Kensington Palace is a must-see site while in London. Now home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate), it has been a royal residence since the 17th century. You can visit the interior to explore its history, and let your children explore the vast gardens and grounds!
The palace was built in the early 17th century as a private home but by the end of the century, it was home to King William and Queen Mary who moved the royal residence from Whitehall. Several monarchs continued to make the residence their home, including Queen Anne and George I and II. After George II’s death, George III purchased Buckingham Palace so Kensington was no longer the home of the king. It passed through minor royals’ hands, serving as the birthplace of the future Queen Victoria in 1819.
The palace was heavily damaged by the Blitz in 1940 with the nearby park and gardens full of anti-aircraft guns and other war items. After the war and subsequent renovations, Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, moved in with her new husband in 1960.
In 1981, Kensington Palace became the home of the newly married Prince and Princess of Wales – Charles and Diana. Their children, William and Harry, were raised at the palace, and it remained the official home of Diana after their divorce and until her death in 1997. Now William is raising his own family in the halls and gardens where he once played as a child.
You can visit the public portion of the palace which contains many of the historic rooms and furnishings (the tour doesn’t include the modern royals’ apartments!). It’s a wonderful tour back in time to the reign of William and Mary mixed with Victorian artifacts and the modern royals. It’s a definite must-see for those who love the royal family.
With kids 10 and up, take the interior self-guided tour. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance here! You’ll have to go through a short security scan before entering the palace at its main entrance facing the gardens. You’ll enter and immediately head upstairs to the state rooms. You can familiarize yourself with the layout of the tour and download the audio guides here.
The first rooms on the tour are from Queen Victoria’s childhood spent at Kensington.
She was born in the back bedroom in this exhibit but the first room is my favorite – the jewel room! Your kids (and you!) will love seeing Queen Victoria’s tiaras and necklaces on display.
The next few rooms are about Queen Victoria’s childhood at the palace. There is a dollhouse of the palace that is amazing.
The rooms are dark and have a piped in sound of children playing which can be a bit creepy at times for younger children. In the ballroom, there are tall candelabras with dancing figurines on them.
The bedroom where Victoria was born in 1819:
I really liked the room about Victoria becoming queen and receiving her subjects in this very room.
Note the wardrobe where an art piece inside depicts Queen Victoria’s coronation.
Head back downstairs and then up another marble staircase (be sure to look up!) to the King’s State Apartments. These sumptuously decorated rooms date to King George II’s time at the palace.
My favorite room was the King’s Gallery, a long room where King George II and Queen Caroline entertained.
Can you imagine wearing dresses this broad?
Don’t miss the portrait of King Charles I on the back wall (the one that was beheaded by Cromwell’s forces!).
The tour then enters the oldest part of the palace, the Queen’s State Apartments where Queen Mary II lived and died of smallpox in 1694 at the age of 32.
The Queen’s Gallery is a beautiful room with a hidden door at the end – ask the docent stationed in the room to point it out to your kids!
The gallery overlooks the gardens – beautiful and green most of the year!
The last part of the palace to tour is the temporary exhibition area. Currently, this section displays many official and unofficial photographs of the royal family, Life Through a Royal Lens.
We really enjoyed seeing these photos although younger kids may not be as interested.
With older kids who love history, it is worth hiring a private tour guide to escort you around the palace. We did this in Windsor and loved hearing details you couldn’t find in an audio guide or guidebook. Our excellent tour guide, Vivien, does private tours of Kensington Palace, along with many other London sites, so check out her website for details.
Also don’t miss the new Princess Diana statue in the sunken gardens immediately outside of the palace. I missed seeing this on my trip but hope to get a picture during my June trip!
Kensington Palace is a must-see for any history enthusiast visiting London. With Buckingham Palace closed to tourists most of the year, this palace is the only way to get an idea of how royalty throughout history lived. Be sure to include it on your itinerary for London!
- Cost: £20/adults; £10/children (purchase tickets in advance)
- Interior tour: 10 and up
- Gardens: all ages
- Tour time: 1 hour
- Gift shop located onsite and online
- Transportation: We took a cab to the palace, which let us out at the corner of Kensington Gore and Palace Avenue, a 10-minute walk away on a gravel footpath. The nearest tube stops are High Street Kensington and Queensway. See this detailed page for more travel recommendations.
- Dining options: The palace has its own cafe and restaurant, the Kensington Palace Pavilion. You can make reservations to enjoy a formal afternoon tea, the only place in London where you can have a traditional tea on the grounds of a royal palace! With young children, bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens. There’s a Whole Foods grocer just a few blocks away on Kensington High Street.
- Nearby hotels: We stayed at the Intercontinental Park Lane, a short cab ride from Kensington Palace. The closest hotel to the palace is the Royal Garden Hotel. The Kensington area is a great location for hotels, apartments, and rental homes.
- Nearby attractions include: Hyde Park, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and shopping areas on Kensington High Street and Notting Hill
Books to Read:
All images are Amazon affiliate links.
For more book recommendations that support the palace, check out its online store’s book list.