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. Its most famous resident, 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 and their young son, George.
The State Apartments, however, are open to the public. One permanent exhibition, called "Victoria Revealed" is devoted to to the private life of Queen Victoria (who was born and grew up at KP) based on her diaries, while the Queen's State Apartments are given over to William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. The lavish King's State Apartments, originally build for George
I, has a semi-permanent 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 summer 2015, this will be "Fashion Rules", a collection of gowns worn by Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, and Queen Elizabeth.
Look for the King's Staircase, with its panoramic trompe l'oeil painting, and the King's Gallery, with royal artworks in a jewelbox setting of rich red damask walls, intricate gilding, and a beautiful painted ceiling. Outside, the grounds are almost as lovely as the palace itself.
The palace now has a wheelchair-accessible elevator, and Kensington Gardens has electric buggies for mobility-impaired visitors. 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 £45 per person, or £86 for a family, and gives you free entry to all five sites for a year. Picnicking is allowed on the benches in the palace grounds. (You can also picnic anywhere in the adjoining Kensington Gardens.) There's a delightful café in the Orangery, near the Sunken Garden. Built for Queen Anne, it's a great place for formal afternoon tea, although it gets busy during peak hours.
The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, London, W8 4PX, England
0844-482–7799-advance booking; 0844-482–7777-information; 0203-166–6000-from outside U.K.