Lower the drawbridge! Britain’s royal palaces are starting to open their very large doors to the public once again, following lockdown.
Here we round up existing Royal Palaces you can visit, along with the larger historic palaces.
The Berkshire landmark is said to be the Queen’s favourite residence. Her royal dynasty is named after it. Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle on the planet, founded by William the Conqueror almost 1,000 years ago. There’s an absolute ton for families to explore here, from the glorious state apartments to St George’s Chapel, where Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. The neighbouring Windsor Great Park is ideal for picnics. All this, just a short train ride from London. Full details here. Timed tickets must be purchased in advance.
The birthplace of Queen Victoria remains a working palace, though large sections are open to the public. Families can wander through the State Apartments, follow an exhibition about Victoria, and admire the outfits worn by Diana, Princess of Wales -- another former resident. The palace is open under reduced hours on Wednesdays through Sundays, and booking must be made in advance. When you’re done exploring the palace, consider taking the kids on our family-focussed walk around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.
Tower of London
No monarch has slept in the Tower for many years, but it still retains its Royal Palace status. This is a building that needs very little introduction. Its bloody history and ancient customs are world famous, and we all know about the Crown Jewels, the Yeoman Warders (beefeaters) and the ravens (or do we?).
The Tower has reopened to visitors, with prebooked tickets. At the time of writing, all outdoor areas, the central White Tower and the Crown Jewels are all accessible (Wed-Sun), but other buildings are closed. If you can’t make it in person, try this 360-degree virtual tour for a taster. Just don’t lose your head over it.
Hampton Court Palace
On the western edge of London, Hampton Court is intimately associated with Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty (even though his successors also made significant marks on the building and grounds). With reduced visitor numbers in place, now is the perfect time to explore this historic pile -- the lack of crowds makes it easier to soak in the atmosphere. Sadly, the famous hedge maze is closed (you can’t really observe social distancing in its tight turns), but much of the rest of the estate, including 60 acres of garden, is open to explore. The Palace always puts on plenty of activities for families. One of the many highlights is the Tudor Summer School, where kids can test their knowledge of that ever-popular era. Read our full guide here.
The State Rooms, usually open for visits during the summer, will remain closed this year (with a possible opening in winter). Even the ceremonial Changing of the Guard is on hiatus, to avoid crowd build-up.
However, two smaller sections of the palace estate are open. The Royal Mews, which houses Her Majesty’s carriages, horses and everything that goes with them, is a real novelty for children and, in some ways, more rewarding than the State Rooms themselves. The Mews also has activity trails for children. Next door, the Queen’s Gallery has also reopened. One for older children, the gallery displays highlights from the Royal Collection -- a world-class collection of Old Master paintings and furnishings.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh is a top choice for an educational visit. The palace at the end of the Royal Mile has close associations with both Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and is therefore a peerless place to learn about the turbulent history of our nations before the formation of the United Kingdom. Visitors can explore the State Apartments, Throne Room and Gallery, along with the extensive grounds and remains of an abbey. As per other venues, entrance is by prebooked ticket only. And you’re advised to bring your own earphones for the self-guided tour.
Other Royal Residences
Balmoral Castle: The Aberdeenshire attraction remains closed, except for the visitor centre. No opening date is currently offered.
Banqueting House: The only significant survival from the Palace of Whitehall in London is now managed by Historic Royal Palaces. It is expected to remain closed until March 2021.
Kew Palace: A (relatively) small home for Georgian monarchs, within the grounds of Kew Gardens. Sadly, it is expected to remain closed until March 2021.
Sandringham House: A private residence of the Royal Family, rather than a palace, the Norfolk house and grounds will be open to visitors from 8 August (Sat-Tue).
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
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Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
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