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Just outside London, on the banks of the Thames and home to many of England's monarchs

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Hampton Court Palace is just outside of London, on the banks of the Thames. It was the home of many of England's monarchs, up until the 18th century.
The first structure to be erected on the site of the palace dates from the 11th century, but the building as we know it was constructed during the reign of Henry VIII. It was to be a new home for the Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, who was a particularly good friend of the King. Wolsey threw sackfuls of money at the project, and ended up with the most impressive palace in the country. It was even better than the royal residence, a fact which left Henry not best pleased. As Wolsey began to fall out of favour, he hastily gave Hampton Court to the King, as a gift.
The gesture didn't help him that much though, as the Archbishop died just a short time later. By then, Henry was already busy extending and improving his new palace. His workers built a new grand hall, tennis courts, and more, working through the night to get it finished. After it was completed, Hampton Court Palace became known as one of the finest and most extravagant buildings in Europe.
The next big development came a century or so later, when King William III was in charge. His original plan was to demolish almost the entire palace, and build another one from scratch. In the end, he had neither the time or the money to manage it. Instead, he just rebuilt parts of Hampton Court, in his favoured baroque style. A building that uses both Tudor and Baroque architecture doesn't really work on paper, but in this case, they ended up complimenting each other quite well.
In the 19th century, Queen Victoria opened the gates of Hampton Court to the general public, and today, most of the building's rooms are still open for viewing. It's a huge place, with plenty of hallways and corridors that are easy to get lost in. It's hard to pick which parts of the palace to aim for, but there are some definite highlights which shouldn't be missed.
One of these is certainly Henry VIII's Great Hall, where he entertained hundreds of distinguished guests. The roof and windows are extremely detailed, and the walls are hung with exquisite tapestries. When Henry was entertaining his guests, he would have fed them until they were fit to burst. His palace, was fitted with huge kitchens, capable of feeding up to 600 people twice a day! At the time, these were the largest in England. Every year, Hampton Court's guests would eat their way through 8200 sheep and 2300 deer, as well as drinking 600,000 gallons of beer. On occasion, the kitchens are still used in the present day, to prepare and cook traditional Tudor food using the traditional Tudor methods.
Outside, the palace gardens provide a relaxing place to get away from the hustle and bustle of indoors. This huge site is full of flowers, trees, and other plants, which are partly organised into carefully designed displays. One of the most popular sections is the maze, which was designed as entertainment for King William in the year 1690. It's reputedly the most famous and most visited maze in the history of the world.
Adjacent to the gardens is Hampton Court Park, a 700-acre site that's home to wild deer. It's known for hosting the Hampton Court Flower Show, which is the world's largest. The event features show gardens, environmental information, and growing and cooking tips. Plants and equipment are also for sale.
Hampton Court Palace, when put together with its gardens and park, is a gigantic place. It's impossible to explore it fully in a day. You can choose to plan ahead, to wander round at random, or to just ask one of the palace's costumed guides, who have been whisked forward from the 16th century just to give you a hand.
Visitor Information
Hampton Court is open daily, 10am to 6pm (closes 4.30pm in winter). Entry costs around £16 for adults, £8 children. Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU. Tel: 0844 482 7777

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