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Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

A Woman in sunglasses standing at the entrance of an impressive old turreted castle

Updated on May 2nd, 2024

For over 500 years Hampton Court Palace has been home to kings, queens, celebrations & taken its place in the history of England many times over. On a visit you can get a glimpse into the life of the Tudors, imagine working in the bustling kitchens & take a walk around the spectacular gardens. Here is all you need to plan your perfect Hampton Court day trip.”


Hampton Court Palace, London, United Kingdom

Hampton Court - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day TripWhy?

Hampton Court Palace is one of the great palaces in London. Built over 500 years ago, it was once home to Henry VIII & all six of his wives, along with many stories of family feuds, betrayal, scandal, ghosts, births, deaths, marriages & everything in between.

I’ll be honest, despite having lived an hour away from the Palace my whole life, I have only visited Hampton Court a couple of times. The first was on a school trip which I have very little recollection of. We made it straight to the Maze & spent most of the day there. Subsequently, I visited with my family, many years ago when we were planning to go to Paris for the day. Then we realised that my Australian brother-in-law didn’t have a visa. After much family discussion & a very long lunch by the river, we eventually arrived just before closing time & decided to just spend our time in the kitchens!

So, when my friends bought a flat literally around the corner, lunch & a walk seemed a waste without a visit to this notorious palace. I wasn’t disappointed! A trip to Hampton Court Palace has way more to offer than just the Maze & the kitchens!

It is a place of history, legends, exquisite interiors, stunning architecture, beautifully manicured gardens & an opportunity to transport yourself back in time & let your imagination wild.”

About Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

The palace was originally built by Lord Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century. He had ambitions to entertain the King & heads of state from across the world within the walls of his grand house. However, his plan was thwarted when his friend King Henry VIII decided he liked it & took it for himself. I guess that’s the power you have as King of England!

Henry brought all 6 of his wives here during his reign & I read that the ghosts of two of his wives haunt the building to this day!”

He used the palace as a demonstration of his power in every way. It was used as a palace, hotel, theatre & general entertainment complex. This required a lot of staff & you can still get a feel of the sheer size of the operation with a visit to his kitchens, where 1600 meals a day were produced.

By 1689, the palace was taken over by William III & Mary II who commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to demolish the buildings & create an all-new Baroque Palace. Thankfully, he decided to add on rather than reduce to rubble & now there is a distinct difference as you move from one era of the palace to the other. In addition, the monarchs were responsible for creating some of the impressive gardens which are a must-see on your Hampton Court day trip.

Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Hampton Court Day Trip

Visiting Hampton Court Palace

You need to buy & print your ticket ahead of your visit & book a time slot. For an adult ticket, the entrance to Hampton Court Palace is £24.50, £12.20 for a child (2020 prices). The palace is open between 10.30am & 5pm.

Hampton Court Palace - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

However, if you are considering visiting any of the other palaces (Tower of London, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace or Hillsborough Castle), then you may like to consider becoming a Member. This costs £55 for a year & now is the best time to join as they are offering 15 months for the price of 12 (if you choose Direct Debit). Then admission to all palaces is free for as many visits as you like.

If you are interested in exploring more of London’s palaces, check out my Guide to the Top 5 London Palaces & 15 Top Tips for Visiting the Tower of London

If like me, you have never properly visited & are able to, then all I can say is DO IT NOW! Due to current circumstances, there are no crowds & no queues. Consequently, they are also desperately in need of our help. The palaces are a self-funding charity. If they don’t have money, they close. Currently like many businesses & institutions across the world, the palaces are facing unprecedented financial challenges.

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

For me, a day trip to Hampton Court Palace can be divided into 3 sections:

  1. Upstairs – visiting Henry VIII’s & William III’s Apartments. Both sections are very different in style & come with a wealth of fascinating stories.
  2. Downstairs – exploring Henry VIII’s vast kitchens are a must!
  3. The Palace Gardens – again, each has its own unique style & they are not to be missed.

I believe the palace curators here have made history very accessible. It allows easy connection for children & adults with a short attention span (I raise my hand to that one!). Sound effects are used to fuel your imagination & the gardens have a hint of humour. I loved it & here are my highlights:

The Great Hall - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day TripHenry VIII Apartments
The Great Hall

I started my Hampton Court day trip in The Great Hall. What a way to start! It was the perfect location for all the extravagant celebrations & entertainment organised by King Henry VIII & his various wives throughout his reign. Shakespeare & his company of actors performed many of his plays here. With high ceilings, it was built to impress & demonstrate the king’s power & magnificence.

You can now enjoy this spectacular room, surrounded by 500-year-old tapestries & stags heads. It is set up for a banquet with fascinating facts about the food served & etiquette guests had to adhere to in order to retain favour with the King.”

Chapel Royal
The Kings Staircase - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

The chapel itself is a wonderful spectacle of gold ceilings, surrounded by wood panels. Sir Christopher Wren returned to the palace in 1710, by the request of Queen Anne. He totally redesigned the interior which we can see today. Unfortunately, it is the only part of the palace you cannot photograph. The Chapel is still in use & you can also view a replica of Henry VIII’s crown here, situated in the pew where he would have overlooked the rest of the congregation.

William III’s ApartmentsThe Throne Room - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip
The Drawing Room - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

Sir Christopher Wren was also the architect behind the Baroque Palace which was commissioned by William III & Mary II. They begin with the magnificently painted Kings Staircase which leads up to the Kings Guard Chamber. The chamber features 2,871 items of armour & weapons to demonstrate Williams credentials as a great soldier & peacemaker. Then follows the throne room, where all visitors had to bow as they passed, whether it was occupied or not. Finally, you have the impressive Communication Gallery which links the kings & queens’ apartments. It is hung
with an impressive array of portraits from the royal collection.

Beyond a very impressive display of napkin folding in the Public Dining Room, my favourite part in this section was the beautiful drawing-room. The murals all the way around the walls & ceilings were spectacular.

Henry VIII's Kitchen - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

The room was used to greet courtiers & often gambling took place at the card tables. As a result, the king & his guests lost a lot of money here during royal parties!”

Henry VIII’s Kitchens
The Broadwalk - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

An army of 200 cooks & assistants used to toil in these kitchens, the largest in Tudor England. Here, they produced meals for the 800 strong household of King Henry VIII. That’s a big & very busy kitchen! Once you observe the size of the fireplace & years of soot which has been deposited on the chimney, you get a tiny sense of the vastness of the task which was performed here all those years ago. It must have been hot & hard work! Apparently, many of the kitchen workers preferred to work naked due to the heat from the furnaces which wasn’t popular with those in authority!

The Gardens
The Fountain Garden - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

Leave plenty of time to explore the gardens during your Hampton Court day trip. There is plenty of variety & loads to see across 60 acres of formal garden & 750 of parkland. Each of the gardens has its own distinct character & they are managed with humour by the team of exceptional gardeners. If you are a green-fingered visitor, then stop by the Gardeners Hut for more information on highlights & plants of the week.

For me, my favourites were:

  • Great Fountain Garden.
The Long water - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

Home of 300-year-old yew trees & Britain’s longest herbaceous border! You can take a trip to admire the 28 beds in a carriage pulled by Henry’s giant shire horses. The trip takes 15 minutes (Weds – Sunday only) & needs to be booked with the carriage operator. You can currently only choose seats in sets, £10 for 3 spaces (to allow for social distancing).

  • Long Water.

Charles II dug this canal to celebrate his marriage. It’s ¾ mile long & once housed a Venetian gondola which he received as a wedding gift!

  • The Privy Garden - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day TripPrivy Garden.

One of the most magnificent & intricate gardens at Hampton Court. It is a triumph in topiary! It’s hard to actually get an understanding of how beautiful this garden is from the ground.

The Pond Garden - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

I think it’s best viewed from the windows of William III’s apartments.”

  • Pond Gardens.

Henry VIII originally created these gardens but Mary II remodelled them to show off her exotic plant collection. They were my favourite. Apparently, the topiary is a work in progress & aimed to look like pheasants. Judge for yourself if you believe they have succeeded!

  • The Great Vine - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day TripThe Great Vine.

Less impressive than its neighbours in terms of beauty but worth a trip for its title of the largest grapevine in the world. Grapes are harvested at the end of summer & you can buy them from the shop in the first 3 weeks of September.

  • Rose Garden.
Dahlia - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

Spectacular in summer but unfortunately, I visited in September when it had passed its prime. The Dahlia Border by the Great Vine was in full bloom though & definitely made up for it!

  • The Wilderness.

Less formal but apparently best visited in spring when one million bulbs create a colourful display. In addition, it is home to the infamous Maze – the oldest puzzle maze in the world.

  • The descendants of Henry VIII's deer lay in the shade of a large oak tree outside hampton court palaceHome Park.

Enclosed by Henry VIII to enable him to hunt his deer. Once you leave Hampton Court, don’t miss your chance to see some of the descendants of Henry’s deer which still roam the park today.

Want to see more of London? Check out my One Day London Itinerary – 1 walk, 22 amazing attractions & 21 Fantastic Things to do at London Bridge.

Gardeners Hut - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day TripWhat’s on at Hampton Court Palace?
Kitchen Garden - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

There are always plenty of reasons to add a Hampton Court day trip to your London plans. For example, it would be a spectacular location to don your skates & show off your prowess/falling skills at the ice rink during the winter months. Also, they have a Festive Fayre before Christmas, billed as a food-lovers wonderland over 2 weekends in December. Your general Hampton Court ticket includes admission but book ahead to ensure you can visit on these dates. For all the information about what’s coming up at Hampton Court click THIS LINK.

Thinking about Christmas? Check out my Unique Travel Gift list for the perfect present for the travel lover in your life.

How to get to Hampton Court Palace

The easiest way to reach Hampton Court is by car. Put KT8 9AU into your Sat Nav. The car park costs £1.60 per hour (pay at the end, card only). However, if the main car park is full there is another at Hampton Court Green, which is only 500m walk away.

There is no London Underground service to Hampton Court. You will need to get to Wimbledon or Richmond & take a bus from there. The National Rail station for Hampton Court is just a 5-minute walk away & links directly to Waterloo in the city.

You could also get a boat to the palace which sounds great fun except for its 4 hours from Westminster so maybe not the most efficient use of your time!

Outside Hampton Court - Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Day Trip

Check Transport for London for all the details of services but also try Rome to Rio App which I use all the time on my travels.

If you like my choices & are exploring more of the UK, also check out Scottish Highlands Itinerary – A Perfect 10 Day Road Trip for the Highlands & Islands

Where to stay near Hampton Court Palace

If you love the area (it is a beautiful part of the world) & want to stay overnight then I would check out The Kings Arms, The White Hart Hotel, River Den or the Crowne Plaza if you prefer to stick to a chain hotel. All are within 2 km of the palace. Alternatively, use the map below to find your perfect bed for the night.

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  1. I haven’t been to HC for quite a few years, the last time was for the annual garden show which was fantastic. I think out of all the palaces this one has to tick all the boxes for a great day out. It has history just oozing from its walls. A lovely post for those that are yet to visit.

    1. Thank you, Angela, & I agree. For anyone wanting a full day out the Hampton Court is perfect with the house & the gardens…a little bit of something for everyone! 😉 Sue x

  2. Hampton Court was one of the last places I ever visited before leaving the UK. I loved getting lost in the maze. Am I muddling up my historic houses but isn’t there meant to be some ghost lurking in the long corridor?

    1. Thank you, Sarah, apparently there are 2 ghosts at least, both of whom are Henry’s wives. It was a shame the maze isn’t open at the moment (hard to make it COVID safe) or I could have spent lots of time getting lost & reliving old school memories! Sue x

  3. Hampton Court looks like an brilliant day out … it seems like you could easily spend an entire day there and still have more to see, so that you feel like you have to schedule a return trip. I wonder if making it difficult to get too, means that many people staying in London, just don’t bother to make the trip out there.

    1. Thank you, Jay, & you could be right. It is a little more difficult to get to than the palaces in Central London but well worth the effort for a packed & fascinating day out. Sue x

  4. It seems like every time I read a blog post about England, a little bit of history I learned long ago struggles to come back to me. It would certainly be fascinating to visit Hampton Court and be where so much interesting history played out. Not surprised that Henry VIII took it for himself! If we planned a long visit to England, it sounds like a Member might be a cheaper way to see a bunch of sights. Since we won’t get back to England before Covid is a thing of the past, we might get to see all parts of this great historic spot.

    1. Thank you, Linda & if you are looking to see a few of the palaces then membership is a great option. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did when you eventually do make it! Sue x

  5. We have visited London twice now and I have never heard of Hampton Court before. It is fascinating to me that a place like this exists within the city limits of such a big crazy city like London! Sounds like there is quite a bit of history worth exploring there!

    1. Thank you, Jenn, & it’s definitely worth a visit next time you are in London. Hampton Court is a beautiful & fascinating place! Sue x

  6. I have not visited Hampton Court yet. Apart from its history, I would love to go through the upstairs and downstairs and understand how they lived in those days. The well-kept gardens are the best part of most of UK’s castles and I would surely enjoy browsing through HC’s various gardens! I am marking this place for a visit when I am in London next. 🙂

  7. My visit to Hampton Court was so much fun: There were people in costumes, showing old handcraft. I loved all the exhibitions and even joined a service at the Chapel Royal. I find that Hampton Court lets visitors relive history in a very vivid way – which I really liked.

    1. Thank you, Renata, & I love hearing this. I was struck with how accessible they made the history & reading about your experience there only reinforces this. It sounds like you had a wonderful visit & I hope that they can get back to this level of interaction again soon. Sue x

  8. I am a total History geek and love reading about the Tudors, so I adored HCP when I visited. I remember asking a young guy at the Tube information desk how to get to Hampton Court Palace. He looked very confused and said ‘I don’t know that. Is it new?’!!

    Did they tell you which of Henry’s wives haunt the Palace? Poor women, it must have been dreadful living with him. I always feel a bit sorry for Wolsey too.

    1. Thank you for your comment & that’s hilarious about the guy at the Tube…really useful 😉 And you are correct, 2 of his wives are said to haunt the palace. Don’t blame them for not wanting to leave as quickly as he wanted to get them out! Sue x

  9. This was a great read and also funny because I went there on a sort of class trip when I studied a semester in London and don’t recall much! Thank you for this excellent walkthrough!!

  10. I’ve not heard of this place before. Such an interesting history. Looks like a wonderful place to go for an afternoon.

  11. You’ve rekindled happy memories of visits to HC when I lived nearby in Twickenham Sue. I remember the vast kitchens well, but not the chapel, which looks glorious. Tudor history is so fascinating, and there’s so much to discover here – thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    1. Thank you, Coralie & glad I was able to summon up some great memories for you. I agree – I loved those kitchens. Sue x

  12. Even though I have been to London a few times I have never been to Hampton Court. I am just now finishing the third book in the Wolf Hall series and Hampton Court features heavily in these incredible books by Hilary Mantel! So of course I need to come back to London soon!!! If you haven’t read the books (or even better listen on audible) I recommend it very highly!

    1. Thank you, Laureen, for the book recommendation & bearing in mind all your reading, you definitely need to get here next time you’re in London! Sue x

  13. A great read about something still on my list to visit once I’m in the area again, good to know it’s a whole day trip.

    1. Thank you, Cosette & I hope you enjoy it when you get there, but it will definitely fill a day! Sue x

  14. A beautiful presentation of English history in everyway. I went many years ago when I was 20 and have a photo of me sitting on Henry VIII bed. Nice to (virtual) revisit the gardens.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn & glad to have stirred some happy memories. It’s such a fascinating place! Sue x

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