I know I just recently posted about afternoon tea at Hampton Court Palace, but that post was more focused on the afternoon tea than the palace itself, and since I sort of have a No Palace Left Behind policy, I felt compelled to share a little more about this famous royal residence today.
First of all, I should tell you there is a TON of history here, but my parents are coming in town in a couple of days and I have so much to do to prepare for their arrival that today, in regards to sharing the historical side of the palace, you’re going to get the Cliff’s Notes of the Cliff’s Notes. I doubt anyone’s too disappointed, though. I just read that the average attention span of an adult is 8 seconds.* So using that tidbit of depressing information, hopefully I can capture your attention with pretty pictures instead.
*I really did read that statistic, but I have no idea whether it’s a valid one or not.
Henry VIII Apartments
Hampton Court Palace is actually two separate palaces in one – the first of which we explored was the Tudor Palace belonging to Henry VIII. As we walked through the entrance and made our way through Anne Boleyn’s Gateway (You are sentenced to execution by the King and your consolation prize is a hallway named after you!), the first thing we came to was King Henry VIII’s Apartments.
The Great Hall, the Royal Pew where you can see the King’s Crown, and the Chapel Royal are all rooms worth visiting in this section of the palace. The only place photography isn’t allowed is in the Chapel Royal which is a bummer since it’s the prettiest of them all, but hey, one room out of the whole palace isn’t bad.
So as I’m walking through Henry VIII’s Apartments, one thing stands out to me more than anything else – there are dining tables everywhere. I mean, I know these are recreations of the original rooms, but you have to assume whoever staged these rooms to look as they did in the 1500’s tried to keep it real, so did 16th century royals do nothing but eat? Also, that last photo above is of the Queen’s bathroom. Pretty swanky digs for the times, I think. Most of the castles we’ve seen from the same time period feature chamber pots, not the velvet-seated thrones they have in this place.
Hampton Court Palace Kitchens
After walking the same chambers King Henry and his doomed wives walked, we made our way over to the kitchens, which were only serving up plastic food for us lowly peasants. (Also, this ambiguous we I’ve been referring to is me and my friend Tina, who was kind enough to join me at Hampton Court Palace so I wouldn’t have to go alone!)
This is sort of weird, but I enjoyed walking through the kitchens more than I did the King’s apartments. I rarely bake and when I cook, the recipes are just difficult enough that they might cause trouble for a 3-year-old, but I’m an organized cook and no one does kitchen organization better than royalty. Beginning with food storage and going all the way down to the washing up, everything has its place. Spice room – check. Silverware room – check. Butchery, bakery, chocolate rooms – triple check. It makes my organization-obsessed brain so happy to see all of these rooms with their special designations and no overlap. My spices are all crammed onto the same shelf in the cabinet, and my veggies have to share the same cutting board as the meat. Sucks to be middle class sometimes.
William III Apartments
Next we headed over to the newer (by like a century, so still freaking old) Baroque Palace where we began our tour through William III’s Apartments. From the get-go, I liked these better than Henry VIII’s. Natural light, shameless decadence (starting with the King’s Staircase – wow!), and unique bits of personality in the decor, like the enormous collection of weapons on the walls, really make these royal living quarters stand out from the first ones we saw.
You want to talk about decadence – the King’s bedroom pictured above was not actually for sleeping. That was his room for getting dressed in. His actual bedroom was next door. So why the gigantic bed, then? I feel like these royals are like modern-day celebrities. They do things because they can. I don’t care if you have to tax the poor to do it – I must have 12-foot velvet curtains surrounding a bed I’m never going to sleep in!
Rooms not to miss in these apartments – the King’s Staircase, the Guard Chamber displaying the King’s vast collection of artillery, and the Orangery (the room above with the statues and the gorgeous windows looking out on the palace’s Privy Gardens).
Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Speaking of the gardens, don’t skip those. Even if it’s bloody cold outside like it was the day I went. I know, I know. Those storybook blue skies make it look warm, but it wasn’t! The gardens are beautiful even in winter and absolutely enormous – 60 acres, I think. I tried to make it through most of them (in heels no less!) and then got so tired that I couldn’t walk back (they don’t make a circle) and had to find a gardener willing to let me out of the palace the back way.
But before I exhausted myself so much that the 37-stop bus ride home actually sounded appealing, I got lost in the Palace Maze (which was fun for like 10 minutes and then just got frustrating), meandered through the Privy Garden and the gardens down by the water, and attempted a self-portrait in the Tiltyard Walls that was doomed from the start. Tina had already left, so I was on my own in the gardens when I found this stretch of vines growing on a super long archway. In the summer, I bet this looks spectacular, but in the winter, it’s just a bunch of brown twigs. Still, I had a shot in mind and I was determined to get it, even if it meant setting my 10-second timer and running like the dickens all the way down to the end, which it did. I tried this like a dozen times before I realized I was never going to make it to the end of the tunnel in 10 seconds in heels, so the above B&W photo is the closest I got to a decent photo. (Note to self: Practice speed work on next run.)
Given the palace’s distance from London, it really does tend to be an all-day affair. Including afternoon tea, I spent over four hours exploring the palace and gardens. Add the two-hour travel time round trip, and I only just made it back to London in time to cook dinner, which I wasn’t even hungry for because afternoon tea, enough said. Long travel times aside, our day out at Hampton Court Palace ended up being one of the most fun days I’ve had in London yet. And it is definitely the prettiest of the three historic royal palaces I’ve seen so far. (Although I hear Buckingham is hard to beat. I’ll have an opinion on that in August when the Queen takes her annual leave and lets all us common folk in for the day!)
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