A major perk of my job is that I get free entry into the Historic Royal Palaces. Not wanting to waste a good opportunity, my fellow history-loving housemate eagerly headed into London.
After a short walk from the High Street Kensington underground station, we approached the southern side of the Palace. A fabulous statue of William III is in the foreground of the palace as it was he, alongside his co-ruler and wife Mary II, who bought the original house which was to becoming Kensington Palace. This is all behind some very regal black gates, highlighted with gold.
We moved around to the eastern side of the palace which is the more recognisable, especially when considered with the large statue of Queen Victoria in the foreground.
After sufficiently taking in our surroundings we headed inside. The visitor experience is divided into four sections; The King’s State Apartments, The Queen’s State Apartments, Victoria Revealed and the exhibition ‘Fashion Rules’.
We started with the sumptuous King’s Apartments which were created for state business. These were all sumptuously decorated, with painted ceilings and walls hung with silk. Dotted around the rooms were replica contemporary outfits made of paper which were expertly created. The white of the paper made their design appear spectacularly simple and so did not distract from its surroundings. The walls are hung with a wonderful selection of art, mostly from the Royal Collection, but as my art historical knowledge isn’t great I mainly liked the portraits of monarchs.
The Queen’s Apartments were a bit more reserved in their style and this was due to the Dutch influence. The brightly coloured, silk covered walls were replaced with more reserved colours or wooden panelling. The effect was that it became a much cosier, liveable space. It was in these apartments that Queen Caroline spent most of her life, and eventually, her death.
We then popped in to the ‘Fashion Rules’ long-term exhibition which demonstrated changes in British fashion through the royal icons of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana. Some of the earlier outfits were interesting to see, but we whizzed around pretty quickly, more interested in the rest of the palace.
The final section of the tour was Victoria Revealed. Queen Victoria was born and grew up at Kensington and consequently felt a special affinity for the palace for the rest of her life. The rooms in this section are arranged thematically; her love for Albert, her family, work, the Great Exhibition, mourning, and finally her death. Pictures adorn the walls and the layout and decoration of the first few rooms evoke a much more homely feel. Throughout the rooms extracts from Queen Victoria’s diary are everywhere, bringing a greater context to what you are seeing, making you feel considerably more involved with Victoria and her life.
The gardens are open to the public allowing anyone to have a look at the fabulous Dutch sunken garden. The dreary weather only emphasised the vibrant colours of the immaculately kept flower beds.
Having strolled around the garden we made our way to the Orangery for some afternoon tea. As it is quite expensive in there we were initially shocked at the frosty reception that we received and I think we were allowed about five seconds before our menus were snatched off us. Luckily the service improved significantly after this, but it certainly wasn’t a great first impression. Part of the tea was served on the most exquisite china which is sold in the palace shop. We opted for the English Orangery Afternoon Tea. For £26 this included – ‘Egg mayonnaise and cress bridge roll, Coronation chicken wrap, smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel, and cucumber and fresh mint sandwiches, Orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and English strawberry jam, and an assortment of afternoon tea pastries, Served with a range of loose teas, tisanes or coffee.’ The savoury items and the scones were divine but we weren’t overly enamoured by the desserts, but I always prefer savoury so if you have a sweet tooth I’m sure you would be in heaven!
The Orangery itself is wonderfully elegant and they had the some gorgeous floral arrangements at the entrance. The exceptionally high ceilings open up the space significantly so I imagine even when the restaurant is full, you wouldn’t feel too cramped.
After sufficiently gorging ourselves on all of the delights, we forced ourselves up out of our chairs, and very slowly made our way back to the tube station. I had an excellent day at Kensington. The Palace is the perfect size so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and you leave feeling like you have really learnt something. The routes around the palace are so involving and unlike in some places, didn’t come across as ‘gimmicky’. The food is a bit pricey as in most attractions of this nature, but if you do want to treat yourself it is of an excellent standard. We visited mid-week but in the middle of August so I was surprised at how quiet it was. Kensington is the perfect place if you want to soak up a bit of British history but still avoid the hoards of London tourists. They also have dressing up, what more could you want?