Perhaps best known as a favorite palace of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace is one of England’s grandest palaces. Located a dozen miles southwest of London, Hampton Court Palace was extensively rebuilt, remodeled, and expanded during the late seventeenth-century reign of King William III. Highlights of a contemporary visit to Hampton Court Palace include its luscious gardens, historic chapel, imposing Great Hall, and the Cumberland Art Gallery, where selections from the Royal Collection hang.
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History of Hampton Court Palace
The popular London area attraction we recognize today as Hampton Court Palace was built in 1514 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop of York and foremost advisor for a time to King Henry VIII. When their relationship soured, Wolsey (shortly before his death) handed the property over to Henry VIII, who would greatly redesign the palace. Over the remaining decades of the sixteenth century, it became one of the Tudors’ favorite places to hold court.
The Stuarts would make frequent use of the palace throughout the 1600s, but the next great chapter of the Hampton Court Palace story would be written in the final decade of the seventeenth century, when King William III and Queen Mary II came to power. They would enlist Sir Christopher Wren to create an elaborate plan that would tear down significant portions of the existing palace and build in its place an even larger structure modelled after the Palace of Versailles. About half of this ambitious project was complete at the time these joint monarchs died and work was abandoned, leaving the remaining Hampton Court Palace a hybrid of two distinct eras of designs and styles. In the mid-nineteenth century, Queen Victoria would have the palace restored and opened to the public for tours.
Hampton Court Palace Highlights
The Great Hall is one of the most famous spaces you’ll encounter within this palatial home. King Henry VIII ordered his royal carpenters to begin building the Great Hall’s massive timber roof in 1533, and they created this majestic ceiling in the “hammerbeam style,” so as to resemble a medieval hall. Look closely and you’ll be able to see Anne Boleyn’s initials and coat of arms up there, too. All along the walls of the Great Hall hang a number of elaborately decorated tapestries, each one depicting a different scene from the life of Abraham as told in the Bible’s book of Genesis.
Another highlight of Hampton Court Palace is the suite of chambers known as King William III’s State Apartments. Each one of these half-dozen rooms has a different theme, and there are chambers here devoted to honoring William’s military exploits, displaying his art collection, and hosting his most honored guests, as well as a bedroom, dining room, and of course, the throne room.
Hampton Court Palace is known the world over for its incredible gardens. The grounds here include over 60 acres of formal gardens, set amidst some 750 acres of parkland, all situated snugly within a sharp curve of the nearby River Thames. Distinctive gardens of particular note here are the Hampton Court Palace Puzzle Maze, the world’s oldest surviving hedge maze; the Great Vine, a 250-year-old grape vine considered the world’s oldest of its kind; the Privy Garden, recently restored to appear as though it would have around the year 1700; and the Magic Garden, a modern children’s playground complete with slides, swings, fountains, bridges, and more.
More to See and Do at Hampton Court Palace
The expansive grounds of Hampton Court Palace contain a tremendous number of things to see and do. The following is a quick rundown of a few other Hampton Court Palace features that might be of interest to you.
•It took a lot of work to make an estate as regal as Hampton Court run, and nowhere is that labor made more visible today than within the walls of the palace’s enormous kitchens. It’s said that 200 different people worked in and around these spaces—whose fires burned some 1.3 million logs each year—preparing a whopping 800 meals every day for the royal family, members of their court, and the household’s servants. There was even an entire kitchen here devoted solely to preparing . . . chocolate.
•The Cumberland Art Gallery is a sumptuous space where visitors can enjoy a rotating selection of paintings curated from the Royal Collection. The gallery has been painstakingly restored to how it is believed to have appeared circa 1730, and guests may routinely see works on display by legendary artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.
•Hampton Court Palace’s Chapel Royal has been an active place of worship now for five centuries, and you won’t want to miss seeing it for yourself. Henry VIII had the chapel’s famous vaulted ceiling built during the 1530s, while Queen Anne had Sir Christopher Wren renovate the space during the first decade of the eighteenth century. You’ll even come across a replica of Henry VIII’s crown resting in the Royal Pew, right where the monarch would have sat.
•For those visitors wishing to enjoy a meal during their visit to Hampton Court Palace, there are several options. The Tiltyard Café is the attraction’s sit-down option; it sells a variety of deli sandwiches, soups, salads, pastries, and coffees. Two small kiosks—the Magic Garden Kiosk and the Wilderness Kiosk—sell drinks, snacks, and ice cream treats. Visitors are also welcome to picnic in the midst of the lovely Hampton Court Palace gardens.
•There’s so much to see and do at Hampton Court Palace that it can be a lot to process. That’s why it’s a great idea to take advantage of the attraction’s complimentary audio guide. These free handheld devices may be picked up at the admission desk, and are the perfect way to structure your visit while learning all about this remarkable site.
Why Hampton Court Palace Should Be on Your Must-See List
Hampton Court Palace is one of the British royal family’s signature estates, and while no monarch has called it home since the middle of the eighteenth century, the property remains rich in history and prestige. A visit here reveals a multitude of wonders—beautiful gardens, royal artifacts, regal chambers, and sites of tremendous historic importance—sure to enchant the entire family.