First, a confession. I was hardly aware of the existence of the Royal Mews; they were not on my ‘to do’ list for London. In fact, they do not seem to be high on the tourist radar at all. Just a stone’s throw from the mile long queue snaking around Buckingham Palace, we were relieved to find the Mews relatively devoid of queues or crowds. Most of our fellow visitors were a group of excited Brownies in their yellow and brown uniforms, clearly enjoying every moment of their outing.
In Your Bucket Because…
- The carriages will whisk you into a bygone era.
- This is a part of ‘Royal London’ that you can see without lengthy queues.
- Good for: families, and anyone who enjoys royal pageantry.
We were not disappointed. The Mews is the home of the royal carriages, and of the horses that pull them. We picked up one of the excellent and informative audiotours and tagged along behind the Brownies. Standing in the main courtyard, designed by John Nash in the 19th century, you get the feeling that this place hasn’t changed much since Queen Victoria’s day. Perhaps it has not. This is where the grooms and coachmen who care for the horses and the carriages live, and we listened to one of the Mews workers on the audiotape describing how his father worked in the Mews, and his grandfather before that. For many people working here, it is a family concern.
From one side of the courtyard, we heard the sound of cameras snapping furiously at the carriages, which are still used for grand state occasions.
This is the stuff of fairytales: the Irish Coach that makes its annual appearance for the State Opening of Parliament, and the Glass Coach which takes royal brides to the Abbey (last used for Lady Diana Spencer in 1981).
Behind the stables is the massive and ornate Gold Stage Coach, built in 1762 and used for every coronation since that date. It is fashioned from wood and gold leaf and pulled by eight horses. The glamour is only slightly dented by the revelation that successive sovereigns have complained of the extreme discomfort of the coach!
The horses, apparently on duty elsewhere, were nowhere to be seen when we peeked into the riding school, where young horses are trained, and into at the horses’ sleeping quarters, where each horse is identified by name and age. But there were yet more carriages to be seen in here, including Queen Victoria’s sleigh, which she used to ride in the snow at Balmoral. The audiotour informed us that today Santa Claus uses it to visit the Royal Family at Christmas.
In the smaller stables by the exit, a few horses who were not on duty elsewhere were munching contentedly and ignoring the visitors. The Brownies had arrived here before us, and were busily trying to catch the horses’ attention. We left them to their patting and stroking and walked past the Palace, where we were treated to a view of some of the Queen’s other horses, the immaculately groomed Household Cavalry, marching down The Mall.
- The Royal Mews is close to Buckingham Palace, within walking distance of a number of underground stations. It is closed when the carriages are in use for state occasions, so it is advisable to check before visiting.
- The horses are not always at home when the Mews is open; you may wish to check beforehand.
- Guided tours may be available but the audiotour (which takes approximately 45 minutes) allows you to explore at your own pace.
- Family activities take place on Saturdays (see the website for details).