It would be a rare person that planned to visit London without some interest in its long and fascinating history. My favourite era of the city’s past is the Tudor era known best for the reign of King Henry VIII. While Henry ruled the country saw many changes. Most famously the high turnover of its queens, but England changed forever when the king decided to leave the Catholic Church to pursue his marriage to the now infamous Anne Boleyn. Much of the intrigue and mystery took place at Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace
An easy day trip from London, Hampton Court is a fascinating palace with many attractions for history lovers of all ages. The recent addition of the Magic Garden means it is now an even more attractive destination for families keen to discover more about the palace and its intriguing past.
A brief history of Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace was a royal residence for just over 200 years. With origins in medieval times, the palace was transformed by influential Cardinal Wolsey during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. The palace was to become Henry’s favourite residence after he seized the palace from Wolsey. Subsequent monarchs made minor alterations however it wasn’t until the late 17th century that the palace was developed with baroque opulence by King William III and Queen Mary II based on the designs of Sir Christopher Wren.
Highlights of the palace
Visitors enter the palace via the main gates into Base Court. Built by Cardinal Wolsey to house his important guests, the buildings remain largely as they were in the 16th century. If you are lucky you might see some historical reenactments taking place.
Discover the palace of Henry VIII, his six wives and all the court intrigue
The exhibition leads you through Henry’s life via a tour of the palace apartments in the old part of the palace. After you have learned about his childhood and first marriage your tour takes you through the magnificent Great Hall and the kings apartments.
If you have read the history of these times it is eerie to see the familiar faces of the past peer at you from the walls. In particular the eyes of Anne Boleyn gaze down soulfully from her portraits. Her ghost is said to haunt the palace.
This is my favourite part of the Hampton Court interior. The medieval palace is so atmospheric with oak panelled walls beyond which you can imagine secret doors and passages that link the rooms and corridors. There are many nooks and crannies to explore.
King William’s apartments
The baroque style of the more recent additions to the palace are in stark contrast to the Tudor wings. The rooms are bright, grand and full of light and enjoy magnificent views over the curated gardens. During this part of the tour you visit the King’s state and private apartments and immediately get a sense of the wealth and grandeur of the era. The mural on the ceiling of the entrance hall by Italian artist Verrio is spectacular.
Explore the palace kitchens, cellars and chocolate room
As you walk around the palace you get a sense of the logistical effort to run a household of this size. There is no better place to experience this than the palace kitchens which were designed to feed over 600 people twice a day.
This wonderful video shows you the process behind preparing for a feast at the palace in Tudor times.
Fancy trying some Tudor style feasting in your own home? The palace historians have made these wonderful cook-a-long videos using recipes from the era.
During the Georgian era the palace housed Britain’s only royal chocolate kitchen. Explore these rooms and learn all about the King’s personal chocolatier and admire the elaborate dishes used to serve the treats to the royal family.
Stroll in the beautifully manicured gardens
I love to visit the formal gardens at Hampton Court. It is not difficult to imagine the lords and ladies of court gossiping as they strolled through the beautifully designed gardens to the south and east of the palace.
My favourite gardens are the Pond Gardens that are always vibrant with flowers in bloom throughout the spring and summer. It is also fun to take a leisurely horse-drawn carriage trip around the grounds.
Get lost in the world famous maze
Who doesn’t love the challenge of a garden maze? Commissioned in around 1700, Hampton Court’s maze was described as
The maze has many dead ends and tricks to keep you on your toes.
Picnic on the grass
On a sunny summers day you can lay down your picnic blanket or pull up a deck chair and admire the beautiful surroundings of the palace grounds.
Information for families visiting Hampton Court Palace
The palace and gardens are wonderful places for kids of all ages to learn and be inspired by its historical past. The palace provides family audio guides, tours and even costumes to help bring the past alive for its youngest visitors. You can read about how one family discovered ghosts, unicorns and Tudor feasts of the palace here. But even children who love discovering history need a break to play and run about. Now there is a new attraction at Hampton Court Palace that will let them run off some energy and fire their imagination.
Hampton Court’s Magic Playground
The newly opened Magic Playground (May 2016) is simply amazing. Inspired by Tudor legends, the playground caters for children aged 2-13 and is simply a wonderfully designed space for children to play. From water and sand play to treehouses and aerial walkways, the playground is one of the best I have seen. There is even a sleepy dragon for children to climb on.
Entry to the Magic Garden is included in the price of your ticket however families can visit the playground without entering the palace by purchasing a Magic Garden and Maze only ticket.
Opening times and tickets
The palace is open from 10am every day except 24, 25 and 26 December. You can find more information on opening and closing times here.
Do check the palace website for updated ticketing information as prices change throughout the year and vary based on the attractions you visit. There is no charge for children under the age of 5.
Getting to Hampton Court Palace
Travel to Hampton Court Palace on the train from Waterloo station in central London. The journey takes 35 minutes and trains run every half hour. The train station is a short walk to the palace.
If you choose to drive, parking is limited. Avoid having to walk for miles to and from the nearest offsite parking area by getting there early.
I haven’t tried this yet but one day I would like to arrive at the palace by boat much like the former kings and queens used to do. The riverboat journey takes around 3 hours from Westminster. More information here.
Visualise your journey with this handy map of Hampton Court Palace and of the palace gardens.
There are several cafes onsite offering hot and cold meals at reasonable prices. If you like to bring your own lunch and snacks there are many wonderful spots throughout the garden to sit down and relax.
Families with small children are well catered for with buggy parks, lockers and toilet facilities. We also appreciated the availability of staff to assist with lift access when our children were younger.
Visit the official palace website for lots of historical information and details of their busy events calendar.
A favourite with visitors
Hampton Court Palace is one of my favourite places to visit in England. I often take visitors there as there are so many aspects to the palace to explore and discover. It is one of those places where you will find something new and interesting each time you visit.
If you are visiting with children, there are many activities to keep them interested and engaged while you tour the palace and its gardens. I am sure the Magic Garden will encourage a whole new generation of history buffs to fall in love with Hampton Court Palace.
Looking for more day trip ideas from London?
A day out on the trail of Jane Austen
23 brilliant reasons to visit buzzing Brighton
Family day trip from London: Whitstable
Day trip from London: Steam training in Jane Austen country
The best of London – visit Greenwich for markets, museums and more
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