A guide to St. James’s Palace in London

St. James's Palace

Address: Marlborough Rd, London SW1A 1BS

If you thought Buckingham Palace was the official royal residence in Britain, then you were wrong. The senior palace of the sovereign is actually St. James’s, which sits just across Green Park from Buckingham Palace between The Mall and Pall Mall. This is where several members of the royal family live and keep their household offices.

St. James’s Palace is frequently used for official functions, including state visits and charity functions. Unfortunately, the upshot of this is that the palace isn’t open to the public – you need to receive an invitation to pay a visit. But even if you’re not on the guest list for one of the official events, it is still possible to marvel at the palace’s wonderful architecture from the outside.

History of St. James’s Palace

St. James’s Palace was constructed largely between 1531 and 1536, during the reign of King Henry VIII. It was built on the site of the Hospital of St. James, Westminster, and much of the original building – including the Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, some turrets and two Tudor rooms – remains intact to this day. The palace was extended over the following decades, leading to the creation of Ambassadors’ Court, Engine Court, Friary Court and Colour Court.

The palace played host to a number of major historical events. Mary Tudor was at St. James’ when she signed the treaty surrendering Calais in 1558, while her younger sister Elizabeth I was resident there during the Spanish Armada crisis 40 years later. Both Charles II and James II were both born and baptised at St James, as were Mary II, Queen Anne and James Francis Edward Stuart.

A great fire destroyed much of the east and south ranges of the palace in 1809, but the state rooms were restored to their full glory by 1813. William IV was the last sovereign to use St. James’s Palace as a residence, with Queen Victoria opting to live in Buckingham Palace upon her accession to the throne in 1837. Court levées were held at St. James’s until 1939 and the palace remains the official residence of the monarch. Ambassadors are still formally accredited to the Court of St. James.

St. James’s Palace today

St. James’s Palace remains a busy working palace which is commonly used for entertaining foreign dignitaries and heads of state during official visits. It is also utilised for around 100 charity receptions involving members of the royal family each year, plus various other formal events. This means you may, if you are lucky, have the chance to pay a trip inside the palace at some point in the future.

Constitutionally, St. James’s Palace still has an important role. It is home to the offices of the Royal Collection Department, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, the Chapel Royal, the Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen’s Watermen.The Accession Council meets in St. James’s Palace following the death of a monarch and – when the time comes – the accession of the new king or queen is announced by Garter King of Arms from the Proclamation Gallery overlooking Friary Court.

Both the Queen’s Chapel and Chapel Royal remain active places of worship, while Lancaster House – which also sits within the palace complex – is used for government hospitality. Clarence House, the former London home of the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, is located on-site.

Within the state apartments at St. James’s Palace, there are many beautiful and valuable items of furniture, including arms, armour, tapestries, paintings and sculpture. Important works by Mytens, Van Somer, Michael Wright and Wissing are among those on display within the building.

If you happen to stay at The Metropolis London Hyde Park Hotel you may easily get to see this happening royal palace within a distance of around 1.9 miles.

Tube stations near to St. James’s Palace

A number of London Underground stations, on various lines, are within walking distance of St. James’s Palace. This means the historical building is easily accessible from across the capital. The closest Tube stations to the palace are as follows:

  • Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines (three-minute walk)
  • Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines (seven-minute walk)
  • St James’ Park on the District and Circle lines  (ten-minute walk)

Car parking close to St. James’s Palace

Since St. James’s Palace is a private royal residence, as opposed to a visitor attraction open to the public, there is no car parking available on-site. The central location of the palace means parking options are limited in the immediate vicinity. The closest car parks to St. James’s Palace are as follows:

  • Q-Park Trafalgar: Spring Gardens, Westminster, SW1A (five-minute walk)
  • Q-Park Westminster: Great College Street, Westminster, SW1P (eight-minute walk)
  • Leicester Square Masterpark: Whitcomb Street, Soho, WC2H (nine-minute walk)
  • Arlington House Pure Parking: Arlington Street, St James’, SW1A (ten-minute walk)
  • St Martins Lane NCP: 45 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, WC2N (ten-minute walk)