Henry VIII had many palaces, but Hampton Court is one that oozes drama - and its prestige continued long after he had departed: Elizabeth I entertained here, Shakespeare performed for James I, and Cromwell made it his home after the Civil War.
Still, Bluff King Hal is always the favourite with children, who are fascinated by his portly appearance and six wives. The ghost of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard - executed for adultery at the Tower - is said to shriek around in the Haunted Gallery, but despite Henry's reputation for brutality, Hampton Court was for the most part a place of pleasure. There were tournaments and feasts, musical entertainment, plays and dancing - frequently revived at the palace for special events. There's even a lovingly reconstructed 4m-tall wine fountain in the Base Court, largest of the palace's several courtyards, serving wine on very special occasions.
The Tudor and Baroque buildings sprawl across six acres, with lively costumed guides on hand to keep visitors to the state apartments, courtyards and cloisters informed and engaged. The gardens too are a delight: the maze – an essential on every child's itinerary - was planted between 1689 and 1694, making it the oldest in the country, and there's also a fine heraldic knot garden. Themed activities - including Rooftop Tours - are plentiful during the school holidays, and Tudor cookery demonstrations take place in the huge kitchens on several bank holidays and weekends, with cauldrons bubbling and the carcasses of game birds.
In 2013 curators at Hampton Court palace made a delicious discovery: the Royal Chocolate Kitchen. The room had been in use as a storage space but is well preserved, with many of its original fittings and equipment. Newly restored, and opening to the public for the first time in 300 years, it is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country and has catered to the sweet tooth of three kings – William III, George I and George II. Live Georgian chocolate-making sessions scheduled throughout the year mean visitors will be able to experience the process first-hand and learn more about the elaborate and complex techniques used to create drinking chocolate, once the ultimate royal luxury.
The recreated Royal Kitchen Garden opened in June 2014, where the palace is growing hundreds of varieties of heritage fruit and veg to supply the café as it supplied the royal kitchens when it was orignally built in the mid-1700s. The kitchen garden and rose garden are free to visit.
The palace's Cumberland Art Gallery opened in November 2014 and includes artworks collected by British monarchs over a 300-year period. Paintings by Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Caravaggio (among others) will adorn the walls of the newly restored Georgian suite.