A perfect day trip from London
Every time my parents visit London for a full day I spend ages thinking about what we can do – central London for shopping, museums, restaurants is usually the answer. However they recently came up with the car to drop off some christmas presents which were too heavy for me to carry back to London on the train (I got a lot of hardback books!) and so I was thinking what day trips we could do.
I did a bit of research about places around the south west London area and came across Hampton Court Palace. I didn’t know much about the Palace, other than it wasn’t too far away and it was something to do with the Tudor period. It looked pretty interesting so I suggested going. My parents love National Trust properties and so forth and had never been to the Palace, although they had been to the famous flower show here many years ago.
Getting to Hampton Court Palace
Getting to Hampton Court Palace is pretty easy from London!
We drove from my place down in Colliers Wood, which took about 40 minutes following my Dad’s SatNav. This drive was through most of the areas between such as Kingston, and was quite slow with traffic, however on the way back we were taken on the A3 bypass, which was much quicker although slow again for the last few miles from Wimbledon. There was a decent amount of parking available still when we arrived around 11.30am, however there isn’t a huge number of spaces and I would imagine it fills up very quickly in Summer, so bear that in mind if you are planning to drive! Parking was £1.60 per hour.
Public transport is also pretty easy. From Central London you can get a South Western train to Hampton Court, which is only a few minutes walk from the Palace, and takes just over half an hour from Waterloo. If you are further west, these trains go through Wimbledon so you can pick it up there. For those with Oyster cards or wanting to use contactless, Hampton Court is Zone 6.
There are also a number of buses that go here, from South West London you can hop on the 131 to Kingston and then swap to the 216 to Staines, although this will take longer at an hour and a half journey time, it will only cost you £1.50 on contactless/oyster! The 111 and the 411 also go there.
I believe you can also get a boat from Richmond or Westminster Pier, but I understand that is a pretty slow journey so probably better to go with the other options!
Tickets to Hampton Court Palace
The Palace is open from 10-16.30 every day. Tickets can be booked in advance online for £10.65 per adult – the entrance price if you buy the tickets from the ticket office when you arrive at Hampton Court Palace costs around double that, so I would absolutely recommend being them online before you go!
We went in around 12pm, having had some snacks in the car after arriving to save money as we were going to go out for dinner when we got back in Tooting.
It was not too busy at all really, and we wandered freely all afternoon without having too many people to contend with. You can pick up an audioguide which is included in your ticket price, however I hate audioguides (everyone wanders round like sheep and doesn’t talk to the people they are with…) so I vetoed this in favour of a map and the information boards.
As you go in you find yourself in the Base Courtyard, complete with a large fountain. The facade is very impressive and it is easy to imagine the place hustling and bustling with servants.
It was built by Thomas Wolsey, who took over the site in 1514, with King Henry VIII moving in in 1525. Servants lived in the outer courtyards, whilst the state rooms and the King’s apartments were in the inner Clock courtyard area. The great hall and huge kitchens were added by the King after Wolsey’s death – both of which you can visit today.
The Lost dress of Elizabeth I Exhibition
As soon as we got through to the clock courtyard, one of the volunteers recommended we go to the ‘Lost dress of Elizabeth I’ exhibition that was just before the main part of the palace. I was pretty keen to see this, I have just finished reading a book set in the Elizabethan period with mention of the former Queen, so that was cool for me. The dress is unbelievably intricate, with tiny embroideries based in nature with plants and a variety of animals running riot across the piece of fabric that remains today. It is thought that Elizabeth I had over 2000 dresses, however many of these are believed to have been destroyed in the Great Fire of London, so few survive today. This piece has been used over the years as an alter cloth and is now on display, along with the iconic portrait of Elizabeth I holding a rainbow. No pictures allowed sadly, but it was an added bonus to see history looking so stunning.
We went straight through to the Cumberland Art Gallery next, which was one of the three directions you can take from the top of the grand staircase. Passing lots of portraits in the Cartoon Gallery, there are many works from the 1500-1900 displayed here. I don’t know much about art so I won’t profess to here, but there was a mix of portraits, religious paintings, battle scenes and so forth that it was cool to see.
Next we went and explored the area containing the Georgian story. King George II was the last Monarch to live in Hampton Court Palace and there is lots of information about Georgian life, including about public dining sessions, were people used to come and watch the Royals eat which seems a bizarre concept.
There are also lots of mock ups of Georgian fashion and the outfits that would have been worn in court by people of different standings, which was interesting to see. We also walked around William III’s apartments which include the Orangery and lead to the fountain court – you guessed it, a courtyard containing a large fountain!
After this we ventured into King Henry VIII’s apartments. There was lots of information about the king and his family, including the fates of his six wives and his desire for a son, the rule of his three children and the politics of his court.
As we walked through the Fountain Courtyard, we stopped by the small rooms dedicated to chocolate, which sounded interesting. I had no idea but apparently hot chocolate was very popular in Georgian times, with the King having his own personal chocolate maker living on site! Many spices went into it and it sounded pretty delicious.
Everyone who grew up in England has no doubt learnt about this period at school and it was great to see it come to life. The apartments and galleries are very impressive, but the highlight is the Chapel, which has the most fantastic ceiling. You cannot take pictures in here, it is still an active place of worship, so you will have to go and see it for yourselves! There was a stained glass window in one of the State rooms though which was pretty.
The Great Hall is currently closed, although you can still look into it, as they are doing restorative works at the moment (Jan 2020). I wasn’t that fussed personally as I walk through Westminster Hall regularly at work which is similar with its large wooden beamed ceiling and in my opinion much more impressive from its superior size and age. Don’t tell Henry.
The last place we visited in the Palace was the King Henry VIII kitchens, which was really interesting. They had people actually preparing food there acting out as servants, including cooking meat over a spit at one of the many gigantic fire places. There were rows of fresh vegetables and herbs waiting to go in boiling pots, felt a bit like being in a potions class at Hogwarts so I enjoyed that!
There were lots of videos projected onto the walls as you went round explaining cooking in Tudor times, as well as some interesting booklets about the supposed hauntings of the Palace, my favourite being the phantom dog and the ghostly cat (although it is supposedly haunted by several of his wives, namely those who were beheaded!). They run ghost tours if you are feeling brave and want to find out more about these hauntings.
They also do Elizabethan cooking sessions at the weekends and in the school holidays if you want to learn more about historical kitchen activities. In fact there are a wide range of activities available which you can check on the website’s ‘what’s on’ page if you plan to visit soon!
The Gardens at Hampton Court Palace
Despite the chilly January weather, we thought it would be a shame not to go for a wander in the gardens, which I imagine are beautiful in Summer. The view of the Palace from the Gardens is beautiful, showcasing a much more modern part of the palace than the entrance courtyards.
We went for a quick stroll around the austere looking mushroom shaped trees, felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, and admired the wildlife from playful squirrels to gaggles of geese picking at the grass by the river.
We popped into the Mantegna Gallery which is accessed from the gardens, containing the works known as ‘The Triumphs of Ceaser’, showing the emperor on a victory parade. There are a few Roman artefacts to view here too, and the art work is huge in scale and very impressive, although much older than much of the other work in the palace.
The Cafes at Hampton Court Palace
There are a few places for a drink and a bite to eat around the Palace grounds. We stopped off at the Privy Kitchens cafe, which is located right by the Chapel, and had a coffee before braving the gardens in the chilly January winds. They had the most amazing looking pies with mash (pies were apparently one of Henry VIII’s favourite foods so this seemed very appropriate) as well as sandwiches, cakes and kids lunch boxes. They even had wine and beer if you fancied a beverage to warm you rather than a hot drink!
The Fountain Court cafe is only open in the summer months, but does afternoon tea, lunches and cakes with outdoor seating available, which looks lovely.
The Tiltyard cafe is in the wider grounds and can be accessed without needing a ticket to enter the Palace.
There is also a shop that is accessible selling the usual souvenirs, replica tapestries, knights and princesses items for children, books and so forth.
Visit to Hampton Court Palace
I really enjoyed my trip to the palace and felt I learnt lots of new things about the Tudor and Georgian periods. I was never that interested in history after the medieval ages as a child so it is good to go and experience these places as an adult to exercise the curiosity I now feel towards all historical period – I think the traveller in me has brought this out and I am very glad for it! may as well learn about the history of my own country as well as those I go and visit!
It is really easy to get here from London and not too pricey for a full day out when you buy your tickets online ahead of time.
I would definitely recommend visiting Hampton Court Palace for an interesting day out from London to anyone looking for ideas!