Let me get this out of my system before I begin: Hampton Court is amazing. AMAZING. It is so amazing that it took me quite a long time to work out what I was going to write in this blog post other than just the word AMAZING typed lots of times in a really big font. Because, you know, it is amazing.
Hampton Court was, famously, Henry VIII's palace. It is jam-packed with fabulous architectural features (those chimneys! the chapel ceiling! the great hall!) and treasures (including an incredible collection of tapestries and lots of paintings) and there's lots to learn about Henry, his life and his time at the palace. As a bit of a history nerd who adores all things Tudor, this was - as you might imagine - just my cup of tea.
Incredibly the whole palace was nearly demolished when William III and Mary II remodelled it in the Baroque style... but (luckily) they didn't have the budget to rebuild the whole place so they just re-built part of it (phew). The end result is a palace that's like two palaces in one, one Baroque and one Tudor.
And of course there's also the lovely gardens to visit which include the famous maze, the largest vine in the world (planted in 1769), and - very important - stands selling very yummy icecream.
There were audio guides available as part of the ticket price but we decided to just look round on our own, and there turned out to be plenty of info dotted about for us to pick up the history as we went along.
We spent a very large percentage of the day pointing at things and saying "wow, look at that!" As well as the fabulous Tudor spaces (like the kitchens, where we were thrilled to see a roaring fire in the fireplace) the King's and Queen's apartments in the newer part of the palace are also pretty spectacular.
Kensington Palace and Hampton Court are run by the same organisation (Historic Royal Palaces) and you can see the same creative approach to displaying history at both palaces. For example, the Glorious Georges exhibitions running at both sites include a scratch and sniff "Smell Map of the Georgian Court" for you to sniff as you explore the rooms. Info about the rooms and the people who lived in them aren't just printed on signs but are also displayed in unconventional ways, like being woven into carpets and printed on tablecloths. And the palaces are brought to life by actors walking around in costume and in character as various kings and their courtiers.
At Kensington Palace this creative approach felt a bit like padding - quirky things thought up to try and fill the empty rooms in an interesting way, which I found a little disappointing (especially as I went expecting the usual stately home set-up of fancy spaces filled with lots of fancy old things). But at Hampton Court I thought it worked wonderfully and was an enjoyable "icing" on the fabulous "cake" of the palace.
My mum and I gradually worked our way round all the rooms, saying many many wows along the way and stopping for lunch at the nice cafe. We then explored a bit of the gardens and enjoyed a delicious icecream before heading home... and spending days blahing on at everyone about how amazing it all was.
It was so nice to finally visit this wonderful place and lovely to share a Nice Day Out with my mum. The only downside is that we're now going to be measuring everywhere we visit on what we are calling "The Hampton Court Scale of Excellentness"... and I'm not sure how many places are going to measure up!