From William and Mary to Princess Diana in Just Three Steps.

Kensington Palace sits today in the heart of London. It is hard to imagine, but in 1689 the royal couple William and Mary bought Kensington Palace as an out of the city retreat. William suffered from asthma and he had been advised to find a place to live with fresh air.

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Kensington Palace was then called Nottingham House and belonged to Sir George Coppin. The royal couple bought what was then a modest Jacobean mansion for the sum of £3 million in today’s monetary value. Kensington Palace became a royal residence to the monarchy until the death of King George II. After the purchase of the palace, it was up to the most famous architect of the era, Christopher Wren ( the man who designed St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire) to fit the mansion to be a regal palace and he did so at an incredible speed. Within six months of the purchase, the couple were ready to move in.

Kensington continued to grow during the days of George I and at its peak, it hosted a court of 600 people. This part of the house is currently open to the public, including the king’s grand staircase that is decorated with a beautiful mural. Among the many characters pictured, there is a fascinating individual known as “The Wild Boy of Hanover.” You can read more about him in my Kensington Palace stories.

Other parts of the palace that are open to the public include the king and queen’s galleries, the drawing rooms and the bedrooms of the Stuart and Hanoverian monarchs. A different trail in the palace takes you to the room where Queen Victoria was born and the room next to it where she held her first privy council. One of the most interesting features of this palace is a bed that was brought from St James’s Palace. This bed is thought to be the one upon which Mary of Modena, the second wife of King James II, gave birth to James Francis Stewart. This birth was probably the trigger of what we know today as the glorious revolution, the same revolution that brought the royal couple to this place and turned it into a palace.

The Palace continued to host the royal family, but not the Monarch. It was neglected and was mistreated during the days of the Prince Regent ( future George IV) by his drunken brothers. Queen Victoria, his niece, was born in Kensington and during her childhood, she was asked what she would like to receive for her birthday. She answered that she wished for the windows of her room to be cleaned.

It is no wonder that as soon Victoria grew up, she preferred to stay away from Kensington Palace and she was the one who moved the royal family officially to its current home in Buckingham Palace ( which had been owned by the family since 1761). Victoria was also the Monarch that opened the Kensington Palace to the public for the first time in 1899.

During the 20th century, Kensington Palace was home to some of the most interesting icons of the royal family: Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth (and a fashion icon) lived here from 1961; Diana, Princess of Wales, moved in 20 years later after her marriage with Prince Charles ended. I am sure you all remember the sea of flowers that covered the gates of the palace and beyond following her tragic death in August 1997. It is estimated that more than one million bouquets were left there.

Today the palace is still the home of some of the “premier league” royal figures, such as Prince William, his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and their three children: they live in the apartment that Princess Margaret previously occupied.  Prince Harry and his wife Megan, the Duchess of Sussex are similarly based at Kensington Palace. It is also the home of several other more minor royals like Princess Eugenie, Prince Michael and the Dukes and Duchesses of Kent and Gloucester. So, as you can imagine, it is a busy place and most of the palace is not accessible to the public…

Parts of Kensington Palace are open to the public. For more information: Kensington Palace official website

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Not Just for Tourists

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Kensington Palace during the summer holidays. It was the middle of the week and the first time since we started our “chase” that we had visited an “active” palace, so obviously I was quite excited. Are we going to bump into any royals by any chance? Spoiler alert: no.

A large part of Kensington Palace is still a royal residence. As previously stated, it is the home of Prince William and Kate and their young family and also of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. But as you can imagine, these areas are not open to the public;  instead, when visiting the premises, there are three main routes to take. One is focused on the late Stuarts and the early Georgians and this is probably where you will view the best rooms in the palace. The second route is focused on Queen Victoria who was born in this palace and held her first privy meeting here. And finally, on the day of our visit, there was a special exhibition looking at the late Princess of Wales, Diana, and her wardrobe.

After exploring some of the best castles and houses in the country, I must say that Kensington Palace did not dazzle me. I think that the nearby Apsley House has much more wow factor about it , but that doesn’t mean that I was totally disappointed. It is good and very interesting to see how the palace has managed to explore completely different eras of British royalty and present their stories.

Being located in the heart of London, and with current royals ( the most interesting ones) still living in it, it is no wonder that Kensington Palace is a major tourist attraction. So it is not as easy to explore it as a traditional historical house in the same way you would elsewhere. I suppose that the managers of the palace have considered this and tried to create tours to suit everyone to a certain degree.

If you are a history buff, you will feel that something is missing. After visiting the Tower of London, I can only imagine how a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide would have enriched my visit here, but I do understand that it would be a difficult thing to do during regular visiting hours. Perhaps in the future, the palace could offer history buffs special slots. I know that I for one I would love to join such a visit.

To sum things up, Kensington Palace is a fun place to explore bang on the tourist trail in the heart of London. It delivers something to the visitor looking to experience a glimpse of royal history across generations of the royal family. With the added Diana exhibition which was being held at the time of our visit, the appeal of the palace was even broader. And yet It is hard for me to compare it to other places we have visited because of its somewhat off-putting “tourist attraction” kind of feel. However, it is definitely one of the most interesting houses we have explored, made more so by the fact that it is still inhabited by royals. If I was to employ my regular method of comparing castles and palaces to restaurants and adapting the Michelin guide rules, I would say that this palace is worthy of one star and that it should be in the top 10 things to do in London, not only for tourists but also for the locals.

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