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What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze | CosmosMariners.com


If you're visiting London with kids, you cannot miss a trip out to Molesey, where you'll find my favorite of all the Tudor palaces. Here's what to do at Hampton Court Palace with kids from the usual sites to the lesser known touring options.

I've been to Hampton Court Palace multiple times, but I keep going back every time I'm in England because there's always something new to explore. I first went as a kid myself when I was in high school, then again as a college student while I was studying abroad, and once more when I was with 4 little kids (not my own, but rather the kids I was tutoring at the time).

The real key to Hampton Court Palace is knowing about its history, so let's start there: shall we?

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze | CosmosMariners.com

The History of Hampton Court Palace

There aren't too many places in the world that better show how self-centered (and absolutely insane) Henry VII was than Hampton Court Palace. This gorgeous place was first owned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was basically Henry's right hand guy...until Wolsey failed miserably at getting an annulment from the Pope for Henry's marriage to his first wife, Catherine.

Of course, Henry being the crazy person that he was, stripped Wolsey of all of his power and hauled him to London on treason charges. Thankfully, Wolsey died on the way to London of natural causes and never had to publicly face the wrath of Henry. 

Naturally, during this debacle, Henry decides that he really like his (former) friend's house, so, hey, why not take it? (I'm sure that's what runs through all of our minds in a similar situation.)

It may have a storied past (and that's kind of why I love it), but Hampton Court Palace is definitely worth a day of your London vacation. 

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace


Meet with Henry VIII


For this trip, I was traveling with a few of the students I tutored at the time (I worked as a full-time homeschool English teacher for a family of very gifted kids). We'd focused on British literature and history the entire year, so the students were well versed on all things Tudor.

You can imagine how much they freaked when a pretend Henry graced us with his presence as we wandered near the kitchen. The actor was pretty awesome, and he definitely knew his stuff.

When he asked one of my students what he should invest in, she said, "Chocolate!" To which he replied, "What is that?" (Chocolate wasn't discovered until the exploration of the Americas; while Mr. Columbus had already made his fateful voyage during Henry's life, chocolate hadn't made its way into English popular culture yet.) I was impressed with his knowledge of all things Henry and all things Tudor England.

You can catch the faux-Henry at various times of the day: ask at the main information office to see when he and the other roving actors will be out for their meet and greets.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

Tour the Kitchens

If you've never been there, Hampton Court Palace is this wonderful maze of buildings; the place really is huge!  We got to explore a good section of it, as the family I was with had lined up three different private tours (they were really big on that sort of thing; see our behind the scenes views of Stonehenge and the Changing of the Guard). 

The first was an in-depth tour of the kitchens, where our guide, a food historian, led us through the dining and cooking customs of Tudor England. It was fascinating to learn about what Henry and his many wives would have eaten. It was even crazier to see a giant fire roaring in the fireplace in late June!

While it was nice to have a private tour, these areas are also open to anyone with a regular admission ticket. If you get the audioguide, you'll get a great overview about the kitchens and their purpose to daily life in the Tudor period. However, if you desire a deeper investigation into the eating habits and food preparation, you might want to spring for the tour.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze


Investigate the Secret Rooms of the Palace

Our second tour involved snooping around in the places that visitors normally couldn't go. We went to one of the storage attics and saw all of the other stuff the palace has, but doesn't have room to display.

We also had a private viewing of one of the palace's many apartments. There's not much going on in them unless you've got a guide to talk about what you should be looking at, so these are closed to the public.

Up until the 1950s, Elizabeth II would give these out to friends or important people. That practice has largely stopped nowadays, but the people who live there are grandfathered in until their deaths. How crazy would that be to LIVE at Hampton Court Palace? (You can't live there, but you can rent one for a holiday visit--this is definitely on my travel bucket list!)

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

We visited one that hasn't been occupied in a very long time; the tilework in the kitchen was classic 1950s. Our guide brought us to this one because

1) it has an awesome view of the gardens, and

2) it's supposed to be seriously haunted. Though, given the history of the palace, I have no doubt that there are still some disgruntled people still hanging around.

I didn't stray from the group during that tour because I wasn't interested in communing with anyone still lingering around.

I'm usually not one to advocate for an expensive private tour, but this was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. It was so cool to be able to walk through the Great Hall behind our guide, turn a corner, pull aside a tapestry, open a secret door, and just disappear into the bowels of the palace.


Spot all of the different monograms. 


We had a few minutes before our third and final tour, so we visited the beautiful center courtyard and Great Hall. Seeing all of the places where Henry had forgotten to (or given up on) changing his married insignia was pretty amusing.

I imagine after being married three or four times, you just don't care anymore. Plus, can you imagine how expensive it would be to commission a new married monogram AND have to replace the old ones?

See if you and your kids can spot the H&C (Henry and Catherine of Aragon, his first wife), the H&A (Henry and Anne Boleyn, whom he beheaded after 3 years of marriage), and the H&J (Henry and Jane Seymour, the mother of Prince Edward). He pretty much gave up on commissioning new monograms after that since he began to cycle through wives so quickly.

Luckily, the remaining 3 wives (Catherine Parr, Catherine Howard, and Anne of Cleves) shared initials with the first 3 wives, so he probably gave whatever monograms were left a pass.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

Learn about historic preservation


Our final tour about restoration in the palace was pretty amazing as well. For one part of the tour, we spoke with one of the in-house design staff, who was in the process of restoring Queen Victoria's wedding dress.

That beige two-piece that you see in the picture below is actually her original dress. Ultimately, pieces like this go on display in the palace or in a London museum, so it was a huge treat to see it that close and learn about the restoration process.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze
Queen Victoria was SO tiny! The specialist held a linen prototype up against the 9 year old boy (in the blue sweater, above), and the dress probably would have fit him!
 We also got to see the restoration process of one of the Great Hall's giant tapestries, but I didn't take pictures because the kids were getting restless and trying to crawl underneath this delicate loom that was holding a tapestry from the 1600s. Not that I was panicking or anything...

Explore the gardens.


The kids had a TON of pent up energy after being in tours all day, so we took them to the gardens. I could have wandered through those gardens all day. They were gorgeous and so peaceful. Sadly, we were running out of time, so we headed to the vineyard area and then turned around.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

Get lost in the maze.


We had one more place to go before we had to head back to our hotel: the maze! The parents had promised the kids a visit if they were good all day.

By the time that we got to the maze, the kids were exhausted but dealing with it. There was no way they were letting this opportunity pass. For almost an hour, they ran through the maze and explored every nook and cranny.

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

Dating back to the 1700s, this puzzle maze was originally designed as the answer to the traditional single path maze (which was very boring and only had one path that spiraled around itself to the center). The Hampton Court Palace maze is made from yew and is the UK's oldest surviving maze, which means that you're literally walking through history. 


Whenever I go back to England with Britton and Gibson (my two kiddos), I will definitely have Hampton Court Palace on my to-do list. I just hope that she finds the Tudors as interesting as I do! 

Are you interested in Henry VII and his wives? What would you like to do at Hampton Court Palace?

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What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze | CosmosMariners.com