No, this wasn’t an invitation from the Queen to dine at her table !
I never had any inclination or desire to see the inside of Buckingham Palace until a tour letter dropped through my letterbox. It made the visit sound very exclusive, as though it was the very first time, starting with this particular tour (if I booked it) which would enter the palace from the same Grand Entrance used by visiting dignitaries, and see everything inside that only these honoured guests would ever witness. It sounded like heaven, especially when the pre and post Buckingham Palace visits included Harrods and Covent Garden. So I booked the tour, and I don’t regret doing so but on reflection, I would have rather made the journey independently. I’ll tell you why below.
Starting with Buckingham Palace
Our visit to the Palace was timed (it’s better this way so i discovered later or you may not be allowed in if you wonder by and it’s an exceptionally busy day). We enter via a side gate from Buckingham Palace Road. Once through the gates, we kindof feel like cattle being herded from one waiting area to another – but all the staff are very friendly. When we’re finally allowed through the barriers, we enter a security checkpoint, very much like an airport – bags through one x-ray machine, bodies through another. Once cleared, we walk along a corridor until we arrive at a receiving area to pick up our own audio guides and headphones. Alas not the 1-to-1 personal tour guide I had expected to walk us through the palace.
I’ve no idea where we are now but we follow in the wake of the hoards of other tourists along the path and emerge outside the Grand Square Entrance with pictures of the Queen lining the path to the stairs and under the portico into the palace itself. By this time, the Grand Entrance didn’t feel so grand any more having felt propelled forwards by others behind my back wanting their own spot at the next photo or the Australian State Coach. After that we climb the grand stair case and wonder from room to room, listening to our audio guide. There’s a lot to take in. I was sorely tempted to doddle and soak up the atmosphere, but I was also conscious of not being late to meet our coach by the stipulated departure time. That left us just 2 hours to see everything. It was NOT ENOUGH. A full half day, 4 hours would have been better. A visit to Covent Garden wasn’t really necessary, we could have just gone for a nice Fish & Chip lunch afterwards before our drive back home !
Before you visit the palace, do remember
- to use the toilets before you enter the palace, you won’t find one until you leave the palace
- turn your mobile to silent. Mobiles ringing is not permitted within the palace
- you’re not allowed to take photos inside the palace
- the shop is great but everything is mighty ex-pen-sive
To round this off with my impressions and a quick review of Harrods & Covent Garden
A visit to Harrods should be accomplished with a lot of money to spare in your pockets.
- There are several doors, front, back and sides
- Be sure to pick up a small pocket sized Store Guide (usually kept next to the door) before you start wondering around, it’s easy to lose your bearings
- A visit to the Food department with a puchase of Turkish Baclava is a must, I’ve never tasted these so good before
- Visit the Gifts departments to pick up cheap and cheerful tat as a reminder of your visit
A visit to Covent Garden, exclusive boutiques, street entertainers and markets is a must but do it at your own pace and eat early, it’s busy as hell !!
As for Buckingham Palace, as I said before, I don’t regret it but my anticipation of the visit was way way of scale:
- Firstly it was the end of the summer opening of the grand palace entrance, not the beginning
- There was no ‘personal’ tour guide to walk you through the palace’s grand rooms and galleries (as there are in some palaces across Europe)
- The ‘behind-the-scenes’ work we were promised was only videos not a lively hive of activity on the day
- And god knows where the knighting stool and sword were, I missed that completely !!!
Roll on 2017 so I can get my fill of the palace, in my own time and at my own pace ! assuming it will be open to visitors during the refurbishments.