Searching for the Royals at Kensington Palace

Searching for the Royals at Kensington Palace

© Historic Royal Palaces

My ten year old is obsessed with the Royal Family. It started when he was three and asked for a royal birthday party with a cake in the shape of a king’s head. He wore a purple cloak and a crown for the whole day – and for most of the next two years. Nowadays he reads everything he can get his hands on about the royals past and present. His favourite are the Queen (obviously) and Prince Harry but he loves reading all the stories about the famous kings and queens of the past, particularly Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.

We’ve visited Buckingham PalaceHampton Court and Windsor Castle so it was only a matter of time before we made it to Kensington Palace, the current London home of William and Kate and former home of Princess Diana and Queen Victoria.

The first thing you see are the iconic Gold Gates, so well remembered for being the focus of public grief in the summer of 1997 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when they were covered with flowers which stretched all the way into Kensington Gardens.

Once inside the palace there are several trails which take you around the rooms, concentrating on the particular kings and queens that have lived here.

The Queen’s State Apartments are the oldest part of the palace. These are the rooms that were created for William III and Mary II when they were crowned as joint monarchs in 1689.

The Queen’s Gallery was built in 1693 as a large, airy room where Mary could play with her pet dogs and do her embroidery. Further along you’ll find the wood-panelled Queen’s Dining Room. This was where the King and Queen would eat together in private – they had a surprisingly simple diet, often just eating fish washed down with beer.

Harry and I loved finding out the stories of some of the monarchs that have lived here. There are plenty of family tragedies: poor Mary II died of smallpox aged 32 – she only ruled for four years. Her sister, Princess Anne, who eventually succeeded her as Queen Anne in 1702, had 17 pregnancies but only one child survived past infancy. His name was William and he also died of smallpox – at the age of 11.

Anne was often ill herself. She suffered from gout and became so lame and overweight in later years that she had to be carried around court in a sedan chair.

The grand rooms that make up the King’s State Apartments are those that were used by King George II and his wife, Queen Caroline, when they made the palace their home from 1727 until the King’s death in 1760. You enter the apartments by walking up the marvellous King’s Staircase. The walls were painted to recall life in the court of King George I. All the characters of the court are here, including the King’s Turkish servants and Peter ‘the wild boy’, a naked and silent boy who had been found living alone in the woods in Germany and was brought to London as a curiosity.

King George II and Queen Caroline held their court in these rooms and you get a real feeling for what life was like in Georgian London as you wander around. George II was raised in Hanover in Germany but unlike his father, George I, who only spoke German, George II embraced Britishness and insisted that only English be spoken at court. In a quote that endeared him to his British subjects he declared the British to be:

“The handsomest, the best shaped, the best natured, and the lovingest people in the world, and that if anybody would make their court to him, it must be by telling him he was like an Englishman.”

He’s won me over already.

We rather liked the striking red walls in the Presence Chamber where the King received courtiers and foreign ambassadors and we loved the grand tapestries hung on the walls of the Privy Chamber but we were most impressed by the Cupola Room, the most splendidly decorated room in the palace. This was where the composer, Handel, brought his troupe of Italian opera singers to entertain the court. It’s also where Queen Victoria was christened.

Next door, the King’s Drawing Room was only for the most privileged guests. The room was opened up to “suitably dressed visitors” at 10pm several times a week. It was here that the Queen loved to gamble at cards. Courtiers would risk their fortunes playing games like whist and quadrille here.

Searching for the Royals at Kensington Palace

© Historic Royal Palaces

The King’s Gallery is the largest of the state apartments and still looks as it did when it was decorated for George I in 1727. The dial over the fireplace was created for William III and is still connected to a wind vane on the roof. The King could use it to see which way the wind was blowing, where his navy was heading and when the post was likely to arrive. The map shows Great Britain as the same size as France. An optimistic error given that France is twice as big.

Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in 1819 and Victoria Revealed takes you around the rooms in which she grew up and includes some fascinating objects from her personal life, from her childhood toys to extracts from her diaries and sketchbooks.

You enter via the staircase, where in 1836, Victoria met Prince Albert for the first time, declaring him “extremely handsome.” You then go into the Red Saloon where Victoria held her very first privy council meeting on her first day as queen. In the next room you’ll find a drawing room and the piano where Victoria and Albert played duets together. Some of the young Queen’s dresses are in here. We couldn’t believe how tiny they were – Victoria was obviously very short and slender when she was younger.

We then went into the room where she was born. Victoria’s father died when she was still a baby so she grew up alone with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The young princess was brought up very strictly. She slept in her mother’s room until she became queen and she was never allowed out of the sight of an adult. She was hardly ever permitted to meet other children so she was very lonely, describing her childhood as “very unhappy.”

You can see her doll’s house and some of the 132 tiny wooden dolls that she played with. She gave them all names and made clothes for them with the help of her governess. Like our own Queen, Victoria was a keen animal lover. She loved riding her pony in Kensington Gardens and adored Dash, her King Charles spaniel, dressing him up in a red jacket and trousers. Dash was her constant companion and the first thing she did after her coronation in 1838 was to rush home and give him a bath.

The later rooms highlight Victoria’s long reign and the grief she experienced when her beloved Albert died in 1861. On display is the heart-shaped crystal locket she wore after his death which contains a lock of the prince’s hair, and one of the black mourning dresses that she insisted on wearing for the rest of her life. There is even some fascinating footage from a video of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

We really enjoyed the Fashion Rules Restyled exhibition which showcases some of the dresses designed for Princess Margaret in the 1950s, the Queen in the 1960s and 1970s and Princess Diana in the 1990s.

This is an amazing opportunity to see some of the iconic dresses worn by Princess Diana including the Catherine Walker green velvet evening dress she wore for her Vanity Fair shoot with Mario Testino. I particularly loved the full skirts and nipped-in waists of Princess Margaret’s look in the 1950s. You can even see some of the exquisite drawings created by designers like Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies while they were working on a dress for the Queen.

You must see the gardens after your visit around the palace. Take the Wiggly Walk, a long sloping path in between clipped hedges, up to the Sunken Garden, an 18th-century style garden with flower beds and an ornamental pond with fountains. If you’ve got time, wander around the wonderful Kensington Gardens. See if you can find the Peter Pan statue, go boating on the lake or play on the pirate ship in the brilliant Diana Memorial Playground.

Kensington Palace is open from 10am until 6pm. Adults, from £16.90; children, free. On Wednesdays and Saturdays in term time, under 5s can take part in ‘Tiny Explorers’, creative play sessions involving music, messy play and stories.

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76 thoughts on “Searching for the Royals at Kensington Palace

    • He loves the idea of himself in his purple cloak and crown too! He’s the child who went to Buckingham Palace, took one look at the grand staircase and walked up and down it about ten times just so that he could feel what it was like to be the Queen!

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    • I think Queen Victoria is really intriguing. She had such an awful childhood but was so self assured when she became Queen. It’s so tragic that her soulmate died so young. There’s something very Miss Havisham about her going into mourning for decades afterwards. It’s fascinating being able to see some of the rooms where she grew up. Thanks so much for linking up with #citytripping

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    • It’s a wonderful place to visit. The history of the people who’ve lived at the palace is fascinating. My son and I both found the Queen Victoria rooms the most interesting of all.

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    • I can imagine! We’ve been to a fair few of them now although not necessarily in the same year. Having said that, most of the palaces are so interesting you’d want to visit more than once. Thanks so much for linking up to #citytripping.

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    • My two are both really into history and that’s partly because of the wonderful castles and palaces we’ve taken them to since they were little. It’s so fascinating finding out the stories behind the people and historic places we’re lucky enough to have so much of in the UK.

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  1. As an American, Royals to me are a baseball team and seem very far away and foreign. But since I have lived in Copenhagen where the Danish Royal family is also very adored and admired, we have been sucked into the fairy tale of castles and carriages and gardens and guards. It is so very interesting! I will admit I always loved Diana, so seeing her home and dresses would be amazing. Thanks for sharing! #CityTripping

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    • I’m very keen to visit the palace at Copenhagen and I know my kids would love it. It really was wonderful seeing some of Diana’s dresses. Harry and I would both have liked to have taken a tour of the rooms she lived in. I think William and Kate should open up their rooms to the public, given that they’re in Norfolk most of the time anyway!

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  2. What a great review and how curious that your son has been obsessed by the Royal family for so many years! I’m really keen on history and find it fascinating to read all about the people who lived there and their history captured in rurals.
    I have never visited Kensington Palace but it looks absolutely fascinating and I know the fashion museum will be of interested to my 8yo
    Great review. Thank you !
    #CityTripping

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    • Thank you so much, Tracey. My son’s very lucky because there are so many royal-related things to see, both past and present, in the UK. He’s certainly going to have a good grasp of history by the time he gets to secondary school! We loved all the stories behind the beautiful rooms at Kensington Palace.

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  3. I haven’t been to Kensington Palace but now want to go! I love all the history behind it and all the stories you shared, some so sad. The gardens look beautiful and my little 6 year old fashionista would love that fashion exhibit! #citytripping

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    • This was our first visit and we both found it so interesting. I loved the story about George II and his great love of the English – rather fortunate given that he was their king! The fashion exhibition really was something. Amazing to see some of those famous dresses in real life. The detail was incredible. Thanks so much for linking up with #citytripping this week.

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  4. What a wonderful insight into Royal life. Thanks for the tour Clare…I must visit! Th gardens look beautiful too. Thanks for covering my #citytripping duties xx

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  5. What do you think prompted your son’s fascination with the royal family Clare? I became interested in them around the age of 8 and voraciously read a lot of historical romances in my early teens set in Tudor and Medieval times. Later on I became a staunch republican! Regardless of your political persuasion there is a lot to love about Kensington Palace as you have detailed so wonderfully here. We have visited a few times as we bought a Historic Royal Palaces annual pass. I think it is very good value for any history loving family actually and allows you to skip the entry queues. A definite plus at the Tower of London.

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    • I think it’s a lot of things, Katy – he loves the costumes, the pomp and ceremony, the great stories, the fabulous castles and palaces…. My two are both really into castles and palaces, often attempting to create their own marvellous creations on Minecraft! Harry also loves the power that comes with royalty, I suspect. He loves the perceived glory that comes with it!

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  6. What fantastic photos – I do love some royal history, and it’s fascinating to see somewhere which was home to kings and queens centuries ago still housing the royals today (although I am definitely more interested in the historic monarchs!). I think the dresses would be my favourite bit, what gorgeous designs. #Citytripping

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    • The history of the royals is endlessly fascinating, both in this country and abroad. There are always so many wonderful and bizarre stories to be told. The stories really bring those colourful characters to life. Kensington Palace was a really interesting place to wander around and it was such a bonus that they had a good fashion exhibition on at the same time.

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  7. What an amazing experience. I’m such a royalist and would absolutely love to visit Kensington Palace. The fashion exhibition looks fantastic and the gardens are gorgeous. Definitely one for our next trip to London…maybe when the girls are a bit older to appreciate the beauty of the place! #citytripping

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    • Thanks so much, Claire. Kensington Palace is definitely worth a visit – the rooms are wonderful and I loved how you could take different tours around different periods of history. Love the gardens too – even the littlest children can enjoy those, although we saw some tiny tots having a wonderful time with music and dance during one of the under 5s sessions at the Palace itself. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. Oh I’m a fan of the royals too! I think I’m more aware about the British royals than my Malaysian King & Queen! (oops) 🙂 Great post – I hope to visit Kensington Palace and Hampton Court when I get the chance to visit London again. Visited Buckingham Palace in 2008 – during the summer till Sept (I think), some parts of the Palace are opened to the public. The experience was amazing!

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    • Thanks so much! It’s great when you can visit the palaces that the royals still live in although I’m still waiting for them to open up the less formal rooms so we can really see how they live. We loved our visits to Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court too – both well worth a visit. Can you visit any of the royal palaces in Malaysia?

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      • The royal palaces in Malaysia are not opened to the public unless it’s a former palace which is turned into a museum. I reckon they don’t want the public to know how much of our taxes contribute to their extravagant and excessive lifestyle! 😉

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  9. The fact that you started this story with the details of your son’s love of the royal family was genius. It completely sets the tone for the whole piece. I’m already a fan of visiting historical landmarks but imaging you and your son taking this tour was priceless.

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  10. To be honest, your son sounds awesome 😉 (Wish I could wear a purple cloak, haha). Your photos are beautiful, I’d love to visit the palace. How come it was so empty though?

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    • I know! Purple cloak and crown – what’s not to like?! The interior photos are all courtesy of historic royal palaces so they take the best shots before the visitors get there!

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  11. What a fantastic post. I visited here in 2011 for the Enchanted Palace exhibition which focuses on the sad, lonely lives of many of the princesses that lived here. It was an excellent exhibition, if not slightly surreal. You reminded me of the story of the wild boy Peter! I remember being quite taken with that.

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  12. Last time I was in London, I decided to do day trips, and Kensington Palace popped up as an alternative. Ruled it out, because I’ve seen plenty of castles. This just confirmed my decision, that castles are not my cup of tea anymore. Thanks 🙂

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  13. Deary me. I had no idea there was so much to Kensington Palace. Which is stupid when you consider that I think the other royal palaces are pretty splendid, from a visiting point of view. Had I known I might have ventured inside, instead of spending a lot of time chasing my kids round the round pond opposite. Hey ho.

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  14. I can relate to your boy. I had a obsession with kings, queens, counts and other nobility as well when I was young. Later in life, I turned my interest into profession and I became historian. 🙂
    Fantastic post! #MondayEscapes

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    • That’s hilarious, Nell! She must have had a tough time recently with all the coverage the Queen has had on the TV…I’m sure she’d like the dolls and costumes though. There’s even a toy box in Queen Victoria’s old bedroom for kids to play with.

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  15. Just when I thought I had seen all I wanted to see in London, I find some fascinating nuggets from you to tempt me to Kensington Palace. From the delights of eating fish with beer (sounds good to me) to a wiggly walk in the gardens, I’m hooked!
    #mondayescapes

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  16. I’m with your son – for the longest time, purple was my favorite color after reading that it was the “royal color.” Would love to visit Kensington – both for the history and the awesome interiors. Thanks for showcasing lots of both!

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  17. It’s been several years since I’ve been to Kensington Palace, but reading your post I began to relive the rich decor, tapestries and stories that went along with them. It’s great your son who loves royalty was able to go and experience what it might have really been like to be king.

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    • I’m so sorry not to reply sooner, Brooke – I just found your comment in my spam folder. Thanks so much for commenting. My son’s still reliving the excitement of pretending to be a king at the palace – he strolls down our stairs very regally!

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  18. Clare this sounds like a dream, I have to go. To walk in the footsteps of Queen Victoria must be incredible, to see those stairs where she met Prince Albert. And to see her dolls house, wow. When I was little I had a book about Dolls houses and Victoria’s was featured in it, I would love to see it in real life x

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    • My son and I found the rooms about Queen Victoria the most interesting of all the rooms we saw in the palace. I was fascinated by the stories of her childhood and it was really thrilling to see the room in which she was born and the top of the stairs where she first looked down and caught a glimpse of the man who was to be the love of her life. Just loved it!

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  19. I didn’t realise you could visit Kensington Palace. The rooms look as stately as you’d expect – it would be great to be able to peak into the currently lived in areas to see how they’re furnished! #Mondayescapes

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    • Absolutely! The Cambridges don’t seem to spend that much time there so I think we really should be able to go round the rooms and have a peak! It would make a good comparison with the Georgian and Victorian areas.

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  20. As a ten year old I’m sure he is very fond of all the stories around queens and kings – how about Sissi in Vienna? You could combine a visit to the city with a visit to Sissi’s Castle and tell your son all the stories around the Austrian-Hungarian-Empire?

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    • That’s a brilliant idea, particularly for my Harry! He’s really into small historical figures and, interestingly, Princess Sissi is one of his favourites so it’s perfect for him. He’s very keen to go to Austria actually. Thanks so much.

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  21. Absolutely stunning gardens. The history too… I’m not a Royal fan but even I must admit to go to the room where Victoria was born is quite something. We really must make a trip here. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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