Located just two miles west of Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace is one of the British royal family’s most notable London properties. Famed as the birthplace of Queen Victoria and the official residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Kensington Palace today draws visitors from all over the world interested in exploring its elegant gardens, historic rooms, and fabulous art collection. A statue paying tribute to Princess Diana, standing within her beloved Sunken Gardens, is a major attraction, too.
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History of Kensington Palace
For all its modern glamor, Kensington Palace was considered a humble suburban home when it was built in 1605. Then known as Nottingham House, it rose to prominence some 85 years later when King William III and Queen Mary II purchased the property for use as a “convenient” country retreat (their other country retreat, Hampton Court Palace, sometimes striking them as too far away from central London). William and Mary made significant changes to the home, and often held lavish parties here, but Kensington Palace really came into its own as a royal property during the reign of King George I, who enlisted the services of the architect William Kent to enlarge and decorate the building.
Between the years 1760 and 1830 Kensington Palace fell out of favor, with not a single ruling monarch residing on its premises during this time. However, the future Queen Victoria was born here in 1819, and spent her childhood years on the grounds, a development which would restore Kensington Palace to the good graces of the royal family. Kensington Palace was where Prince Charles and Princess Diana lived and raised Princes William and Henry during the 1980s and 1990s, and today it remains the official residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Kensington Palace Highlights
Kensington Palace’s Jewel Room is one of the attraction’s showstopping exhibits. In this unforgettable first-floor space you’ll be able to come face to face with an array of Queen Victoria’s priceless jewelry, including emerald necklaces, earrings, brooches, and more. The star of the attraction, however, is Queen Victoria’s tiara. Commissioned for the Queen by her husband Prince Albert—who is said to have designed the piece himself—this tiara is encrusted with diamonds and emeralds, and was presented to her in 1845. Several other family tiaras rest nearby.
Any visitor to Kensington Palace will want to spend some time exploring the lovely gardens that surround the house. Anyone can stroll through the Kensington Palace Gardens—which are located adjacent to Hyde Park—free of charge, and it’s highly recommended you take advantage of this green oasis in the heart of lively London. Highlights of the Kensington Palace Gardens are the Sunken Garden, Cradle Walk, Formal Gardens, and the wildflower meadow situated to the southeast of the palace.
Another highlight of the Kensington Palace experience is Victoria: A Royal Childhood. This permanent exhibit charts the growth and development of Queen Victoria as a woman, monarch, and eventual royal icon in the actual historic rooms where she grew up. Visitors will see on display here such remarkable items as Victoria’s dollhouse, a scrapbook created by Victoria’s governess, and much, much more.
More to See and Do at Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace is an essential destination for many London visitors. Here are a few more things to look for during your visit.
*The King’s Staircase serves as the “grand entrance” to the King’s State Apartments at Kensington Palace. The walls surrounding the staircase (and the ceiling above) are adorned by an elaborate painting by William Kent, a sprawling piece that captures the many colorful characters who populated King George I’s royal court during the first couple decades of the eighteenth century.
*The King’s Gallery is the centerpiece of Kensington Palace’s State Apartments. Originally built for King William III, who met here with military advisors, the room was radically redone in 1725, when William Kent turned it into an art gallery. Kent’s seven large ceiling paintings depict scenes from the life of Ulysses, and today The King’s Gallery showcases artwork from the Royal Collection.
* A particular standout of the Kensington Palace grounds would have to be the Sunken Garden. Laid out in 1908 at the request of King Edward VII, the Sunken Garden features terraced lawns, ornamental flower beds, and a central pond. The Sunken Garden was so beloved by Princess Diana that in 2017, upon the occasion of what would have been her 60th birthday, a statue of her was dedicated here.
*There are two places to dine while visiting Kensington Palace. The Palace Café is a nice casual option; it sells sandwiches, pastries, snacks, ice cream, and a variety of hot drinks. For something more formal, seek out the Kensington Palace Pavilion and Tea Room, which is open for breakfast and lunch. For a truly memorable experience, consider partaking in afternoon tea service here.
*Kensington Palace also hosts special temporary exhibitions on occasion. A recent show, entitled Crown to Couture, proved quite popular. For more information on what time-sensitive exhibits might be available when you’re planning on visiting, check the Kensington Palace official website for more information.
Why Kensington Palace Should Be on Your Must-See List
Few monarchs loom as large in British history as Queen Victoria—who ruled the United Kingdom for a whopping 63 years—and few places meant as much to her as Kensington Palace. In more recent times, Kensington Palace was home to Princess Diana, and it’s currently the official residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales (Prince William and Kate Middleton). Kensington Palace has played an important role in royal life for over 300 years now, and given its prominent location near many of London’s other top tourist attractions, it’s well worth a visit.