One of Britain's greatest stately homes, Blenheim Palace is a monumental baroque fantasy designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and built between 1705 and 1722. The land and funds to build the house were granted to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, by a grateful Queen Anne, after his victory over the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim. Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, Blenheim (blen-num) is home to the 12th duke.
Inside, beyond majestic oak doors, the house is stuffed with statues, tapestries, ostentatious furniture, priceless china and giant oil paintings in elaborate gilt frames. Visits start in the Great Hall, a soaring space topped by a 20m-high ceiling adorned with images of the first duke. To the right upon entering is the Churchill Exhibition, dedicated to the life, work, paintings and writings of Winston Churchill. The British prime minister was a descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, as was Princess Diana, and is buried nearby in Bladon graveyard.
From here, you can wander through the various grand state rooms independently or join one of the free 45-minute guided tours, which depart every 30 minutes throughout the day (except Sunday, when there are guides in all rooms). Highlights include the famous Blenheim Tapestries, a set of 10 large wall hangings commemorating the first duke's triumphs; the State Dining Room, with its painted walls and trompe l'oeil ceilings; and the magnificent Long Library, overlooked by an elaborate 1738 statue of Queen Anne.
Afterwards, head upstairs to the 'Untold Story', where a ghostly chambermaid leads you through a series of tableaux recreating important scenes from the palace's history. From February to September, you can also join additional tours (adult/child £6/5) of the Duke's private apartments, the palace's bedrooms or the household staff areas.
If the crowds in the house become too oppressive, escape into the vast, lavish gardens and parklands, parts of which were landscaped by the great Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. A minitrain (50p) takes visitors to the Pleasure Gardens, which feature a yew maze, adventure playground, lavender garden and butterfly house. For quieter and longer strolls, there are glorious walks of up to 4.5 miles, leading past lakes to an arboretum, rose garden, cascade and temple, and Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge.
Tickets can be purchased on arrival or online up to 24 hours in advance.