Each summer you can visit the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace while the Queen is away at Balmoral (Scotland).
And each year there’s a special exhibition. This is year it’s Fashioning the Reign and is all about the Queen’s dresses.
Previously, the tour route took you halfway up the Grand Staircase and then turned to see the State Rooms, but this year you get a sweeping entry straight up the Grand Staircase to the special exhibition.
Do you remember the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony? This is the route James Bond took to meet the Queen.
Ball Supper Room
This is the room before the main ballroom and where the special exhibition starts. There are ten dresses on display around the edge of the Ball Supper Room with rows of seating in the middle to watch the video projected on the wall. This was another welcome change this year as there is a lot more seating – some in nearly every room.
In this room my favourite outfit was the Coronation dress the Queen wore to her parent’s Coronation when she was 11 (with a matching outfit for her 7 year old sister).
Already, at the start of the tour I could tell it’s unlikely to feel as crowded as previous years. There’s a lot of space to sit in this room (rows of bench seating), lots of space around each of the dresses and plenty of space to walk between them. It won’t be a ‘single line shuffle’ as we’ve had in the past as you can stop and watch the video projections and then walk over to any of the dresses; no-one says you have to see them in chronological order.
The Ballroom display has three areas: military uniforms, millinery (hats) and then a lovely selection of the Queen’s dresses. Do approach staff to ask for more information as they often know lots of useful extras.
We enjoyed seeing Queen Victoria’s Military Tunic before entering the Ballroom Annexe to see the millinery. You will wonder what the occasion could have been for some of those hats!
And then in to the main section of the Ballroom where you can admire the stunning wedding dress with its 9ft full court train attached at the shoulders.
From here, the tour continues through the West Gallery and into the Blue Drawing Room.
Blue Drawing Room
The wallpaper is now somewhat faded blue but still very grand. If you think the columns are marble you’ll be mistaken it’s scagliola as the columns are actually wooden and hollow, covered in marble dust and polished to look like marble.
On the family audio tour we discovered that all of the menus at the Palace are in French. We played a fun game to try and design a menu but we made some terrible mistakes. Petrol soup, anyone?
In this room we learned more fun facts and did a quiz which was a good reason to stop and recap what you’ve learned to far. it’s a clever addition to the family audio tour which would allow parents to see the room for longer.
We also found out there are 350 clocks and watches in the Palace and two people are responsible for keeping them all to time. And that stale bread was used to clean soot off the chandeliers!
White Drawing Room
Do admire the cheeky monkeys on the restored piano before looking for the secret door to the Queen’s private apartment. It’s hidden well so do ask staff if you can’t spot it.
The Tour Continues…
The tour continues through the Picture Gallery (lots of new seating on offer down the centre), and into the Green Drawing Room before the Throne Room. Take in the drama in this room as John Nash designed theatres before the Palace.
Then it’s down the sweeping staircase and through the Marble Hall to the Bow Room which is the final room before the gardens. Look off to the right before leaving to see the 1844 Room – a small room where the Queen has private visitors.
Hand in your audio tour and take a well-earned stop for tea at The Terrace Cafe, overlooking the Palace gardens.
Even if you don’t bring kids do stop for the cool #BFGatBP photo opportunity outside the Family Pavilion.
The Family Pavilion has space for babies, wall puzzles for bigger kids and dressing up for everyone. We stayed to do colouring and chatted to other visitors.
There’s a large gift shop in the gardens and then you get to walk along the peaceful path to the exit on Grosvenor Place.
This year seems to be a much better visitor experience and we stayed considerably longer than usual. We did spend a long time in the Family Pavilion yet overall, we stayed for 5 hours including tea and a scone on the Terrace overlooking for the Palace gardens.
It’s a different route this year and there’s much more seating so you don’t feel rushed. Take time to look at the details (on the fireplaces, on furniture, vases, statues, etc) as this is a very ornate building.
It’s good to chat to ‘gallery attendants’ as they often know some great tips about the rooms. In the White Drawing Room a wonderful member of staff even had extra photos he could show us to see the ‘secret door’ open.
Even without kids I’d recommend the family audio tour as it explains the use of each room clearly and gives more reasons to look closely around you.
The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open until 2 October 2016. Buy your ticket direction from Royal Collection and it can be used as a 1 year Pass meaning you can visit again this year and see next year’s exhibition too.
You can compare this year’s visit with my report on the 2015 Buckingham Palace State Rooms opening.