Travel from central London to Hampton Court can be accomplished in 3-4 hours via boat or in 30-40 minutes via train. While the boat trip would have been scenic, as well as the method of travel used when the first palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey (chief minister to Henry VIII) around 1514, we always opt for the shorter train trip. This gives us a full day to enjoy the large palace and extensive grounds. If you are visiting Hampton Court Palace for the first time, I heartily recommend planning to spend a full day, including a lunch or dinner at one of the on-site venues.
The palace comprises the original Tudor structure, enlarged by Henry VIII after the property passed to him, and extensive additions in the Baroque style commissioned by William III of Orange.
Starting with the grounds, we strolled through the formal gardens which date from the time of William and Mary, visited the maze and wilderness garden, enjoyed watching the swans with their new goslings on the lake, walked through the hornbeam bower, admired the pond gardens near Banqueting House, and checked out the Great Vine — a remarkable grape vine planted in the 1700’s which now yields over 500 lbs of grapes each year.
Within the palace walls, we visited the Great Hall (where Shakespeare’s company performed), the richly appointed Chapel Royal, the Clock Courtyard, the Tudor-style garden in Chapel Court, the ancient oak spiral staircases, the royal apartments in both the Tudor and Baroque sections of the palace, and William’s Guard Hall and Dining Rooms. We also enjoyed viewing artwork from the Royal Collection, which included ceramics and furniture, as well as tapestries and paintings. In particular, the portraits of Henry VIII and his family painted by Hans Holbein and others, were interesting both historically and artistically.
The highlight of the interior palace for us was Henry’s Kitchens, replete with engaging actors in costume and food historians happy to share their knowledge. In these rooms, meals were prepared for banquets seating up to 600 in the Great Hall and for the approximately 1200 people who lived in the palace during the time of Henry VIII.