Hampton Court Palace is most famously known for being one of the favourite palaces to King Henry VIII.
With its red bricks, towering chimneys, and palatial gardens, it is a testament to the legacy and the power of one of history’s most notorious royal monarchs.
Like a few of the places that I have mentioned in previous blog posts, Hampton Court is somewhere I have been before as a child but haven’t been back in more recent years. Looking back to my childhood visit, I can remember it being oddly empty. I don’t know if that was anything to do with the fire in the 90’s but I just remember all the rooms having next to nothing in them and finding the whole place a bit boring considering its colourful past. Needless to say, times have changed and with tickets being half price for January, we decided to give it a go.
The journey itself was relatively easy and fairly accessible with the pram. We made our way to Waterloo station which has lifts from the underground and on to the South Western train to get to Hampton Court. You were, at one time, able to arrive by boat on the Thames from the city but I don’t know if that is still a thing.
Once we collected our tickets, maps and guidebooks (they do children’s guidebooks as well) we headed to the buggy park and family room that’s in the Clock Court. Before reaching it we stopped to look at a massive fountain that’s not currently in use. Around the fountain and courtyard are wooden mannequin figures lounging around for photo ops…this is because the fountain spouts wine and not water. The Toddler found them hilarious (as did we) and was quick to pose for photos with ‘the lady that’s got tea’. As an avid tea drinker, I hoped the toddler didn’t think I looked like that after I have mainlined several cuppas.
Even though the palace is accessible, we decided to park the pram and get The Toddler out walking with The Baby in the sling. There is enough space for you to wheel a pram about but there are a few cobbles and uneven bits so we felt it was easier to walk. The buggy park in located through a small door on the far side of the Clock Court. It has plenty of space for you to park up your pram and whole load of lockers for you to use. There is a room just through where the buggy park called The Family Room. Inside there are treasure chests full of dressing up clothes, a table with books, comfy armchairs for grown ups, and a small selection of soft play equipment. Hampton Court hosts family and early years events which you can see listed on their website so I assume that they may use the family room for them as well.
After managing to
bribe persuade The Toddler to leave the soft play for later, we headed off to explore. The palace does provide audio guides if you want them and kids can dress up in Tudor cloaks when you pickup your guide handset. We decided to forego those options as The Toddler hates dressing up and won’t let us hold still enough to listen to a guide. Anyways, I won’t bore you with the specifics of Hampton Court as there is a lot to see and I am sure you will probably have a good idea of what’s there.
I will give special mention to a few things though, one being the great kitchens of Henry’s palace. He was a man who liked to eat and entertain so if you are going to put on a lavish feast then you are going to need a whacking great kitchen or two to get it all prepared. Hampton Court has gone down the ‘living history’ route and the kitchens are used today for demonstrations, on historical documentaries, and are all laid out with an abundance of real and pretend food to give you an idea just how much this place could feed. The Toddler was pretty excited to see row upon row of pies puddings and wanted to make cupcakes too. The fire in the main kitchen was well under way much to the relief of many of us who were feeling the cold just a bit of being in a brick building without mod cons like heating. The Toddler found it exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
Other notable mentions go to the William and Mary apartments that really show you how quickly things changed style since Henry made his mark on the palace and also made me feel really jealous that I didn’t have as many separate bedrooms just for me. I am lucky if I get to go to loo on my own some days.
Beyond that is a dedicated exhibit on the history of Henry’s reign, and then the king’s own chambers and banquet hall. The Toddler fell asleep by this point but if you want true Tudor glory, it is all there in bucket loads including a really interesting display of modern portraits of the infamous wives and their stories.
Another beautiful part of the palace that really is worth visiting is the Chapel Royal. It is still a place of worship but it is a small but mighty display of original architecture which looks even more regal than some of the king’s own rooms. On the King’s balcony in the chapel is a replica of the Tudor crown made by the royal jeweller which is impressive in itself.
I am sure you are getting the gist that there is a lot to see and if you follow the blog, we all are partial to on site cafes (especially the tea and cake side of things), so we decided to go in search of lunch. There are 3 cafes spread over the site but we chose the Tiltyard cafe by the Maze. It wasn’t too busy, clean, and reasonably priced. They do the usual hot and cold food, sandwiches etc. All perfectly nice. We chose to eat here as they mentioned online about The Very Hungry Caterpillar themed lunch bags for children and Caterpillar themed children’s dining area. The lunch bag went down well with The Toddler but the dining area literally was a children’s table with some books and there was another family eating there so it wasn’t really anything to write home about.
Whilst we are on the subject, the Tiltyard cafes in the same area as the Maze and The Magic Garden. The Magic Garden was closed for the season on our visit but reopens in April. From pictures I have seen and word of mouth it looks fantastic and is an area for children to play and discover themed around Tudor tales. We didn’t do the Maze as it was literally freezing when we visited. We did manage a short walk of the gardens where all the water features were still blocks of ice by the afternoon. I think we were all making our excuses to go back and find the great fire in the kitchen to stop us from turning into blocks of ice!
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and it was nice to see that it has a lot more on display than on previous visits. There is a lot to see and do at the palace so it worth giving yourself a full day for your visit. The buggy park area is an excellent facility if you intend on staying all day as there is a fair bit of walking so having a locker and space for all your added extras is always welcome. As for the facilities in general, there are toilets and baby change areas dotted around the palace, and a few of the rooms and corridors lead off into a randomly place gift shop which is hard to stop the toddler from trying to touch everything or begging for sweets. The Baby changes in the two places we used were in the women’s toilets and not in a separate unisex area. I don’t know if the men’s had a changing area too but The Husband wasn’t sure if there was one. They also weren’t fold down or specifically made changing tables but rather a countertop so not hugely comfortable if you don’t have a changing mat with you. There was only one changing space in both the toilets we used on one occasion we got stuck waiting behind someone who had laid out all of their lotions, potions, and the kitchen sink to change their baby (I remember those days with our first, maybe not to that level but my yummy mummy changing bag was well stocked and organised in the early days…) Also if you have a toddler who is scared of hand dryers like mine, it isn’t easy to get them changed and sorted when you can’t stop the fact people need to dry their hands. Him crying and calling me ‘not nice mummy doesn’t help either. A plus though if you have fully potty trained kids is that they have small toilet seats that fit over the main seat built in so at least that is something useful.
I can’t complain truly though. The very fact they have Baby changing facilities and cater for families is always a bonus especially in a heritage building where there are going to be limitations, are always a bonus. Some places I have been to don’t even have space on the toilet floor to chuck down a mat on to for a quick change. We cope somehow. Parenting makes you very resourceful at times!
We would definitely like to go back in the warmer months to check out the Magic Garden and Maze next time. Please check online for opening times and prices. Under 5’s go free.