Is Kensington Palace Worth Visiting?

Is Kensington Palace worth visiting?

What have you missed most about London over lockdown? Our family has missed the castles and palaces. We’ve missed the grandeur and the history, the fascinating stories that you find out when you’re visiting a historic building. We’ve missed walking down the street and seeing some of the most famous places in the world. We were desperate to come back to London and explore some of those places we hadn’t visited in years. We were keen to find out what makes Kensington Palace worth visiting after nearly four months of closure.

The trouble with London is its popularity. There are crowds everywhere you go. On the streets, in the parks. From Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden, the Embankment to Oxford Street. But not now. Since lockdown, the crowds have been slow to come back and London’s most famous sights are remarkably tourist free – and they need our support to survive.

Like many people living outside London we were nervous about going on public transport again but the trains are still reassuringly quiet so it’s easy to socially distance from other people.

If you want to enjoy London without the crowds there’s never been a better time to go. The lockdown has been lifted and the city’s greatest sights, museums and palaces are welcoming visitors once again. Safety measures have been put in place so that visitors can feel confident about exploring without fear.

One of the many things that makes Kensington Palace worth visiting is its royal history. It has been a home to members of the Royal Family since the 17th century. Queen Victoria was born here, Princess Diana lived here with the young princes William and Harry. It was the first married home of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and is currently the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Find out everything you need to know about the Royal sights of London by reading the Ultimate Guide to Royal London.

The first thing you see are the iconic Gold Gates, so well remembered for being the focus of public grief in the summer of 1997 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when they were covered with flowers which stretched all the way into Kensington Gardens.

Once inside the palace there are several trails which take you around the rooms, concentrating on the particular kings and queens that have lived here. One-way visitor routes have been set up to make it easier for visitors to socially distance and there are limits on the amount of people allowed in each room. Hand sanitisers are dotted around the palace and there are lots of signs reminding people to socially distance from each other.

We started our tour in the grandest part of the palace, the King’s State Apartments, which are those used by King George II and his wife, Queen Caroline, when they made the palace their home from 1727 until the King’s death in 1760.

You enter the apartments by walking up one of the most beautiful staircases in London – the marvellous King’s Staircase. The walls here were painted by William Kent to recall life in the court of King George I. All the characters of the court are shown, including the King’s Turkish servants and Peter ‘the wild boy’, a silent, naked boy who had been found living alone in the woods in Germany and was brought to London as a curiosity.

King George II and Queen Caroline held their court in these rooms and you get a real feeling for what life was like in Georgian London as you wander around. George II was raised in Hanover in Germany but unlike his father, George I, who only spoke German, George II embraced Britishness and insisted that only English be spoken at court. In a quote that endeared him to his British subjects he declared the British to be:

“The handsomest, the best shaped, the best natured, and the lovingest people in the world, and that if anybody would make their court to him, it must be by telling him he was like an Englishman.”

The King received courtiers and foreign ambassadors in the Presence Chamber. We loved the grand tapestries hung on the walls of the Privy Chamber but we were particularly impressed by the Cupola Room, the most splendidly decorated room in the palace. This was where the composer, Handel, brought his troupe of Italian opera singers to entertain the court and where Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated some of his latest experiments with light. It’s also where Queen Victoria was christened.

 Is Kensington Palace worth visiting?

© Historic Royal Palaces

Next door, the King’s Drawing Room was only for the most privileged guests. The room was opened up to “suitably dressed visitors” at 10pm several times a week. It was here that the Queen loved to gamble at cards. Courtiers would risk their fortunes playing games like whist and quadrille here.

Our guide pointed out a painting known as The Fat Venus by Vasari. This was King George II’s favourite painting but Queen Caroline hated it and had it moved when he visited Germany. He was furious when he returned to find it missing and insisted it be put back on the wall. It is still there today.

Searching for the Royals at Kensington Palace

© Historic Royal Palaces

We were fascinated to learn more about the endless parties that had gone on in this room. Although it would have appeared very glamorous on the outside we were amused to find out that it could get quite gruesome for those guests needing to use the toilet. In those days, nobody was allowed to sit down in the presence of the king so if you needed a wee the men would have to go in the fireplace or one of the corners of the room and the women would have to signal to a page boy to unzip the back of their dress and hold out a port-a-loo into which they could relieve themselves. Some guests just wet themselves rather than go through all that bother.

The King’s Gallery is the largest of the state apartments and still looks as it did when it was decorated for George I in 1725. The dial over the fireplace was created for William III and is still connected to a wind vane on the roof. The King could use it to see which way the wind was blowing, where his navy was heading and when the post was likely to arrive. The map shows Great Britain as the same size as France. An optimistic error given that France is twice as big.

On the far wall of this room, where you can now see Van Dyck’s famous painting of King Charles I on horseback, is where the 18-year-old Princess Victoria was told that she was now Queen.

Is Kensington Palace worth visiting?

Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in 1819 and visitors can walk around the rooms in which she grew up and see her childhood toys, diaries and sketchbooks.

You enter via the staircase, where in 1836, Victoria met Prince Albert for the first time, declaring him “extremely handsome.” Victoria held her very first privy council meeting on her first day as queen in the Red Saloon. In the next room you’ll find a drawing room and the piano where Victoria and Albert played duets together.

Victoria’s father died when she was still a baby so she grew up alone at the palace with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The young princess was brought up very strictly. She slept in her mother’s room until she became queen and she was never allowed out of sight of an adult. She was hardly ever permitted to meet other children so she was very lonely, describing her childhood as “very unhappy.”

You can see her doll’s house and some of the 132 tiny wooden dolls that she played with. She gave them all names and made clothes for them with the help of her governess. Like our own Queen, Victoria was a keen animal lover. She loved riding her pony in Kensington Gardens and adored Dash, her King Charles spaniel, dressing him up in a red jacket and trousers. Dash was her constant companion and the first thing she did after her coronation in 1838 was to rush home and give him a bath.

The Queen’s State Apartments are the oldest part of the palace. These are the rooms that were created for William III and Mary II when they were crowned as joint monarchs in 1689.

The Queen’s Gallery was built in 1693 as a large, airy room where Mary could play with her pet dogs and do her embroidery. It’s now used to host the annual BAFTA dinner. Further along you’ll find the wood-panelled Queen’s Dining Room. This was where the King and Queen would eat together in private – they had a surprisingly simple diet, often just eating fish washed down with beer.

You’ll find Kensington Palace worth visiting for the great stories you discover about some of the monarchs that have lived here. There are plenty of family tragedies: poor Mary II died of smallpox aged 32 – she only ruled for four years. Her sister, Princess Anne, who eventually succeeded her as Queen Anne in 1702, had 17 pregnancies but only one child survived past infancy. His name was William and he also died of smallpox – at the age of 11.

Anne was often ill herself. She suffered from gout and became so lame and overweight in later years that she had to be carried around court in a sedan chair. Queen Anne was the subject of the Oscar-winning film, The Favourite, featuring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, and many of the scenes depicted in the film took place in these rooms, including the big argument between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill. The scenes were filmed in Hampton Court.

Fife TiaraThere are a couple of new additions to the collections that make Kensington Palace worth visiting even more. Right now you can see three fabulous tiaras – the emerald tiara that Prince Albert personally designed for Queen Victoria along with the matching necklace, earrings and brooch; the Kokoshnik tiara that belonged to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Louise; and the spectacular Fife tiara (as seen above) given to Princess Louise on her wedding day from her husband, the Duke of Fife.

Even more thrilling is the midnight blue velvet dress that Princess Diana wore when she danced with John Travolta at a White House gala in 1985. This is the first opportunity for the general public to see the Victor Edelstein dress.

You’ll find Kensington Palace worth visiting for the beautiful gardens, especially the Sunken Garden which is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November 2017. The 18th-century style garden has flower beds and an ornamental pond with fountains. The Sunken Garden is where you’ll find the statue of Princess Diana that was unveiled by Prince Harry and Prince William at the beginning of June 2021.

Be sure to make time for a wander around the wonderful Kensington Gardens. See if you can find the Peter Pan statue, go boating on the lake or play on the pirate ship in the brilliant Diana Memorial Playground. The Diana Memorial Fountain is a brilliant place to cool down on a sunny day. This has been closed to the public due to current social distancing restrictions but will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.

Our family loves hiring Santander Cycles so that we can ride through the traffic-free Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. It costs £2 per 30 minutes to hire a cycle and there are docking station terminals close by.

So is Kensington Palace worth visiting? If you want see the palace at its best there’s never been a better time to visit. Book a time slot now before everyone else finds out about it.

Kensington Palace is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.30am until 5pm. Adults, £17; children, £8.50. You need to book tickets in advance with a timed entry slot. Visitors need to wear face masks while they’re in the palace.

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

For more ideas and inspiration on visiting London, take a look at:

Visiting the Tower of London with Kids

London’s 10 Best Museums for Children

The 8 Castles in London you Need to Visit

Ultimate Guide to Royal London

How to Have the Perfect London Summer

The Best FREE Things to do in London

The Best Art Workshops for Kids in London

What makes Kensington Palace worth visiting? There's never been a better time to visit the London palace home to countless royals from William and Kate to Queen Victoria. #iskensingtonpalaceworthvisiting #kensingtonpalacewithkids #kensingtonpalacetour #kensingtonpalacetickets #kensingtonpalacelondon #londonwithkids #thingstodoinlondon #thingstodowithkidsinlondon #thefavourite #georgianlondon #queenvictoriakensingtonpalace

 

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