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Changing of the Horse Guards in London

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This post covers how to visit the Horse Guard Parade for free, see the Changing of the Queen's Life Guards, and visit the Household Cavalry Museum. 

 


WHAT IS HORSE GUARDS PARADE?

The Horse Guards Parade is a ceremonial parade ground used for public and royal events throughout the year.

Horse Guards Parade Grounds

The Horse Guards Parade ground was originally the courtyard in the middle of Henry VIII’s Royal Palace of Whitehall.

At the front (or Whitehall) entrance of Horse Guards Parade, you will see members of the Household Cavalry, who are there to protect the official entrance to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace.

Horse Guards Whitehall

On the parade ground, is a white 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.

Horse Guards Archway

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.

When the Royal Family is traveling to or from Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament, they normally pass under this archway as they proceed.

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.

 


HOW TO GET HERE

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.

Map of Horse Guard Parade

TIP: If you are not familiar with the subway in London, then be sure to read the following helpful posts:


Other Things to Do Nearby

 


CHANGING OF THE QUEEN’S LIFEGUARD

Similar to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, this is a daily much smaller and shorter ceremony that lasts around 30 minutes.

This ceremony is free for the public to watch!  Whenever the guards are in position, it is possible to see them as well as take some photographs.

In addition, every day, regardless of weather, there is a Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade.

This ceremony isn’t as well known as the Changing of the Guard that takes place near Buckingham Palace.

This means this event is less busy and also you can get up close to the soldiers 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.

CHANGING OF THE QUEEN’S LIFEGUARD

This event sees the two Squadrons that make up the Household Cavalry (the Life Guards and 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 start their day by leaving their Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28 am (9:28 am on Sundays).

They proceed past Buckingham Palace, down the Mall, and into Horse Guards Parade. They line up alongside the Old Guard.

Dismounting Ceremony

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 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 travel back toward Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill, and into the Hyde Park Barracks.

If Her 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 on the Mall.

The New Guard will pass around 10:40 and the Old Guard will pass at around 11:30.

TIP: Our All-In-One Tours or Westminster Tours include a visit to Horse Guards Parade where (weather permitting) you can see the Changing of the Queen’s Lifeguard up close. Our guide will get you to the best spot for a great view and perfect photographs.

 


TROOPING THE COLOUR

This is one of the most important celebrations of the year in London.

It is the annual celebration of Her Majesty’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 Queen’s actual birthday is April 21. 

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 Queen proceeds down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, escorted by the Household Cavalry.

She will be followed by other senior-ranking members of the Royal Family, as well as hundreds of military personnel.

Her Majesty arrives exactly as the clock strikes 11:00 and she then takes her place on the “saluting base” platform.

Here she receives her salute as the Band of the Household Cavalry, a Corps of Drums troupe and members of the Queen’s Guard all play music.

After the salute, the Queen inspects all her troops by passing by in her royal 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, Royal Horse Artillery march past Her Majesty with their Guns.

Then the Queen rides back to Buckingham Palace at the head of her Guards.

She takes the salute from a raised dais in front of the Palace as the troops file past back to their barracks.

She 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 culminates 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 Queen.

Although the Queen 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 Duke of York!
  • 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!

 


HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY MUSEUM

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!

Hours:

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

Closed on:

  • Dec 24 and Dec 26
  • Marathon Day-April 26, 2020
  • Easter Friday, April 10, 2020
  • Trooping the Colour Queen’s Birthday June 13, 2020

Check their website for closures when choosing your date to visit the museum.


Ticket Prices

  • 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.

Discounted Prices

  • 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.
  • Military:
    • Serving Household Cavalry Personnel and families - Free
    • Veteran Household Cavalry Personnel - Free
    • Serving Military Personnel - 50% discount

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About The Author

Margaret

An American simply by accident of birth, Margaret moved to London over 16 years ago and hasn’t looked back since! With a keen interest in History – and a BA degree to match – Margaret prides herself on her knowledge of the amazing city she calls home and she's been guiding here now for nearly a decade. Social history is her real expertise, with sound understanding of the day-to-day lives of Londoners over the past centuries.
Updated: October 12th, 2021
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