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See Inside Hampton Court Palace, Henry The VIII’s Castle

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Hampton Court Palace was once home to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry the 8th, William III of England, and many others. Below, you’ll find a review of the Hampton Court Palace tour I took and get a glimpse of what an incredible place this truly is. You’ll also find recommendations on how to get to Hampton Court Palace, how long to spend, and other useful tips you’ll need while inside Hampton Court Palace! Since 2006, I’ve wanted to visit Hampton Court Palace! I missed it yet again in 2013! But this year, on the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace, I finally made it!

The History of Hampton Court Palace

In the 13th century, Hampton Court Palace started as a manor for the Knights Hospitallers of St John Jerusalem. They eventually rented the property and land to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey on a 99-year lease. Starting in 1514, he began transforming it from a private house into a vast palace complex. His goal was to build a palace to impress the whole of Europe. And it worked! It was so opulent that it attracted the eye of King Henry VIII. Once Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favor in 1528, the Palace was Henry’s!

Hampton Court Palace

How to Get to Hampton Court Palace

Having gotten a discounted ticket to Hampton Court Palace from my YHA Oxford Street hostel, I was on my way! If you don’t have this option, you can get tickets online or at the Palace. I’d recommend getting Hampton Court Palace tickets online, though, as they state that you will always get the best price for the tickets when you book online.

A quick ride from the Waterloo train station to the Hampton Court train station, and I was there. It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get from London to Hampton Court Palace by train. The station is just across the road from Hampton Court, so it’s completely walkable and impossible to miss. Making it a great day trip from London. Brighton is a great seaside locale if you’re looking for another day trip idea!

Check the directions from wherever your accommodations are because the Waterloo start point may not be the easiest or quickest for you. I highly recommend City Mapper for live transportation information or the app for directions, as you can use it without Wi-Fi.

Hampton Court Palace’s Address: Hampton Ct Way, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9AU, United Kingdom

Tudor Reenactment, Hampton Court Palace Actors

Starting My Hampton Court Palace Tour

Walking up to Hampton Court Palace was simply magical; there are no other words for it. Maybe it was the fact that I’d waited so long to see it or that I’m a history nerd, but either way, it was simply breathtaking, so much so that I stood in the middle of the road staring at it till a truck honked at me to move over. Oops!

I arrived around 10:30 a.m. and was handed a guide to the palace and garden and a schedule of events on the Hampton Court Palace tour. Because it’s the 500th anniversary, they’ve really outdone themselves. Before visiting, check their schedule to see what’s happening on the days you’re there. There may be something special going on certain days!

Hampton Court Tudor Reenactment

On the schedule at around 11 a.m. was a Tudor Welcome time play or Tudor reenactment, which started below the great clock. Some fantastic actors came out in period clothing and performed as if it were still King Henry VIII’s era. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was giddy. I love this sort of thing! The actress portraying Anne Boleyn was my favorite of the group. Thankfully, my stored knowledge of Anne’s life from history class and the Tudors TV series kicked in. Spoiler: not everything depicted on the Tudors was true.

The Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace

From the courtyard, under the great clock, we followed them into the Great Hall, where one of the actresses asked me ‘if I’d heard the rumors’ (though she might have used the word whispers, I can’t recall now). I happily played along, though I only guessed it was about Henry and Anne.

We then proceeded into the wine cellar, where we were asked to keep quiet so we would not be heard by Anne and her ‘boyfriend’ (for lack of a better word), Henry Percy. Henry Percy is primarily remembered as the betrothed of Anne Boleyn, whom she was forced to give up before getting involved with King Henry VIII. As the scene unraveled, I came to realize it was the breakup scene—sad but marvelously performed.

Anne Boleyn and the Great Hall

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had several plans for Hampton Court Palace. Today, it is estimated that he spent £18 million to extend and improve the Palace. He upgraded it by adding…

Improvements Inside Hampton Court Palace and its Surrounding Grounds

  • Tennis courts
  • Bowling alleys
  • Pleasure gardens
  • Lead pipes to carry water to the palace
  • Paintings (by Renaissance artist Hans Holbein)
  • 1,100 acre hunting park
  • Kitchens (over 36,000 sq feet)
  • A chapel
  • The Great Hall
  • The Great House of Easement (lavatory system which could seat 28 people at once)

There are few remnants of Anne Boleyn’s reign at Hampton Court Palace. I took photos of two such examples above. The H and A entwined symbolized their union. The first image is over a passageway, and the second is inside Hampton Court Palace’s Great Hall. All others, to my knowledge, were erased when she was dethroned.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s Apartment

After the time plays finished, I wandered around some of the galleries. The Hampton Court tour has some fascinating art, like this piece below. I liked how the water was painted. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. From the gallery, I then found myself in Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s apartments. Some graffiti on his fireplace says,

‘Who tries it, knows it.’

I’m not quite sure what to make of that, though it gave me something to think about while I made my way through the rest of the gallery.

henry viii palace

Feel Like Royalty on the Hampton Court Palace Tour

One of the best things about Hampton Court is that it allows you to feel like you’re part of the palace. It allows you to take a walk in Tudor shoes, as it were, or, more correctly, take a seat in a royal chair. There were wooden thrones throughout the gallery, allowing you to take in what each notable resident felt during their time there.

Inside Hampton Court Palace, the audio guide went through lots of fascinating information and stories; it was genuinely lovely to sit and absorb. It just so happened that when I was going through this gallery, there was not another soul around. So, I took that as my cue to relax and let it sink in. What must it have been like in Tudor times? For Henry, Catherine, and Anne.

Taking a Sip at the Wine Fountain

If you watched the Tudors, you’d know about this Hampton Court Palace wine fountain. The motto…

“faicte bonne chere quy vouldra”

…meaning “let he who wishes make good cheer,” is carved on the gorgeous ornate fountain. The original was created in Henry the 8th’s time, and wine used to pour from it. Though the original is no longer in existence, in 2010, a working recreation of the famed wine fountain was unveiled.  

‘Inspired by the discovery of the remains of a 16th century conduit (or fountain) during a major archaeological dig at Hampton Court Palace in 2008, the new fountain’s design is based on detailed historic research into wine fountains that were commonly used during festivals and celebrations by Henry VIII (reigned 1509 – 1547).’ Red and chilled white wine run from this replica on weekends and bank holidays. Unfortunately, while I was there, they were not passing out wine from it (whomp whomp).

Henry VIII Apartments & Great Hall

Next on the Hampton Court Palace tour was the Henry VIII Apartments and Great Hall. Don’t let the name ‘apartments’ fool you. It looks nothing like my studio apartment in Los Angeles. Upon entering through the Great Hall, you begin the Hampton Court Palace Apartments tour. Again, if you watched Tudors or any Henry VIII-based movies, you’ve seen something like it. That or you can imagine a smaller version of the Hogwarts Great Hall, minus the floating candles. Even without the wizard magic or the King himself, the hall is magnificent.

I had been in the Hampton Court Palace Great Hall earlier for the time play, but this time, I got to look around and explore. The tapestries and stained glass are so ornate it’s mind-blowing.

Is the Great Watching Chamber Haunted?

Once you’re past the Great Hall, you’ll find the Great Watching Chamber next on the Hampton Court Palace tour. What’s extraordinary about this section is the ceiling work. The letter (a copy) that damned Catherine Howard to the executioner is here. Apparently, it’s the most haunted part of the palace as well. Catherine Howard’s ghost has been said to roam the halls. I overheard a Hampton Court Palace tour guide say that an unusual amount of people faint in this section of the Palace. I luckily escaped without doing so!

Inside Hampton Court Palace in the Great Watching Chamber is also where you’ll find the famous painting of Henry VIII. He must have been an extremely imposing man, especially with that renowned temper.

Hampton Court Palace Georgian

The Georgian Story Inside Hampton Court Palace

After the Great Hall and Apartments, the next part of the Hampton Court Palace tour was the Georgian Story. It’s very clear inside Hampton Court Palace that it is a palace of different eras. By the time William of Orange (aka William III of England) took the throne, the Palace had already gone through a few sets of hands, and the era of William and Mary began with modifications and rebuilding of the primarily Tudor palace created by Henry the 8th.

The coolest thing about the Georgian part of the tour was that you received a ‘smell map’ upon entering. Yep, that’s right! A scratch-and-sniff map! Whoever invented this thing is a genius! Each room had something to whiff. Among many other rooms and smells, the guard chamber had a wood-burning fireplace, while the drawing room smelled of herbs. I still have this map!

“Courtiers attending a Drawing Room would have been packed together in this room. To mask the unpleasant stench of too many unwashed bodies, strongly scented herbs such as wormwood, gerrymander, lavender and meadow-sweet were sprinkled on the floor.”

In one of the larger rooms inside Hampton Court Palace, lights changed colors on some of the dresses, which was a charming effect. It helped give visitors an idea of what court life may have looked like. I then continued into the private drawing room and took a whiff of royal hot chocolate. The smell of a bath followed it in the bathing room. You can even smell the royal toilet if you really, really want to.

Inside Hampton Court Palace

William of Orange’s Hampton Court

William III and his wife, Queen Mary of England, transferred to another part of the palace and created the ‘newer’ section. Upon entering, you see the ‘Victory of Alexander over the Caesars’ mural by Italian artist Verriog. The twelve Caesars represent the Catholic forces that William had ousted in the Glorious Revolution. William is, of course, the hero, Alexander.

The Guard Chamber

William of Orange’s state apartments and private rooms were railroad rooms, requiring a long walk from room to room. Inside his part of Hampton Court Palace, swords, guns, and all sorts of weaponry adorn the walls. If I recall correctly, they have to take it down every few years and clean everything. I do not envy whoever has that job!

The Presence Chamber

The Presence Chamber is the official throne room of William and Mary of England. The chair of the estate is under its formal canopy. In his time, visitors would have to bow to the throne as they passed, even if it was empty!

“The State Apartments look empty to modern eyes but they would once have been filled with beautifully dressed courtiers who would be meeting, gossiping and playing politics.” – Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Bedchamber and Little Bedroom

You’d think this was the King’s bedroom. However, it was not! It’s where the King was to be dressed in public. Next door, the Little Bedroom has a painted ceiling by Verrio. Its bedtime theme features Mars, the God of War, who lies snoozing in the arms of Venus, the Goddess of Love. Only the King’s most personal staff and close courtiers were allowed in here. I loved all the little details in these rooms, from the lighting fixtures to the door knobs.

William III’s Private Apartments and Office

I found his office quite small for what I thought would be fit for a King, though the view of the Hampton Court Palace gardens from there was beautiful. William of Orange spent most of his time here with his prized possessions and entertaining his favorite people.

I’d love a key like that to my apartment! Though I wonder how heavy it is.

You can see an image of the toilet as well. Lovely, isn’t it?

His private dining room is set as it would have been in 1700, towards the end of his life, with the famous Hampton Court Beauties paintings hung around the table.

Two or three more rooms, and then you exit back into Base Court near the Hampton Court clock.

chocolate kitchens

Visiting the Chocolate Kitchen

The chocolate kitchen at Hampton Court Palace was built for William and Mary of England around 1689. It mainly served the Georgian kings. George I even had his own chocolate maker, Thomas Tosier. This room is dedicated solely to making chocolate. I would be as big as Henry the 8th if I had my own chocolate kitchen. It was a big deal back in the day, too. It was expensive and prepared especially for the royals.

Chocolate was a luxury, more expensive than tea or coffee. Made with exotic spices and served in gold and silver chocolate pots. Then sipped from porcelain cups. Nearby to the chocolate kitchen were a Confectionary and a Spicery, making sweets and preparing and storing spices, respectively.

“After falling out of use, the Chocolate Kitchen lay hidden for years. The Chocolate Kitchen had been mentioned in many documents but its location remained a mystery until 2013 when one of our curators discovered an 18th-century inventory of the palace pinpointing its location. They were re-opened in February 2014, and are the only royal chocolate kitchens in Britain.” – Historic Royal Palaces

The Hampton Court Palace Tour of the Kitchen

You won’t believe just how big the kitchen is! However, when you think about it, they served hundreds of people when kings lived there. The high ceilings Inside Hampton Court Palace allowed the smoke to rise from the tremendous fires cooking meat on a spit turned by a servant. This Tudor kitchen would have been filled with workers scurrying around, making sure dinner was on time.

Banquets and feasts consisted of many courses, and each course had a variety of dishes brought out at the same time. People then could choose what they wanted to eat. Everyone drank ale during the Tudor period because the water was unhealthy. It wasn’t filtered like it is today, plus sewage and other marvels we take for granted weren’t the best back then. Ale at the time was brewed without hops and was not particularly alcoholic. Wine was also drunk, mostly brought over from Europe, but was sometimes produced in Southern English vineyards.

William III of England

Inside the Hampton Court Palace Gardens

The Hampton Court Palace Gardens were once the exclusive playground of kings and queens. From the Tudors through to the Victorians, they evolved along with the palace.

I was quite in a run by this time. The Hampton Court Palace website recommends at least 3 hours for your visit. I can usually get out under the recommended time. However, I wound up at the Palace for 4 hours and still had plenty yet to see! I could go back and spend another few hours! So I recommend at least 4 hours. More likely, five if you like to take your time or are really interested in the history of Hampton Court Palace!

The last thing I saw while visiting Hampton Court Palace was the gardens, but only quickly, so I’ll leave you with these shots.

Other Ways to See Hampton Court Palace

If you’d like to take the work out of seeing Hampton Court Palace on your own or are looking for exciting activities such as afternoon tea to add to a trip to Henry the VIII’s Castle, then I suggest Get Your Guide Tours as they offer many marvelous options. I love booking with them because if any issues arise, it’s easy to get a refund. Their tour operators are also affordable and reliable.

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