Kensington Palace in London is a working Royal residence set in Kensington Gardens, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England. Of great historical importance, Kensington Palace was the favorite residence of successive sovereigns until 1760. It was also the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. Today Kensington Palace accommodates the offices and private apartments of a number of members of the Royal Family. Although managed by Historic Royal Palaces, the Palace is furnished with items from the Royal Collection.
Kensington Palace stands at the western end of Kensington Gardens and is perhaps the finest building in the Borough. Originally built by Sir George Coppin in 1605 in the village of Kensington; the mansion was purchased in 1619 by Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Nottingham and called Nottingham House, it passed into royal ownership in 1689 when it was acquired by William and Mary.
After William III's death in 1702 the palace became the residence of Queen Anne. Wren designed the Orangery for her and a 30-acre garden was laid out by Henry Wise. Further extensive alterations were carried out for George I and William Kent painted the elaborate trompe l'oeil ceilings and staircases. The last monarch to live at Kensington Palace was George II, whose consort, Caroline of Ansbach, influenced the development of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. For her, Charles Bridgman created the Serpentine, the Basin and Grand Vista and the Broad Walk.
Early one morning in June 1837 Princess Victoria, who was occupying apartments in Kensington Palace, awoke to the news that she was Queen of England. She immediately moved to Buckingham Palace. Kensington Palace first opened to the public in 1912 with a display of relics and objects relating to the City of London. It attracted 13,000 visitors in just one day. The museum pieces now form part of the collection at the Museum of London. Visitors today can see the State Apartments, the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection that includes outfits from the 18th century to the present day, the Orangey and sunken gardens.
By the end of the 19th century, the State Rooms were severely neglected. The brickwork was decaying and the woodwork was infested with dry rot. Calls were made for the palace to be demolished, but Queen Victoria declared that "while she lived, the palace in which she was born should not be destroyed". In 1897, Parliament was persuaded to pay for the restoration which was completed two years later. The State Rooms were opened to the public on the Queen's birthday, 24 May 1899. This began the palace's dual role as a private home to royalty and a public museum.
The palace was the London home of Diana, Princess of Wales and is still home to several other members of the Royal Family. Today Kensington is presently the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Princess Margaret, and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester used to live in Kensington Palace and have their offices there.
Kensington Palace has also been a hotbed for scandal and gossip in recent years, including George I's troubled love life. The monarch left his cheating wife Sophia Dorothea imprisoned in Germany, and brought over his mistress Engherard Meleusine bond der Schulenberg. He was also very close to his half-sister Sophia Charlotte, which some subjects speculated that they were having an unsavory affair! Kensington was also home to Queen Anne's bitter argument with her intimate friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in 1710, which led to them never speaking again.
The State Apartments and the Court Dress Collection are open to the public and highlights of a visit include the recently restored Kings Apartments and a magnificent collection of paintings. The Court Dress Collection includes a fabulous and very rare court mantua made sometime between 1750-53 and the 'exploded' gentleman's outfit - everything from underclothes to fine lace cuffs and all part of the elaborate costume worn to Court by an 18th century gentleman.
Even without all of the noble history and stories that fills the air at this elegant estate, the walls and even staircases themselves are something to admire. Wander up the King's Staircase -the opulent entrance to the King's State Apartments and lavishly decorated by William Kent. Explore the King's Gallery, and remember the late Princess Diana in the White Garden, dedicated in her memory. A must see on your tour is the beautiful Sunken Garden. Planted in 1908 the gardens were previously occupied by potting sheds were transformed into a tranquil ornamental garden of classical proportions. It was modeled on a similar garden at Hampton Court Palace and celebrated a style of gardening seen in the 18th century.
The garden is terraced with paving and ornamental flower beds, surrounding an ornamental pond with fountains formed from reused 18th century water cisterns retrieved from the palace.
Today, the garden continues the tradition of rotating the flower displays in the spring and summer. Vibrant colors and exotic planting are on display from April to October while in the summer months geraniums, cannas, begonias, and tulips, wallflowers and pansies bloom in the Spring.
A trip to this royal gem would not be in vain. In every corner there is royal history and art dating back for hundreds of years. The palace offers on-site tours but it’s always recommended to plan ahead for your trip by making a reservation before you arrive. There are many tour companies who offer guided tours through just this estate or even make it stop on a larger tour through the other historic palaces of London. For even more to do in London check our article, Traveling London.