Once the residence of British monarchs, Kensington Palace hasn't been the official home of reigning kings since George II, who died in 1760. William III and Mary II acquired it in 1689 to escape the damp royal rooms along the Thames. Since the end of the 18th century, the palace has housed various members of the royal family, and the State Apartments are open for tours.
It was here in 1837 that a young Victoria was awakened with the news that her uncle, William IV, had died and she was now the Queen of England. You can view a collection of Victoriana here, including some of her memorabilia. In the apartments of Queen Mary II is a striking 17th-century writing cabinet inlaid with tortoiseshell. Paintings from the Royal Collection line the walls. A rare 1750 lady's court dress and splendid examples of male court dress from the 18th century are on display in rooms adjacent to the State Apartments, as part of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which features royal costumes dating as far back as 200 years.
Kensington Palace was the London home of the late Princess Margaret, and is the current home of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The palace was also the home of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her two sons. (William and Harry now live with their father at St. James's Palace.) The palace is probably best known for the millions of flowers placed in front of it during the days following Diana's death. The former apartment of the late Princess Margaret has opened to the public as an education center and an exhibition space for royal ceremonial dress.
Warning: You don't get to see the apartments where Princess Di lived or where both Di and Charles lived until they separated. Many visitors think they'll get to peek at these rooms and are disappointed. Charles and Di lived on the west side of the palace, still occupied today by minor royals.
The Kensington Gardens are open to the public for leisurely strolls through the manicured grounds and around the Round Pond. One of the most famous sights is the controversial Albert Memorial, a lasting tribute not only to Victoria's consort, but also to the questionable artistic taste of the Victorian era. There's a wonderful afternoon tea offered in The Orangery.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Recommended 2010