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 royal aficionado, here's our pick of what you can usually see when you drop into Her Majesty's residence in central London.
For the first time, in 2021, you have the chance to freely explore the gardens and even enjoy a picnic in the palace's grounds with a Buckingham Palace Garden ticket. Book your garden ticket now.
Unlike previous years, you can only enter Buckingham Palace on a guided tour of the State Rooms, so some of the highlights listed below may not be available.
1. The gardens
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 (1.2-hectare) lake. The gardens are the location for the Queen's annual Garden Parties.
Highlights of the garden 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.
With your Buckingham Palace Garden ticket you have the unique opportunity to explore and even picnic in this green oasis hidden away in the centre of London. The Buckingham Palace Garden ticket does not include a tour of the State Rooms.
2. 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 (William and Kate). These rooms are awash with sparkling candelabra, marble columns, sumptuous carpets, damask wallpaper, fine furniture, sculpture and works of art.
You can usually explore the State Rooms with timed entry during the annual summer opening, but in 2021 you can join a small-group guided tour of the State Rooms.
3. 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.
The Grand Staircase does not form part of the State Rooms guided tour in 2021.
4. Fine art
Some big names are on show at the palace. You can usually 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.
The Picture Gallery does not form part of the State Rooms guided tour in 2021.
5. Audio tour with Prince Charles
As part of your Buckingham Palace tour, you would usually have 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 multiple languages. There are also usually interactive family tours and tours for deaf and blind visitors.
The audio tour is replaced by a small-group guided tour of the State Rooms in 2021.
6. 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 guided 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.
7. Sèvres Porcelain
Buckingham Palace houses a spectacular collection of Sèvres 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.
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 usually offers a unique exhibition. However, in 2021, there is no special exhibition due to the more limited tours of the palace's interiors.
10. Garden Shop and stalls
If you have a Buckingham Palace Garden ticket and you're not bringing your own picnic, you can pick up drinks and snacks at the various stalls dotted around the garden.
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: