Kensington Palace generally doesn’t release Kate’s calendar until just two weeks ahead of an event, which makes it hard for a Kate fan to plan a trip to London that will include a reliable sighting. But there is one almost guaranteed way to see Kate in person, along with the entire royal family: the grand British event called Trooping the Colour.
Trooping the Colour has been the official celebration of the British sovereign’s birthday since 1784. The day starts with a gleaming parade of military bands and horse-drawn carriages down The Mall, continues with a regimental ceremony at the Horse Guards, a return parade back to Buckingham Palace, and ends with a royal balcony appearance and a colorful Air Force fly-past. Kate has attended every year since she married William, and most of the royals join her in their full regalia: hats, dresses, and uniforms. It’s a quintessentially British spectacle of pomp and circumstance, and the easiest way to see the entire royal family in their finest.
My Trooping the Colour experience was an unexpected highlight of a trip to London a few years ago. I hadn’t planned to attend—I had my seven-year-old daughter with me, and the idea of navigating parade crowds and road closures in order to make her stand still and wait for people she didn’t know to ride by seemed pretty foolhardy. (She’s a kid who would rather be at a playground or an ice cream shop.) But I had done my research and was determined to see some part of the day, somehow. I’d missed the cut-off for the ticket lottery for the ceremony at the Horse Guards, and since I was not about to be packed in like a sardine in front of Buckingham Palace for the RAF fly-past, the parade was an obvious choice.
Every travel guide I read told me to arrive on the Mall around 9 a.m. for a place near the front of the crowds. But they also told me that the parade didn’t start until 10, and that the queen wouldn’t leave Buckingham Palace until 10:45. With an antsy child, an hour plus of standing by the roadside wasn’t in the cards; I planned to leave my hotel at 9:30, hoping for a 10:15 arrival. I’d read that the beginning and end of the parade route drew the most people, so I headed for the middle of the route, thinking the packs of fans might be thinner there. Since I was staying south of the Mall, my journey would include a ride on the underground to St. James’s Park station and a walk north through St. James’s Park to Marlborough Gate. As most mothers will understand, however, we didn’t actually leave the hotel until 9:45, and as soon as we hit the park my kid wanted to stop every five feet to feed a duck. So we didn’t get to the parade until 10:30.
And yet, we saw everything that mattered. First, we caught a glimpse of a marching band that played cheerily as we turned left and walked down The Mall to find a place to stand. The crowds were three rows deep at that point, but people weren’t tightly packed together; we easily located a loosely filled stretch of road where our fellow royal watchers graciously arranged themselves by height so that everyone could see the action.
Crushingly, we were on the wrong side of the street to see Kate—we only got a glimpse of her pink hat! We did, however, get this wave from Prince Harry, which almost made up for it. (A quick note about distance: my pictures don’t convey how near I felt to the carriages. Of course, we were standing behind metal police barriers, so the royal family wasn’t close enough to touch, but I was amazed by how out in the open they were. I definitely saw their faces and the details of their hats and uniforms—looking back through these photos and videos, I believe my camera makes them look father away than they were.)
Honestly, it’s hard to explain how exciting it was to see her. Those who have met her in person report that she has an aura about her, and I can attest that her aura radiated out through the glass panes of her enclosed coach, past the police barriers, and into the very last row of the spectators who had come to see her. It was a special moment that more than made up for missing Kate, from my point of view.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, I am going to be in London for work this summer, and I’ve set aside the morning of June 17 for a repeat viewing. Yes, the Kate sighting is short and sweet, but the date has been announced, the timing runs like clockwork, and the royal family’s pageantry skills guarantee a good time even if, for some reason, Kate doesn’t make it. This year, I’m going to get there a bit earlier and stand on the north side of The Mall, in front of Clarence House or Marlborough House. And once the last carriage passes by, I might take advantage of the 15 minutes the barriers are opened to cross the street, head over to the south side of The Mall, grab a snack at the Marlborough Gate kiosk, and set myself up to see everyone again.
Date and Time
This year, Trooping the Colour will take place on June 17, starting with marching bands from about 10am and ending with a balcony appearance by the royal family and a fly-past at 1. Official information can be found here.
Best viewing spots
I’ve looked through years of Kate’s Trooping the Colour carriage assignment, and she seems to be in the same place each year. So if you go in the morning for the parade to the Horse Guards, I recommend standing in front of Clarence House for a good Kate view. Note, however, that on that side of the street, there will be a police barrier in front of you and a wall behind you, which may feel more claustrophobic than the south side of the street, where you can escape into St. James’s park if you need to. If you want that freedom AND a Kate sighting, I recommend standing on the south side for the return parade from the Horse Guards. If you want to see both Kate and The Queen, plan to attend both parades and stand on one side of the street the whole time.
Bathrooms and snacks
If you think you will need these facilities, then I recommend standing on the south side of the Mall and staying near Marlborough Gate. Just on the park side of the gate there is a good little snack bar with coffee, pastries, and restrooms (including handicap-accessible). St James’s Park map
One last note…
If you are planning to attend the Trooping the Colour parade—or any royal parade that involves carriages, I highly recommend you stop by the Royal Mews, especially if you have kids with you. The Mews is a living museum where the royal carriages are kept and their carriage horses are stabled. (As such, it obviously won’t be open on the day of the parade, since the horses and carriages will be out and about.) Your entrance fee gives you an audio guide with a great 45 minute, self-paced tour that tells the history of each royal carriage and explains the heraldry on each one—ending in front of the awe-inspiring Gold Coach. The Mews has a cheerful, casual, cozy vibe that makes it very family-friendly. Even if you are kid-free, you’ll be impressed by how close you can get to the carriages and the education you’ll get about their construction.