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Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace Review
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.
- Address: Hampton Court Rd., East Molesley, Surrey KT8 9AU | Map It
- Phone: 0844/482–7799 tickets; 0844/482–7777 information (24 hr.)
- Cost: Palace, maze, and gardens £18.20; maze only £4.40; gardens only £6.
- Hours: Apr.–late Oct., daily 10–6; late Oct.–Mar., daily 10–4:30; last admission one hr before closing; last entry to maze 45 mins before closing). Formal Gardens 10–6 summer, 10–5:30 winter. Informal Gardens 7–8 summer, 7–6 winter.
- Website: www.hrp.org.uk/hamptoncourtpalace
- Tube: Richmond, then bus R68; National Rail: Hampton Court Station, 35 min from Waterloo (most trains require change at Surbiton).
- Location: The Thames Upstream
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