Buckingham Palace opens the State Rooms to visitors each summer and includes a special exhibition. As 2023 is a Coronation year, the Coronation outfits worn by Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla are on public display for the first time. It is also the 30th anniversary since the Palace first opened to the public in 1993.
Top Tip: If you would like to know more about the building, I wrote a more in-depth history of Buckingham Palace a few years ago.
The largest of the state rooms is the Ballroom and this is where the special exhibition is staged. It was used earlier this year by Their Majesties as a Coronation rehearsal space.
The special display has at its centre the outfits, jewellery and insignia worn by The King and Queen as they departed from Westminster Abbey and then appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Shown alongside these are some of the historic vestments worn by The King as he was crowned, as well as the Anointing Screen, Throne Chairs and designs for the Coronation invitation.
The Ball Supper Room has previously been used as well but is closed this year. But the Annexe alongside the Ballroom is open and there are royal family photographs to see.
Robes of Estate
The King and Queen’s Robes of Estate are the highlight of the display. His Majesty’s Robe was worn by his great-grandfather King George V and grandfather King George VI for their Coronations. It was conserved by the robemakers Ede and Ravenscroft.
Her Majesty’s Robe was newly made for the occasion by Ede and Ravenscroft and hand embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework. Its design draws on themes of nature and the environment, featuring the floral emblems of the United Kingdom and a further 20 plants chosen for their personal associations. Look closely and you can also see embroidered insects including bees, butterflies, a beetle and a caterpillar.
Queen Camilla’s Coronation Dress was designed by Bruce Oldfield and features silver and gold embroidered floral designs. These were to represent Their Majesties’ affection for nature and the British countryside. You can also see intertwined celebratory bunting.
Visitors may also spot some more personal details amongst the intricate gold embroidery of the names of The Queen’s children and grandchildren. Plus depictions of Bluebell and Beth, Her Majesty’s Jack Russell Terriers.
Also on display is the spectacular Coronation Necklace which was originally made for Queen Victoria in 1858 and has been worn at every Coronation since 1902. It is made from 25 cushion-shaped brilliant-cut diamonds with a central drop-shaped pendant.
The King’s cream silk overshirt and Purple Coronation Tunic were created especially for the occasion by Turnbull & Asser and Ede and Ravenscroft respectively. These were inspired by similar items worn by King George V and King George VI at their Coronations.
Shown alongside these are His Majesty’s Royal Naval Trousers and the Star, Collar and Great George of the Order of the Garter – the oldest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom. The jewelled Great George pendant is thought to have been made for George II and was worn for the Coronations of King George V and King George VI. The Garter Star was a wedding gift to King George V from the Officers of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Naval Reserve.
Top Tip: Look up when in the Throne Room, as the Garter Star is at the centre of the ceiling.
Visitors have the opportunity to admire close-up the embroidered Anointing Screen. This was used to shield His Majesty from view during the most sacred moment of the Coronation.
Its central design takes the form of a tree with 56 leaves. This represents the 56 member countries of the Commonwealth. Its maroon, gold, blue and red colour scheme reflects the colours of the Cosmati pavement at Westminster Abbey.
The design was selected personally by The King and is inspired by the stained-glass Sanctuary Window in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, which was gifted by the Livery Companies to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.
The screen’s four oak poles are made from a windblown oak from the Windsor Estate, planted in 1765, and are topped with two gilded bronze eagles. The screen was gifted for the Coronation by the City of London Corporation and City Livery Companies. It was designed by the iconographer Aidan Hart and brought to life through both hand and digital embroidery, managed by the Royal School of Needlework.
Also on display are some of the historic vestments worn by His Majesty for the moment of crowning. These include the Coronation Glove, worn to hold the Sovereign’s Sceptre. This was made by Dents the glovemaker and presented by the Worshipful Company of Glovers in 1937.
Alongside is the Girdle (or Coronation Sword Belt), which was worn around The King’s waist so that the Jewelled Sword of Offering could be fastened to it. This was originally presented by the Worshipful Company of Girdlers. His Majesty chose to reuse both items, which King George VI wore at his Coronation.
The Stole Royal was newly created for the occasion and embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework, from a design prepared by the Royal College of Arms. It was inspired by the stole worn by Queen Elizabeth II for her Coronation in 1953 and was a gift from the Worshipful Company of Girdlers. During the Coronation service, it was presented to His Majesty by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. On display is the final design for the stole alongside the item itself.
On display are the Throne Chairs used by Their Majesties for the Enthroning and the Homage. (In the Throne Room, you can see the Chairs of Estate which were used during the first stages of the Coronation.)
Both the Throne Chairs and the Chairs of Estate were made for previous Coronations. These were conserved by Royal Household and Royal Collection Trust conservators, with additional conservation and new embroidery by the Royal School of Needlework.
Overall, it is a smaller special exhibition than others we have had. But you can walk all the way around the central exhibits (the robes) which is helpful.
Before leaving the Ballroom, do remember to look up as the room is quite stunning,
Diamond Jubilee State Coach
Before you enter the building, in the Palace’s State Entrance portico, you can see the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. Their Majesties travelling in this to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation.
Top tip: If you purchase a Royal Day Out ticket, you can combine your visit to the State Rooms with a trip to the Royal Mews, the working stables of the Palace. And this is where you can see the Gold State Coach which carried Their Majesties back to Buckingham Palace from the Abbey. The Gold State Coach has been used at every Coronation since that of William IV in 1831.
Top Tip: You could also plan to see the latest exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery: Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians.
Seeing the State Rooms
I say it every year but it’s important not to rush through. On busy days you can get swept along but step to the side and simply absorb being inside Buckingham Palace. Look closely at the artwork, the furniture, the decoration and more.
Most people use the audio guide so it can actually be quite quiet even when busy. Use the opportunity to talk to the staff in each room as they often have some interesting additional information that they rarely get to share.
The audio guide is very good and available in many languages. Plus there is a family audio guide for younger visitors. This choice can also be good if you prefer clear and concise information with a sense of fun. You’ll discover that all menus at Buckingham Palace are written in French. And that it takes three days to set up the Ballroom for a state banquet. Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms including 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. And there are over 350 clocks in Buckingham Palace which must take a lot of time management.
There are a few signs of the 10-year multi-million-pound renovation works at the Palace as some of the electric bar fires have been removed from the fireplaces. And the West Gallery, as you exit the Ballroom, is being refurbished.
After the special exhibition, my favourite rooms on the west side of the Palace are the Music Room as I love the curved windows, and the White Drawing Room as it has a secret door that connects to the monarch’s private apartments.
Tea On The Terrace
After returning your audio guide, do stop for tea (or coffee) at the Terrace Cafe. I’m not a fan of tea in paper cups but I relent for my annual visit to Buckingham Palace so I can sip a drink while looking out over the gardens. Again, cake doesn’t look so good on a paper plate but I make an exception here. Although I wouldn’t recommend the Victoria Sponge as it was too sugary and not at all spongey. The Honeybee Cake looked good and tasted good so maybe go for that instead.
Opposite the Cafe, on the east terrace, is the Family Pavilion so do head there if you have children with you.
As a small note, you cannot take pushchairs through the state rooms so these are returned to visitors on The Terrace. But that is at the top of a flight of steps leading to ground level. I helped a parent carrying a pushchair and child so this seems an issue of access planning.
The large gift shop on the edge of the gardens is fabulous and better than the smaller stores on Buckingham Palace Road.
Then the exit is via a route through the gardens so there is no need to rush away. (In 2021, when the State Rooms were closed, I came for a picnic in the Buckingham Palace Gardens.) A 45-minute Garden Highlights Tour is available and it is recommended to book in advance.
Top Tip: If you time your visit so you also get to see the Changing of the Guard, you can use this guide to tell the difference between the Buckingham Palace Guards. Changing the Guard takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 11:00, weather permitting.
The special Coronation display is included in a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.
Dates: 14 July – 24 September 2023
Buckingham Palace is open five days a week, Thursday to Monday, remaining closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Adults from £30 | Young person (18–24 years) from £19.50 |
Child 5–17 years from £16.50 | Child (under 5 years): free |
Disabled from £16.50
Top Tip: Did you know your ticket is valid for 1 year? Remember to get it stamped at the exit (right at the end of the garden) and you can return again and again – including during next year’s Summer Opening!