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St. James's Palace | Changing of the Guard

Updated: November 4, 2023
 By Margaret

Today, although the Sovereign does not reside here, St. James’s Palace is the home of the Court of King Charles III.

Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, the palace is not open to the general public, unlike its neighbour, Buckingham Palace.

However, an important part of the start of the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place in Friary Court, and this is something you can witness live.

This post shows you how to get to St. James's Palace, provides some background, and explains where to best witness the Changing of the Guard.

St. James's Palace is a stop on our guided Westminster Tour as well as our audio tour.

We are here every day showing visitors on our walking tours exactly where to be and when to be there.

And, in the video below, Sinead, a tour guide with Free Tours by Foot London, provides an excerpt of our tour of the palace.

How to Get Here

St. James's Palace is located in the heart of London, within the City of Westminster at St. James’s Palace, Marlborough Road, London SW1A 1BS.

Due to its central location, it is accessible by most London Underground lines.

The closest station is Green Park (Jubilee, Victoria, and Piccadilly lines).  The next nearest station is Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo lines).  The nearest bus route is the #9 route.

We recommend using this Google map for directions to St. James's Palace from anywhere in London.

Though St. James's Palace is absolutely worth visiting to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, the inside of the Palace is not open to the public at any time.

However, there are 2 ways to enter the Palace by other means.

Attend a church service at the Chapel Royal or Queen's Chapel. Learn more about how to do this in the Chapel Royal section of this post.

Visit Clarence House, the current residence of King Charles III and former residence of both Prince William and Prince Harry.

It is attached to St. James's Palace and shares the Palace's gardens. Clarence House is open to visitors for approximately 1 month per year, usually during August.

Who lives in St. James's Palace? 

Today, although the Sovereign does not reside here, St. James’s Palace is the home of the Court of King Charles III, which essentially means that it is a busy place of business surrounding the Monarch.

The palace is used for entertaining guests of His Majesty and holds the offices of the Yeomen of the Guard and the King’s Watermen.

It’s also the base of the Royal Collection Department which is the organisation that catalogues and preserves all items belonging to the royal family and it is here that the St. James’s Detachment of the King’s Guard mounts for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.

It is also here that the Accession Council meets on the death of a monarch and where the accession of the new Sovereign is officially proclaimed to the public.

The small chapel inside the building – the exact location of Queen Victoria’s wedding – is still used by the royal family today and it was here in October 2013 that baby Prince George of Cambridge was christened.

The entire complex of St. James’s Palace also houses a number of other buildings which provide homes for various members of the Royal Family. 

Clarence House is home to King Charles III and Queen Camilla.  Previously Prince William and Prince Harry lived here. 

York House is home to Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice of York and also provides households of Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, and the Queen’s daughter, the Princess Royal.

Be sure to read our posts on Buckingham Palace, Windsor PalaceKensington, and the Changing of the Guard.

Changing of the Guard

For visitors to London from all over the world, taking in the Changing of the Guard is an absolute must-see!

And it is here at St. James’s Palace that a contingent of the King’s Guard lines up in formation to begin the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.

The Guards will march from St. James’s Palace, down The Mall, and behind the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Many visitors will come down to Buckingham Palace in the early hours of the morning to try to get a good spot to watch the Ceremony, but St. James’s is not as well known, which means it’s possible to beat the crowds by watching the ceremony beginning here at St. James’s!

In fact, this is where we take guests on our Royal Westminster Tour to enjoy the Ceremony since we believe the smaller crowds make for a clearer view, better photographs, and a greater experience.

And, in the video below, Tour Guide Sinead explains where and when to stand, as well as how to view other parts of the ceremony.

For years, St. James’s Palace was a popular place for visitors to have their photographs taken with the King’s Guard soldiers.

Previously, they were stationed outside the Tudor gatehouse which meant visitors could literally stand right beside them.

Unfortunately, because of security, the Guards have been moved from the gatehouse and now only stand in position inside the St. James’s Palace courtyard whenever the Monarch is in residence at Buckingham Palace.

So visitors can still get a great view of the soldiers, but we can no longer get close enough to have our pictures taken next to them!

For more information, check out our full post on the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.

Clarence House

Completed in 1827, Clarence House is attached to St. James’ Palace and serves as a private residence to the royal family.

Between 1953 and 2002, it was the home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Before his marriage, Prince William resided there from 2003 to 2011. Prince Harry also lived there until 2012, when he officially moved to Kensington Palace.

Every August, Clarence House is open to the public for guided tours of the five rooms and adjoining spaces on the ground floor. Tickets are timed and extremely limited, so be sure to book them far in advance.

During your visit, you will see items from the Royal Collection, including much of The Queen Mother’s collection of art and furniture, as styled by her.

Getting There:

  • Clarence House, St James's Palace, London, SW1A 1BA
  • Nearest Underground: Green Park or St. James’s Park
  • Nearest coach station: Victoria Coach Station (15-minute walk)
  • Bus: 8, 9, 14, 19, 22, and 38 stop at Green Park

Clarence House Tours:

  • Available from August 1 - August 31st, annually
  • Tours run on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 16:30 - 18:00 (4:30 pm - 6 pm)
  • All tours are guided and conclude with a glass of champagne and a view of the garden
  • The cost is £35 per person
  • Adults only
  • Click here to book tickets

Chapel Royal

Though St. James's Palace is technically never open to the public, you are allowed to visit the Chapel Royal and Queen's Chapel at certain times throughout the year by attending a Sunday church service.

This is the only way to enter St. James's Palace at the moment.

Services are held in the Chapel Royal or The Queen's Chapel on Sundays at 11:15 a.m., except during the months of August and September.

  • Summer: services are held in the Chapel Royal from the first Sunday in October to Good Friday.
  • Winter: services are held in The Queen's Chapel from Easter Sunday to the last Sunday in July.

The Chapel Royal has been located in many places around the country over the centuries but has been in St. James's Palace since 1703. In 2013, Prince George was christened in Chapel Royal.

It is said that this location was chosen to honor the late Princess Diana, whose coffin was placed near the altar of the Chapel so that visitors could come and pay their respects.

The Queen's Chapel is located across the road from St. James's Palace and is considered a true hidden gem here in London.

This small chapel was built in 1625 by Inigo Jones.

Brief History

Tucked away on a side street in the district of Mayfair and St. James, the Palace is a fine example of surviving Tudor architecture.

St. James’s Palace was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1531 and construction was completed a few years later.

The most impressive part of the Palace was the fine gatehouse which is still decorated with the initials “H.A.” to commemorate Henry’s marriage to his then-wife, Anne Boleyn.

(It is worth noting that the clock on the gatehouse today is a later addition, originally installed in 1731).

The entire structure is completed out of red brick which today is not a particularly valuable material but, in the 16th century was extremely costly and luxurious.

It was here that two of Henry’s children died – his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and his eldest daughter, Queen Mary I (whose heart is buried inside the building!).

Later, the Palace was the birthplace of a number of Monarchs – King Charles II, King James II, Queen Mary II, and Queen Anne.

St. James’s was also the location of Queen Victoria’s marriage to her husband – and cousin – Prince Albert in 1840.

Victoria was the last reigning Monarch to live at St. James’s Palace as it was during her reign that Buckingham Palace because of the primary Royal residence for the ruling family.


About The Author


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. Read More...
Updated: November 4th, 2023
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