July 17 2009 by Sam Lowe
The images we usually bring home from London almost invariably include exterior shots of Buckingham Palace, primarily because of its architectural splendor, secondarily because most people never get to see the interior.
However, should you happen to be in London this summer, here's an opportunity see how the royals live. Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the administrative headquarters for the royal household. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world.
But from late July through September, when the royal family moves temporarily to Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, Buckingham is not being used in its official capacity. So during that period, visitors are allowed to tour the magnificent state rooms, drawing rooms and grand staircases. The stairways and hallways are elaborate; the rooms are magnificent. They are lavishly decorated with some of he greatest treasures from the royal collection, including antique English and French furniture, fine rugs, paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Canaletto, sculpture by Canova and exquisite examples of porcelain.
The portion of the palace generally viewed by the public is only the East Front of the building. It was added in 1913 and obscures the more impressive 1820s facade, designed by architect John Nash and featuring colonnades and porticos. Nash's section of the palace was started in 1825 but wasn't completed until 1840. Now, a huge inner courtyard separates the two and summer visitors get to see both, once they pay the admission fee.
This year's tours include a special exhibition that illustrates some of the most important journeys undertaken by Queen Elizabeth during her reign. The displays will be accented by 28 dresses worn by the queen on tours over the past six decades, plus more than 100 gifts presented her by the people of the Commonwealth. They'll be set against backdrops of archival material, photos and film footage.
The tours are conducted at a leisurely pace and last between two and four hours, depending on which option you select. Ticket prices will vary, depending on the pounds-for-dollars rate exchange, but normally start at about $13. A pricier Royal Day Out ticket (about $48) offers admission to the palace, the Royal Mews, the Queen's Gallery and several State Rooms. For details, log on to www.royalcollection.org.uk.