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London! Historic Palaces & Royal Residences!

IMG_4163The Tower of London is my must not miss of all the places in this post.  It might be my must not miss pick for all of London! It has something for everyone and is very family friendly.  It’s been around since 1066 and is still in use today!  I am absolutely fascinated by the idea that a lot of these buildings have been in constant use for 1000 + years!!  WOW!  There are many exhibits in the different buildings and the restaurants here have quite good food! Think fish & chips, roast beef, fresh scones, kid friendly food and even wine and beer.

You’ll probably recognize The Yeoman Warders when you see them as they’re a very iconic symbol of England and there is even a photo of one welcoming you to London in the airport! They’ve been guarding the Tower since Edward IV’s time! Their history is quite fascinating and they give free guided tours of The Tower in a very family friendly and funny style!

The Queen keeps the Crown Jewels here and even though they are still in regular use there is a very nice exhibit which displays them for public view. Often the lines for this exhibit can be quite long, but if you’ve never been I highly recommend it.  There are two ways to view.  The first is via a moving sidewalk that you just stand on and it moves you slowly by each display case and then on into another room filled with various items like plates, goblets and other types of jewelry.  The second room doesn’t have the moving platform so you can wander around at your leisure.  The second is via a raised platform on just the other side of the display cases with more detailed information printed out and displayed in front of each case. You’re a little further away but you can take your time. Both times we’ve visited we’ve gone through twice and done both, but we’ve never done this in high season, so I’m not sure how it would be with large crowds. My older son and I both love this exhibit!

Did you know that for 600 years the Tower of London was a zoo?!  Apparently past kings and queens needed a place to keep the exotic animals gifted to them from other monarchs around the world. There is a great exhibit here showcasing the different types of animals that lived here including a polar bear who lived in the moat and fished in the River Thames! There are super cool wire replicas of the animals throughout the grounds!

The Tower is also where they used to mint the kings money and there is a fairly recent exhibit. My boys were divided in their interest on this exhibit.

The first time we visited The Tower Simon was afraid to visit what is called The Bloody Tower, but on a return visit he decided he was brave enough to go in and discovered that it wasn’t really as scary as the name implies. Of course we are safe in the 21st century! This is where The Princes in the Tower disappeared/were murdered after being imprisoned here and there is a quite good exhibit offering many theories about what happened to them, but in the end it asks you to decide.

There are so many things to see here I could go on and on!  I would allow at least half a day to visit and maybe longer in the summer.  This is the place where Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s second wife) famously lost her head and she is buried in the chapel here.  If you’re interested in what it was like to go to war 500 + years ago there is an entire exhibit dedicated to arms and armor.  Ever wonder what plumbing was like hundreds of years ago? You can see what it was like to use the toilet way back when and there are rooms decorated with period furniture too!

We always visit the Tower when in London and in fact it was my pick for a birthday activity one year! There is no water in the moat and often they host activities in the summer months.  We had a chance to shoot a bow and arrow and wow it’s much harder than it looks!

Last year in honor of 100 years since the start of WWI there was an incredible display of ceramic poppies dedicated to those who lost their lives which I would have loved to have seen in person.  There was one poppy “planted” for each life lost. This photo is provided by the Historic Royal Palaces website as was the photos of the Yeoman Warders.

If you want to learn about a large span of english history with your family (or on your own) in a fun, interactive and inviting way this is the place to do it!

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is another great place to visit, and It’s celebrating its 500th anniversary this year! It’s located a bit outside of the city so if you have very limited time you might not want to make the trip. But I highly recommend it! If you do decide to go you can there via train or by boat! We went in the winter and took the train.

It was the favorite residence of King Henry VIII and I especially enjoyed visiting the hall where he presided over his court! Unfortunately I lost a lot of my personal photos a few years ago, so these photos are courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces website which is a fantastic reference.

Like most of the royal residences it’s very family friendly and there are people dressed in period costume performing and showcasing what life was like when this palace was still in use. Because this is the 500th anniversary I am sure there will be many spectacular activities and events taking place all year long!

The gardens here are spectacular and worth seeing all on their own.  They include a hedge maze which dates back to the 1600s! It’s fun to try and get to the center and harder than we thought it would be!

Buckingham Palace

I was fortunate enough to visit Buckingham Palace during Christmas time and it was spectacular! I highly recommend it but would suggest that younger kids might be bored. Every now and again they offer special tours and this was one!  For five weeks they offered two tours a day with 30 people per tour. It seemed very private. We were the only ones there in this 700+ room palace!  We  were able to walk through around 20 rooms and got to see everything up close and personal. No velvet ropes keeping us back from anything and nothing removed to accommodate the thousands of visitors which trample through every summer.  We entered through a side door in the palace wall and it was all very exciting!

The palace has been largely untouched since Queen Victoria lived there and yet everything is in perfect condition and of course incredibly beautiful! All of this was made even more special by the fact that everything was decked out with incredible holiday decorations and Christmas trees!  At the end of the two hour tour we had champagne and got to shop in what’s normally the billiards room.  I picked up some ornaments and a few tea towels. Here is the crown ornament I purchased on my own tree at home.

Kew Palace

Kew Palace is located within the Kew Botanical Gardens and is only open April through September.  It was a royal residence and retreat and although a quite lovely place from the outside there isn’t a lot to see inside.  I recommend visiting only if you’re already going to Kew (a fabulous place to visit, but more on that in another post).

Windsor Castle

We visited Windsor Castle in 2006 on our first family trip to England.  This was in the springtime when the Queen was not in residence and we took an audio tour.  Tim stayed with Simon and I went at my own pace.  Like Buckingham Palace there are at times special tours of Windsor and if I ever get another chance to visit I’m definitely taking one!

St. George’s Chapel is located on the grounds of Windsor Castle and there are 10 monarchs buried there. Including Henry the VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. If you are a lover of history and especially Tudor history this will be a must not miss for you!

Windsor is not only a castle but also a town and there are quite a few nice shops and restaurants to poke around before you take the train back to London or wherever your next destination might be.

Kensington Palace

We also visited Kensington Palace on the 2006 trip and weren’t all that impressed. there was an exhibit of Princess Diana’s gowns, but I didn’t think it was done very well.  I’m not sure what it would be like now since it’s been quite a few years, but at the time I remember being very unimpressed and disappointed that I had wasted the price of admission.  I recently looked online and see that there are many exhibitions on display and some are probably very good as it looks like they’ve updated it quite a bit.  The gardens are also very beautiful. I have a similar picture in my collection, but this one provided by the Historic Royal Palaces website is just a tiny bit better. 😉

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