Travel Muse

A visit to Hampton Court Palace, the Home of Henry VIII

Katy Leverett gives readers a whistle-stop tour of some of the highlights of visiting Hampton Court Palace.

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Image Credit: Katy Leverett

Located just outside London, near Kingston-Upon-Thames, Hampton Court Palace is one of many royal residences across the country. The palace is a wonderful example of Tudor, as well as Stuart and Georgian, decadence, attracting almost one million visitors per year according to a survey by Historic Royal Palaces. For anyone interested in the Early Modern period, Hampton Court is the place to visit, its most famous resident being the notorious Henry VIII.

What makes Hampton Court particularly unique is its architecture. After the Tudor period, the Stuarts and Georgians demolished most of the original Tudor palace and built their own apartments. This has created almost two different palaces: from the entrance you see the original Tudor architecture and from the back you see regal Georgian stonework. Both parts are beautiful in their own way and show how architecture has developed throughout time.

Hampton Court is in the middle of the town of Molesey and there are plenty of cafes and shops around so before our visit to the palace we took the opportunity to have some breakfast as we’d arrived early. We found a café about five minutes away and had the ‘Hampton Court Eggs’ – poached eggs served with Parma ham, toast, and a slice of melon. It was delicious and set us up nicely for a day exploring the place from which the breakfast got its name.

The good thing about arriving at a tourist attraction early is that for the first half of the day you have most of it to yourself. Hampton Court was no exception. Full on breakfast, we wandered through the main gates and were greeted by the Gothic style red brick walls of the Tudor part of the palace. We had almost the entirety of the entrance courtyard to ourselves. It was a great opportunity to absorb the setting and snap a few cute photos of the iconic building.

The palace is self-guided with the aid of audio guides. Once you’ve shown your tickets, pick up an audio guide and head straight to the Tudor kitchens which are nearest the entrance. During the Tudor period, over 800 meals were served from the kitchens each day to Henry VIII’s court by over 200members of staff. Walking through the original kitchens gave an incredible feel for the period. After the kitchens, with so many different areas to explore, it is difficult to decide what to do next. For us, having just been in the Tudor Kitchens, the logical decision was to visit Henry VIII’s apartments next. The famous Great Hall greeted us as we entered the apartments. The intricate details on the tapestries, high ceilings and stained glass windows were astounding and you could almost imagine the banquets that would have taken place there. We continued to follow the audio guide throughout the rooms – it is definitely worth paying close attention to the Great Watching Chamber and Haunted Gallery, as both have fascinating stories to tell. Don’t forget to get some photos!
After visiting Henry VIII’s apartments, make your way to the Georgian Story across the hall. The audio guide gives a brilliant history of the stunning Georgian architecture of the palace and its famous inhabitants.

By this time, you’ll probably be feeling hungry. There are plenty of cafes in the palace itself selling everything from pastries and cakes to a hot meal. However, at peak tourist times, they can become very busy, so if it is a sunny day, taking a picnic to enjoy in Hampton Court’s stunning gardens is definitely preferable.
Once you’ve re-fuelled, move on to William III’s apartments. Reminiscent of the baroque style, the audio guide takes visitors through a series of rooms. As we went through, the significance of the people that would have frequented each room increased. It was fascinating to walkthrough the rooms that denoted hierarchy in the court.

At this point, you’ll have covered most of the indoor areas. Make your way to the gardens next (if you haven’t already explored them after your picnic). Depending on how much time you have left, definitely opt for a walk around the Knot Garden (which you may have already spot-ted through the windows of William III’s apartments). The spiral trees and swirling lawns are stunning. However, the Fountain Garden is by far the largest, and in peak summer, horse cart rides are available around it for a small fee. They are a great, accessible way to view the gardens. If open, Henry VIII’s tennis courts are also a must-see! On your way out, if you’re anything like me, make sure to finish off your day with the mandatory gift shop visit and pick up some memorabilia.

Hampton Court is well-worth a visit for anyone interested in History. The tickets are not expensive and London is only a two hour train journey from York so could make for acute day trip. Hampton Court also hosts numerous events throughout the year, including their flower show and Christmas lights. So, even if History isn’t your thing there is still something for everyone.

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