Part of the six Historic Royal Palaces, Hampton Court has been a favourite of the Tudors ever since cardinal Thomas Wolsey began construction over 500 years ago. Situated on a prime location by the river Thames, it was transformed from a simple country house to a majestic palace. The cardinal invested huge amounts of money to fulfil his dream of being the host for monarchs of the world. It ended up being a such a huge success that king Henry VIII eventually kept it for himself.
Today the palace it’s open to public and millions come every year to experience a part of British history. From central London hop in a Southern Railway train to Hampton Court station. There is good connection with Victoria line at Vauxhall or Jubilee at Waterloo. The castle is in fare zone 6 so use of the Oyster card is possible and the journey takes around 40 minutes. If you’re driving, there is parking available at £1.6/h. A sunny day is highly recommended to fully enjoy the beauty of the gardens and a minimum 3 hours for the visit. There are more visitors in the weekend and queuing is not unusual.
Once arrived at the train station, follow the signs, or the crowds. Keep straight after the exit, and turn right after the bridge to reach the main gate. I recommend buying the tickets online to skip queuing twice. Don’t forget to pick up an audio guide and a castle map. The castle has several entrances and inner courts as well as two big gardens. If you are tight on time, starting clockwise with Henry VIII’s apartments and finishing with the Privy Garden will allow you to see the most important part of the castle. If you have enough time, move on to the Est Front Gardens, the Orangery and Rose Gardens and to The Great Vine. Come back to the Base Court through Mantegna Gallery and into the Kitchens. If you still have time on your hands or after the palace has closed, stroll around the gardens outside the main entrance. If you are travelling with kinds and want to see the Maze and Magic Gardens, be aware that they close at 17.00 and there is an extra charge for the first one if you haven’t bought the palace ticket.
For £21.30 one can experience the tumultuous life of The Tudors, in particular Henry VIII. Here the King would spend most of its time living a lavish life. Expensive art collection, banquets and extravagant court life were intended to impress the world’s monarchs. Today, rooms like the Great Hall show the great skill of 16th century carpenters. Abraham Tapestries woven with wool, gold and silver hanging on its walls were estimated at over £8000 in 1649 and till today remain the most valuable items in the Royal Collection. Later on, after the king’s death, William III and Mary II had a significant impact on the palace. A new baroque style gardens were created – The Fountain Garden and Privy Garden. The original plan to demolish the palace was abandoned but new rooms were added in a desperate attempt to rival Versailles. In 1714 when George I took over, he commissioned new rooms for his son and wife. In his final phase as a royal residence, Caroline, George II’s wife added her imprint over the palace. A roman style staircase today knows as the Queen’s Stairs. Starting with year 1737 the Hampton Court was filled with favour residents and the practice continued till 1960’s. Today, only a few remain.
The Great Vine
The largest grape vine in the world, is now 251 years old and was planted in 1768 for King George III by Lancelot Brown. It produces Black Hamburg crop used for dessert rather than wine making. Today it has 4 meters around the base and longest rod measures 36.5 meters. It once held the World Guinness Record.
Also at Hampton Court you can see the oldest hedge maze. Commissioned in 1690 – 1700 by King William III has a total path length of 800m. It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the centre. The entrance is included in the palace ticket. Alternatively you can purchase a separate ticket if you came just for the maze.
Overall the palace is definitely worth the visit and its proximity to London makes it a great half a day choice for visitor and locals alike. Take the bus to Kingston upon Thames and stop for lunch/dinner on the way back to the city. If your time in the city is short, then perhaps consider Tower of London instead.