Day out of town
Expect to spend the entire day on this adventure. From April to October getting to Henry VIII's stunning stomping grounds from Westminster can take up to 4 hours, so check before embarking. If boating does not interest you, just hop on the train or bus to get to the Tudor Palace, built in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey, for the amazing gardens, the maze, the kitchen (it is like a village in itself), historical tours, and many and ever changing activities.
If you need...
1 hide detailGrandeur & Topiary Maze
The 16th-century palace of Cardinal Wolsey can teach us a lesson: Don't try to outdo your boss, particularly if he happens to be Henry VIII. The rich cardinal did just that, and he eventually lost his fortune, power, and prestige, and ended up giving his lavish palace to the Tudor monarch. Henry took over, even outdoing the Wolsey embellishments. The Tudor additions included the Anne Boleyn gateway, with its 16th-century astronomical clock that even tells the time of high tide at London Bridge. From Clock Court, you can see one of Henry's major contributions, the aptly named Great Hall, with its hammer-beam ceiling. Also added by Henry were the tiltyard (where jousting competitions were held), a tennis court, and a kitchen.
Although the palace enjoyed prestige and pomp in Elizabethan days, it owes much of its present look to William and Mary -- or rather to Sir Christopher Wren, who designed and had built the Northern or Lion Gates, intended to be the main entrance to the new parts of the palace. The fine wrought-iron screen at the south end of the south gardens was made by Jean Tijou around 1694 for William and Mary. You can parade through the apartments today, filled as they were with porcelain, furniture, paintings, and tapestries. The King's Dressing Room is graced with some of the best art, mainly paintings by old masters on loan from Queen Elizabeth II. Finally, be sure to inspect the royal chapel (Wolsey wouldn't recognize it). To confound yourself totally, you may want to get lost in the serpentine shrubbery maze in the garden, also the work of Wren. More and more attention is now focused on improving and upgrading the famous gardens here -- the formal gardens are among the last surviving examples of garden methods and designs from several important periods of history.
The 24-hectare (60-acre) gardens -- including the Great Vine, King's Privy Garden, Great Fountain Gardens, Tudor and Elizabethan Knot Gardens, Board Walk, Tiltyard, and Wilderness -- are open daily year-round from 7am until dusk (but not later than 9pm) and, except for the Privy Garden, can be visited free. A garden cafe and restaurant are located in the Tiltyard Gardens.
Hampton Court, on the north side of the Thames and 21km (13 miles) west of London, is easily accessible. Frequent trains run from Waterloo Station (Network Southeast) to Hampton Court Station (tel. 0845/748-4950). Once at the station, buses will take you the rest of the way to the palace. If you're driving from London, take the A308 to the junction with the A309 on the north side of Kingston Bridge over the Thames.
2 hide detailFamed for its tree-lined vistas
Our Local Expert Says:
Not too far from Hampton Court, this wild park is full of deer and offers horse back riding & cycling for the disabled. Great place to take in (& figure out the rules) of a cricket match.
Bushy Park covers some 445 hectares (1,100 acres) of historic deer park. It was originally enclosed from ploughed farmland into three separate parks by Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII between 1500 and 1537. Still teeming with deer as in Henry's day, wander through this beautiful park, past Leg of Mutton Pond, Heron Pond and the Diana Fountain for a tranquil break.