Hampton Court Palace is one of the last two surviving palaces owned by the 16th century Tudor King, Henry VIII. It is also one of the largest of the royal palaces, having seen constant renovations and improvements undertaken by various monarchs through the centuries. Built originally as a cardinal's residence, Hampton Court Palace had been the favorite residence of successive monarchs from Henry VIII to George II.
Today, the palace is a major tourist attraction and is open to the general public for visits and special private affairs. Currently under the care of the independent charity Historic Royal Palaces, it's also the site of the annual Hampton Court Palace Festival and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
We think it's one of the great jewels of the nation.
For more information about the many great historic buildings in the area, visit our page on historic houses.
In 1514, Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York acquired the site from the religious Order of St John of Jerusalem. He then proceeded to conduct massive constructions and renovations for the next seven years and completed the most beautiful cardinal's palace in all of England. Sensing a plot against him, Wolsey handed over the palace as a gift to Henry VIII in 1528 in an attempt to regain the king's favor.
The palace is extraordinarily steeped in royal history and drama as successive monarchs -- from the Tudor King Henry VIII, to Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, down to George II -- have lived at Hampton Court and left behind their own stories and architectural contributions to the royal residence.
The last great restoration project completed on the palace was during the time of Queen Victoria in 1838. In 1952, Hampton Court Palace and a few other buildings and structures within the premises were granted grade I listing and statutory protection. Hampton Court Palace serves today as home to the Royal School of Needlework and the Historic Royal Palaces organization.
Paintings, sculptures, and other artworks belonging to the Royal Collection from the Tudor to the Georgian period are on display in the palace today. Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar contained in the Lower Orangery, Henry Cooke's Raphael Cartoon copies, and Queen Mary II's porcelain collection are must-see items. Authentic 17th and 18th century furniture including tables by Jean Pelletier and a barometer by Thomas Tompion are on display at the palace.
The Throne Canopy containing a crystal chandelier in the King's Privy Chamber can still be seen today. There's a great number of 17th century armaments and armor contained in the King's Guard Chamber arranged on the walls in uniquely symmetrical patterns by John Harris in 1699. Visit the Chapel Royal to see the beautiful timber and plaster ceiling and the striking oak reredos by Grinling Gibbons.
In recent years the Palace has taken a renewed look at how to present itself to tourists and aside many great guided (and costumed) tours, the focus in some parts is less on perfect recreation of a specific room from the past and more on engaging the visitor with the history. We think it's a great improvement.
The Hampton Court grounds were originally laid out in the 17th century. There is a distinctly French influence recognizable in the grounds' central feature - the great canal or Long Water - excavated during the time of Charles II in 1662. Sculptured hollies and yews dominate the Privy Garden with the Tijou iron gates on the south side of the property. Amazingly, a grape vine planted in 1769 called the "Great Vine" still thrives and produces an annual crop of grapes in the nearby botanical conservatory. And you must not miss the Hampton Court Maze, a hedge maze planted in the 1690s.
You can buy a separate ticket just for the grounds which is of course cheaper than the full palace ticket, and occasionally they will open up the gardens for free.
The palace is a favorite film location for both British and American filmmakers. Fred Zinnemann filmed A Man for All Seasons there in 1966. In 2008, it was featured in the HBO miniseries John Adams. It also appeared in the Hollywood movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011.
Hampton Court Palace is the subject of many stories of haunting and ghost sightings. Over the years, visitors and staff have reported supernatural encounters within its premises. Among the reported apparitions who are said to still walk its corridors are the ghosts of Queen Catherine Howard, Jane Seymour, Dame Sybil Pen, and King Henry VIII.
More information is available at the official website.