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Built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515 but coaxed from him by Henry VIII just before Wolsey (as chancellor) fell from favour, Hampton Court Palace is England's largest and grandest Tudor structure. It was already one of Europe's most sophisticated palaces when, in the 17th century, Christopher Wren designed an extension. The result is a beautiful blend of Tudor and 'restrained baroque' architecture. You could easily spend a day exploring the palace and its 24 hectares of riverside gardens, including a 300-year-old maze.
Take a themed tour led by costumed historians or, if you're in a rush, visit the highlights: Henry VIII's State Apartments, including the Great Hall with its spectacular hammer-beamed roof; the Tudor Kitchens; the Wolsey Closet; the Chapel Royal; William III's & Mary II's Apartments; the King's Staircase and the Chocolate Kitchens; Mantegna's The Triumphs of Caesar; Young Henry VIII's Story; and the restored and recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery off Clock Court. The magnificent gardens are not to be missed, including the Kitchen Garden as well as the spectacular Great Vine – and don't leave without getting lost in the maze. The Magic Garden is an interactive garden attraction for children and families. Also keep an eye out for the Real Tennis Court, dating from the 1620s. Do not overlook exploring the palace's magnificent riverside gardens; on a sunny day it reveals London at its very finest and most beautiful. Check the schedule for spectacular shows and events, including Tudor jousting, falconry displays, ghost hunts (for children), garden adventures, family trails and more. In summer, fun 15- to 20-minute shire-horse-drawn charabanc tours (adult/child £6/3) depart from the East Front Garden between 11am and 5pm.
Ask one of the red-tunic-garbed warders for anecdotes and information. The excellent free audio guides can be picked up just off Base Court and then dropped off in the bin as you exit the palace to the gardens.
Hampton Court is 13 miles southwest of central London and is easily reached by train from Waterloo. Alternatively, the riverboats that head from Westminster to Kew continue here (adult/child £19/9.50, three to four hours, April to October).