The Best Things to do with Kids at Hever Castle

The Best Things to do with Kids at Hever CastleHever Castle in Kent is one of our favourite castles to visit in the UK. The childhood home of King Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, is a picture-perfect castle in beautiful grounds. There are so many great activities for families here from trying your hand at archery and rowing to watching knights jousting and getting lost in the mazes. Here’s a list of our favourite things to do at Hever Castle.

Explore the castle

The 700-year-old castle has everything children require from a castle: a moat, an impressive drawbridge and a gatehouse filled with armour and instruments of torture.

It also boasts one of the UK’s best collections of Tudor portraits. The connections with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn make Hever a must-visit for anyone interested in the Tudors. You can see the bedchamber where Henry VIII is believed to have stayed and the signed, exquisite prayer books belonging to Anne Boleyn.

Our favourite time to visit is at Christmas when all the rooms are decorated with Christmas trees.

Find your way around all three mazes

There are no less than three mazes at Hever Castle. Kids love the Tower Maze in the adventure playground and my two love the challenge of finding their way around the traditional Yew Maze in the shortest time possible.

The Water Maze is the most fun of all and a brilliant place to cool down on a hot summer’s day. Stepping stones lead through the reeds to a stone tower in the centre. Step  on the wrong stone and your path will be blocked by jets of water. Most children positively delight  in getting soaked so bring a towel and a change of clothes.

Watch a jousting tournament

You can watch knights jousting most weekends over the summer. King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn lead the procession of spectators all the way from the castle to the jousting field where big crowds gather to watch the Blue Knights battle the Reds.

The hour-long show is a real spectacle. The knights knock each other off their horses, spear metal rings onto their lances and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Children are invited to join the King’s Army. The raggle-taggle bunch are given helmets, swords and pikes and made to parade around the field.

Take a boat out on the lake 

We love rowing on the large lake at Hever. You can hire a rowing boat or a pedalo and spend a very happy hour mucking around on the water, rowing over to the Japanese Tea House and ringing the bell in the middle of the lake. See if you can sport the ducks’ house in the shape of a miniature castle.

The lake is a great place to teach children how to row. It’s usually fairly peaceful and you can see dragonflies, herons and kingfishers on the lake. There’s also a steamboat cruise.

Wander around the gardens

The extensive gardens are a pleasure to explore and there are plenty of good places for hide-and-seek. The formal gardens are a delight: the Italian Garden has shaded grottos and classical statues and there’s a colonnaded loggia beside the lake with a fountain and sculptures inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

The giant topiary chess set in the Tudor Garden will make you feel as if you’ve wandered onto a film set for ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Don’t miss the lovely sunken garden hidden behind a hedge in the Italian Garden – it’s a wonderfully tranquil spot often missed by the crowds because it’s so hidden away.

Walk around the lake

With 125 acres to explore, there’s no surprise that there are some lovely walks around the grounds and the wilder parts of the gardens. Our favourite is the Lake Walk which goes all around the lake. You can download a nature trail to complete as you go round. It’s a great place to spot birds like kingfishers and crested grebes and even on busy days it’s always quiet here, right in the middle of the countryside.

Have a picnic in the grounds

The stunning grounds are perfect for a picnic. Spread out your rug on one of the big lawns in front of the castle and watch the ducks and swans in the stream nearby. There’s lots of space here for children to have a run around. If you prefer to be away from the crowds, you’ll find quieter spots along the Lake Walk.

If the weather’s not good enough for sitting outside, there are two excellent cafés serving sandwiches, cakes and hot meals.

The next jousting tournament at Hever takes place this coming Bank Holiday Weekend. 

Hever Castle is open every day until 30th October, then from Wednesdays until Sundays until Christmas. Adults, from £13.10; children, from £8.30; under 5s, free.

For more castle inspiration, take a look at The UK’s Best Castles for Families and The Best European Castle Stays for Families

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A Photo Tour of Folegandros

A Photo Tour of FolegandrosWe’ve just got back from an idyllic two weeks on the tiny Greek island of Folegandros in the Cyclades. It has everything I dream of when I think of the perfect Greek island – pretty little harbours, beautiful beaches and great local tavernas. It was delightfully laid-back and despite the fact that we were there during the peak summer season, it wasn’t heaving with tourists.

I’ll be writing more about Folegandros over the next couple of weeks but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of the photos of our trip.

Folegandros has the unspoiled, old-fashioned feel that I love about Greece. We watched local fishermen untangling their nets at the harbour. We passed farmers using donkeys to get around and saw octopus hanging out to dry in the sun outside local tavernas.

We stayed in Chora, the main town on the island, perched on the cliffside, 200 metres up from the sea. Chora is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in the whole of the Cyclades, with its gorgeous white and blue buildings, picturesque squares and bougainvillea-draped houses.

The Castro, the medieval centre of the town has remained the same for hundreds of years. We walked down its narrow streets and covered passageways.

We took a boat to beaches virtually inaccessible by road and swam in the translucent aquamarine waters of the Aegean Sea.

There are churches everywhere you look on the island. We hiked to churches standing alone on top of steep hills. A zigzag path leads up to the main church in Chora, a regular evening pilgrimage for anyone wanting the best sunset view on the whole island.

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Nine Reasons You Should Visit The Lisbon Oceanário

Nine Reasons you should visit the Lisbon Oceanário

The Oceanário in Lisbon is easily the best aquarium we’ve ever been to. It’s also one of the biggest, with a fantastic variety of fish and other animals. You’ll find puffins and penguins, sharks and jellyfish as well as the more unusual creatures such as the cartoon-like sunfish and the adorable sea otters.

Here are all the reasons why you should visit.

It’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe

© Mafalda Frade

The Oceanário is Europe’s biggest indoor aquarium, containing about 25,000 different fish, seabirds and mammals from around the world. But it’s so well designed that it doesn’t feel too big to enjoy.

What’s more, the building itself is really cool. My James Bond-obsessed 12-year-old said it looked “just like an evil villain’s hideout”. The eye-catching building appears to be floating on the water and you enter by crossing a footbridge.

It’s extremely well laid out

The aquarium is on two floors surrounding a massive central tank. The tank is seven metres deep so that visitors can look into it at different levels for close ups of the creatures living at the top and the bottom of the ocean.

The four main areas around the central tank showcase four different habitats around the world: the North Atlantic rocky coast, the Antarctic coastal line, the Temperate Pacific kelp forests and the Tropical Indian coral reefs.

As you wander in and out of the four habitats you keep coming back to the central tank and you’re guaranteed to see something new and fascinating every time. There are lots of helpful signs all over the walls so that you can find out interesting facts as you look around.

The central tank is truly incredible

The central tank is as big as four Olympic-sized swimming pools and contains 100 different species from around the world. Because it’s on two floors you can look into it from different levels which gives you the chance to observe some fish that you wouldn’t normally be able to see.

On the ground floor you can get a better look at the fish that spend most of their time at the bottom of the sea, like the zebra sharks and the guitarfish that look like something halfway between a ray and a shark. You can watch flatfish like plaice, sole and brill burying themselves in the sand and you can sometimes spot penguins diving in-between the rocks.

On the top floor we loved watching the graceful moray eels and the ‘devil fish’ Mantas whose horn-shaped fins work as giant spoons to direct small fish into its mouth.

Like most people, we were particularly taken with the numerous sharks. The sharks here are fed with ten kilos of fish twice a week. We learnt that sharks often shed their teeth and that some of the sandbar sharks have more than 20,000 teeth throughout their lives.

It’s a rare chance to see a sunfish

© Pedro A Pina

We were fascinated by the Ocean Sunfish. It looks like something a child would draw – I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It’s the largest bony fish in the world – more than three metres long and weighs over two tons. It looks exactly like a rock and often lies on its side on the surface of the water to sunbathe.

We were very lucky to see it – the Oceanário is one of very few aquariums in the world to have a sunfish because they are so difficult to care for.

You’ll fall in love with the sea otters

The sea otters, which come from the North Pacific Ocean, were some of my favourite animals in the whole aquarium. They are the only marine mammal to rely on their fur to maintain their body temperature so as a result they’ve got the densest fur in the animal kingdom and spend most of their day grooming their hair.

You can watch the otters doing just this at the Oceanário. They swim to the surface and lie on their backs, rubbing their cheeks with their paws, holding their paws over their furry tummies then rolling around in the water. It’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen – my youngest son and I literally had to be dragged away so that we could see everything else in the aquarium.

You can walk through a rainforest

The Tropical Indian Ocean part of the aquarium recreates the coralline beaches of the Seychelles. The rainforest and the coral reef are two of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Planet Earth. In this area you can go on a walkway through the forest listening to the sounds of birds and monkeys.

…and into the Antarctic

In the Antarctic area you’ll get to see Rockhopper Penguins and Magellanic Penguins from the Falkland Islands – always a huge favourite in any aquarium we’ve been to. Here the experience is made even better by having Inca Terns flying right above our heads.

It’s a great place to shelter from the sun and rain

Lisbon can get really hot in the summer months and when you’ve had a few days of intense heat it can be a big relief spending a few hours in the cool, tranquil space of the indoor aquarium. It can be a blessed escape from the rain too. Despite its reputation as one of the sunniest cities in Europe, it was pouring with rain when we arrived in Lisbon in February. Spending the afternoon in the Oceanário on that first day was a great way to escape the awful weather.

Even the shop is worth a visit

I’ll usually avoid the gift shop if at all possible but I had to make an exception for this one. It’s packed with great products including soft toy penguins, puffins and sharks. I think they’re missing a trick though – we couldn’t find any soft toy sea otters. We’d have bought those for sure!

The Oceanário de Lisboa is open daily from 10am until 8pm, until 6pm during the winter months. Tickets, adults, €14; children, €9; under 4s, free. Family tickets cost €36 for a family of four.

Disclosure: We were very kindly given free admission to the Oceanário but all opinions are honest and my own.

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The UK’s Best Castles for Families

Best UK Castles for Families

Who doesn’t love visiting a castle? Children can really fire up their imaginations by dressing up as a knight or princess and walking over the drawbridge, climbing the tallest tower and finding out about the people who used to live there.

Over the summer holidays, the best castles offer a huge range of activities for families from dressing up boxes and jousting tournaments to dragon quests and live shows. Here are a few of our favourites:-

ALNWICK CASTLE

Best UK Castles for Families

Harry Potter fans can learn how to fly a broomstick at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland which was used as Hogwarts in the first two films and now offers broomstick training sessions for aspiring witches and wizards.

There has been a castle here for 1,000 years and it is still lived in by the Duke of Northumberland. Families can dress up in medieval clothes and watch longbow demonstrations and jester shows, take part in the Dragon Quest and make magic wands and herbal soaps in the craft area.

Alnwick Castle is open daily until 30th October. Adults, from £13.95; children, from £6.97; under 5s, free.

DOVER CASTLE

You can sit on King Henry II’s throne at Dover Castle and then explore secret wartime tunnels. Dover is a fantastic example of a medieval palace, with burning log fires and costumed characters walking around, but it’s also a great place to find out about World War II as its network of tunnels housed an underground hospital and a secret naval command centre during the war.

Activities this summer include siege warfare and battles through the ages, with fighting knights, Romans and the redcoats from the war of 1812.

Dover Castle is open daily. Adults, from £12.70; children, from £8.

WARWICK CASTLE

Best UK Castles for Families

If you go Medieval glamping at Warwick Castle you can stay in a luxurious Medieval-themed tent and enrol your children in the Knight’s School.

There are lots of activities for families here from the new Horrible Histories Maze, the gruesome castle dungeon tour, the Princess Tower, where you have to break the evil sorcerer’s curse, and the largest working trebuchet in the world. Children can also let off steam in the adventure playground and spot the peacocks wandering around the gardens.

Warwick Castle is open daily. Tickets, from £18.50; under 3s, free.

CORFE CASTLE

©National Trust Images/David Levenson

©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Corfe Castle in Dorset was the inspiration for Kirrin Castle in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. It was a royal palace and dungeon in medieval times and was besieged twice during the English Civil War in the 17th century when the Cavaliers defended the castle against attacks from Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads.

Nowadays, children can learn about its history by dressing up as a knight or princess, doing brass rubbings and going on a castle quest with an activity booklet. You can even ride there on a steam train!

This summer, there will be Tudor Adventures where you can follow a trail to uncover a spy network, a Victorian Villainous Thriller Walk and an open-air theatre.

Corfe Castle is open daily. Adults, from £8; children, from £4; under 5s, free.

BOLSOLVER CASTLE

English Heritage

English Heritage

You can watch amazing horse shows at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire where riders dressed in the Cavalier style of frills, feathers and high boots show off their dressage skills. Aspiring actors will also love the Theatre Room where they can try on theatrical costumes, learn their lines and perform a play.

Visitors to the castle this summer can join the army of King Charles I as he prepares for civil war and learn all about medieval torture.

Bolsover Castle is open daily. Adults, from £10.20; children, from £6.10; under 5s, free.

HEVER CASTLE

Best UK Castles for Families

There are jousting tournaments most weekends over the summer at Hever Castle in Kent. Families can meet King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at this, her childhood home, and process with them towards the tournament ground to watch knights on horseback show off their skills.

The water maze is great for cooling off when the weather gets too hot and children can also go rowing on the lake, try their hand at archery and run around in the adventure playground.

Hever Castle is open daily. Adults, from £13.10; children, from £8.30; under 5s, free.

CULZEAN CASTLE

National Trust for Scotland

National Trust for Scotland

This 18th-century Scottish castle has a dramatic clifftop setting and is surrounded by a large country park which is ideal for families. Children can explore Culzean Castle by trying to spot the Lego figure hidden in each room. The castle also boasts one of the world’s largest collections of swords and pistols and there are special family tours at weekends.

You can visit the beach, see the deer and llamas in the Deer Park then head to Adventure Cove, the fantastic play area complete with dungeons, boats and smugglers’ caves.

Culzean Castle is open daily. Adults, from £15.50; children, from £11.50.

TINTAGEL CASTLE

English Heritage

English Heritage

Ruined castles are so much fun to wander around and Tintagel in Cornwall is extra special because of its dramatic headland setting and connections with the Legend of King Arthur. When you’ve explored the Great Hall and the ruined chapel, go down to the beach where you can look for Merlin’s Cave and search for crabs in the rock pools.

Over the summer, families can have fun being archaeology detectives, laugh at the castle jester and listen to Merlin and King Arthur tell tales of monsters, heroes and princesses.

Tintagel Castle is open daily until 31st October and then at weekends and school holidays. Adults, from £7.90; children, from £4.70; under 5s, free.

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Why you should see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

Why you should see The Summer Exhibition at the RAThe Summer Exhibition  at the Royal Academy of Arts is one of the must-see events of a London summer. Held every year since 1769, it’s the largest and most popular open exhibition in the UK. Any living artist can submit works to be considered so you could find a piece by a complete unknown hung next to a Hockney.

Most of the works are for sale so it’s a great chance to pick up a first piece of art. Prices start at £50 and run into the tens of thousands for the most well-known artists. Over £50,000 prize money is awarded each year and past winners have included Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, David Hockney and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

I love the history of the exhibition. Artists like Gainsborough, Turner and Constable showed their works in these same galleries in the Summer Exhibitions of the past. I love the contrast between the contemporary art on the walls and the grand surroundings of 17th-century Burlington House.

Why you should see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

© Stephen White

There are lots of traditions associated with the Summer Exhibition. ‘Varnishing Day’ used to be the artists’ last chance to put finishing touches to their paintings. In 1832, Turner upset Constable by adding an eye-catching red buoy to his seascape, thereby upstaging his rival’s work. Nowadays the artists do a procession down the street from Burlington House to St. James’ Church, walking to the sounds of a steel band.

Another bizarre tradition is the secret Beef Tea that the Academicians are given to drink while they’re hanging the exhibition. It’s believed to be a mixture of Bovril and sherry!

The show is always curated by artists and this year is the turn of the British sculptor, Richard Wilson. He’s chosen to highlight the work of two artists working as a pair so you’ll find work by artists like Eva & Adele, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Gilbert and George.

But the most fantastic thing about the Summer Exhibition is the sheer diversity of the exhibits. It’s a celebration of contemporary art in all of its forms so there are sculptures, architectural models, paintings, videos, photos and prints. This makes it a unique place to come and see a wide variety of art.

Perhaps this is why there is such an eclectic mix of visitors to the exhibition every year. On the Sunday afternoon I went I was struck by the sheer variety of the people looking at the art. Hip 20-something couples stood next to old men in cream linen suits, children gazed at sculptures alongside middle-aged women out for the day with their friends.

It’s a great exhibition for kids because there’s so much variety that you’re always going to find something to interest, entertain and fascinate them. My 16-year-old goddaughter loved it. “The art here is so much fun!” she exclaimed as she walked around. For her, it was a far cry from the staid atmosphere of some of the art exhibitions and museums she’d visited in the past.

The fun starts in the stunning courtyard of 17th-century Burlington House. In this space, the designer and architect, Ron Arad, has set up ‘Spyre’, a 16-metre high steel oval cone which twirls like a snake above visitors’ heads. It moves constantly, its elegant acrobatic postures recording live footage of what it sees from the camera in the eye at its tip.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RA“Normally we are looking at sculpture,” says Arad. “Now it is looking at us.”

The idea of being looked at is carried through into some of the other exhibits too. In some rooms it feels as if there are eyes everywhere, some looking at us from portraits, others gazing down from the ceiling.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RAIn ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’, Kutlug Ataman has created a shimmering blue carpet hanging in the air – it’s made up of 10,000 LCD panels like passport photos, each with the photo of someone who the Turkish philanthropist encountered before his death.

Then there’s the sinister new sculpture by the Chapman Brothers in which the eyeless mannequins are holding their eyes in their hands.

You need to look up, down and all around you or you’ll miss something, like the figure of the girl cowering being one of the entrances. She’s hiding her face in her hands so that we can’t see her properly. Even the sculptures of dogs are positioned to look up at the art on the walls.

At the Summer Exhibition you’ll find a bit of everything. Some things appear designed to shock; others to amuse, inspire or make us think about the world in which we’re living. There’s a video of a cat licking cream, a huge tyre made out of cardboard and an iridescent tapestry woven out of beaten bottle tops.

Why You Should See the Summer Exhibition at the RAAono Fumiaki’s sculptures explore the theme of rebirth and healing after the devastating earthquake in Japan in 2011. He has gathered up household objects like books and sake bottles found at the scene and transformed them into sculptures.

The Royal Academy is running a series of creative family workshops over the school holidays inspired by the Summer Exhibition. The workshops last for two hours. Adults, £15; RA Friends, £5; children, £3. Booking is required.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is on until 21st August. The Royal Academy is open every day from 10am until 6pm, until 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Adults, from £12; 16 to 18-year-olds, £10; under 16s, free.

For more ideas of art activities to do with children in London, take a look at The Ten Best Art Experiences for Kids in London

You’ll probably also enjoy Lego, Bicycles and Prison Cells: Why children should see Ai Weiwei

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Try It For Free! GPS-Guided Travel Articles

Have you ever found yourself exploring a new city, guidebook in one hand, map in the other, and still been unable to work out exactly where you are or how to get to that amazing sounding restaurant you’ve just read about?

Or perhaps you saw a great blog post with lots of ideas on the best things to do in a particular city but now you’re here, you don’t have free internet access so you can’t look at it.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Fortunately there’s now a solution to this problem. GPSMyCity has come up with the brilliant idea of producing GPS-guided travel articles. These are travel articles or blog posts that have GPS coordinates embedded into them, together with a map of the route. You use the GPS tracking to chart where you are and make sure you don’t get lost. It comes up with a detailed route map, with turn by turn walking directions.

Once you’ve installed the app onto your GPS-enabled mobile phone or tablet, you’ve effectively turned your phone into a personal tour guide.

GPS Guided Travel ArticlesWhat’s more, once the app has been downloaded onto your device it works offline so you don’t need to have internet access to read the articles or follow the routes.

On the GPSMyCity website, you can find over 5,000 self-guided walks in over 600 cities all over the world. In each city there are loads of different walks: some are cultural, some are focused on food, others will tell you where to find the best parks or family-friendly activities.

You could look for the best cafés in Florence, where to shop in Havana, take a walking tour of New Orleans or follow a three-day guide to St Petersburg.

You can download any travel article free of charge. Several of my best city guides are already available as apps. If you decide you want to turn them into a GPS-guided article you just pay a small fee (typically about $1) to upgrade.

I’ve teamed up with GPSMyCity to offer you all a free upgrade on a couple of my latest article apps so that you can see how it works without having to pay anything.

For the next week you can upgrade:

The Ten Best Free Things to do in London

(My guide to all the great things you can do in London without having to spend any money)

City Breaks with Kids: Seville

(A guide to all that’s brilliant about the Spanish city – especially with children)

To get your free upgraded app you need to click on the link for the article you’re interested in. Now follow the instructions to download the GPSMyCity app and you’ll be taken to the page for the article app. Click on ‘upgrade’ and the app will be automatically linked to an offline map and the GPS navigator.

Enjoy your guided tours and let me know what you thought!

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A Tour of Buckingham Palace

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to the public over the summer and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be shown around the Queen’s London home. The tour takes you round all the grandest rooms of the palace including the Throne Room, the Ballroom where State Banquets are held, and the lavishly decorated official drawing rooms.

This year’s tour includes entrance to an exhibition on 90 Years of Style from the Queen’s Wardrobe. It’s particularly exciting as the Queen’s wedding dress and Coronation dress will be on display together for the first time ever.

The tour takes you to nineteen of the State Rooms which the Queen uses for ceremonial occasions and entertains official visitors. You’ll see paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

We visited Buckingham Palace last summer and we are still talking about it. Harry, my 9-year-old, kept going back to the start of the tour so that he could keep climbing up the Grand Staircase, pretending he was the Queen. The visit really fired up the boys’ imaginations and they have been holding coronations for their toys ever since. I have given up telling them that it’s “crowning”, not “coronating” – apparently coronating sound far grander.

Here’s what they thought about it. You’ll find my tips for families at the end.

EdwardBy Edward, age 11

Buckingham Palace is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Great Britain. It’s horribly busy but it’s completely worth it to visit the State Rooms. It is one of the oldest working palaces in the world and the State Rooms are so beautiful and grand.

Buckingham Palace actually started out as Buckingham House owned by the Duke of Buckingham. King George III bought the house for his wife as a private retreat. When George IV became king he began turning the house into a palace. He appointed the architect John Nash, who was later dismissed by Parliament for spending too much. The architect, Edward Blore was later employed to finish the palace for the new Queen Victoria.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The tour of the State Rooms begins at the Grand Entrance. This entrance is reserved for foreign ambassadors and diplomats. You’ll see the Quadrangle, the courtyard in the middle of the palace, where processions form for special occasions. On a state visit, the mounted band of the Household Division also plays here to welcome the visiting Head of State and their entourage.

At the end of the Quadrangle looms the magnificence of the Grand Entrance, with its many columns and facades. Inside, it is even more magnificent with its red carpet and fireplace made from a single block of marble. Upstairs the Grand Staircase invites you up with its elegant curls. Through the Guard Chamber, which looks like the inside of a giant jewel box, you’ll find the Green Drawing Room with its green walls, green sofas and green curtains.

Harry

Continued by Harry, age 9

Buckingham Palace is an outstanding place to visit. It is so historical, whether you’re in the Ballroom or walking up the beautiful Grand Staircase. But before you go exploring let me tell you one thing. You will see loads and loads of gold! And if you’re thinking about gold doors, gold chairs and gold tables you should see the Ballroom.

When you have finished going around the beautiful Green Drawing Room you walk into the Throne Room. All the other rooms you have walked through prepare you for this moment. When you walk through the grand archway you will almost definitely be looking not at the magnificent walls but at the velvet canopy and beneath that, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s official thrones.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Did you know Queen Victoria was the first monarch to make use of the Throne Room and that nearly all the official Royal Family wedding photos are taken in there?

One of my highlights was the Ballroom because when we went it was all set up for a state banquet. It was so majestic! There were hundreds of glasses and gold plates everywhere!

As you walk around you will find out lots of interesting facts about the Royal Family. For example, the Queen’s three eldest children and her grandson, Prince William, were baptised in the Music Room by the Archbishop of Canterbury with water brought from the River Jordan. And in the exquisite White Drawing Room there’s even a secret entrance behind a mirror so that the Royal Family can enter the State Rooms from their private apartments.

In the famous gardens you’ll find the Family Pavilion. This is a great place for children to play as they can dress up in clothes from the Dressing Up Box and pose in front of cardboard thrones. You can also work out the place settings for a Royal Banquet using cardboard cut-outs of cutlery, plates and glasses.

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

Be prepared to queue: We went on the first day of the Summer Opening and the queues were horrendous. We had a timed entrance slot on our ticket but had to queue for at least an hour before we got in. The queues might be slightly better if you go in September.

No pushchairs are allowed in the State Rooms: You will need to leave your pushchair at the security area before you start the tour. You can pick up a baby carrier or hip seat for a toddler instead.

Going to the toilet is an event in itself: There are no public toilets at the start of the tour which can be something of a problem if you’ve been queueing for an hour to get into the Palace in the first place. The public toilets are in the garden, at the end of the tour. But if you say you’re desperate, helpful staff will lift up all sorts of barriers and give you a VIP escort to some toilets halfway around the tour. Sadly, they didn’t look like the ones the Queen uses which would have been even more thrilling.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open daily from 23rd July until 2nd October. Adults, £21.50; children, £12.30; under 5s, free; family ticket, £55.30.

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