The Queen’s Life Guard put on a striking, synchronized Changing of the Horse Guards in London, and other ceremonies daily. So read on for all the details to see the Horse Guards in London.
The Horse Guards Parade grounds is located at the official main entrance of Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace. The Horse Guards have been responsible for protecting the Sovereign since Charles II was in exile in the Netherlands in 1658-1659, and still do to this day. Part of the responsibility is guarding this entry to the Palace. The inspection and changing of the horse guard ceremonies are synchronized, and full of pomp. Great for the royal lover, horse lover, or if you just appreciate a good historical ceremony. Read on for all you need to know to see the Horse Guards in London the next time you visit.
Visiting London Horse Guards Parade Grounds
Location and Getting to Horse Guard Grounds
Address: Whitehall, London, SW1A 2AX
Nearest Tube Stations:
- Charing Cross – Bakerloo and Northern Lines
- Westminster Station – Jubilee, Circle, & District Lines
The grounds are right in the heart of London, making it easy to combine with spending time in Hyde or St. James Park, having lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt, visiting Trafalgar Square, or shopping for some of the best London souvenirs.
Horse Guards in London Weekly Ceremonial Schedule
- Monday-Friday, 11:00 am – Changing of The Queen’s Life Guard
- Saturday @ 11:00am, Sunday @ 10:00am – The Duty Officer’s Inspection
- Daily, on the hour from 10:00am-4:00pm – Change of mounted sentries guards at the entrance
- Daily @ 4:00pm – Punishment Parade/Dismounted inspection of the guard
Scroll down for more information about each of the ceremonies.
The Queen’s Life Guard Tickets
- No tickets needed for regular daily & weekly ceremonies on Horse Guard grounds
Short History of the Queen’s Life Guard
The Queen’s Life Guard began under the reign of King Charles II, between 1658-1659. It was during the time Charles II was in exile in the Netherlands. The Guard was made up of three units of cavalry from Charles own court-in-exile. Their first action was as Charles II’s contribution to the Spanish War.
When Charles was restored to the throne in 1660, these three units joined him as his bodyguard. They took part in both suppressing the Third Dutch War in 1672 and the Monmouth Rebellion at Sedgemoor in 1685. But probably the battles that are the most familiar are when the Guard led the Household Brigade’s charge at Waterloo, and engaged in both World Wars.
While there is a great amount of nostalgia and ceremony surrounding the Queen’s Life Guard today, they are not at all strictly ceremonial. Horses are no longer sent off to war, but the military units have been deployed as recently as Iraq from 2003-2011, and Afghanistan in 2001-2014.
Amazingly, the ceremonies carried out by the Horse Guard in London are largely unchanged over the past 350 years. However there has been the addition of the Dismount Inspection or Punishment Inspection (great story – see below) in 1894.
Composition of the Horse Guards in London
The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment consists of a squadron from each of the two senior Regiments of the British Army: The Life Guards wear red tunics and white plumed helmets, and The Blues and Royals wear blue tunics and red plumed helmets. The two alternate days on duty, so one will be relieving the other at the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard.
The Horse Guard in London has different compositions depending on whether the Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace or not. When she is in London, the Long guard is used, and when she is at another residence the Short Guard is used.
- Long Guard: An officer, corporal major who carries the Standard, two non-commissioned officers, a trumpeter, and ten troopers
- Short Guard: Two Non-Commissioned Officers and ten Troopers
Changing of the Horse Guards in London
The Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard is the most involved of the regular ceremonies at the Horse Guard Parade grounds. The Changing of the Horse Guards happens every weekday, so no, not Saturday or Sunday. The actual changing of the guards happens at 11:00am, at the Horse Guard Parade grounds, and takes about 30 minutes.
Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard Ceremony
At the time of Guard Changing, the Guard going off duty, or Old Guard, line up on the Horse Guard Parade grounds and awaits the arrival of the Guard coming on duty, or the New Guard. As the New Horse Guards arrive, the trumpeters of both units of the Horse Guard sound a Royal Salute. They will do the same when the Old Guard departs the grounds. When the Queen is in residence each guard also carries their Standard.
The New Horse Guards form up facing the departing Guards. The Corporal Major, Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, and the sentries of the first relief of the New Guard separate from the other New guards. They then leave for the Guard Room and relieve the Old Guard sentries currently at post.
The sentries of the Old Guard, after being relieved, incorporate into the rest of the Old Guard on the Parade grounds. The Old Guard will then synchronize their exit from the grounds, trumpeters again sounding a royal salute if the Queen is in residence.
Horse Guards Arriving and Departing Route through London
You may hear conflicting times regarding the Changing of the Horse Guard. This is likely because the New Guard depart Hyde Park at one time, arrive at the grounds at another, etc. This is the Monday-Friday timetable and route of the Changing of the Horse Guard in London:
- 10:28am: Horse guard arriving on duty leaves Hyde Park Barracks.
- They follow Knights Bridge to Constitution Hill, past Buckingham Palace, along The Mall beside St. James Park to Horse Guards Road. That leads into the Horse Guards Grounds.
- 10:45am: Guard passes Buckingham Palace
- 11:00am: Guard arrives at Horse Guard grounds: Changing Ceremony
- 11:30am: Horse guard going off duty leaves the Horse Guard grounds
- 11:45am: Guard passes Buckingham Palace
- Noon: Guard arrives at Hyde Park Barracks.
Tips for Viewing the Horse Guard Parade and Changing of the Horse Guard
Tips for Viewing the Changing of the Horse Guards in London
- The main entrance of the Horse Guard grounds is on Whitehall, where Horse Guard Avenue intersects it. It’s hard to miss the mounted sentries at either side of the gate. Pass through the courtyard and enter the large open grounds that border Horse Guards Road, across from St. James park.
- The Troop Movements happen in the large open space called the Horse Guards Parade. Yes, when people refer to the Horse Guards Parade, they are referring to these grounds where the changing takes place. They are probably not referring to the procession of the guard through the streets to arrive/depart here.
- During one part of the Changing of the Guard, some troops move into the Courtyard and the activity happens there. Yes, go right ahead and move over to watch.
Tips Regarding these Horses
- I say this as someone who loves, has owned, and been around horses for years and years while my daughter rides, competes, and studies them. Horses are amazing, beautiful, intuitive, smart animals. However, they are also 1000-1500lb prey animals, and even the absolute best and most well trained can be unpredictable. Respect them, give them space, and be aware of your surroundings while at the Horse Guard grounds.
- While attending any ceremony of the Horse Guards in London, stay in designated spaces. There are white rope barriers put up in the parade grounds, and a painted white line on the ground of the courtyard. Stay behind these any time there is a ceremony going on. If you get in the way, the Queen’s Guard will yell LOUDLY to get you to move. There are also heavily armed police to monitor crowds and keep everyone where they should be. I’m guessing they do more than yell if needed.
Other Daily & Weekly Horse Guard Ceremonies in London
Dismount Parade/Punishment Parade: 4:00pm, Daily (Arrive early)
This is my favorite story about the Horse Guards in London. It seems, way back in 1984, Queen Victoria returned to enter the main gate to the castle after a day of what Royal duties. When she arrived, she found her Life Guards drinking and gambling – and definitely NOT focused on guarding the gate to her royal residence!
Pro Tip #1: As a general rule, angering a Monarch is bad.
So Queen Victoria decreed that for the next 100 years, the Queen’s Life Guard would be inspected every day at 4pm. No drinking and gambling for you anymore!
Some of you just did the math and are thinking, but wait! The 100 years ended in 1994! Ah, yes. But you see this leads to:
Pro Tip #2: Anything done by Royals for 100 years becomes tradition!
And so the 100 year Punishment is now tradition, and a ceremony we get to watch and enjoy forever.
I find this ceremony the most confusing when it comes to naming. I’ve seen reputable sources call it the Dismount Parade, Dismount Inspection, Punishment Parade, Punishment Inspection, and the Four O’clock Parade or Four O’clock Inspection. All the same things. I go with Dismount Inspection because that’s what the Queen’s Life Guards official site calls it, so good enough for me. I’m guessing they kinda wanted to drop that ‘Punishment’ part. After 125+ years, they should be let off the hook a bit.
Viewing Tip: Be there EARLY. The mounted guard actually comes off duty at 4pm, so the ceremony starts before that and includes the guard being relieved as part of it. Arrive at 3:45-3:50pm at the latest.
Changing of the Mounted Sentries: On the Hour from 10am-4pm, Daily
Begins before the hour, arrive early!
On either side of the main gate to the Horse Guard grounds are mounted sentries. They stand, mounted and at attention, from 10:00am to 4:00pm every day.
These sentries really are watching for threats to the gates. It is illegal for vehicles to even slow down as they pass these gates – except for tour buses who have been given special exception. Because tourism? If vehicles try to slow too much or stop in front of the gates, these sentries will draw their swords and advance (and the armed police inside will likely get involved). Also, the only motorized vehicles permitted to pass through these gates are the Royal family and escorts. By foot you can go on through and see the Parade grounds or cross to St. James park.
The sentry shifts at the gate are one hour at a time, so every hour, on the hour, you can watch the sentries be relieved and fresh units step into the sentry spot. It only takes a few minutes and, same as the Dismount Inspection, activity starts before the hour – so arrive early if you want to see it.
At 4pm is the Dismount Inspection (see above), and then standing sentries are posted until 10pm when the gates are closed. One standing sentry remains on duty until morning. The Horse Guards return at 10am the next day.
Duty Officer’s Inspection of the Queen’s Life Guard
If you have been paying attention, you noticed that the Changing of the Horse Guards is the changing of shifts daily. But that the Changing of the Horse Guards doesn’t happen on Saturday and Sunday. Instead, the Duty Officer’s Inspection happens daily on the weekends. This is much more simplified, but the mounted guard does come out to be inspected before returning inside.
Annual Horse Guard Ceremonies
Trooping the Colour
This is held annually on the Queen’s birthday. She personally inspects the troops, and yes, Tickets are limited and you need to apply for them. Go to the Royal Parks Trooping of the Colours site for information and to the Trooping of the Colours official site to apply for tickets. .
This is also held annually over several successive days. It is a “floodlit musical spectacular” by the massed bands from the Household Division. Go to The Royal Parks Beating Retreat site for information and The Beating Retreat official site for tickets.