Hampton Court Palace is an exceptional day out, especially on a sunny, late summer day. I decided to take The Mister along, as he isn’t always able to take part in my touristy outings and hadn’t been to the Palace in years.
We collected our tickets and proceeded to pick-up audio guides from the information point inside the gate. Yes, you can wander without an audio guide and “do your own thing” but it is included in your ticket price. It’s FREE with entry. The narrative is excellent, easy to navigate and much easier than wandering around trying to find the proper page in a guidebook. So, grab one…you can always wear it/not use it or turn it in later. Better to have options.
My favorite part of any house, museum or tour is the kitchen and King Henry VIII’s kitchens do not disappoint. Hampton Court Palace offers Tudor Cooking demonstrations on the first weekend of every month, where you can watch the cooks make chawettys, buknade and perre. Whatever those might be. I spent most of my time in the kitchen standing in front of the fireplace, toasting myself and watching all the children run around in robes (FREE from the information area), wishing I had collected one myself.
We chose to concentrate on King Henry’s portion of the Palace early in the day, leaving the Baroque section of the Palace for the afternoon. The Great Hall and adjoining rooms are spectacular. We arrived at the Chapel Royal shortly before a Sunday service and had to return at a later time. While photography in the chapel is prohibited, I managed to find one to share with you. Photo credit: Richmond Magazine. The Chapel hosts an active worshiping community, frequent choir performances and occasional weddings.
Evidence of medieval graffiti , perhaps?
There are a number of options to enrich your experience within the Palace in addition to the audio tours. Many areas of the Palace offer enhanced experiences, from the simple (film) to truly interactive (period games/entertainment) and experiential (costumed characters, role-playing). We found King Henry VIII and his first wife walking the halls, chatting with the commoners and asking for advice re: how to produce a male heir. Honestly. The Queen was worriedly pacing the gardens later in the afternoon.
The palace gardens are spectacular, extensive and perfect for wandering.
My personal favorites are the Privy and Pond Gardens, although the 20th Century Gardens are a perfect spot for picnicking and a spot of shade on a hot day.
“Capability” Brown planted what is now termed “The Great Vine” at Hampton Court in 1768. The vine, cultivated within a glasshouse, still produces a crop of lovely, sweet grapes at the beginning of every September.
You can purchase part of the harvest in the garden gift shop for a princely sum, which I did. And yes, they were delicious.
We did wander for a few hours until I was overcome by laziness and convinced The Mister to buy 2 tickets for the horse and carriage ride around the gardens. It ended up being a somewhat anti-climactic 15 minute ride around the gardens, but the commentary was interesting and I never pass up a horse and carriage ride.
Duchess of Cleveland and Lady of the Bedchamber. Quite.
And then I saw the sign…Salacious Gossip Tours, highlighting the less savory (most interesting) bits of Palace gossip and intrigue for the over 18 set. 7:30pm Tickets purchased at the gate or via 0844 482 7799 (from UK) or +44 (0)20 3166 6000 (from outside UK). L25 per ticket. Ouch.
I couldn’t pass up this intriguing opportunity, so I purchased tickets and wandered into town for dinner with The Mister. We returned to the Palace early to check-in before gathering in King Henry’s wine cellar for a little pre-tour champagne and conversation. The group was very small, all adults (for good reason). Our guide gave a brief introduction and offered us the right to leave if we were easily offended by the f-word and/or discussions involving the creative activities involving lady/man parts. Everyone stayed, even the lovely, white-haired, ancient grandma someone brought along. We wandered through various parts of the Palace, some not usually open to the public, and listened to lurid and explicit tales of Palace passion. Very interesting indeed. I’m not easily embarrassed, but each time the guide regaled us with another dirty song or tale, I prayed the grandma-of-the-group was either hard-of-hearing or a non-english speaker. Eh. I stopped worrying after she spent an inordinate amount of time examining a piece of erotic art the guide was passing around. An. Inordinate. Amount. Of time. She even took out her specs for that bit.
All in all, it was a brilliant tour. The stories were well-researched and interesting, the guide knowledgable and enthusiastic, the experience enhanced by touring the Palace at night with so few people. You can book tickets in advance here. Don’t bring Nana or the kids.
If you live in or near London, I must recommend purchasing the Palace Membership, which gives you access to all five Palaces (Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House. A family membership pays for itself in approximately 2 visits, as does the dual/partner membership. My favorite perk is not having to stand in a long queue for tickets. I love to be first! Flash your pass, exchange it for a ticket and you’re in. I always agonize over purchasing memberships, but I’ve found that over time, having a membership means I go more often and enjoy what’s offered without agonizing over the cost.
Check dates, times and ticket costs before you go at Hampton Court Palace website.