Kensington Palace has been home to royalty from long before Queen Victoria’s birth there in 1819 to Princess Diana’s residence until her death to today. Still in use as a working Royal Residence, there are nonetheless many areas open to public viewing – and have been since Queen Victoria opened the State Apartments to the public in 1899.
The Red Saloon, for example, on the Garden Floor was the location of Queen Victoria’s first Privy Council in June, 1837 and has been restored to its original appearance.
The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection is an exhibit of gowns worn by various royal personages from the 18th century to the present. Even the Hats and Handbags are on display at the Palace, showing over seventy hats belonging to Queen Elizabeth II. Nearby are the King’s Apartments with several paintings and other works of art from the Royal Collection. In contrast to the splendor of the King’s Apartments, and discreetly far away, are the subdued Queen’s Apartments. Built and furnished for Queen Mary II in the mid-17th century. There are several ‘family portraits’ and many original furnishings.
The Victorian Rooms are accessible, including Victoria’s bedroom where she first learned of her accession to the throne. The rooms are furnished with many of Victoria’s and Albert’s personal effects. First constructed for the Earl of Nottingham in 1661, the interior of the palace isn’t the only impressive sight. Outside are the extensive and varied Kensington Gardens with a number of things to do and see. Designed and landscaped under the watchful eye of George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, the expansive gardens adjoin Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. Combined, the Gardens and Hyde Park total 637 acres.
Serpentine Lake forms one of the many attractions, equally popular with boaters and birds. Winding around, it’s over a mile around, fed by an underground river. In addition, there’s the Round Pond for feeding ducks and sailing model boats. On the banks of the Serpentine the gardens contain an oft-visited bronze sculpture of Peter Pan, cast in 1912. There’s also an Elfin Oak, almost as old, ornately carved with elves and fairytale creatures. Outside the entrance is a sculpture of the late Queen Victoria, made by her daughter.
There are elaborate Italianate fountains and dozens of quiet paths. But there are also areas for kite flying and rollerblading. At the southeast corner is Wellington’s Arch, leading to Green Park (next to Buckingham Palace). A recent addition is the memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales. A large, granite-block structure, it remains very popular several years after her death. The area is often festooned with flowers.
After you’ve tired yourself out, be sure to visit the Albert Hall, completed in 1871 as a memorial to the Queen’s consort. The oval hall has an impressive iron and glass domed roof. The 5,000 seat theater holds regular concerts and is a must-see.
The palace and gardens are easily accessible via the tube (the London Underground subway system). Exit at High Street Kensington.
Kensington Palace London photo by Arnoprepa