During long lockdown evenings last year, I got completely addicted to watching the Tudors – the drama series focussing on a nearly 40-year reign of Henry VIII. It was shortly after I passed my Life in the UK Test (as part of my application for British citizenship), and the Tudors history was as fresh in my mind as the rhyme that helped me remember the fate of each of Henry’s wives: “Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”.
All this inspired me to visit the court that witnessed so many stories of betrayal, deceit, fears, plots, broken hearts, and where the temperamental king spent a lot of his time. I bought a ticket to Hampton Court Palace as soon as the Covid restrictions eased and the Palace opened its gates to the public.
COSTS AND HOW TO BOOK YOUR VISIT
You can buy tickets for £25.30 (adult) or £12.60 (child) for a selected date and time here. A ticket includes entry to the palace, its courtyards, and the gardens. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this post, the famous Court Palace Maze (the UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze) is still closed to the public.
I booked my ticket for 10.30 on a Saturday, and it was a perfect time to start my self-guided tour. It wasn’t crowded at all, and there were many spaces I could explore in complete solitude. If you love photography too, you know what a luxury it is to take photos of famous sites without people around.
HOW TO GET THERE
I hopped on a train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court with my friend who was also curious to see the palace of the notorious English monarch. The train ticket cost £13.90 per person, and the entire journey took us half an hour (we hadn’t finished our Pret-A-Manger coffees by the time we reached our destination).
You can also take a bus to Hampton Court from Kingston but taking a train is definitely the easiest and the fastest way to get there.
Hampton Court railway station is located just a 5-minute walk from the palace. We didn’t queue long to get inside, and I found the staff extremely friendly whenever we needed their help to find our way around (if you have a good sense of direction and like using maps (as opposed to me :)) it should be very easy for you to orientate yourself in the maze of palace courtyards, corridors and apartments.
THE ROYAL GARDENS
You can explore the palace area in any order. There is no one route to follow. We started our visit with the royal gardens. If you are looking for a place that would inspire you and stir your romantic soul, this is the one! The gardens were tranquil at that time of the day. The idyllic fountains, beds of flowers, wall climbing plants, sculptures, and quirky looking trees made it a perfect oasis of calm.
If you want to treat yourself to something special, you can explore the gardens from a shire horse-drawn tram as well. Rides last about 15 minutes. You can purchase tickets from the carriage operator for £10 (for up to 3 people) or £20 (for up to 6 people). We haven’t done it, but I just loved watching the beautiful shire horses. Originally they were used as war horses carrying knights in heavy armour. There are only about 2000 of them left globally, so they are not easy to find. You need to come to Hampton Court to see them!
Following our visit to the royal gardens, we went to explore the palace courtyards. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the palace and some fun facts about life at the Tudor court, I would highly recommend the article here.
The palace buildings are built around three courtyards, Base Court, Clock Court, and Fountain Court. The first court we visited was the Base Court. During Tudor times whoever wanted to join Henry’s court would have to enter the Base Court first; that’s where court officials received guests.
One of the most interesting things to see there is a replica of a wine fountain. The original fountain was created during the reign of Henry VIII. It continuously spouted wine for the king’s courtiers. Historians believe that it was common for wine to run through public fountains during big celebrations.
Another interesting fact is that drinking alcohol was more common (and more healthy!) than drinking water (ha!). Getting the supply of fresh and clean water was extremely hard during Tudor times.
From the Base Court, we moved to the Clock Court. We were impressed by the beauty of the Astronomical Clock. It was installed in 1540 on the gatehouse to the inner court. It had a prominent central position in the palace and indicated the hour, the day and the month, the phases of the moon, the signs of the zodiac, the movement of the sun and even the time of high tide at London Bridge. The royal apartments faced the clock. Apart from the king, only the most important visitors were able to see it.
Last but not least, we went to see the Fountain Court. It looks very different from the other two courts. It was built as a cloister around the central lawn with a pool and fountain. You can take great perspective photos there.
THE GRAND STAIRCASE
I found the Grand Staircase leading to William III’s State Apartments so stunning that I returned to it more than once to take a better look at the walls (painted by Italian artist Antonio Verrio) and the ornamental balustrade (designed by the ironsmith Jean Tijou). Candle light illuminating the walls certainly added to this place’s charm.
THE GREAT HALL
The Great Hall, situated at the very centre of the Palace, is England’s greatest medieval hall. It really makes you feel as if you stepped back in time. It was designed to impress and it does! It often served as a dining room for servants and the lower-ranking members of the royal household but also for festivals and ceremonies (courtiers loved music, dances, masques, plays and poetry!).
During our visit, we learnt some fun and mind-blowing facts about dining in Tudor times. Can you imagine that the court drank 600,000 gallons of beer and 300 barrels of wine?! No wonder they consumed 4,500-5000 calories a day. Probably elaborate edible sculptures made from sweetmeats that they loved so much contributed to the calory count as well. Hmmm, I have a sweet tooth, so I can’t really blame them 🙂
Beautiful tapestries hanging on the walls, and a hammer-beam ceiling make the hall look truly spectacular. If you have an eagle eye you can even spot Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge featured in the roof.
HENRY VIII’s KITCHENS
We really enjoyed walking along the narrow arched passages leading to the Tudors Kitchens.
Although the Kitchens were definitely not an exciting place for Henry’s cooks (imagine sweating over the cauldrons all day to produce 800 meals a day), it is definitely an exciting place to see for a modern visitor.
ROYAL KITCHEN GARDEN
We finished our tour in the Kitchen Garden with a relaxing stroll along the garden paths. It’s a restoration of a garden that was originally built by William III and Mary II. The garden produces different crops all year long.
Our visit took 4 hours. We didn’t rush and often paused to take photos. If you don’t necessarily need to spend too much time taking pictures and shooting videos (like me on the Grand Staircase 🙂 you can probably explore the whole palace and its gardens in less than 3 hours. You might even find some time to visit the nearby Bushy Park (the second largest of London’s Royal Parks) to see deers roaming freely just as they did during Henry’s reign. Hampton Court has so much to offer!
If you have been to Hampton Court already, let me know your impressions!