Acquired by William and Mary in 1689, Kensington Palace was radically altered first by Sir Christopher Wren and again in the reign of George I, when William Kent added the intricate trompe l'oeil ceilings and staircases. The Palace reopened after a £12m refurbishment in 2012, with a fine new garden providing improved access from Kensington Gardens. Visitors follow a whimsical trail focused on four ‘stories’ of former residents, unearthing facts about them and their times through handily placed ‘newspapers’. The first story is that of Princess Diana: stylised ‘Diana’ wallpaper lines a narrow corridor leading to a room containing five of her dresses. The modest, liveable rooms of the Queen’s State Apartments feature the story of William and Mary, and Mary’s sister, Queen Anne. Having deposed James II in 1688, William and Mary died childless. They were succeeded by Anne, who had only one child, the sickly Prince William. But he took ill at his tenth birthday party, where it is said he overheated while dancing, and later died. The place settings for that doomed party are re-created here, along with dreamlike installations. By contrast, the grandeur of the semi-public King’s State Apartments, created for George I and George II, is palpable: the Presence Chamber, with its throne; the Privy Chamber for more intimate meetings; and the Gallery, with paintings by the likes of Tintoretto, used for chats with confidantes (you can still hear them today if you stand by the windows). Finally, ‘Victoria Revealed’ traces the life of Queen Victoria through objects and extracts from her writings. Among the artefacts is her (tiny) wedding dress, jewellery and other gifts from Prince Albert, and photographs of her children and dolls. The 'Fashion Rules' exhibition is a feast for fashionistas, featuring dresses from the collection of the Queen, Princess Margaret, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
|Venue name:||Kensington Palace||Contact:|
|Opening hours:||Mar-Oct daily 10am-6pm; Nov-Feb daily 10am-5pm|
|Transport:||Tube: High St Kensington or Notting Hill Gate|
|Price:||£17.50, £14.10 concs, under-16s free|
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I had previously visited Kensington Palace two years ago. It was in a dismal state. The electricity had been switched off and some art student squatters had moved in. At least that's what it had looked like. The World of Walnut-furnished interior and obligatory guilt accoutrements I had in my mind’s eye had made way for rooms full of arty installations like skeletal trees and headless animatronic princesses lit by a dim neon blue glow. Kensington Palace had undergone the theme park treatment and was now labelled ‘The Enchanted Palace’. Creative? Atmospheric? Certainly. But it failed to enchant me. The problem was it told me very little about the Palace and the rich lives of its super rich inhabitants. Putting my previous experience down to a temporary fit-out (the Palace was undergoing renovation at the time) I decided to pay another visit this summer hoping to actually discover some history. The lights were on this time but there appeared to be no-one at home. The interiors could be seen in their finery but there was hardly any furniture to give any sense of history. No pen-written notes and half-drunk cups of tea on desks to create the feeling of a moment just passed. Hardly any information boards either. Just a few remnants from its previous arty incarnation such as a pack of playing cards stacked in a fireplace. The idea (perhaps inspired by Pride & Prejudice), however, for whispering gossiping voices emanating from window seats in the ballroom was clever because it gave some much need dialogue. But as for snippets of history your Time Out review above reveals more information than I gleaned from my visit.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Buckingham Palace tour/visit some months ago, and being a life-long Royalist, my family and I were pleased to 'take in' Kensington Palace on the 17th of November. What a huge disappointment this was! It was a real waste of money and could not be remotely compared to Buckingham Palace (or Sandringham. or any of the other many Royal venues we have visited). The trip was not helped by having to walk past a tramp in the gardens urinating against the wall, and this on the day of the Israeli demonstration where hundreds of Police were a matter of metres from the tramp's performance! Wills and Kate have chosen a bit of a dump of a 'pile' to make their home.
The "new" Kensington Palace is a chaos of kitschy, "hands-on" art installations that fail to enhance the experience. Only the Victoria tour offers any substance at all. Truly the most disappointing of all the grand house tours I have ever done. Who art directed this mess?
Made the big mistake of going to The Enchanted Palace experience this week. The rooms that are open are so atmospherically (ie: darkly) lit, that very little of the actual palace can be seen. Of zero educational value. If your idea of entertainment is audio tapes of unseen little girls crying, displays akin to Hallowe'en shop dressing, then this might appeal. It came across as a very trashy and unimaginative way or raking some money in.