Hardly a day goes by without crowds of people gathering outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, eager to catch a glimpse of the British Monarch or the fearsome Changing of the Guard. When the Queen died in September 2022, mourners met here to place flowers, just as they had done for Royal Weddings and Jubilee Celebrations.
Yet, behind the gates and the French neoclassical façade is one of the most elusive buildings in the world. Here, UK Prime Ministers come to meet the King for their weekly meetings, and world leaders are invited during an official state visit.
When Was Buckingham Palace Built?
The site has been occupied for centuries, stretching back to the Middle Ages. Ownership has passed between such notable figures as Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. However, it wasn’t until 1624 that a house was first erected by Sir William Blake — which sadly burnt down in 1674.
In 1703, the first Duck of Buckingham and Normanby — who gave the palace its name — built a house to the designs of William Winde. The original “Buckingham House” consisted of a large three-floored central block and two small flanking service wings. There was no grand front entrance, no balcony, nothing we could easily recognize as the palace of today.
In the 1760s, the house was given to Queen Charlotte, becoming known as The Queen’s House — the first time a royal had lived there. Slowly, the once moderate home grew — George IV, who lives at Buckingham Palace, decided to transform it into a full-blown palace, asking his architect John Nash to manage the metamorphosis.
An impressive grand — and suitably royal — palace in a French neoclassical style resulted. Still, no front façade was yet built. Indeed, where the front now sits was once occupied by Marble Arch. After its transformation, Queen Victoria moved in in 1837 — finding even this palatial structure too restrictive for courtly life and her growing family. A new, front-facing wing was added, enclosing the central quadrangle.
Still, no balcony. It wasn’t until 1913 that this public façade was remodeled as part of the Royal family’s pivot from lavish, opulent parties to their current dutiful image.
How Many Rooms Are in Buckingham Palace?
The palace is less a home than a labyrinth of endless rooms and corridors. According to the floor plan, first released in 2020, there are 775 rooms. These include over 19 staterooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. However, some areas of the palace remain a mystery — who knows how many rooms there really are?
During her time at the palace, the Queen — never one for the ostentatious — only used six rooms in her private apartments — the bedroom, private sitting room, dressing room, the bathroom, the Audience room, and a mysterious area named “Bobo MacDonald’s suites.”
You may imagine this palace or even the Grand Palace in Bangkok as the biggest in the world — but you’d be wrong. The Hofburg Palace in Vienna holds that illustrious title.
What’s Inside Buckingham Palace?
Entering the palace is like being transported to another world or a fully-functioning town. There’s a post office, cinema, swimming pool, doctor’s surgery, jeweler’s workshop, and more.
Notable areas include the principal rooms located on the first floor. These rooms are among the most famous, from the Picture Gallery, which houses the royal art collection (including Faberge eggs and sketches by da Vinci), the Music Room, the Blue and White Drawing Rooms, and, of course, the Throne Room. The Regency Room is also located here — you may recognize it from official photographs and the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts.
Few pictures exist of these rooms, except the Audience Room, where the Monarch gives their weekly audience to the Prime Minister.
Most people never have the opportunity to embark on tours of Buckingham Palace, adding to its mystique. Rarely does one get to roam the palace halls alone.
In one strange episode, Michael Fagan did just that. In 1982, he shimmied up a drainpipe and broke into the Palace — twice! He strolled around during his first venture, even sampling wine from then-Prince Charles’ stash. In the second break-in, Fagan found himself face-to-face with the Queen. The scene became so famous it was dramatized in the Netflix hit The Crown.
If you’re looking for a memorable getaway in the UK and want to experience what Fagan saw at Buckingham Palace, you’re in luck! Guided tours of the magnificent State Rooms are available to visitors during specific periods of the year. Make sure to book your tickets soon, as they tend to sell out quickly.