Secrets of Buckingham Palace
The official London residence of British royalty wasn't originally fit for kings and queens. When it was first built, it was a modest (relatively speaking) three-story blockhouse owned by John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham. But King George III purchased Sheffield's humble abode for £21,000 in 1761 and began the process of transforming the estate into a sanctuary for his wife, Queen Charlotte. Today, Buckingham Palace is one of the city's most popular attractions, drawing some 15 million visitors every year. But most people don't know the iconic landmark has such common origins—nor that it was left uninhabited until an 18-year-old Queen Victoria moved in 76 years later. For more surprising secrets of Buckingham Palace, read on.
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It's more like a city than a home.
Not only is Buckingham Palace an immense property, but it's symbolic of the cherished monarchy that dates back over 1,000 years. As such, it’s treated like an independent entity. It is one of the only buildings in the UK that comes with its own zip code (SW1A 1AA).
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There are 1,514 doors.
King George III's purchase of Sheffield's townhouse initiated decades of renovations and expansions (like the addition of the East Front, where members of the royal family assemble for public appearances). Today, the vast estate includes precisely 1,514 doors and 760 windows. There are a staggering 775 rooms, 78 of which are bathrooms—because you’ll never catch Queen Elizabeth queuing up for a shower.
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The Queen always announces her arrival.
Want to know if the Queen is home? Per royal protocol, a Royal Standard flag is raised high above the palace whenever she's visiting Buckingham Palace. When she’s away, it’s the Union Jack instead.
You can work at Buckingham Palace.
The Royal Household employs more than 400 staff members. And some of the jobs are more particular than others. For example, Queen Elizabeth employs a piper, who is paid to play bagpipes under her window every day at 9 a.m. The serenade lasts for 15 minutes—long enough (and loud enough) for early visitors who pass by to listen. For antique lovers, there are two full-time positions known as Royal Horological Conservators (clock winders), who oversee the property’s collection of some 500 clocks and watches. Most recently, Queen Elizabeth II was seeking a social media manager to create content for @TheRoyalFamily.
Tunnels actually do exist under the palace.
Rumors kicked around for years that a network of hidden tunnels sat beneath the palace. But most dismissed the suggestions as the work of overactive imaginations. Then, in 2006 interview with a national newspaper, the Queen Mother confirmed she had gone down to the basement to explore, and discovered a squatter who’d been living in the tunnels for years.
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Public tours are permitted while the Queen's on holiday.
Since 1993, visitors have been able to admire the palace while the Queen takes her annual summer vacation. Tourists have been invited to enter though the Grand Entrance (the very one used by diplomats when they're invited by the Queen) and even to sample the tea served at state dinners. Talk about the royal treatment.
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Or you can take a 360-degree tour online.
Buckingham Palace was the first landmark in the United Kingdom to be transformed into a virtual reality experience. You can check out the throne room, King George IV's picture gallery, and the grand staircase without even leaving your sofa.