Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Family Adventures: Hampton Court Palace & Tower of London
I don't think that anyone could argue that the UK is packed with historical sites.
Having lived at various points throughout the UK, I can honestly say it feels like no matter where you live you could visit a castle or former palace in under an hour if you were inclined to do so.
However, there are comparatively few that are so steeped in history that they are known throughout the world but I'd say that the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace definitely qualify!
And we've visited both this year.
Hampton Court Palace we visited this summer as part of our summer adventures and we visited the Tower of London during the October half-term.
It wasn't the first time the professor and I have visited these places but it was the first time the little dude had visited Hampton Court (that he remembers!) and the first time that my mum had ever visited the Tower so both visits had a new feel as we experienced them through a set of fresh eyes each time.
The day we visited Hampton Court Palace was a soggy summer day, sadly.
It didn't affect the visit to the Palace but it did hamper the exploration of the gardens which, from a previous visit, I can tell you are huge, very pretty, and not something you'd want to miss.
However, it was just too wet to properly appreciate them so we spent most of our visit indoors walking around the palace.
The Palace offers an interactive tour guide and the children's version has challenges for each room. As you wander around the palace you have to look for the information you need and seek out the details highlighted in order to move onto the next challenge.
At the end of each time period, there was a quiz and for each quiz passed you could claim a prize (which were pin badges) at the visitor centre when handing the guide back.
It was a brilliant way of imparting information to kids in a way that engaged them.
The professor and I are history lovers so it's maybe not surprising that that love and fascination has been inherited by the little dude so he was all on board with completing the challenges.
Visiting Hampton Court Palace is a little bit like stepping back in time and I could almost see the stories of past Kings and Queens coming to life for him as we walked the halls.
From the Tudors to the House of Hannover, every room has a story to tell but it was the Tudor rooms that held the most interest for us.
How could they not? Henry VIII was quite the character and his story and that of his wives are embedded into the very fabric of this place.
From Catherine of Aragon to Anne Boleyn, then Jane Seymor through to Katherine Parr, I feel that each woman has left a mark on the collective psyche of this country and all haunt this opulent monument to the past in their own way.
One of the most spectacular things to see is the Royal Chapel but you're not allowed to take pictures of that one so you'll need to trust me on this... It's amazing.
The post-Tudor rooms somehow feel grander than those of the Tudors but the history contained within the walls feels diluted... This is probably because I don't really care much for the later Stuart monarchs nor do I have much interest or historical affection for the House of Hannover.
The only thing I can say is that they were some twisted puppies with a serious penchant for infighting and that the exhibits detail it all in a simple and family-friendly manner. 😉
For those spending the full day onsite, which would be super easy to do and not get bored, there are a couple of onsite cafes, plenty of bathrooms with baby changing facilities, and free wifi.
They also do everything they can to ensure that the palace is fully accessible to disabled visitors.
Basically, you have everything you need at Hampton Court to enjoy a full day out which is suitable for the entire family!
They even run special seasonal events to give you more to do and make every visit a little bit different.
If you have any kind of interest in history, especially that of good ol' Henry, then Hampton Court Palace is a must-see.
The Tower of London is one of those sites that once you've seen it, you've seen it.
It doesn't change much and while it's interesting and well worth a visit don't expect it to occupy a full day.
Having only visited in summer 2018, I wouldn't have gone back so soon but, as I mentioned above, my mum had never seen it and it was one of her 'bucket list' items, so off we went!
When I think of the Tower of London, I think of political prisoners, torture and executions, the Princes in the tower... I think of the Tower as a symbol of Royal power, of military might.
Basically, I think of it as a military garrison, prison and haunted pile of wtfery.
However, it's none of those things... But it's also all of those things.
As you can imagine it's history is long and very nuanced so just portraying it as I think of it is oversimplifying things.
The initial parts of The Tower of London - i.e the White Tower - were built back in the days of William the Conquerer as a symbol of military might and authority. Good old William whacked towers up all over the country, so it's not surprising that he had one built in the capital of England as a method of keeping his newly conquered subjects underfoot!
However, over the years, the Tower - due to being heavily garrisoned I imagine - has been the location of the Royal Mint, a royal palace, the treasury, a menagerie, and is currently the location of the crown jewels (and still a military garrison).
But let's not forget it was also a prison and it was the site of many a notable execution and a little bit of torture which was never actually a legal thing under English law...
My mum predominantly wanted to see the crown jewels and, like every time I've visited the Tower, the queue to do so was insanely long. It moves fast, but it still took us 30 minutes of queuing in the cold to get into the building.
The crown jewels are pretty amazing if you like lots of sparkly things.
My mum loves all the sparkly things so was in her element.
They don't lose their wow factor no matter how many times you see them but it always makes me sad that I can't take pictures of them and share their prettiness! 😟
(It also makes perfect sense that you can't.)
My mum also enjoyed the stories of the Royal Menagerie especially the story about the polar bear they used to keep on a super long chain so it could go swimming in the river Thames!
(The little dude was outraged by the very concept, lol.)
We spent about half a day at the tower exploring all the buildings before moving on into the city to show mum some of the other sites.
The nearest tube station is only a 5/10 minute walk so it's easy to move on to something else.
Entry prices are the same for both the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace as they are part of the Historic Palaces of London. Adult entry will set you back around £21 per person and children (aged 5-15) are roughly half that amount. They do offer family tickets (which work out cheaper) as well as membership to the Historic Palaces, which if you are visiting two or more, would work out the best deal as the Historic Palaces pass gets you into them all and you can visit as often as you like!
We got free entry to both due to a corporate membership to the Historic Palaces (which we're lucky to have) but even without it I wouldn't have begrudged paying the entrance fee as both are well worth seeing, at least once. 😊