On Guard!

Our recent fam trip to the Household Cavalry Museum, Guards Chapel and Guards Museum gave group organisers a taste of what these attractions have to offer. Group Travel World’s Emma Parkes reports…

Group Travel World’s gone all patriotic, leading a fam trip to one of London’s most iconic and historic spots – Horse Guards in Whitehall.

Home to the Household Cavalry Museum in Horse Guards Parade, we enjoyed a guided tour of the museum before heading to the Guards Chapel (a royal military chapel that dates back to the early 1800s), and the Guards Museum. All three attractions sit alongside the beautiful St James’s Park – home to cafés, flocks of pigeons and squirrels, and rare breeds of wildfowl.

We arrived just in time to see nearby Buckingham Palace’s world-famous Changing the Guard, where the Old Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace to the New Guard. The ceremony, which begins on the palace forecourt at 11am sharp (10am on Sundays), is free to watch and to get a good viewing spot it’s recommended you arrive by 10.30am.

A quick history lesson

The Household Cavalry Museum is a living museum about real people doing a real job in a real place. Through a large glazed partition you can see troopers working with horses in the original 18th century stables and, as we discovered on our tour, the unit’s history is fascinating.

Formed in 1661 under the order of King Charles II, the Household Cavalry now consists of the two senior regiments of the British Army – The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. The regiment has two main roles: as a mounted regiment it guards Her Majesty The Queen on ceremonial occasions in London and across the UK and is a key part of the royal pageantry. In addition to this, as an operational regiment it serves around the world in armoured fighting vehicles. The Household Cavalry currently has units deployed on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its fighting capacity is matched by its strategic role in international peace keeping and humanitarian operations.

The museum is a more recent addition to the cavalry’s armoury. Having opened in 2007, it captures the history of the mounted forces over the past 350 years. Guided tours are available for groups and, as horse lovers, GTW General Manager Harley Denham I were fascinated to be able to watch the stunning black Irish Draft horses through the frosted glasses window between the museum itself and the horses’ stalls, where they relaxed in between duties.

Just a short a walk past St James’s Park was the Guards Chapel, where we had an insight into the world of the young men who are the soldiers of the five Regiments of the Foot Guards – the Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards. Then it was on to the nearby Guards Museum, which tells the history of these five well-known Foot Guards Regiments.

Taking a group?

Set in the heart of ceremonial London, The Household Cavalry Museum is just a short walk from a number of group-friendly attractions, including the Churchill War Rooms, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, as well as The Queen’s Gallery and The Royal Mews.

Groups of eight or more visiting the museum get a 10% discount. Tours are offered to groups of up to 25 at a time, and you can opt for an audio tour or one guided by museum staff. There’s a shop on site, but no catering facilities at the museum. Multi-venue tickets are also available for the museum, as well as Guards Chapel and the Guards Museum.

The Guards Museum is based in Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace, and admission is £6 for adults and £3 for concessions.