Discover the fun things you can do at Kensington Palace and the quirky tales you’ll uncover!
I love a good stately home – as you’ve probably gathered if you’re a regular visitor to Ladies What Travel and seen my posts about National Trust properties!
So it will come as no surprise that I was quite excited to get tickets to Kensington Palace for my birthday last month and quickly planed a trip into the capital.
Although the palace wasn’t the most expansive to explore (only a small part is open to the public as several members of the Royal Family still live there today including Wills & Kate and Harry & Meghan), I absolutely adored wandering its halls and want to share with you why I think it’s well worth a visit.
1 – Discover 300 years of royal history
The public area of Kensington Palace is broken down into different exhibitions, allowing you to explore hundreds of years of Royal history.
The Queen’s State Apartments are an interesting visit, although the stories shared are quite sad. These focus on the tragic story of the Stuart Dynasty in the 1690’s, with a presentation of Mary II’s apartments, who sadly died of smallpox at just 32.
However, the tone is very different when you first head up the King’s Grand Staircase to the King’s State Apartments, which focus on the Georgian era of the 1700s. Here you have a chance to explore the glittering court of George II and Queen Caroline and discover an era of music, fashion and the arts.
I got right into the spirit, seeing if I could pull of a Georgian lady’s dress – what do you think? There are some magnificently opulent rooms to explore here, including the Apartments’ largest and longest – the King’s Gallery, which has an amazing painted ceiling by William Kent.
Here you’ll also find a wind dial, made for William III. You totally know you’ve made it if you’ve got one of these! The pointer connects to a wind vein on the roof via a number of chains and pulleys and the King used it to predict when and where his navy would land.
This was my favourite part of the house, as I love seeing how garishly the rich lived in those days. For example, one beautifully decorated room, the Cupola Room, is entirely focused around a gorgeous clock, with the smallest clock face in the world!
2 – Play Georgian board games!
I absolutely loved that in the King’s Drawing Room several games tables were set out for visitors to play.
Focusing on games of the era, we had a quick look at Hazard, but then decided to try out the Game of Court, which essentially was like snakes and ladders. Justin thrashed me, so I demanded a rematch, but it seems the lesson learnt was that I’m just not meant for court!
3 – Hear hilarious tales about royal balls, highwaymen and the King’s mugging!
In each area of the palace you’ll find ‘explainers’, knowledgeable staff who’re happy to answer any questions you may have. Even better, throughout the day, explainers hold special talks in each of the rooms, telling you some amazing stories.
When I entered the Council Chamber I came across an explainer talking about the royal balls and she really brought the time to life with her side-splitting stories.
First she shared tales of the fashions of the time. Did you know that the paler you looked the better? Women would plaster on paint laced with lead to whiten their faces. Unsurprisingly the lead badly affected their skin, making them rely on the paint even more to look human!
Then there were tales of stupidly high hair (the higher the hair, the higher your status) and one of my personal favourites – that women would shave off their own eyebrows then replace them, an inch or so higher, with mouse hair. They must have looked in a perpetual state of surprise!
She also told some cringe-worthy toilet tales. Back in those days Kensington Palace had no toilets, and so guests at the balls had to come up with ‘interesting’ ways to relieve themselves. For the men it wasn’t so tough, as it was socially acceptable for them to step behind a fire guard and pee into the fireplace.
For women, especially in those dresses, it was much more of an issue. One solution was to use a potty pot.
Using the secret language of the fan, the ladies would signal to their help, usually a young boy who would stand along the wall at a ball to respond to their mistress’ beck and call. He would then sneakily weave between the guests, surreptitiously placing himself behind his mistress, where he would unceremoniously slip the potty pot through a gap in the back of her dress.
With the help holding it in place, the lady would have a nice pee whilst continuing her conversation. Once relieved, the boy would then sneakily slip away and go off to empty the pot. What an image!
But it gets even worse. Frustrated with the situation, at one point the women decided to rebel and even went through a stage of just peeing where they stood – with or without a potty pot. Mind where you walk!
Our explainer also talked about another issue guests travelling to and from the ball faced – highwaymen. These guys would hide in the trees along the Hyde Park pathways and rob the rich folk at gunpoint. One thief even took on the King one evening while he strolled around the Round Pond. The King calmly gave him all his valuables but was loathe to part with a gift from his belated wife. So he made a deal with the man to return the next day and pay him for the return of the gift. Sticking to their word, they both met like gentlemen the following day, fulfilled their bargain and went on their way. This was a story the king loved to share for many years after.
4 – Check out the fashions
Not only can you see the super over the top and highly uncomfortable fashions of the Georgian period at Kensington Place however. There’s a special exhibition on the style of Princess Diana, who lived in the Palace up to her death.
Diana Her Fashion Story takes you through the evolution of her style, with a display of some of her most famous outfits, such as the dress she wore when she danced with John Travolta in the White House.
5 – Learn about Queen Victoria’s life
Sadly the Victoria Revealed exhibition was closed for some development work during my visit, so I’ll definitely have to return to visit this area of the palace. Here you can discover more about Queen Victoria’s childhood, her relationship with Albert and when she became queen.
Visitors can even stand in the Red Saloon, the room where Victoria held her first Privy Council on June 20th 1837, just hours after learning she’d become Queen.
6 – Wander the beautiful grounds
There’s almost as much beauty outside the palace as in! Hyde Park is one of the best places to take a walk in London and watching the golden gates of Kensington Palace glimmer is magical.
The image that comes to mind unsurprisingly, is of the hundreds of thousands of flowers that were laid in remembrance of Princess Diana after her death in 1997, but there’s much more to see.
This includes the beautiful Sunken Gardens and the Round Pond (where King George was mugged!). Once you’re done with the grounds ‘proper’, why not head further out around Hyde Park and visit sights like the Diana Memorial Fountain Queen Caroline’s Temple and the Prince Albert Memorial?