My name is Lu and I live with a seven-year-old history nut. I think it started when we visited Rome last summer, then he did the Great Fire of London at school (they made replicas of the capital’s 1666 buildings out of cardboard, arranged them on sand- then burned the lot!), and since that he’s been devouring the Horrible Histories books and has even founded a history club with some other budding David Starkeys and Mary Beards in his class. He’s particularly interested in the English monarchy and the Tudors, so it wasn’t much of surprise that he chose Hampton Court Palace for his birthday outing this year.
I must admit had some reservations about taking Kitty, nearly four – I hadn’t been for many years and remembered it being a bit staid and reverential, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about its current incarnation. I have to say it was one of the most child-friendly UK attractions we’ve visited. The weather was changeable when we went, so we decided to do all the outside activities while it was dry (a good decision it turns out). We started with the Magic Garden, an epic new interactive play area It really did live up to its name with five fairytale towers, dragons, unicorns, lions, and secret grottos to explore, all with interactive features – sand, water, mirrors – plus a grassy area to practise your jousting! There was something for all ages from toddlers to teens and we could easily have spent half a day there – well worth a visit in its own right, you can buy separate tickets.
We finally managed to coax Kitty down from a tower and into the infamous maze. It was great fun and we eventually found our way to the middle, but had to cheat and use the escape exit rather than finding our way back because Kitty needed a wee! By this time it had started to rain and was lunchtime so we headed for the Tiltyard Cafe. It was so geared towards children, with The Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed lunchboxes and a bright play area, but also offered tasty grown-up fayre. There are a couple of other cafes in the palace itself and in the summer, the grounds offer amazing opportunity for picnics.
Before we entered the palace we went to the information point, where we picked up a sheaf of children’s trails, quizzes and leaflets. We also grabbed audio guides, although I didn’t get to listen to mine because I was too busy helping the children complete the brilliant Time Explorers app. There were three separate challenges featuring characters from different eras, with things to find in every room from photo prompts and a quiz at the end. Alfie, in particular, loved it, and they both received three badges on a passport at the end of our visit which they were delighted with. It was extremely educational – I learned loads of quirky facts I didn’t know before. It also definitely helped to power Kitty around the palace, which is huge.
There is still plenty to engage children throughout even if you don’t go down the app or trail route (although I highly recommend both). We especially loved lighting fires in the kitchen, dressing up in velvet robes, lying on floor cushions to look at the elaborate ceilings, sitting in thrones and playing historic board games. It really brought the history of the palace to life for the children – Alfie was full of questions about Henry VIII and they way people would have lived in Tudor times. The shops, of course, have a gazillion things for small people to spend their pennies on, but there was a pleasantly surprising amount of pocket money goodies to avoid the inevitable pestering and subsequent meltdown. Alfie bought a new book on Henry VIII and Kitty bought a dragon. A great day out for half term, when there is also an outdoor production of Horrible Histories’ Terrible Tudors on – we might see you there!
Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, KT8 9AU. Tickets for the palace, maze and gardens cost from £9 for children (under fives go free) and £18 for adults. Open daily: 10am-6pm.