I fell in love with Hampton Court Palace as a child and have never tired of its beauty and its past. I’ve had my head in history books for as long as I can remember. I still have my childhood book of the British Kings and Queens that I used to know word for word. I’ve realised that my son isn’t quite the bookworm that I am, and he enjoys more hands on experiences. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that history is boring, and that’s a big part of why we are often out exploring new places. It brings history alive for him and is so much more relatable. As soon as I heard he’d be learning about the Tudors this term in Year Three as part of the lower Key Stage Two curriculum, I had a smile on my face. I knew exactly how I could engage my son at home, to help him with his school work. We spent last Sunday exploring Hampton Court Palace, seeing how Henry VIII lived and he loved every single minute of our trip.
Hampton Court Palace sits next to the River Thames, on the edge of East Molesey, and is one of the Historical Royal Palaces. The original building dates from the early 1500’s and became home to Henry VIII in 1529. The Palace was remodelled by William III in the late 1600’s and was last lived in by a Monarch when George II resided there.
I knew we’d need a full day exploring Hampton Court Palace, so we arrived just as the gates were opening and parked within the on-site car park (chargeable at £1.60 an hour, payable as you leave. Card payments are accepted as well as coins).
There are a number of different way to explore the Palace with children. The free audio guide offers a three section audio guide to the Palace, is is shorter than the standard tour. The family tour covers the Henry III’s apartments, Henry VIII’s kitchens and William III’s apartments, leaving you to explore the rest of the palace at will. You can take up a number of different missions with the free Time Explorers app (available on iTunes and Google Play). We also found a few activity booklets for children to complete. All making exploring Hampton Court Palace a very family friendly activity. I’d downloaded the app and a few of the missions the night before our visit, thinking that my 7 year old son might not enjoy the audio tour. How wrong was I. He was totally enthralled with the audio tour, hand-held rather than earphones, and really took in everything that he was hearing. So in the end we didn’t use the app at all, but I did see other families completing missions as we walked round. I did like the idea of different ways for children to interact with the history around them and it worked very well.
I’ve always loved exploring Hampton Court Palace, and it’s been lovely to revisit and look at things anew through my 7 year old son’ eyes. There’s so much to talk about before you even begin walking round the different rooms. There are wonderful animals greeting you as you enter the Palace, and so many details on the stonework and chimneys to enjoy.
My son is used to me reminding him to always look up when we’re visiting places, and you would miss so many details if you didn’t follow that rule when exploring Hampton Court Palace. The stonework throughout the Palace is just wonderful.
As we walked into the Base Court we tried to imagine who would have lived in the Palace at the time of the Tudors, and who would have got to lodge in the rooms around us.
We also got to meet a few of the locals who’d clearly been enjoying the Wine Fountain a little too much. It’s a reconstruction, and apparently back in Henry VIII’s day it used to flow with wine.
Walking through to Clock Court we were entering the more regal part of the Palace, where the Tudor family would have had their apartments. Here you can look up at the Tudor Astronomical Clock which dates back to 1540 and admire the facade of the Great Hall which Henry VIII had built between 1532-35.
We started our audio tour of Hampton Court Palace in Henry VIII’s kitchens which he had vastly extended in 1529. My son was enthralled by both the audio guide and by the scale of the rooms. He’d seem kitchens in stately homes and castles before, but nothing to quite match the size of those at Hampton Court Palace. We talked about bread being prepared in the bread ovens, food cooked in pots over burners and of course the huge spit for the meat. We tried to imagine what it would have been like to have worked there, the noise of deliveries arriving through the yard, and the heat as meals were prepared. We did spot a few characters throughout our time at the Palace, my son isn’t quite sure about people in costumes so we never got to listen to them talking, but it did add to the atmosphere as we wandered around.
It was so lovely to see my son really listening to the audio tours, and it meant that we all got to enjoy each room in turn, and didn’t have to whizz around keeping up with him. He’s growing up and was certainly interested in what was being said.
We followed the audio tour as we wandered through Henry VIII’s apartments and walked in the footsteps of his six wives and three children. The increasing opulence of each room as we got closer to his inner sanctum.
We’d visited the National Portrait Gallery in the summer holidays and I walked my son through the various Tudor monarchs and it was great to see him recognising their faces as we walked through the apartments looking at the portraits hanging there.
We also talked about each of his queens and the fate that befell each in turn. I truly believe that children learn so much better when they are seeing history close up, rather than from a book, or in this day and age, by googling the life out of the laptop. We used the paintings to talk about the clothes that the Tudors wore, the headdresses and even the fact that the kings wore tights.
I can remember being totally mesmerised by the Great Hall as a child, and it still has the same effect today. It is quite simply stunning and my son totally agreed. Just beautiful.
If you time your visit to the Apartments right you will also get to see the replica of Henry VIII crown (the original and all the crown jewels before it, were destroyed by the Parliamentarians after the English Civil War) and the Chapel Royal. One of the main things we wanted to see on our visit was the crown, and when I realised we hadn’t seen it on our first walk through I was rather perplexed. All became clear when I asked a member of staff as the doorway to view it and the chapel only opens at 12.30. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the crown or the Chapel Royal but they are both worth a visit. In fact, we couldn’t leave at the end of the day without purchasing a postcard of the crown. It was my son’s highlight of the whole day.
Young Henry VIII’s Story is also well worth a visit. It follows the king’s story from his early days, through the eyes of his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Thomas Wolsey and Henry himself.
From the Tudors we moved on to the apartments of William III and Queen Mary II and continued my son’s history lesson. Even though our prime reason for exploring Hampton Court Palace was to bring the Tudors alive for my son, we couldn’t not visit the rest of the palace.
These rooms are also covered by the family audio guide and includes the rather splendid King’s Staircase, Privy Chamber and the Orangery, as well as Fountain Court.
The Georgian Story doesn’t have an audio guide but you walk through the various rooms with information sewn onto paper costumes. It’s really rather beautiful and so different. Apparently in the Georgian period it was all the rage to have elaborate paper table decorations and some replicas are on display in the Dining Room.
There were times when we found the free map a little confusing, but the staff were very approachable and eager to help point us in the right direction and offer recommendations.
Exploring Hampton Court Palace isn’t just about the Palace itself as there’s so much outside space to enjoy, from the formal gardens through to the Maze and Magic Garden. We got to enjoy them all during our day out.
The Great Fountain Garden is the one I remember most from my childhood, running in and out of the trees and around the fountain which dates back to the 1700’s.
To the right of the Great Fountain Garden you walk through to the Privy Garden, which is looking rather wonderful at this time of year. This garden has been restored to the style and design from the reign of William III, and I think it provides a wonderful backdrop to the Palace.
To the side of the Privy Garden we found the Hornbeam Bower, which fascinated my son and provided a good running tunnel.
We walked from the bower past the Knot Garden to the Pond Garden and down to see the Great Vine which was planted in 1768, full of Black Hamburg grapes.
Something else that I can remember being fascinated about as we were exploring Hampton Court Palace was the Royal Tennis Court. It’s only open during the summer months so I was really pleased that I got the chance to show my son a Real Tennis Court which dates back to Cardinal Wolsey and the 1520’s. I’ve no idea of the rules but we did get to watch a bit of a match taking place.
We didn’t get to explore the 20th Century Garden as it was closed when we visited but my son was very excited when I told him that Hampton Court Palace has a Maze. I seem to remember entering the maze through a metal revolving gateway, but if that memory was correct, the gateway is long gone. The Hampton Court Maze dates back to the late 1600’s, it’s smaller than the lies of Blenheim Palace, but still enjoyable. One happy little boy was pleased to have conquered another one.
I’d heard great things about the latest edition to Hampton Court Palace and we ended our visit in the Magic Garden which was opened in 2016. It’s a real treat for children, with opportunities to climb, slide, play in the sand and with water. I can imagine on a hot summer’s day it would be heaving, and even on a rather dull September day it was popular with children of all ages. My son loved every aspect of it.
We had lunch in the Privy Kitchen Cafe as its conveniently located between the Tudor and Georgian parts of the Palace. My ever fussy son opted for a tuna baguette whilst the grown ups went for good old pie and mash, I’m not a mushy pea fan so gave those a miss. Close to the Maze you can find the Tiltyard Cafe which offers lunches, sandwiches, cakes and drinks. We can confirm that the scones with jam and cream are lovely and my son devoured the Victoria Sponge cake. In hindsight I think this Cafe would have worked better for my son for lunch, but we’ll remember that for next time. There’s also a kiosk in the Magic Garden where my husband purchased drinks from.
We arrived for our day exploring Hampton Court Palace, and left around 3.30pm and we probably would have stayed later but I wanted to show my son where my Dad had grown up in Thames Ditton, before the journey home. For me, I think it’s a good full day out. We didn’t get to walk by the Thames, explore the Cumberland and Mantegna Galleries or take a ride through the gardens on the horse drawn wagon. We will definitely be back. I’ve loved Hampton Court Palace for well over 40 years and both my husband and son came away agreeing that it’s somewhere rather special.
Hampton Court Palace is part of the Historic Royal Palaces group and you can find details on pricing for each Palace on their website. You can also buy a Membership card which gives you access to all five sites – Hampton Court Palace, Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle. I’d certainly recommend this option if you plan to visit more than one of these Palaces in a year.
We’ll be continuing our historical journey as I try to bring history alive for my son, with a visit to the Tower of London soon.
Have you been to Hampton Court Palace? I’d love to know what was your favourite part if you have. If not, why not pin this post for later.