Buckingham Palace is one of the world's few remaining working royal palaces. It has been open to visitors during the summer months for more than 20 years. Whether you're a first-timer or a palace aficionado, here's our pick of what to see when you drop into Her Majesty's residence in Central London.
1. The State Rooms
There are 775 rooms in Buckingham Palace including the 19 State Rooms and 78 bathrooms. The State Rooms are a suite of lavishly decorated public rooms in Buckingham Palace where the monarch receives, rewards and entertains her subjects and visiting dignitaries. Several of these rooms were used for the Royal Wedding reception for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton). When you take a Summer Opening tour, it's the State Rooms that you'll see. These rooms are awash with sparkling candelabra, marble columns, sumptuous carpets, damask wallpaper, fine furniture, sculpture and works of art.
2. The Grand Staircase
Buckingham Palace's grand staircase is a highlight of the tour. The magnificent bronze staircase was designed by the architect John Nash as part of his commission to remodel the palace for King George IV from 1825 to 1830. The impressive double balustrade features an intricate pattern of acanthus, oak and laurel leaves and represents some of the world's finest bronze casting work. The stairs are lit by an etched glass dome in the ceiling.
3. Fine Art
Some big names are on show at the palace. On your tour, you'll come across paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Poussin, Canaletto and Claude as well as sculpture by Canova and Chantrey. The paintings in the State Rooms also include some wonderful portraits of past and present royals including Queen Victoria, George III and Queen Charlotte, William IV and his wife Queen Adelaide and, of course, the current Royal Family.
4. Audio Tour with Prince Charles
As part of your Buckingham Palace tour, you'll get a free audio guide to the palace. The tour is introduced by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) and takes you through all 19 State Rooms as well as the annual special exhibition. Audio guides are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Mandarin. There's also interactive family tours and tours for deaf and blind visitors.
5. The Throne Room
Buckingham Palace's majestic Throne Room is a favourite with visitors. It contains the thrones that are used for investitures and ceremonial receptions such as at The Queen's Jubilees and has also doubled as a ballroom on occasion (on your tour, you'll also see the official Ballroom – the palace's largest multi-purpose room). You may recognise the Throne Room as the backdrop for some famous royal wedding photos including Princess Elizabeth (now The Queen) and The Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
6. Sevres Porcelain
Buckingham Palace houses a spectacular collection of Sevres Porcelain – one of the world's finest in fact. The pieces were mostly acquired from the famous French manufacturer by King George IV between 1783 and 1830. As well as finely painted and gilded "useful" wares such as dining services, broth basins, cups and saucers and dejeuners, you'll see fabulous ornamental vases, bibelots and porcelain busts.
7. The Garden: Separate Tour
The gardens at Buckingham Palace cover an impressive 39 acres (15.8 hectares) and contain more than 350 types of wildflowers, around 200 trees and a three-acre lake. The gardens are the location for The Queen's annual Garden Parties. With your Garden Tour Ticket you'll be shown through this beautiful oasis in the centre of London. Highlights of the tour include the tennis courts where King George VI and Fred Perry played in the 1930s, the stunning herbaceous boarder, a wisteria-clad Summer House, the Rose Garden and the huge Waterloo Vase. (The Garden Tour ticket includes a tour of the State Rooms).
8. Flags and Clocks
As you enter or leave Buckingham Palace, be sure to keep an eye out for the flag on the roof – there is always one flying above the palace. When The Queen is at home, the flag is the Royal Standard, when she's away, the Union Flag is raised instead. Once inside, you can go clock-spotting. With more than 350 clocks and watches throughout the palace, it holds one of the largest collections of working clocks in the world! Two full-time horological conservators are employed to wind and maintain them all.
9. The Special Exhibition
Each year, the Summer Opening offers a special exhibition. In 2014 the exhibit was on Royal Childhood, which gave a charming glimpse into the early years of the royals. Check back later for details of the special exhibition for 2015.
10. Garden Cafe and Garden Shop
Your State Rooms or Garden Tour ends at the tranquil Garden Cafe on the West Terrace of Buckingham Palace. The cafe offers a range of light refreshments including tea, coffee, sandwiches and pastries. During the Summer Opening, the Garden Shop contains a delightful range of gifts and souvenirs exclusively created for the Royal Collection. You'll find homewares, china, clothing, jewellery and children's toys, books and postcards. Most of the products on sale are inspired by works of art in the Royal Collection.
Still not convinced? See what real visitors loved about their trip to the palace in the video below: