With a half price ticket offer currently on we couldn't resist a visit to Hampton Court Palace. PP is free as she is under five, so it came to £14.65. This offer runs until 12th February and seems to be a yearly event. We found the staff throughout incredibly helpful and engaging especially towards the children, and the character costumed actors were fab! The rest of the staff we encountered were full of fun facts and patience which is needed when met by a group of six 2-5 year olds! They were also very helpful when negotiating the whole site, which in itself was much like a maze! Signs pointing in every direction or taking you all around a long route, when it didn't make any sense! So that was particularly appreciated and helped make even a -1°C day enjoyable.
We had such a lovely time, and with the magic garden opening again In April I think when we go again during the warmer months we would likely get an annual palaces membership which for us (family of two adults) comes in at £83 direct debit. This gets you access to the six palaces (all but one are fairly local; the other one is in Northern Ireland), free parking at each and 10% off in the gift shops and cafes. It's worth it alone for the car park which at £1.60 an hour cost us £8! The machine is ticketless and pay on exit and takes cash and card but not currently new £5 notes or Amex, though the shops/cafes and ticket office do take both.
We found three cafes around the site, one open only summer. The one we went to open all year has a fair amount of tables indoors with hot and cold food options, herbal teas and coffee etc and a fabulous choice of cakes! There are some interesting artifacts to look at whilst munching - the caldron caught RD's attention especially, and he hypothesises witches used to be the chefs there. No food is allowed to be eaten around the palace but there are plenty of benches in the numerous courtyards. We spotted plenty of toilets along the way, and found they had mini seats built in which we also found handy with our gang of smalls.
Inside the palace we found a room full of robes and cloaks in lots of lovely rich colours and sizes for big and little explorers that could be borrowed to wear whilst journeying around the palace. In here also were the audio tours (which we did not borrow), maps and a selection of four different trails aimed at different age groups and different areas of the palace. These trails are free and are beautifully made. They encouraged us to explore a bit more in depth and as we could take them home we could use it as a jumping off point to explore more about the Tudor times. When you return with the completed trail there is a prize too, which when we went was a sticky apple with googly eyes.
There is also a library section; great for thawing out and children-calming, it has playthings for small children (blocks and such) as well as books about dragons and all sorts of palace and castle type things
The children especially enjoyed the King Henry VIII shop which is inside the palace, with trebuchets and knights costumes galore, and some very friendly staff that got them involved in keeping the shop safe!
We headed off to look around the vast grounds after this. It will be lovely to revisit when it's warmer, but we still enjoyed the maze. You need to have your tickets scanned to enter the maze, house and magic gardens so keep them handy when moving between the areas and not the very bottom of your backpack like me! There is a fair amount of ground between each area and around the house so be prepared, especially with the littles. It was a lot of walking, but interesting so they didn't seem to mind at all. The ticket attendant at the maze entrance said it should take about 10 minutes to get round and out again... unfortunately we were being led by three 5 year olds and one 3 year old who had little to no sense of direction so it actually took us over 30 minutes. We spotted a lot of robins on the way round though and the children were all high spirited about it all but just be warned it might not be as quick as expected, and once in you're in you're in, so perhaps visit the loo and buy a snack first!
Another awesome way to spend a winter day with friends; we will return in the summer for a new perspective. Find out more at hrp.org.uk