Last Sunday I spent 5 hours at Hampton Court Palace. Even though the weather wasn’t the best (note to self: stop buying £4 umbrellas from Primark!) it was a thoroughly enjoyable place to visit.
Located only half an hour from central London, Hampton Court Palace is probably most famous for being the home of King Henry VIII. As a massive fan of The Tudors and the many Philippa Gregory books set in that period, Hampton Court has been on my list for a long time and there’s no better year to visit as 2015 marks the Palace’s 500th birthday.
Arriving in style, on Turks Launches, the first glimpse you get is of the baroque East Front facade through the ornate fence. From the pier you can cut straight through into the Palace grounds and head straight to the ticket office. The adult price of £18.20 (when bought online) includes entry to the Palace, gardens, maze and the audio tour. You can even borrow a velvet cloak to wear during your visit so you’re suitably dressed for court. You know, just in case you bump into the king.
The audio guide is really informative and there are multiple options so you can choose in which order you explore Hampton Court Palace and for Henry VIII’s apartments you can have an expert commentary or pretend you’re being shown around by a courtier – that’s the option I chose!
Costumed actors walk the corridors and take part in reenactments. Share a cushion with a stranger (or two small children in my case!) while Henry loses his temper with Cardinal Wolsey who’s failed to find a way to push through his annulment. It’s all very well done.
The huge kitchens were built specifically for roasting meat and are still warmed by roaring fires. Sometimes you’ll find chefs recreating Tudor specialities. Perhaps a pie or two. Did you know that making pies was just another way of cooking meat? The pastry crust was used as the cooking vessel and thrown out once the filling had been eaten.
Once you’ve admired Henry VIII’s fantastic portrait up close, rather than in a textbook, you can see the Royal Pew and cast your eyes on a stunning replica of the King’s jewel-encrusted crown. It really was a thing of beauty, although I can’t imagine how heavy it must have been to wear.
Did you notice the interpretation ‘board’ next to the portrait? Rather than using paper or wood, the notices next to each painting and artefact are printed on cloth and pinned to the tapestries.
Photos of Henry’s Hampton Court
The other side of the Palace is baroque in style and was built by King William III. His lavishly decorated apartments overlook the wonderful privy gardens. There’s also the opportunity to discover the Georgian Story and gain a glimpse into how some of the more ‘recent’ residents of Hampton Court lived.
The gardens are extensive and I was barely able to explore. During the summer, or on a dry day, you could easily spend another couple of hours in the gardens of Hampton Court. There’s the huge deer park, formal gardens, wilderness and the maze. Even if I’d had time, there’s no chance I would have ventured into the maze alone. Last time hubby and I visited Leeds Castle we were lost in the maze for at least half an hour! Going it alone would have likely ended in tears.
Eating at Hampton Court
You can take your own lunch and make use of the outdoor picnic areas or if it’s raining, or you fancy a hot meal, you’ll not be disappointed by the on-site cafes. They’re not cheap mind. I had a tasty venison pie with pea puree (aka mushy peas) and a mug of tea and it cost me nearly a tenner. The Privy Kitchen cafe was rammed at lunchtime on Sunday and it’s not the best laid out but the food was delicious. I’d have taken a photo but I was so starving hungry that it didn’t last long enough!
If you’re anything like me, you’ll end the day with sore feet and aching arms from holding the audio guide up to your ear for hours but you’ll have had an amazing time. It’s a stunning location with so much to see, inside and out. For less than £20 each you really are getting a lot for your money.
I was really lucky and managed to get a complimentary ticket and boat trip thanks to Kingston First as part of the Traverse 15 travel blogger conference held in Kingston Upon Thames. The day out at Hampton Court was one of the Sunday Experiences on offer. Even though I didn’t pay, I believe it’s worth every penny of the entry fee. I would definitely go again and I’ll happily pay full price.
Hampton Court Palace is really accessible for a day out. I would highly recommend a visit.
What do you look for in a day out? Culture, history, or peace and quiet? Tell us in the comments below.