Buckingham Palace - History and Maps:
Any visit to London should include a quick trip over to Buckingham Palace
to at least view the grand residence of the Queen. It's surrounded by a fenced wall but you can see into the forecourt where the 2 guards are placed. Take your camera since you can get some great pictures out in front. The Mall and Birdcage Walk are two streets that lead up to the Palace or you can approach from Buckingham Palace Road or the Green Park area. The Palace is used by the Queen most of the year as both a residence and an office, although during the summer months she goes to Scotland and Buckingham Palace is opened to the public (at least the 19 State Rooms are). If you choose to take the Buckingham Palace tour
you will see the Royal treasures inside the State Rooms - famous paintings from Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Canaletto. There is also a sculpture from Canova. The Royal Collection will astound you and help you realize how the daily life of the Queen is lived. Tour details are down below for you to see (tickets, prices, admission times, location).
If you look at the map which shows the location of Buckingham Palace, you will notice that there are 3 Tube stations within walking distance to the Palace - Hyde Park Corner, Victoria, and St. James Park. I prefer to take the Victoria Tube stop and walk down Buckingham Palace Road to the Palace and then proceed further down to Big Ben and Parliament along the Thames. If you get off at Victoria it should only take about 10 minutes walk to get to the Palace - the other Tube stations are about equidistant.
If you spend about 30 minutes at the Palace (without the tour), that should be plenty of time to get a good look from all angles and take a few photos. A walk into St. James Park is a must if the weather is good as flowers are all over and it's convenient from the park to go down towards the Thames and see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
Tours - Tickets - Admission:
Since Buckingham Palace is the home and office of Her Majesty The Queen it's not open to the public for the majority of the year. Opening hours are going to be from July to September from 9:45AM to 6PM. Check the website for more details. The tickets are timed, which means every 15 minutes a new set of visitors is allowed in. You can only use your ticket for the specified entrance time on it - don't be late or else you risk being turned away. Expect your visit to last about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The admission price includes a self guided tour of the State Rooms (19 of them) at the Palace. Tickets are $16.50 GBP for an adult and slightly cheaper for seniors/students and children under 5 are free. The more expensive option is called A Royal Day Out and includes admission to The State Rooms, the Royal Mews and The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Tickets are $29.50 GBP for adults. You get an audio guide on all tours as part of the price. The Exclusive Guided Tour is $65 GBP and offers you an expert guide and lasts for 2 hours. You can book online for all the tours at Buckingham Palace and all major credit cards are accepted. It's a good idea to book in advance since these tours are fairly popular during the busy summer months and can fill up quickly. Go to the official Buckingham Palace website
for all the details on ordering. You can get tickets the day off at the ticket office near the visitor entrance on Buckingham Palace Road.
Changing of the Guard:
Many visitors to London are more interested in seeing the Changing of the Guard ceremony than actually touring the inside of Buckingham Palace. I have witnessed the ceremony once in my 3 trips to London and it was worth it. From May to July the Guard Change happens right at 11:30 AM each day. The rest of the year it's held on alternate days and weather can deter the ceremony from happening. Check with the British Army website
for their schedule - they post PDF files for the current and upcoming month so you can see just which days will hold the ceremony. The Changing of the Guard takes about 40 minutes - a band plays and the soldiers come from Wellington Barracks. The ceremony can be seen at the Palace forecourt. Even if you miss the Guard Change, you can still watch the 2 guards in front of the palace do their regular drill of walking back and forth every few minutes in front of their post. They are military in stance and very exact with their motions.