Only thirty miles up the River Thames from the Tower of London and 35 minutes by train from Waterloo station stands one of Britain’s most magnificent palaces, Hampton Court Palace.

Built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1520, and seized by Henry VIII after his failure to broker his marriage to Anne Boleyn, it stands as a monument to his reign, his consolidation of power and most notoriously to his six wives: two of whom were executed, Anne Boleyn and her cousin Catherine Howard; two divorced, Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves; one who died in childbirth, Jane Seymour; and one who surprisingly survived, Katheryn Parr.

Wander through the old Tudor Palace, visit the Great Hall, the Great Watching Chamber, the Chapel Royal and the largest surviving Renaissance kitchen in Europe that used to serve up over 1000 meals a day at the height of Henry’s reign. Follow the processional route from the King’s apartments to the Chapel and pass through the Haunted Gallery, where Catherine Howard’s ghost allegedly still screams for mercy.

Move on into the baroque palace, beautifully rebuilt by Mary II and her Dutch husband, William of Orange with Sir Christopher Wren as the architect and inspired by those of Louis XIV of France.  Visit the beautifully ornate King’s Staircase and private apartments, the Queen’s Audience Chamber, Bedchamber and Gallery and savour the atmosphere of the era before their sudden and untimely deaths.

Hampton Court is not just about the palace itself but its beautiful gardens and grounds stretching down to the River Thames. Also see the Privy Gardens restored in 1995 by Prince Charles, the Long Water excavated in the reign of Charles II and, of course, the world-famous maze. Lose yourself in the labyrinth of hedgerows and try to imagine the passion and vibrancy of this place at its zenith.


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