So you’re going to England. While you want to see palaces on your trip, you only have time for one. You did some research and noticed there are technically ten palaces in London alone. After doing some more research, you’ve realized your trip to London is outside of late July and early October – precisely when Buckingham, the most famous of palaces, is closed to the public! So now what?
Have you heard of Hampton Court Palace? I certainly hadn’t before my own trips to London. It’s the oldest remaining English Tudor palace and it is definitely worth a visit. Dare I even say that you should visit Hampton Court Palace instead of Buckingham Palace even if the latter were an option for you? Read on to discover why I think so!
Money and Freedom Matter
Quite frankly, you get more bang for your buck with Hampton Court Palace (HCP). A ticket includes admission to the palace itself as well as extensive gardens, a 17th-century maze, exhibitions, and the ability to wander around at will (at Buckingham, you’re stuck to a set touring path). Just that last bit alone makes HCP more attractive, I think!
The appeal of this particular item will depend on your preferences. If you like being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a thriving city, then Buckingham Palace has exactly that. I prefer something calmer so that is why I’d rank HCP higher in this category. This palace lies south-west of Central London on the River Thames, away from the frenetic pace. Relatively speaking, it’s a fairly idyllic spot.
Crowds: The Lack Thereof
At least when I went, the crowds were nil. Even though it is easy to get here, it does require more of an effort to get to HCP than Buckingham Palace. And since it isn’t in Central London, I think a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” comes into play. But for those of you who don’t like busy/crowded places, HCP can be the best palace choice for you. Stranger-free photos are possible! And if your inner history nerd wants to play royalty, no one ever has to know!
Have I Convinced You Yet?
If not, then perhaps a bit of history will show you why it is worth going to Hampton Court Palace.
HCP was one of the many palaces owned by King Henry VIII. It was originally built, however, for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515. The Cardinal soon fell out of favour with Henry who then seized the palace for himself in 1529. Over the years, Henry VIII and then William III expanded upon HCP, making it what it is today – an interesting mishmash of Tudor and Baroque styles. William wanted HCP to rival Versailles in France, apparently. I’m not sure he succeeded….
The last monarch to actually live in HCP was King George II – his son didn’t want to live in it, because he associated it with “humiliation”. Apparently, his granddad once hit him for saying something innocuous (at least he thought it was innocuous). *eyeroll* at the privilege….
Ready To Go?
By now, I know you want to go to Hampton Court Palace. So what to expect once there?
Well, make sure you split your time evenly between the palace itself and the grounds which are quite lovely. And massive. The formal gardens themselves are 60 acres alone! In the HCP gardens, there are thousands of trees, flowers, an ancient grapevine, and the world’s oldest puzzle maze. Also, in the additional parkland (which itself is 650 acres) there is tons of wildlife, the most interesting being deer that are descended from Henry VIII’s own herd.
If you’re a history buff, be prepared to see King Henry VIII wandering around*. One of his doomed wives may be with him or perhaps a courtier or a personal guard. If you feel like bowing, he’d probably appreciate it. Also, according to HCP’s website, there are period gowns available for visitors to wear! I didn’t know about it when I went so I didn’t get a chance to see that. Let me know if you do!
If you’re a foodie, you will definitely want to check out what once were the largest kitchens in Tudor England. Henry VIII’s court was at least 600 people strong, all of whom were entitled to two meals a day. That is a lot of food to prepare!
Finally, if you’re a literature fan, Henry VIII’s Great Hall is where Shakespeare’s company (called the King’s Men) performed for King James I in 1603/4. The room is also worth a visit to see Henry VIII’s tapestries as well as other period furniture and decorations.
So, if you’re planning your trip to London, I hope you’ll consider visiting Hampton Court Palace – it really is worth a visit. Even if it means ditching Buckingham Palace. It is a great morning or afternoon trip and will please most people, be they a foodie, a history buff, or an appreciator of gardens/architecture. There is something for everyone here!
*Unfortunately, not his ghost. It’s an actor.