Hoping to visit a royal palace on your London trip?
Hampton Court Palace was one of my family's favorite days during our week in London. There are lots of interesting things to see and learn for history lovers, and some pretty cool activities for children. Choose a day with pleasant weather if you can, because many of the best activities for families are outdoors.
Hampton Court Palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey in the early 1500's during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry enjoyed visiting the palace, and when Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favor, Henry claimed it as his own. All six of Henry VIII's wives spent time at Hampton Court Palace.
After Henry's death, the palace fell into disrepair until William and Mary commissioned Christopher Wren to remodel it in the late 1600's. The remodel was only partially completed by succeeding Georgian kings, which preserved important rooms from Henry VIII's era. In 1838, Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public.
When you visit Hampton Court Palace today, you get two palaces in one, plus gorgeous gardens and some great family-friendly features. Here are my tips for visiting Hampton Court Palace.
Ways to Save
You can buy tickets at Hampton Court Palace, but there are a couple of ways to save if you buy in advance.
The first way is to purchase from the official Hampton Court Palace website. You can purchase individual tickets or family bundles, which include up to 3 children over age 5. Children under age 5 get in free. We purchased a Family 2 ticket online, which saved us £8.60 on the gate price.
The London Pass is another good way to save on Hampton Court Palace tickets. It is one of dozens of included activities. I recommend visiting using The London Pass for Hampton Court Palace only if you have a 6 or 10-day pass because it takes a full day to visit Hampton Court Palace. For 1 or 2-day London Passes, the pass only pays for itself if you visit multiple attractions each day.
Click the button below to read all my tips for getting the biggest bang for your buck with The London Pass.
Hampton Court Palace is about 12 miles outside London. We took the South Western Railway commuter train from London Waterloo station. From there, it's a short walk over the bridge to the palace entrance. The train leaves about every 30 minutes.
Parking is also available at Hampton Court Palace. The Hampton Court Palace website posts information about travel disruptions. Be sure to visit https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit/getting-here/ before your visit to avoid surprises, and find more tips for getting to Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court Palace is divided into multiple self-guided tours through the living quarters of different kings and queens. We started in Henry VIII's kitchens, wandered into the Georgian halls, then finished with King Henry VIII again. I was familiar with the stories of Henry VIII and his wives, but didn't know nearly as much about William and Mary and the Georgians. It was fascinating to see their living quarters and learn their stories. Use the map to prioritize the exhibits that will be most important to your family.
We found at both Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London that Historic Royal Palaces does a great job of bringing history to life with high-tech exhibits and hands-on activities. Yes, you'll wander from room to room reading interpretive signs, but you'll find films and family-friendly games as well. My husband and son learned how to play a Tudor-era card game while they waited for me to catch up.
There are several places where you can purchase food at Hampton Court Palace, but we stopped at Tesco in the morning to pick up an inexpensive picnic. The June day was beautiful and we loved eating it outside on the lawn. The gardens at Hampton Court Palace are wonderful, and you'll want to spend almost as much time exploring outdoors as indoors.
Hampton Court Palace frequently hosts special seasonal events like concerts, festivals and outdoor movies. Check the official website to see what will be happening during your visit.
Especially for Families
Hampton Court Palace has several fun activities for families. Our favorite was the famous, centuries-old hedge maze behind the palace. This maze is 6 feet high, so most visitors will not be able to see over it. It isn't very large though, and we found our way through in about 15 minutes. I thought that was just right.
Families with young children won't want to miss The Magic Garden. It's a modern playground where even my older kids (ages 11 and 14) enjoyed running around for a while. Most of the activities are best suited for ages 3-12. There are some water activities – at least in the summer – so consider bringing a change of clothes for little ones.
Digital Missions and Family Trails are two more ways to make touring the palace more fun for kids. Digital Missions is an activity you can do on a mobile device through the “Time Explorers” app. You can pick up a Family Trails map at the Information Centre. Family Trails are filled with fun quizzes, activities, facts and illustrations. When you finish a Family Trail, return to the Information Centre for a prize!
My family did not try these last two, but if they sound fun to your kids, be sure to download the app and visit the Information Centre at the beginning of your visit to Hampton Court Palace.
Prepare for Your Visit
Since our visit to Hampton Court Palace, I've found a couple of good shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime that may help your family enjoy your visit to Hampton Court Palace even more.
The first is the PBS documentary Secrets of Henry VIII's Palace: Hampton Court on Netflix. This hour-long documentary is a virtual tour that will fill you in on all the stories that make Hampton Court come to life. You can also purchase this program on DVD through Amazon.com.
BBC's Horrible Histories is my 11-year-old son's new favorite show on Amazon Prime. It's British history, with special emphasis on the gory and ridiculous moments, presented in a humorous and culturally current way. It's legit history that most kids in the U.S. won't learn until high school or college – if at all. Look for episodes that feature Henry VIII, William and Mary or the Georgians to help get your kids interested in the history of Hampton Court Palace.
Good to Know
Where: East Molesey, Surrey. You can drive or take the train. We took the South Western Railway from London Waterloo station.
When: Hampton Court Palace is open year-round, except for December 24-26. Hours vary seasonally. Some of the best attractions are outdoors, so visit on a day that you can enjoy them, if possible.
How Much: Adult tickets (age 18+) are currently £19.20. Discounts for children and seniors. Kids under age 5 get in free. Family tickets that include up to 3 children will be the least expensive option for most families. Buy online in advance for the best price or consider The London Pass.
How Long: One full day
Amenities: Hampton Court Palace has multiple restaurants and gift shops for visitors, plus restrooms and other conveniences. We picked up Tesco Meal Deals in the morning and brought in our own picnic. Later, we bought delicious ice cream on our way to the Maze.