The militaries and police forces of many countries around the world have numerous ceremonial functions. Many of these involve elaborate processions, grand ceremonial uniforms and precision drills, making them popular spectacles for tourists.
The music used at these ceremonies tends to be based on European classical music. Like a philharmonic orchestra, a military band has wind and percussion instruments, though rarely string instruments.
A guard of honor or a ceremonial guard is an armed unit appointed to guard a head of state or government property.
List of ceremonies by location
- 1 Australian War Memorial (North Canberra). The Last Post Ceremony is held here every evening at 4:45PM, paying tribute to one of the soldiers on the memorial's Roll of Honour just before the memorial is closed to the public for the day. On the first and third Wednesday of the month from February to November, Australia's Federation Guard mounts a catafalque party at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, and also performs a military precision drill as part of the Last Post Ceremony when the catafalque party is dismounted. Special ceremonies are also held at the memorial for Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day.
- 2 Shrine of Remembrance (Kings Domain, Melbourne). Originally dedicated to the soldiers from the state of Victoria who fought in World War I, it is now dedicated to all Australian soldiers who fought in any war. A Last Post Service is held here every Sunday at 4:45PM commemorating an event from Australia's military history, which involves military drills by the Shrine Guard, who are officers of the Victoria Police, but whose ceremonial uniforms are based on the historic military uniforms of soldiers from the Australian Light Horse during World War I. On some weeks, serving members of the Australian military may take part in the ceremony as well. In addition, there is also Monthly Remembrance Service held on a weekday every month held on behalf of the veterans who are no longer able to make pilgrimages to the shrine, and special ceremonies are also held for Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day.
- 3 Citadelle de Québec (Quebec City). Located within the historic walls of Quebec City, this is the second official residence of the King in Canada. It is also the main base of the Royal 22e Régiment, a French-speaking infantry regiment of the Canadian army. During the summer, a changing of the guard ceremony takes place at 10AM every day. Perhaps a curiosity for visitors is that although the ceremonial dresses of the soldiers are based on British ones, the parade drill commands are given in French.
- 4 Parliament Hill (Ottawa). A changing of the guard ceremony takes place on the main lawn every day at 9:45AM during the summer, featuring soldiers from Canada's Ceremonial Guard dressed in British-style ceremonial uniforms, complete with bearskin hats.
- RCMP Musical Ride (various locations throughout Canada) — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, or just the "Mounties"), Canada's federal police force, tours the country during the summer months performing their iconic Musical Ride, in which they wear their ceremonial uniforms and showcase their equestrian skills. While the locations of the performances vary from year to year, the tour always includes a stop in Ottawa on 1st July for Canada Day celebrations.
- 5 Palacio de La Moneda (Centro, Santiago). The official residence of the President of Chile. A changing of the guard ceremony involving the cavalry and foot guards of Chile's gendarmarie, the Carabineros de Chile, accompanied by a military band, takes places on even days of the month in August, November and December, and on odd days in September and October, at 10:00 on weekdays and 11:00 on weekends.
- 6 Tiananmen Square. A flag raising ceremony with precision military drills by the People' Liberation Army Honor Guard takes place every morning at sunrise, which is a very popular spectacle for Chinese tourists visiting their capital. A flag-lowering ceremony takes place at sunset, but is generally considered to be somewhat less spectacular than the flag raising ceremony. The flag-raising ceremony is particularly elaborate on special occasions, such as New Year's Day (1st January) and National Day (1st October), when it will feature trumpeters from the Central Military Band of the People's Liberation Army of China on top of the gate itself. A few soldiers stand guard at the flag pole during the day while the flag is flying, and there is a simple changing of the guard ceremony when the soldiers are relieved of their shifts.
- 7 Amalienborg Palace (Indre By of Copenhagen). A popular changing of the guard ceremony by the Danish Royal Guard takes place in front of the palace every morning, with the new guard beginning their march from Rosenborg Castle at 11:30 and making their way to Amalienborg Palace where the ceremony takes place at 12:00. The ceremony is most elaborate in the winter, when the Queen is in residence, and the Royal Guard would be accompanied by a full military band. At other times of the year, when the Queen is in residence in her other palaces, a scaled-down version of the ceremony takes place, with a scaled-down band of only flutes and drums when the Crown Prince is in residence, and with no band when neither the Queen nor the Crown Prince are in residence. A particularly grand changing of the guard ceremony takes place on the Queen's birthday (16th April), when the guards would swap their usual dark blue uniforms for their red gala uniforms, and the Queen will appear at the balcony of the palace to greet her subjects.
- Hellenic Parliament (Athens). Catch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament every hour on the hour. Their uniforms and marching style are very fun to see. A more elaborate version of the ceremony, nicknamed the "Grand Changing of the Guard" takes place on Sundays at 11:00, involving a parade from their barracks to the parliament building accompanied by a marching military band.
- 8 Golden Bauhinia Square (Wan Chai). A flag raising ceremony conducted by the Hong Kong Police takes place here every morning at 8AM, with more elaborate versions for special events such as New Years' Day, Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day (1st July, the anniversary of the day Hong Kong was returned to China) and PRC National Day (1st October). While the Hong Kong Police had long continued to use British foot drills and English drill commands even after the handover, these were phased out in favour of Chinese foot drills with Cantonese drill commands starting from 1st July 2022.
- 9 Quirinal Palace (Trevi, Rome). The official residence of the President of Italy, an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony with calvary, a mounted military band, and soldiers dressed in ceremonial uniforms based on those of the 19th century, is held here every 18:00 from June to September, and 16:00 the rest of the year.
- 10 Golden Lotus Square. A flag raising ceremony by the Macau Police takes place here every morning at 8AM, with more elaborate ceremonies for PRC National Day (1st October) and Macau SAR Establishment Day (20th December, the anniversary of the day Macau was returned to China). Despite having been under Chinese sovereignty since 1999, the Macau Police continue to perform Portuguese foot drills instead of Chinese ones.
- 11 Belém Palace (Belém, Lisbon). The official residence of the President of Portugal, an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony takes place in front of the palace every third Sunday of the month at 11AM, involving a military band and cavalry from Portugal's National Republican Guard, with the ceremony also including a performance by the cavalry's mounted band.
- 12 The Kremlin (Central Moscow). A changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour on the hour from 08:00 to 20:00 at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In addition, there is the Ceremonial Changing of Foot & Cavalry Guards of the President’s Regiment, a spectacular military display held on Cathedral Square inside the Kremlin walls every Saturday at noon from late April to early September.
- 13 Mamayev Kurgan (Volgograd). The largest non-religious statue in the world, dedicated to the fallen of the Battle of Stalingrad. Inside the base of the statue is an eternal flame guarded by soldiers, with a regular changing of the guard ceremony.
- 14 Palacio Real (Calle de Bailén, Madrid). The official residence of the King of Spain, guarded by the Spanish Royal Guard, the oldest unit of its kind in Europe. A changing of the guard takes place at the Puerta del Príncipe from 11:00 to 14:00 every Wednesday and Saturday most of the year except when it falls on Christmas or New Year's Day, and 10:00 to 12:00 every Wednesday and Saturday in July and August. During the ceremony, a pair of foot soldiers relieve a pair of old guards every half hour, while a pair of mounted cavalry relieve another mounted pair every hour, accompanied by soldiers playing a fife and a drum. A more elaborate ceremony called the Solemn Changing of the Guard takes place at the Plaza de la Armería at noon on the first Wednesday of every month except January, August and September. This ceremony involves a full military band, as well as ceremonial gun carriages pulled by horses.
- 15 Istana (Bras Basah Road). A changing of the guard ceremony takes place in front of the main gate of the Istana at 5:45PM on the first Sunday of each month, with precision drills and rifle-twirling displays by the military police. Although English is the lingua franca of Singapore, drill commands are given in Malay in recognition of the Malays as the indigenous people of Singapore.
- National Day Parade — Held on 9th August every year to commemorate Singapore's independence from Malaysia. The first part of the show is the ceremonial parade segment, which features contingents from each branch of the Singapore military (the army, navy and air force), the Singapore police, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (i.e. the fire brigade and paramedics) and each of the school uniformed groups (eg. Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys' Brigade, Girls' Brigade, St. John Ambulance Brigade, etc.). After the ceremonial parade segment, the second part is the show segment, featuring performances from various performing arts groups. Held either at the Marina Bay Floating Platform or the Padang.
- 16 Castle of Good Hope (Cape Town). A fort built under Dutch colonial rule, it is still an active military base of the South African Army today. Every Monday to Friday morning at 10AM, the Key Ceremony, conducted by soldiers from the South African Army dressed in their ceremonial uniforms, takes place, and is accompanied by a ceremonial firing of the signal cannon.
- 17 Gyeongbokgung (Jongno, Seoul). A changing of the royal guard ceremony takes place at Gwanghwamun, the restored main gate to the main palace of Joseon Dynasty, twice a day. The ceremony features soldiers from the South Korean army dressed in historical uniforms of the Joseon Dynasty and carrying historical weapons.
- 18 Royal Palace (Gamla stan, Stockholm). A changing of the guard ceremony takes place at the palace at 12:15 on weekdays, and 13:15 on Sundays and public holidays during the summer, with the infantry contingent departing the Army Museum at 11:45 on weekdays and 12:45 on Sundays and public holidays, and the cavalry contingent departing the Cavalry Barracks at 11:35 on weekdays and 12:35 on Sundays and public holidays to make their way to the palace. The iconic light blue summer uniforms of the Royal Guards are a highlight for many tourists. At other times of the year, a scaled-down version of the ceremony is performed usually three times a week, without a band or a parade, and the Royal Guard wear their winter uniforms which are in a duller shade of blue. A particularly grand ceremony takes places on the King's birthday (30th April), when the King will greet his subjects from a balcony of the palace before proceeding into the square to personally inspect the parade, and the proceedings involve a 21-gun royal salute.
- 19 Swedish Veteran Monument (Östermalm). A ceremony is held here on the Swedish Veteran Day. While Sweden evaded the World Wars and the wars of the Swedish Empire are long past, many Swedish soldiers have served in international missions, notably in Afghanistan. The monument was erected in 2013 to commemorate those veterans.
- 20 Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Zhongzheng, Taipei). In addition to the hourly changing of the guard on the hour from 09:00-17:00, there is also a flag raising ceremony in the square in front of the memorial at 06:00 every morning in the summer, and 06:30 in the winter, as well as a flag lowering ceremony at 18:10 in the summer, and 17:10 in the winter.
- 21 Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (Xinyi, Taipei). The large statue of Sun Yat-sen in the main hall is guarded by soldiers from the Republic of China Army, and a changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour on the hour from 9am to 5pm.
- 22 National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine (Zhongshan, Taipei). The most popular changing of the guard ceremony in Taipei takes place here every hour on the hour from 09:00 to 16:00, with the final one of the day at 16:45.
- 23 Buckingham Palace (Westminster). The changing of the King's Guard takes place daily in the summer, and every two days in the winter, and is often one of the highlights of a tourist's visit to London. Usually, the King's Guard is mounted by one of five infantry units from the British army, and dressed in their distinctive bright red uniforms and bearskin hats. However, the Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force also takes up guard duties for about three weeks each year, and they can be recognised by their dark blue uniforms and peaked caps. On rare occasions, the King's Guard may also be mounted by military units from other Commonwealth countries.
- Horse Guards Parade (Westminster) — The changing of the King's Life Guard takes place here every day at 11AM on weekdays, involving units from the Household Cavalry. On weekends, there is no changing of the guard, but you can watch the duty officer inspecting the soldiers and horses at 11AM on Saturdays and 10AM on Sundays. The Trooping of the Colour, an elaborate parade involving one of the Foot Guards unit, the Household Calvary and the Royal Horse Artillery, is held here every year on the King's official birthday (second Sunday of June, not the same as the King's actual birthday), with the King usually attending in person to inspect the parade. The Whitehall side of the Horse Guards building has the Four 'O' Clock Parade, nicknamed the "Punishment Parade" at 4PM everyday, in which an officer inspects the guards before the horses are taken into their stables for the night.
- 24 Windsor Castle (Windsor and Eton). Although not as famous as the one at Buckingham Palace, the a changing of the guard ceremony takes place three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
United States of America
- 25 Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by soldiers from the United States Army, and a changing of the guard occurs every half hour in the summer, and every hour in the winter.
Despite the paegentry and quaint ceremonial uniforms, it is important to remember that the participants are actual soldiers or police officers, sometimes armed with live weapons, who are performing an important job. Be sure to show them a appropriate level of respect, and avoid getting in their way. Getting too close or hindering them in the conduct of their duties will get you yelled at with their weapons pointed at you, and could even get you shot dead in the worst-case scenarios.