Purchase your ticket in the long building near the entrance from the main road. From there, a short walk leads over to the palace itself. The bridge across the empty moat is lined with statues of a lion and a unicorn and other heraldic beasts. These are the symbols of the various families of the kings and queens who once lived here.
Once inside, go all the way across the courtyard and into the door on the left to get the free audio guide. Ask about family activities and see if they have any royal cloaks available to borrow. Most days, some lucky guests can be spotted wearing these.
There is still quite a bit of the old Tudor Palace left from the 1500s, even though much was torn down in the late 1600s. The original kitchens are a highlight. A fire burns in the massive fireplace, and sometimes there is meat roasting on a spit. The audio guide explains the clever ways food was stored and cooked before electricity and modern refrigeration.
The most famous member of the Tudor family to live here was King Henry VIII, the one who had six wives. English school children learn how to remember them: “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” Hampton Court Palace has traces of each of these queens. Some people think Catherine Howard, the fifth one, is still here in spirit, running along the Long Gallery.
It’s easy to imagine King Henry around every corner here, presiding over a grand feast in the Great Hall, praying in the Chapel Royal, or conferring with his advisors in one of the smaller rooms.
The famous architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, designed the newer part of the palace in the late 1600s. Many rooms hold sumptuous furniture, historic art, and valuable objects. This is the best place to see the delicate 17th-century wood carvings of flowers and foliage by Grinling Gibbons.
The grounds of Hampton Court Palace have historically accurate formal gardens, a rose garden, and extensive lawns. In the naturalized Wilderness, visitors can get lost in The Maze. There’s a play area near the Tiltyard Café.
Eat at the Tiltyard Café (the best choice for a full meal), the Privy Kitchen, or bring a picnic with you.
Hampton Court Palace is one of five properties in London run by Historic Royal Palaces. The others are the Tower of London, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, and Kew Palace, which is in Kew Gardens (and admission to the palace is included in admission to Kew Gardens). The Historic Royal Palaces website has excellent information about the history and features of each, as well as details of the admission charges and choices. Members of Historic Royal Palaces get into all the properties at no charge.
You can get to Hampton Court Palace by train, by a combination of London Underground and bus, and even by boat. The boat ride from Westminster Pier to the Palace is quite long – a great trip, but not easy to combine with a day at the Palace. Depending on the season and the tides, it may be possible to take the boat back to central London at day’s end. Check with Transport for London for the best train, Underground, and bus options from your particular location.
Author Bio: Jill Browne is a Canadian baby boomer travel blogger. She loves London and blogs about London heritage hotspots and the people who know them best, at LondonHeritageHotspots.com.
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