at the ceremony.
Tickets are rare to come by though so don't count on them.
Watch for Free Without a Ticket
We recommend that you arrive at The Mall or the edge of St. James’s Park facing Horse Guards Parade before 9:00 to get a good spot.
The Household Division has a helpful map here that shows you the best places to stand.
Events begin around 10:00 and culminate with the fly-past at 13:00.
Also, the entire ceremony is also broadcast live on the BBC.
Try For Tickets
These tickets are very limited in number and you must enter a lottery to have a chance to buy them.
Enter a ballot as soon as the website opens the lottery here. Tickets cost £40.00 for seats and £5.00 for standing.
See a Rehearsal!
If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets for Trooping the Colour, you can purchase cheap tickets to watch the rehearsals!
There are two rehearsals in the weeks prior to the official ceremony with the King.
Although the King isn’t present and there is no fly-past, these rehearsals are nearly the exact replication of the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.
The Major General’s Review
- Approximately two weeks before the event
- Tickets: £5.00 for seats, £2.00 for standing
- Purchase tickets here.
The Colonel’s Review
- Approximately one week before the event, sometimes conducted by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales!
- Tickets: £10.00 for seats, £2.00 for standing
- Purchase tickets here.
NOTE: Dress codes are enforced for both rehearsals as well as Trooping the Colour so ensure you’re following protocol when you plan your outfits!
If you’re keen to know more about the Household Cavalry, consider a visit to their excellent museum. It is just one of London's many military museums.
Expect compelling personal stories, a trip through 250 years of history, interactive displays, and up-close views of rare and royal objects.
Not only will you get all sorts of information on the troops but you’ll get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how they operate as well as a secret view into their 18th-century stables!
Open daily (with exceptions below)
- 10:00 - 18:00 - April to October
- 10:00 - 17:00 November to March
- Last admission 45 minutes before closing
- Dec 24 and Dec 26
- Marathon Day
- Easter Friday
- Trooping the Colour
Check their website for closures when choosing your date to visit the museum.
- Adults - £9.50
- Children aged 5-16 - £7.50
- Concessions - £6.50 | £6.00 online
- Family Ticket (2 adults and 3 children) - £25.00
- Purchase tickets here.
Free cancellation with 24-hour notice.
- Entry is free with the purchase of the London Pass, a tourist attraction discount pass.
- Groups of 8 or more get 10% off tickets. See here.
- Serving Household Cavalry Personnel and families - Free
- Veteran Household Cavalry Personnel - Free
- Serving Military Personnel - 50% discount
Other Things to Do Nearby
- Buckingham Palace Tours
- Trafalgar Square
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- 10 Downing Street
- Westminster Abbey
- The Churchill War Rooms
- St. James’s Palace