The View From Behind the Buckingham Palace Balcony is Unforgettable

When we think of Buckingham Palace, one of the first things that springs to mind is its iconic balcony. Those who have traveled to the Mall for an occasion such as a royal wedding or Trooping the Colour will know what it feels like to stand amongst the crowd and when the royal family steps out for an historical appearance. However, noone but the royals themselves, and a very select few others, know quite what it is like to stand up there and look down.

That is until now. Well, sort of. Buckingham Palace is opening the East Wing of the Palace to the public for the first time this summer which means that paying visitors can enter the Centre Room behind the Palace balcony. For a princely £75 ($96) ticket-holders can take the small guided tour of some of the rooms on the East Wing as well as gaining access to the usual summer opening of the Palace’s State Rooms.

trooping the colour 2024
Princess Charlotte and the Princess of Wales on the Buckingham Palace balcony at this year’s Trooping the Colour.Chris Jackson - Getty Images

Town & Country experienced a preview of the intimate new tour ahead of its opening to the public on Monday July 15. Something to note straight away is that visitors do not get to step onto the balcony itself. The doors to it remain closed and the famous net curtains must also, according to an official, remain drawn. Yet it is surprising how vivid the view out onto the Mall still is and how much you can see through the delicate net as you look out beyond the Palace forecourt to the Queen Victoria Memorial and its surroundings below.

For those interested in the history of the Palace and the artifacts in it, there is plenty on offer in this tour. The East Wing was added to the building between 1847 and 1849 in Queen Victoria’s reign to provide space for her growing family. The iconic balcony was famously incorporated at Prince Albert’s suggestion.

The construction was financed by the sale of George IV’s Brighton seaside retreat the Royal Pavilion and its contents were transferred to London. Anyone expecting a quintessential British decor will be surprised instead to discover that King George IV had a love of Asian art and design, and as such the rooms are decorated with Chinese and Japanese porcelain, including artifacts such as towering Chinese pagodas.

The rooms on show, which have only recently been completed as part of the ongoing £369 million publicly-funded refurbishment, remain at the heart of the working royal household today. The Yellow Drawing Room—which lives up to its name with yellow sofas and vast amounts of gilded furnishings including enormous gilded curtain poles—is where some audiences are held. Receptions can take place in the 240-ft-long Principal Corridor. And, of course there is the Central Room itself where the royal family gathers before and after a balcony appearance.

a room with paintings and art on the walls
The Centre RoomPeter Smith

“It began to be used very early on in Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1851,” Surveyor of the King’s Works of Art Caroline de Guitaut told reporters about the balcony. She described the appearances on it as “enabling the royal family to connect with the people.”

Indeed, one of the things that is striking when you are in the Centre Room is how clearly you can see individual people below. If you had pictured the front of the balcony as roughly adult waist-height, you will be surprised to see it looking lower up close. The mechanics of the space are also on full view, with wiring for what appears to be some kind of lighting visible the floor of the balcony. And anyone imagining that the royals have a view right down the Mall can see that the Mall itself is in fact completely blocked by the Queen Victoria Memorial.

The King has apparently been very involved in the Palace resurfacing and has been keen for the East Wing to be open to the public. “It’s his decision..It’s obviously of tremendous benefit to make these spaces accessible to the public for the first time given that that was previously not the case,” de Guitaut said.

For those who have ever wondered what it is like to look out from Palace balcony, this is the closest you are ever likely to get. And it is an unforgettable view.

Tours of the East Wing are now sold out but there is a possibility they will be offered again next year. Tickets for the Palace State Rooms can still be purchased for this year.

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