Kensington Palace has been around for several centuries. It is a dominating fixture right on the outskirts of Kensington Gardens. You might be familiar with it now as the home for current members of the Royal Family such as Prince William and Duchess Catherine, but it dates back to a much earlier time. The 1600s to be more specific; let’s take a closer look at it.
Kensington Palace is located in the heart of the Kensington Gardens. It is accessible by Underground nearest the Kensington High Street station, Queensgate station or Notting Hill station. All of these will require about a 10-15 minute walk. There are many things to look at though and the walk is fairly pleasant. If you are taking an Uber or taxi, have them drop you off right in front of the Kensington Gardens gate on the Kensington High Street side. If you are taking the bus, there are several options along Bayswater Road or Kensington High Street. You can plan your route through the Transport for London (TFL) page here.
Admission to this palace is a little pricey at 20 pounds for the general public. I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to do it, but the more I read about its history, the more interested I became. There are several other discounted tickets available for seniors, students or even by purchasing it online here. Online tickets do need to be printed out in advance of your visit. There is a timed entry required for Kensington Palace on the day you want to visit.
If you buy it online, make sure you will be able to be at the palace at whatever time you select. There are no refunds or exchanges on your tickets. I wasn’t sure when I would be arriving or on what day so I opted to buy my ticket in person. I wasn’t sure lucky since I was able to go right into the palace after buying my ticket. Always check their website for closures and the most up to date information.
One excellent feature that tickets purchased in advance offer is the ability to turn your ticket into a donation! You must have your ticket validated by having it stamped by a ticket agent before you leave the palace. The donation of the proceeds of your ticket acts as a future return ticket to the palace where your ticket was purchased. In other words you can plan a return trip to the palace within the year at no additional cost. You will just have to call the booking line to plan the trip. Even if you are not sure if you will be returning within the next year, get your ticket stamped just in case.
Temporary Palace Exhibits
There is one permanent exhibit and two temporary exhibits when I went to the Palace. Check on the official website for the latest information. One of the temporary exhibits that is currently on display right now is Diana: Her Fashion Story. Until February, you are able to go into the upper level gallery and view many of the iconic clothing that Princess Diana wore during her tragically short lifetime.
Each clothing item has a photo and a short description about it or its designer inside the glass case. To me the most striking fact was how ahead of her times Princess Diana was. She was unafraid to go for statement pieces and wanted to show off color and creativity.
It was especially touching for me when I was able to visit. It happened to be my last full day in London and was the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. Flowers littered the front gates of Kensington Palace as did quite a few of her fans and her well wishers.
If you are going to the palace, I would recommend going to see this exhibit first as it will be more crowded before going to the next one or the Queen and King’s apartments. Take your time as you move through the cases as this is the largest of the exhibits on display.
Next up was what I was most anxious to see: Victoria Revealed. The second temporary exhibit that was at Kensington Palace had was a display on the life and the story of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and it is thanks to her that the palace is the way it is today. Once she became Queen, Victoria felt compelled to restore Kensington Palace to its former glory.
In the 1800s, Kensington Palace’s largely unused wings were quite literally disintegrated and falling apart. One of the guides I asked stated that Queen Victoria was well known to disappear into the ruins and play hide and go seek in the areas where she would not be found. Queen Victoria wanted the palace preserved for future generations.
The displays available in the Victoria Revealed collection include her personal diary, furniture and some of her jewelry!The tiaras and jewelry no display rivals that of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. As such it has several guards and is well protected behind glass cases. The large takeaway here is the love between Victoria and Albert and the personal touches she put into her letters that you have to see in person to experience.
The Queen and King’s Apartments
The permanent exhibit of Kensington Palace are the oldest rooms in the palace. The Queen’s rooms belonged to Mary II. Mary II was crowned in 1689 and lived the majority of her short life here. You will be able to walk through her bedroom, dining room, closet and gallery. The decorations are muted in color, but the views of the garden make up for the finery.
The lavish King’s Apartments of King George III are almost the complete opposite of Queen Mary’s rooms. They are bright, bold and golden. The King used his rooms in the 1730s not long after Queen Mary. I immediately thought of how the King would have wanted to build his own miniature version of Versailles to rival the French. You will walk through the Privy Chamber, Drawing Room, Cupola Room and Presence Chamber. These were by far my favorite decorations to look at.
Dining and Shopping
Once you make your way back down from the State Apartments, there is a gift shop, cafe and the Orangerie. I really wanted to eat at the Orangerie, but the prices were a little bit too high for me. Tea was also not served util after 12 pm. To compromise, I had some tea at the cafe and a scone. It’s a beautiful setting to sit and enjoy the gardens.
A word of warning is if you have jam; beware of wasps! I was swarmed when I took the lid off my jam and unable to eat it. I ran inside, but still had wasps on my food. Oh well. The kitchen staff was apologetic and fantastic to offer me a new scone. Eat inside if you have something sweet!
Tea also comes in English or regular. If you order English tea, it comes with milk. That is the only major difference. I recommend a good Earl Grey. Each pot comes with about 3 cups worth of tea and is a better deal than the coffee!
Shopping wise there are many books and touristy items you can shop for. If you spend enough you may also qualify for duty free shopping. This means the tax can be refunded to you at the airport. The shop is open to those without tickets to the rest of the palace if you want to buy items there without seeing the palace. I recommend the ornaments myself.
If you walk outside and enjoy the Italian Gardens, there are some great photo opportunities. You can just imagine Princess Diana sitting out there and enjoying herself. Look for the Queen Victoria statue and reflecting pool towards the Kensington Gardens entrance. It’s where many of the media stand when they report from Kensington Palace.
If you are looking for the modern royals, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they have their own area of the palace that are not open to the public and well hidden from view. The palace is well worth a visit if you have the time, but don’t rush as I did. You can see everything in under 2 hours. Enjoy the grounds as it’s one of the best parts of the attraction. Until next time, happy travels!