Hampton Court Palace is high on the list of must-see spots on a trip to London, especially for history buffs. While no member of the royal family has occupied the palace since the 18th century, visitors feel a sense of living history in details right down to the massive working kitchen dating from 1530, in the Tudor era.
Getting to Hampton Court
Located just nine miles from Kensington Palace, Hampton Court is easy to reach by tube, train, bus, car or river boat. When I visited, I took the 267 bus from Hammersmith Broadway, which stops at the palace on summer Sundays from May to August.
The Legacy of Henry VIII
Of the eight monarchs to live at Hampton Court, it is Henry VIII that we most associate with the palace originally intended for his top minister, Cardinal Wolsey, before Henry turned against him. Come along to Hampton Court to learn more about how the young Henry changed from a sporty, musical lad to a handsome pin-up prince and eventually to a rotund and grumpy old man.
Stories brought to life
In addition to tales of the feasts prepared for 600 people twice a day in the Tudor kitchens, other Hampton Court stories abound. Guides can explain Charles I's ill-fated 1647 prison escape, how Catherine Howard was accused of adultery and executed, and the unique joint monarchy of William and Mary. Allegedly, ghosts haunt Hampton Court and their voices can be heard in the whirring of a spinning wheel. The palace also boats the oldest surviving garden maze in the U.K., and you can still enter and get lost.
The palace certainly has its share of dark stories. It was here in 1541, for example, that Henry was advised that his latest wife, Catherine Howard, was accused of unchaste behavior. She subsequently took her unfortunate place in the "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced beheaded, survived" lineup of Henry's marriages.
The Royal Chapel and Organ
Some visitors come especially for the beauty of the vibrant Tudor ceiling at the palace's Royal Chapel, which has been in continuous use for 450 years. Visitors may join a service on Sundays, including Holy Communion at 8:30 a.m., Choral Matins at 11:00 a.m. and Choral Evensong at 3:30 p.m.
Price of Admission
Book online for tickets to Hampton Court Palace and Gardens and your tickets will be about 17 percent cheaper than at the door: £14.40 ($22.50) for adults, with a 50 percent discount for children ages 5-16. Children under 5 get in free. There is also a discount for full-time students and those over 60, with an ID. There is also a family ticket option for up to two adults and six children priced at £36.50 ($57).
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Top: Tourists can chat with costumed characters, such as this scribe in the Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court Palace. (Photo: Britain on View/Visit Britain)