Hampton Court is a magnificent historical palace in the southwest of London. Perhaps best known for its Tudor connections, the palace was the royal residence of Henry VIII and his entourage. Here’s a selection of things to do for families at the former royal palace.
The Thames connecting Hampton Court Palace
It’s not a coincidence that Hampton Court Palace was built right next to the Thames. The river Thames was London’s highway back in medieval times, and the royals much preferred travelling on the river which was both faster, cleaner and more comfortable than travelling on primitive gravel roads over land.
Many of the Tudor hotspots were therefore developed along the Thames, and if you follow the river from Hampton Court to Greenwich you’ll find the remnants of a number of Tudor piers serving royal palaces. Many of the palaces would have their own watergate, which was a very convenient way for the royals to step right off their boat and enter their palace.
Henry VIII had his own royal barges. These were the luxury yachts of the time and would serve him on his journeys up and down the Thames. Frequent stops along the river would be places like Greenwich Palace (where he was born), Tower of London, Whitehall Palace, Lambeth, Kew and Richmond upon Thames. His boats were maintained at the Royal Bargehouse, at Lambeth.
In our opinion, Hampton Court Palace is one of the best historical attractions in London. Here are some of the things our kids enjoyed the most:
- Henry VIII’s kitchens – you’ll get a real feel for life behind the scenes during tudor times
- The Magic Garden – we reviewed it as one of the best playgrounds in London
- The Maze – more than 300 years old this is the UK’s oldest hedge maze
- Home park – a vast ancient parkland landscape with herds of deer (outside the palace gates)
- The Great Hall – look for signs of Henry VIII’s wives
- Horse carriage rides – travel in style by taking a 15 minutes long ride with the horse-drawn tram
- William III’s State Apartments – walk up the grand staircase and experience royal grandeur
- Special events – check for special events like the spooky ghost trail during Halloween
Cardinal Wolsey developing Hampton Court Palace
It was Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey who took possession and developed Hampton Court. From 1514 he spent seven years building one of the most modern and impressive palaces of its time, including the Great Gatehouse which is the first thing you see when you arrive at Hampton Court today. Like many others, Wolsey would eventually fall from grace and handed Hampton Court over to Henry.
Expansion under Henry VIII
After Henry VIII took over Hampton Court, he quickly started expanding the complex of buildings. To no surprise, one of the first things he focused on was to build a vast new kitchen. The King was famously fond of good food – his weight was estimated to 400 pounds (181 kg) at the time of his death (based on measuring his armour).
After finishing the buildings he was able to accommodate as many as 1000 dinner guests and Hampton Court quickly became his preferred royal residence. From Henry’s renovations, the Great Kitchens and Great Hall survived pretty much intact through history and can be seen in all its glory visiting the palace today.
The Tudors coming to an end
Elizabeth I continued to enjoy Hampton Court like her father, but in the 17th century during the Stuarts, Hampton Court was regarded as old fashioned compared to the standards of the French Court. In 1689 William III and Mary II started an ambitious renovation project turning Hampton Court into a palace to rival Versailles. Work was halted in 1694 which left Hampton court with 2 distinct architectural styles, Tudor and Baroque.
Tudor things to see at Hampton Court Palace
Here are some of the things to pay attention to while exploring the Tudor history of Hampton Court Palace:
- The Great Gatehouse – the entrance to Hampton Court built by Henry VIII
- The Tudor kitchens serving Henry’s extravagant feasts at the palace
- The Great Hall at the heart of the palace designed to impress guests
- The pomegranate of Katherine of Aragon above the buttery door
- Jane Seymour’s badge of a crowned phoenix rising from flames in the Great Watching Chamber.
- Anne Boleyn’s heraldic beast, the falcon, in the high rafters of the Great Hall
- Hampton Court is the setting of the famous family portrait from 1545.
- Beautiful Tudor roses carved into a pair of remaining tower domes
- The griffin adorning the fireplace built by Wolsey for Katherine of Aragon
- Henry VIII’s bedroom leading onto his private study, library and jewel house.