If you were to fall asleep tonight and wake up inside one of the State Rooms, you’d never guess where you were. Is it opulent? No question. But if ever gilding, teardrop chandeliers, 18th-century portraits, and ceremonial halls could be considered standard-issue, Buckingham Palace is your basic palace. Queen Elizabeth’s mild tastes—call it “respectable decadence” of yellows and creams and pleasant floral arrangements, thank you very much—is partly the reason. Remember, too, that much of this palace was built or remodeled in the 1800s—not so long ago in the scheme of things—and that the Queen considers Windsor to be her real home.
All tickets are timed and include an audio tour that rushes you around too quickly. The route threads through the public and ceremonial rooms (nowhere the Royal Family spends personal time, and besides, the Palace is open only 2 months a year, when they’re in Scotland) at the back of the palace. (If you want to see highlights of the formal gardens, that’s another £9) Highlights include the 50m-long (164-ft.) Picture Gallery filled mostly with works amassed by George IV, an obsessive collector; the 14m-tall (46-ft.) Ballroom, where the Queen confers knighthoods; the parquet-floored Music Room, unaltered since John Nash decorated it in 1831, where the Queen’s three eldest children were baptized in water brought from the River Jordan; and a stroll through the thick Garden in the back yard. It’s definitely worth seeing—how often can you toodle around the spare rooms in a Queen’s house, inspecting artwork given as gifts by some of history’s most prominent names? But it’s no Versailles. If you’re in London any time other than August or September and spot her standard of red, gold, and blue flying above, you’ll at least know the Queen is home. (If it’s the Union Jack, she’s gone.) So near, yet so far.