|Rear wing of Hampton Court palace with formal gardens|
With my parents visiting and the summery weather, we've had a good excuse to visit London and south-east England attractions. Some of our outings have been free and local and others more adventurous - a key highlight being a visit to Hampton Court Palace last week.
|Front courtyard entry to Hampton Court Palace|
I've wanted to visit Hampton Court since we moved to the UK in mid-2014. Consequently, I was very excited to finally get there. As some readers may remember, I am a big fan of historical fiction and Tudor-period history in particular. To see where so much of that history took place was both surreal and inspiring. However, even if you aren't already a fan of Tudor history I suspect that Hampton Court would impress. The palace is huge and its architecture inspiring, whilst the gardens are expansive and beautifully designed.
For those of you not familiar with Hampton Court, the current buildings started with Thomas Wolsey, who began work in 1515 to transform a pre-existing private house into a grand palace. Wolsey, of course, rose under King Henry VIII's favour to become Lord Chancellor of England and he held considerable status in the 1520s. He lost his favoured position when he couldn't facilitate a royal divorce, and as part of this fall ceded Hampton Court Palace to King Henry VIII.
|King Henry VIII's rooms|
The King made it even larger and more ornate, and it remained one of his favoured residences until his death in 1547. It then served as a palace for his children through to the end of Queen Elizabeth I's reign in 1603. One of the highlights for me was seeing the royal chapel (photography wasn't allowed) and standing in the private box where Henry VIII and then his children would have prayed. It was an amazing feeling to know you stood where they stood, with hardly any changes to the space since their eras.
|One of many grand bedrooms|
After Elizabeth I's death the palace passed through successive ruling royals and underwent additional expansions and adaptations. As a result, the complex has different components, with newer wings added to the original Tudor buildings. The picture below goes some way to showing just how sprawling it is, but it's hard to do justice to the size and grandeur of the overall area.
|The sprawling palace seen from the rose gardens|
|King Henry VIII's kitchens|
There is as much to see outside the palace as within it. The gardens move through distinct zones, some formal and others less so, with plenty of garden rooms and varying flower selections.
There is also a maze, adventure playground for children, and ample open space for picnicking. Like many London spaces, outdoor films are also shown in summer and I think that would be a very enjoyable way to soak up the atmosphere.
|King Henry VIII in shrub form|
We didn't picnic on our visit but instead ate lunch at the main cafe for the complex. I was pleased to find a vegan-friendly hummus and roast vegetable baguette, and there was also a hot meal option of a jacket potato with vegetable ratatouille. The baguette wasn't as good as some I've had, but very edible and I continue to be delighted by how many places now cater to vegans (although they may not advertise themselves as such, as here).
The two downsides of Hampton Court are the cost of entry and it being a little out of the way to get to. From our Kent home it was an easy 1 hour drive, but from central London it would be a more congested hour by car or a similar time by train. You can also take a boat down the Thames, which would be touristy but fun. Price wise, entry to the entire complex is £19 for an adult or £21 with the recommended but voluntary donation. I will say, whilst hefty, this fee did seem worthwhile when we finished. Our visit lasted more than 5 hours and I thought the amount to see and do justified the price.
You may not be in a position to visit Hampton Court in the near future, but I certainly recommend it if you have the opportunity!
Hampton Court Palace and Gardens are managed by Historic Royal Palaces and visitor information is summarised at http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace .
Have you enjoyed any outings lately?