This is a rare chance to get a glimpse into the more domestic and personal side of Royal life. Neither as imposing as Buckingham Palace nor as charming as Hampton Court, Kensington Palace is something of a Royal Family commune, with various close relatives of the Queen occupying large apartments in the private part of the palace. Bought in 1689 by Queen Mary and King William III, it was converted into a palace by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and royals have been in residence ever since. Princess Diana lived here with her sons after her divorce, and this is where Prince William now lives with his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, their young son, George, and daughter, Charlotte.
The State Apartments are open to the public. One permanent exhibition, Victoria Revealed, is devoted to the private life of Queen Victoria, who was born and grew up here. The Queen's State Apartments are given over to William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. The lavish
King's State Apartments, originally built for George I, have a semipermanent exhibit that explores the world of the Georgian Court through the story of George II and his politically active queen, Caroline. There is also a changing temporary exhibition. Through late 2016, this will be Fashion Rules, a collection of gowns worn by Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, and Queen Elizabeth, which in 2017 will be replaced by another fashion-related exhibition.
Look for the King's Staircase, with its panoramic trompe-l'oeil painting, and the King's Gallery, with royal artworks surrounded by rich red damask walls, intricate gilding, and a beautiful painted ceiling. Outside, the grounds are almost as lovely as the palace itself, and are a fine location for a picnic on one of the benches—or head for the delightful café (busy during peak hours) in the Orangery, near the Sunken Garden, where you can indulge in a formal afternoon tea.
If you also plan to visit the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, or Kew Palace, become a member of Historic Royal Palaces. It costs $75 per person, or $135 for a family, and gives you free entry to all five sites for a year.