Updated on May 17th, 2021
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 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
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, entrance to Hampton Court Palace is £24.50, £12.20 for a child (2020 prices). Buy your tickets HERE . The palace is open between 10.30am & 5pm.
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 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
For me, a day trip to Hampton Court Palace can be divided into 3 sections:
- Upstairs – visiting Henry VIII’s & William III’s Apartments. Both sections are very different in style & come with a wealth of fascinating stories.
- Downstairs – exploring Henry VIII’s vast kitchens are a must!
- 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:
Henry 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.”
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 Apartments
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.
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
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!
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.
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).
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!
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.
I think it’s best viewed from the windows of William III’s apartments.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
What’s on at Hampton Court Palace & what’s open?
Unfortunately, due to COVID, there a number of areas which are still closed as they are not able to be COVID secure. This includes the Maze, 20th Century Garden & Chapel Court. Inside the palace, you are also not able to access the Mantegna & Cumberland Art Galleries.
In addition, on my visit, some of the gardens (such as the Kitchen Garden) have suffered some uncharacteristic neglect over recent months.
As a result of COVID the full gardening team have not been active since April. I wouldn’t have noticed as I felt they were beautiful but if you look closely, you may find a few weeds.”
However, in the upcoming months, there are plenty of reasons to add a Hampton Court day trip to your pre-Christmas plans. For example, it would be a spectacular location to don your skates & show off your prowess/falling skills at the ice rink. It is open now for bookings between 19th November & 3rd January. Book your tickets HERE. Also, they have an upcoming Festive Fayre, 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.
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!
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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