The beloved seat of Henry VIII's court, sprawled elegantly beside the languid waters of the Thames, Hampton Court is steeped in more history than virtually any other royal building in England. The magnificent Tudor red-brick mansion, begun in 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey to curry favor with the young Henry, actually conceals a larger 17th-century baroque building, which was partly designed by Christopher Wren (of St. Paul's fame); though both have a wealth of stories to tell. The earliest dwellings on this site belonged to a religious order founded in the 11th century and were expanded over the years by its many subsequent residents, until George II moved the royal household closer to London in the early 18th century.
Wander through the State Apartments, decorated in the Tudor style, complete with priceless paintings, and on to the wood-beamed magnificence of Henry's Great Hall, before taking in the strikingly azure ceiling of the Chapel Royal. Well-handled reconstructions of Tudor life take place all year, from live appearances by 'Henry VIII' and his elaborately-costumed court, to a small retinue of cook-historians preparing authentic Tudor feasts in the 15th-century Henry's Kitchens. (You can try some of the recipes in the adjacent cafe).
Feel a chill in the air? Watch out for the ghost of Henry VIII's doomed fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who literally lost her head yet is said to scream her way along the Haunted Gallery. Weirdly, the ambient temperature really is prone to drop noticeably and nobody knows why. Latter-day masters of the palace, the joint rulers William and Mary (reigned 1689–1702), were responsible for the beautiful King's and Queen's Apartments and the elaborate baroque of the Georgian Rooms.
Don't miss the famous maze (the oldest hedge maze in the world), its half mile of pathways among clipped hedgerows still fiendish to negotiate. There's a trick, but we won't give it away here: It's much more fun just to go and lose yourself.
The Lower Orangery Exotic Garden shows off thousands of exotic species that William and Mary, avid plant collectors, gathered from around the globe.
In summer months, consider arriving in style by riverboat
Family tickets offer huge savings, with £46 covering two adults and up to three children.
Choose which parts of the palace to explore based on a number of self-guided audio walking tours. Come Christmas time, there's ice-skating on a rink before the West Front of the palace.
Are you brave enough to explore the Haunted Gallery by candlelight? Evening ghost tours (£28 per person) are held throughout the year. Not only are they entertainingly spooky, but they're a great opportunity way to see the older parts of the palace without the crowds. An edited version, suitable for kids, runs in the early evening on certain dates. Tours can sell out weeks in advance, so prebooking is essential.
Hampton Court Rd., East Molesley, Surrey, KT8 9AU, England
0844-482–7799-tickets; 0844-482–7777-information (24 hr.)
Nov 2, 2009
Visiting Hampton Court was a highlight of our family trip to London. We went on a beautiful day and the gardens were in bloom. They have different tours available on the audio guides such as adults or family. We enjoyed the family tours with 2 boys, 11 and 4. The costumed guides were great and soaking in all that history was wonderful. The kids loved the maze although it was a bit easy in my estimation. The cafe on site was nice for lunch and
there is a large outdoor eating area. One of the best memories of our visit.
Jun 26, 2005
A must-see part of your trip to London. You get to experience the feel of life in the castle more than in other royal palaces. You can take the tour at your own pace and there are all sorts of activities to keep you busy while you're there. While we were there, there were games on the lawn in the courtyard for children. Much more interactive and memorable overall than Windsor.
Nov 26, 2002
I have been here twice and would go again. There is so much history packed in this place - and it is displayed and narrated well. Get the audio guides - they are good. Leave plenty of time to wander the grounds. A great day trip from London.