If you are not a local you probably know of Windsor or Buckingham Palace, but there is a little place called Hampton Court Palace. While the queen doesn’t keep her toothbrush there this doesn’t mean you should skip it.
Though the level of freedom to explore wasn’t as good as at Dover Castle, there is a lot to see and do. I’ll spare you the history (there’s lots to read and a audio tour), but let’s just say a lot of stuff happened in the last 500 years, even more that you saw in Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors.
Follow me today and explore the best spots to explore at Hampton Court Palace.
Henry VIII’s Palace
Loved seeing where Henry VIII and his wives hung out. The Great Hall was a spectacle and I enjoyed the table setting with the history of the dishes, but it didn’t beat the one in Oxford (Potter for life). The Chapel Royal was a peaceful hideaway … but for me it was the ‘entertainment’ room with lounge pillows all over the place, board games and a stained glass window that hit the spot.
Willem III Apartments
My Dutch homeboy and his wife Mary hung out here for a bit in the 1690s and asked the guy who designed St. Paul’s to pimp up the place and dazzle them with new ceiling paintings. The group of French school kids I saw were definitely impressed, but I really loved the fact that one of them was geeking out on history but trying to play it cool.
I had heard so many stories about the kitchens but they were sadly closed for refurbishment. The kitchen gift shop it still open though. The wine cellar was #goals and would the centrepiece on my vision board if I had one.
The Gardens and Grounds
The Privy Garden was where I imagine Henry would impress his visitors, courtiers and mistresses and now obviously commoners like us. I loved seeing the adults walking around in awe while the younger kids were having much more fun playing with pebbles. The most entertaining bit was spotting a swan trying to follow his friend through a fence in the canal and not quite managing it. It seemed really embarrassed about this … it seems even the most elegant of us all can fail at something sometimes.
Public Park and Maze (!!!)
For somewhere that you can enter for free the public park section (the Wilderness and surroundings) is very pretty and well kept. But most importantly let’s talk MAAAZE!
The amount of times I’ve rushed to a garden ‘maze’ to be confronted by child- friendly bushes only a metre tall is sadly far too many than I’d like to admit. But Hampton Court Palace’s maze stands a mighty 3 meters, so not cheating for you! I got lost and loved it, plus it’s a great secret photo spot too.
You can get to Hampton Court Palace on the train from Waterloo station. The journey takes around 35 minutes and the train station is a short walk to the palace. If you want to take it to the next level, arrive at the palace by riverboat to channel your inner Henry or Anne. Just remember the boat takes around 3 hours from Westminster pier.
Every year around Easter, summer and Christmas my inbox explodes with questions from people who found my blog and want to know more about things to do and see in London, which always surprises me as the internet is so full of recommendations, but I’m happy to share the most frequently asked ones.
The best neighbourhood to stay?
The closer to Central London the more expensive it gets, but the further out the more you’ll pay for travel. If it’s a short trip and you don’t want to travel too much then consider paying more for a hotel. I would say zone 2/3 to save money on travelcards and travel time. For Air BnB look at areas closer to the famous one. Camden too expensive? Try Kentish Town! Shoreditch too steep? Look at Bethnal Green instead. Hostels can be found everywhere but some of my faves are The Clink (my very London Hostel), the Generator and St Christopper’s Inn.
What dessert or sweet treat would you recommend for someone visiting London for the first time and where?
Afternoon tea perhaps? Sketch is worthwhile, but I can imagine that’s not in everyone’s budget so you could check GroupOn for cheaper options. Marks & Spencers also offer afternoon tea at its big branches. My go-to treat is a Signature Slice from Timberyard, with GAIL’s carrot cake a close second, and pretty much any ice-cream from Chin Chin Labs.
What’s the best time of the year to visit the city?
I notice more tourists in the summer and around Christmas and that’s probably for a reason. And who am I to say anything else?
What are your recommendations of things to do in the London in the evening?
For me personally it’s watching whatever show I’m binging at the moment, but I imaginee that’s not what you’re in London for. But I love doing the walk from the London Eye to Tower Bridge as you get to see the famous sights in a different light. You can go see a movie, try your luck at a music venue, hope there’s a late night museum event on, chow down at a night street food market, check if there is a (pub) quiz anywhere around you or just go for a pint.
What top London attractions are worth paying for?
For me personally it was worth it paying to see a play Shakespeare’s Globe and visiting View From The Shard. The London Eye...not so much. You can get away with doing London on the cheap by sticking to the museums.
If I was visiting London for a weekend and wanted to have one brunch at the best most typical place, what do you recommend?
Hmm typical? How about traditional. A Sunday roast at a local pub? A Sunday Roast consists of meat, roast potatoes, gravy, roast vegetables and the delight known as Yorkshire Pudding (hint: it’s not pastry). I also think the brunch menu at Aster (Victoria) and German Gymnasium (King’s Cross) are great value for the money. They are more likely to have a queue so keep that in mind when planning your day.
What the best food street market to visit?
I don’t know about the best, but my all time favourites are Maltby Street and Broadway Market as they are always fun and vibrant without getting too crowded.
Where would I find some great vintage shops?
I loved the East End Thrift Shop and all of my best buys came from that place, but they recently closed and sometimes have a pop up show. Beyond Retro in both Camden and Brick Lane and Rokit in Covent Garden have relatively ok priced vintage clothes.
Where can we find awesome vegetarian food in London?
I’m not a vegetarian, more a flexitarian so I don’t really hunt these down. The few veggie places I’ve been didn’t leave a big impression and often felt like they only had one seasoning in their spice rack. Most places in London have a vegetarian option which has never let me or my taste buds down. However I have it on good advice from a v. friend that long-running organic vegetarian diner Mildreds in Soho, The Gate chain and serve-yourself salad spot Tibits off Regent Street are all worth popping into.
Where can I find the best street art in London?
The most obvious one is in and around Brick Lane and Shoreditch where you’ll find all the spots that you’ve seen on Instagram. You’ll find the famous David Bowie just across from Brixton Station and I’ve also encountered nice examples while walking around in Camden, Kentish Town and Hackney.
What is the most important thing I need to know about London for a first time visit?
Stand on the right when on an escalator – especially during rush hour – and always ALWAYS! let people out of the tube carriage before going in. Also please don’t be so loud.
If you could eat at any one place in London for dinner, without regards to worry about price or reservations, where are you going?
Probably Duck & Waffle as it’s such a hassle to get to and if I could revisit one for the over the top experience it would be L’Atelier Robuchon.
Which is your favourite location in London from where you can see the entire city? Would you rate any of it better than London Eye?
When I lived in Kentish Town I loved walking to Hampstead Heath – it’s a green oasis and perfect to get away from the crowded city life and enjoy the view. But I imagine you might be looking for something more central, so why not go for the 360 degree panorama view from The Switch House at Tate Modern (free) or Sky Garden (also free, if you manage to get a reservation) or if you have budget, St. Paul’s Cathedral or View From The Shard are worth it too. I’m not a big fan of the London Eye and one of the most read posts on here here is actually the post on why I don’t like it. It might a fun experience, but don’t do it for the view.
Where would you say is the best breakfast place in London?
In Central London I like the Black Penny in Covent Garden/Holborn, followed by the nearby NY/Parisian style Balthazar. And if you are going South then Duck Egg Cafe at the Prince of Wales in Brixton or the pancakes at Three Eight Four. I always see a queue outside the Breakfast Club venues, but I’m not too much of a fan and prefer the Diner when it comes to chain breakfast options.
What are some of the non-touristy and less explored places to check out in London?
I’m going to mention the obvious ones first – as they are popular for a reason: Brighton for the hippy seaside vibe, Oxford for discovering the places that influenced your favourite books, and the charmingly traditional and quaint Leigh On Sea.
If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson, or stop frame animation you need to ‘pup’ down to the free exhibition featuring the puppets, models and sets used for his new film, Isle of Dogs.
It’s a rare chance to walk into the world of Anderson and savour the pop-up exhibition featuring 17 original sets from the movie. While your eyes feast on the intricate displays, your can also treat your tastebuds to ramen noodle paradise at a life-size recreation of the noodle bar featured in the film. And to complete your walk into Anderson Land the original score by Alexandre Desplat sets the scene.
Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.
It’s probably best to to watch the movie beforehand, but the experience is just as magic without. The exhibition runs til Thursday 5 April and is open daily from 10am – 7pm (Thursday and Friday until 10pm).
Can’t make it? Or not bothered by the queues? Here’s some snaps to tempt you.
This was my second visit to Granary Square’s House of Illustration in King’s Cross. The first being Female Comic Creators which had so much potential, but in my opinion was a bit of miss and lacked coherence.
When I read that this guy was showcasing posters, comics and packaging from North Korea it reminded me of the American student who was imprisoned for attempting to steal and export a propaganda poster…so you can say it had my interested piqued and I wanted to give the venue a second chance.
As you enter the first room with socialist style posters you’re given a sheet of paper with the translations explaining them, which worked really well. I won’t give too much away, but I loved the vivid, surreal and optimistic design that was refreshingly sincere. But there were too many pictures and not enough storytelling to transport me to Pyongyang (I realise for £8.25 that’s too much to ask). It might have been interesting to learn how the collector managed to get hold of everything and what his thoughts were (maybe that’s the book is for…).
A Google session taught me that he organised tours to North Korea and obviously has lots of access and stories from his trips and I couldn’t help but wonder why some of that wasn’t mentioned. If anyone could explain why there were North Korean Lady Di stamps, it was him.
I also had an issue that it was a bit glorified, you can argue that it’s not up to the curator to inform us about the current affairs of the country (and I’m not expecting posters of the labour camps) but with an issue like Korea you would expect a better backdrop. If you don’t want to go into that, fair enough. But why not go for the socialist realism as an dying art form?
All in all a nice snack, but it left me hungry for more – thankfully the surrounding area is full to bursting with restaurants like Caravan, Granted & Co and Dishroom, so plenty to satisfy your hunger of the stomach (not the mind!).
The exhibition runs til 13th of May at the House of Illustration. Make sure to also check out the the Lucinda Rogers exhibition about the gentrification of London’s East End.
Oxford is a go-to destination for visitors wanting to explore beyond the tube map, but until recently I haven’t had the urge to go. Despite its history and being the birthplace for incredible books like Alice in Wonderland, His Dark Materials and Harry Potter, it wasn’t reason enough for me to take the bus, tube and train to actually go there. But as a stop off on my way back from the Cotswolds, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
The train station and high street could be any generic British town and it’s not until you reach the college grounds before it gets interesting. They are like little villages, each with their own characteristics and look like they are something out of a magic world.
My first stop was theDivinity School at the Bodleian Library. Rather than going there to soak up its rich history (being the oldest surviving university building), most visitors were there to see the set for Hogwarts Infirmary in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, as well as where the students learned to dance ahead of the Yule Ball in the Goblet of Fire.
Next on everyone’s Potter tour was the nearby grand surrounds of Christ Church College. There’s a lot to see here, but let’s get the important wizarding stuff out of the way first.
1.You’ve got staircases galore from The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.
2. The cloisters where Hermione revealed to Harry that his father was a seeker during his time at Hogwarts.
3. Last, but definitely not least, is the Dining Hall that inspired Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Sadly, they couldn’t actually film there as there weren’t enough rows of tables to represent the four houses and resorted to building a replica set in the Warner Bros Leavesden Studio.
The Dining Hall didn’t only inspire JK Rowling, but also Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, who attended and taught at Christ College and was friends with the Dean. See those figures on each side of the fireplace? They inspired Alice with a long neck when she won’t stop growing.
The Alice in Wonderland books started as tales told to Alice Liddell, one of the daughters of the dean and many locations in the books are based on parts of the college. Like the little door in the garden where Alice entered Wonderland. If you go to the Christ Church Cathedral they’ll be able to show you the garden. Also, the big tree on the far right is where their mischievous cat would climb up and pretend to be stuck…but when people would get a ladder to rescue it, it would climb down all by itself with a giant grin. Sound familiar?
Speaking of the cathedral, its stained glass windows are a piece of art, with intricate details and such vivid colours you’d expect more in a graphic novel than in a church. This one featured here tells the impressive story of St. Frideswide, Oxford’s patron saint and for some reason it includes a modern looking toilet in the last panel. Toilet humor never gets old, right?
The Radcliffe Camera – which by the way has nothing to do with Daniel Radcliffe – has to be one of the coolest libraries and a lovely piece of architecture to boot. Something Tolkien noticed too and he based Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on this very building. If you have more time, you can go on the hunt for Oxford’s many other precious Tolkien sites, such as Merton College, the Bodleian Library, Addison’s Walk, the Botanical Gardens, The Eagle and Child pub and Tolkien’s home.
Which locations from your favourite books have you seen or really want to see in real life?