Rooms behind Buckingham Palace famous balcony open to public for first time

But don’t expect to be waving from the famous Buckingham Palace balcony as glass doors will remain locked.

For the first time since Queen Victoria had it built, visitors will be able to tour the rooms behind the most famous façade of Buckingham Palace this week.

Internally, it is simply called the East Wing. But for most people, it is the most photographed part of the iconic building and the wing from which members of the Royal Family stand on the balcony during big national occasions.

Members of the public have never before been able to view these rooms, which are 175 years old.

The tour takes in the Centre Room, the rather uninspiring name for the ornate drawing room from which the King and Queen – and before them the late Queen Elizabeth – gather before stepping out onto one of the most famous balconies in the world.

From these windows, you get the same view past the Queen Victoria Memorial and up The Mall as monarchs have done since Victoria herself first used it in 1851 as troops set off for the Crimean War.

But don’t expect to be waving from the balcony. The glass doors will remain locked and the net curtains pulled when the 6,000 visitors are given a guided tour of the East Wing this summer.

Buckingham Palace will open to the public as usual this year, but for longer than any previous summer as the King attempts to open up more residences to the public.

Private rooms at Balmoral Castle are also being opened up to the public this year.

In addition to the usual tickets to tour the palace ballroom (most recently used for the State Banquet for the Japanese Emperor and Empress) and State Rooms, some visitors have already secured additional tickets to see the East Wing.

Groups of up to 20 people will get a guided tour of the rooms and the Principal Corridor, which has just had a five-year refurbishment as part of the decade-long overhaul of Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace’s Centre Room in the east wing, which leads onto the famous balcony / Credit: Peter Smith/Royal Collection Trust/PA

Every part of the East Wing was removed and rebuilt. That included decanting all 3,500 objects during the works and lifting every one of the 47,000 floorboards and putting them back in the same place (they were each labelled before being restored and replaced).

Even the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the Yellow Drawing Room was steamed off the walls (without tearing it). It was subject to conservation work and later rehung.

The East Wing was built between 1847 and 1849 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided they needed more space for their growing family (they had nine children).

Building a fourth wing – and creating the quadrangle we know today – involved moving the arch monument in front of Buckingham Palace.

Final preparations are made in the Yellow Drawing Room, where a member of staff tends to the Kylin Clock, in the East Wing. / Credit: PA

What we now know as Marble Arch, the memorial was relocated brick by brick to its current location north of Hyde Park at the end of Oxford Street.

It allowed Prince Albert to commission architect Edward Blore to redesign Buckingham Palace and incorporate a balcony for Queen Victoria to “connect” with her people on big occasions.

But it came at a cost. And parliament only released funds on the agreement that Queen Victoria sold her Brighton Pavilion seaside retreat which her uncle, George IV, had lavishly built and extended during his time as monarch and previously, the Prince Regent.

Brighton Pavilion was sold to the town of Brighton, as it then was, for £53,000 in 1850.

The contents of Brighton Pavilion, including paintings, wall hangings, fireplaces and clocks were all transferred to Buckingham Palace by horse and cart and it’s why the East Wing reflects King George’s passions for Asian art and design.

What Buckingham Palace looked like before they built the East Wing. / Credit: The Royal Collection Trust

It still contains a number of towering Chinese porcelain pagodas, the ornate Kylin clock, which still sits atop the same Brighton Pavilion fireplace.

In the 240-foot corridor, which spans the entire width of the palace, there are paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Victoria’s chosen portrait painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

The East Wing tours will continue through July and August, but the Royal Collection Trust which operates them, says that all tickets sold out within hours of them going on sale so anyone who missed out will have to wait until next year.

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