Coming from the U.S., palaces and castles seem like something out of a storybook. We just don’t have them here. Part of Europe’s appeal for American tourists is being able to see and experience these magical places. That’s why Alex and I decided to visit several when we planned our anniversary trip to England. During our time there, we went to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace. While Buckingham Palace is located in downtown London, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace are both situated within an hour’s drive of the city.
Windsor Castle is one of the Queen’s official residences, about 25 miles outside of London. It’s in a beautiful part of the countryside and is therefore not accessible from the tube or train. Driving up to the Castle is interesting though, as it’s surrounded by a cozy little town. Public parking can be found nearby and is only about a 5 minute walk from the Castle.
The castle exterior is absolutely stunning. It’s one of very few castles of its age that remain in such excellent condition, thanks to the Monarchy’s ongoing presence. The style of architecture is very reminiscent of the Tower of London and in fact dates back to the same origins. Contrary to the exterior, the interior rooms of the castle were both modern and ornate.
During our visit, we got to see the Changing of the Guards. We missed the beginning when the Guards walk through the street, but caught the last 10 minutes inside the Castle walls. Typically, the entire ceremony takes about 30 minutes.
The castle is also home to St. George’s Chapel. It is actually much larger than I expected it to be. This is where King Henry VIII and his favorite wife, Jane Seymour, are buried.
Speaking of Henry VIII, the other palace we visited outside of London was Hampton Court Palace. It’s one of his former residences and is not currently occupied by the Monarchy.
We really enjoyed our time at this Palace and found it to be quite unique. It’s actually very interactive. You may just find Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn strolling around:
Inside the Palace is the Great Hall, where Henry indulged in feasting. We were joined in here by Henry VIII once again, along with Anne Boleyn’s brother George.
We followed both of them into the Great Watching Chamber, which is the entrance to Henry’s State apartments. They were met by Anne Boleyn, where a furious argument ensued between her and the King. At this point, they took leave of the sizable audience that had formed around them. With the help of our audio guides, we made our way through the rest of the palace independently.
The Tudor Kitchens were spectacular. They were all set up for the King’s nightly feast:
All sorts of food were being prepared, including soup, pies, and meat…all of the plastic variety. It still looked good enough to eat!
In addition to the Tudor experience at Hampton Court, there are several extensions from the 18th century and a vast, magnificent garden.
You could stroll around the gardens for hours if you wanted. You can even attempt to make your way through a hedge maze, for a small fee. The maze itself is fairly small, but still fun. We didn’t go through it this time, but have on previous visits to Hampton Court. This Palace is one of our favorites, especially because of its accessibility from London. Unlike Windsor Castle, it is accessible by train. You can take the tube to London Waterloo, and then hop a train to Hampton Court from there.