Day trips from London: Visit Hampton Court Palace for history and fun

Day trips from London: Visit Hampton Court Palace for history and funThis article may contain compensated links. Please read disclaimer for more info

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

Visit Hampton Court Palace - view of the baroque exterior at hampton court
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.

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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.

troops at hampton court palace

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.

Visit Hampton Court Palace - great hall and ceilings at hampton court

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.

Visit William III apartments and discover the baroque era at hampton court

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.
formal gardens and exterior of hampton court
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.

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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 most famous Maze in the history of the world, and immeasurably the one most visited
Ernest Law, 1926

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.

picnic at hampton court palace

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 magic garden Hampton Court Palace

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.

clock court hampton court palace

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.
masterpieces at hampton court palace

Useful information

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 

formal gardens and banqueting house at hampton court

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

Day trip from London Hampton Court Palace

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  1. 22nd June 2016 / 3:26 PM

    Great! I’m also writing about day trips from London. Haven’t been to Hampton Court though, next time I visit London for sure 🙂

    • 23rd June 2016 / 2:28 PM

      Thanks Ivana, I’m going to read your post about Windsor Castle now x

  2. 22nd June 2016 / 4:27 PM

    I love Hampton Court. I have read a great deal of Tudor fiction, most recently the Shardlake series and this place is so evocatively described. I’m not surprised it is haunted by Anne Boleyn – poor girl!

    • 23rd June 2016 / 2:29 PM

      Ooh I know, she had a ruinous end. Have you read Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies? The BBC adaptation of these is fantastic too

  3. 22nd June 2016 / 4:31 PM

    I love reading posts about London, simply because I was born there. Love your photos and all the information you have gathered here.

    • 22nd June 2016 / 8:00 PM

      Thanks Dora. London stays in your heart for sure. Thanks for your lovely comment

  4. 22nd June 2016 / 4:31 PM

    Wow, those gardens are gorgeous. I can imagine myself picnicking there, which is absolutely one of my favorite things to do abroad. It makes me feel like a local, hehe. Great post, and thanks for sharing! xx

    • 22nd June 2016 / 7:58 PM

      I love picnics too Lauren, thanks for your kind words

  5. 22nd June 2016 / 4:53 PM

    This looks like a really cool place to escape London! The gardens look absolutely wonderful. Thanks for the detailed guide!

    • 22nd June 2016 / 7:54 PM

      Thanks for the lovely comment Susanna. I love the gardens too

  6. 22nd June 2016 / 5:03 PM

    I walked past this gorgeous palace a few months ago but didn’t have time to go in. I actually didn’t know about its association with Henry VIII though, and I’m supposed to be a history student. What a great post, very informative about an alternative thing to do in London, as many tourists stay in the city centre.

    • 22nd June 2016 / 7:51 PM

      Thanks Suzannah! Be kind to yourself, history covers a lot of ground. What history are you studying?

  7. 22nd June 2016 / 6:05 PM

    I have never been to England, but this is definitely at the top of my list of places to see. And I’ve never checked out a western castle before. I’ve been inside castles in Asia, but this one looks so much more grand. I watched the show The Tudors and loved it!

    • 22nd June 2016 / 8:14 PM

      Ooh if you enjoyed the Tudors you will love Hampton Court. Hope you are able to visit soon

    • 22nd June 2016 / 8:40 PM

      Lucky you! So many events on too

  8. 22nd June 2016 / 10:45 PM

    Holy crap! I’ve been watching a show about this period and seeing the picture of the hall just blew me away. I need to go here. I LOVE CASTLES and pinning this for when I get over to London!

    • 23rd June 2016 / 9:02 AM

      Yay! Glad you liked it. It’s easy to get caught up in central London as a visitor but HamptonCourt is well worth the trip.

  9. 23rd June 2016 / 3:08 PM

    That new playground looks absolutely amazing! Must take the kids there over the summer. We need to go back in any case because we haven’t seen the Georgian rooms at the Palace. There is so much to do at Hampton Court that we just focused on the Tudor bits last time. Thanks so much for mentioning my post too.

    • 23rd June 2016 / 5:25 PM

      The playground is absolutely fantastic! I think it caters for a broad range of ages too. My kids were of course obsessed by the sand and water 🙂

  10. 23rd June 2016 / 6:28 PM

    Oh chocolate room!!! Now I definitely have to visit here. When I was training to be a tour guide one of my lecturers was obsessed with Henry VIII. I think he lost count of how many times he has visited Hampton Court. It does look magnificent!

    • 25th June 2016 / 8:19 AM

      Henry was a very interesting character. You can definitely feel his presence at Hampton Court. Hope you manage a visit there soon

  11. 24th June 2016 / 3:47 PM

    Love palaces, castles, forts or any other architecture for that matter. This post will be of help whenever I’m in London. Thank you 🙂

    • 25th June 2016 / 8:15 AM

      I love exploring castles too Swati. Glad you found the post useful

  12. 26th June 2016 / 12:34 AM

    Wow! This looks like the type of day trip I would like to do from London. England hands down has some of the best historical sites and intriguing history. That is why I love to visit. Next time I will be planning a tour of Hampton Court. Those gardens are incredible!

    • 26th June 2016 / 7:38 AM

      Thanks Kathy. It’s one of my favourite day trips and the gardens are absolutely magnificent

  13. 28th June 2016 / 8:11 AM

    I think I was here when I was like 14 – one of the first times I was in London. Don’t remember much but I’d love to check it out again as an adult! I’ve pinned it for the next time we are in England! #CityTripping

    • 28th June 2016 / 11:21 AM

      I hadn’t visited for a while too and there has been a lot of work done on exhibitions and restoration. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. 28th June 2016 / 8:42 AM

    I haven’t been to Hampton Court for decades! That playground certainly wasn’t there. The kitchens are fascinating, imagine cooking for so many people every day! Crazy. Those wood fires are so efficient but used SO much wood every day. Fab review Katy, now I want to go again! #citytripping

    • 28th June 2016 / 11:24 AM

      Thanks so much Phoebe – hope you make it there soon.

  15. 28th June 2016 / 11:16 AM

    There is always another castle to discover and enjoy, right?! Those oak ceilings are INCREDIBLE!! Thanks for sharing this awesome castle with us and great tips for visiting! #citytripping

    • 28th June 2016 / 11:25 AM

      Thanks Christy. I’ll never get tired of castles! You can feel the history oozing out of their walls

  16. 28th June 2016 / 11:23 AM

    Enjoyed the virtual tour of Hampton Court palace through your post!

    • 28th June 2016 / 11:29 AM

      Thanks Ahila

  17. 28th June 2016 / 7:20 PM

    I really like Hampton Court! We live pretty close and this post has inspired to go again soon as we haven’t visited since the Magic Playground opened. My choir sang at the Palace last year for its 500 year anniversary which was a special moment but we haven’t had a good explore for a while. It has a fascinating history and I love the reenactments they do there. We haven’t spent much time in the expansive gardens (although enjoyed getting lost in the maze). Thank you for linking to #citytripping

    • 29th June 2016 / 9:36 AM

      Wow. Singing at the Palace must have been an amazing experience. Love to hear more about that Elizabeth. You will love the playground. I would go just for that.

  18. 28th June 2016 / 8:47 PM

    I love Hampton Court – so much history here and so intact still, it’s easy to feel like you’re stepping back in time. My daughter has been twice: once at about eight months as one of our early day trips and earlier this year where she dressed up to have all kinds of fun (very overdue post to come!) #citytripping

    • 29th June 2016 / 9:37 AM

      Ooh yes. Love the dress ups. Another reason to go back ?

  19. 30th June 2016 / 12:23 PM

    *+”*ç% we missed it. One week in London and just not enough time to visit all interesting places as Hampton Court Palace

    • 30th June 2016 / 2:33 PM

      Even living here we can’t do everything. London is just one of those places that warrant many return visits. Hope you make it back soon

  20. 7th July 2016 / 6:10 AM

    This place looks so cool. I really love your photos. I felt like I was there, since I always look at the ceiling, too. Following you on Facebook now. 🙂

    • 7th July 2016 / 8:35 AM

      Thanks Jess, Hampton Court really brings the history of the Tudor era to life. I’m always looking up at ceilings too. Thanks for the follow 🙂

  21. 3rd August 2016 / 5:52 AM

    This sounds like a great outing for the entire family. Personally I would be interested in the intriguing history of the palace and wandering in its vast gardens.

  22. 4th August 2016 / 2:39 PM

    This palace is such a beautiful place! Would love to visit it one day.

  23. 9th August 2016 / 3:30 PM

    I love Hampton Court Palace, it’s a great place to get away from the madness of London!

    • 9th August 2016 / 4:16 PM

      I think so too. I love being transported back to the Tudor era

  24. 28th August 2016 / 2:42 PM

    This is on my list of places to go. I spent a fantastic weekend in Windsor in June, and everyone says Hampton Court Palace rivals Windsor Castle. This post certainly captures the rich history and beautiful images of the area. I visited Kingston Upon Thames last year but didn’t make it to the Hampton Court Palace. Big mistake 😉

    • 29th August 2016 / 8:46 PM

      Thanks for dropping by Melanie. I think they are both great castles to visit. Windsor Castle is a working castle whereas Hampton Court is steeped in history. I have to admit I prefer Hampton Court but they are both wonderful day trips from London. Hope you manage a trip there soon

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