A few years ago, we were tasked with the job of exploring five of the most beautiful palaces in the UK, in collaboration with Historical Royal Palaces. Counting our lucky stars to have received such an invite, we spent an entire summer touring the Historical Royal Palaces found in both England and Northern Ireland.
It was a tough gig, but someone had to do it.
It was a summer of flower-filled gardens, fascinating history, breathtaking architecture and a few ghost stories thrown in, just for good measure. It was a fascinating experience and one that provided us with an even greater appreciation of the rich and diverse history that exists on our doorstep.
Having written in detail about all five palaces previously (all linked below), we thought it would be useful to do a quick round up of the prettiest Historical Royal palaces in England and Northern Ireland, ahead of the great British summer.
From Tudor banqueting halls, to hidden fairytale cottages, these are some of the most beautiful palaces in the UK.
1. Hampton Court Palace
Coming top of the list for the most beautiful palaces in the UK is, without a doubt, Hampton Court Palace.
The 500-year old playground of Henry VIII, the Tudor palace of Hampton Court makes for an ideal day trip any time of year, but especially during the summer months, when you may have kids in tow.
For Historical Royal Palaces members, you can also enjoy a unique rooftop tour of the Palace. Providing panoramic views of the historical gardens and distant views of London, this is a truly unique experience for anyone visiting Hampton Court Palace – and one that comes highly recommended.
Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Hampton Court Palace offers 60 acres of beautifully curated, flower-filled formal gardens to enjoy. Including a third of an acre maze and a herb filled kitchen garden, the palace gardens alone are worth a visit.
For those visiting Hampton Court with children, The Magic Garden also offers a mystical wonderland filled with mythical beasts, creepy grottos and an impressive children’s playground.
Upcoming events at Hampton Court Palace for 2022: Tulip Festival (April – May), Meet the Tudors (every weekend from 30 April), the Artisan Festival (13-15 May) and Jubilee Joust (01-05 June).
2. Kew Palace and Royal Botanical Gardens
Kew Palace is the smallest Royal Palace in England and is often overlooked thanks to the Royal Botanical Gardens that surround it.
However, what it might lack in size, it absolutely makes up for in beauty (Hampton Court aside, it is perhaps the prettiest palace in the UK).
Unlike the other Historical Royal Palaces, Kew didn’t begin life as royal home, but was instead bought by King George II and Queen Caroline in the 1720s to lease to their three eldest daughters.
Small, but perfectly formed, Kew Palace is decorated pink and is surprisingly homely inside. Within its cosy walls, however, many historical dramas played out – including the supposed madness of King George and Queen Charlotte’s death. The chair that she died in is still on display in her room and can be viewed as part of the Palace tour.
While visiting Kew Palace, you must definitely head next door for a tour of the Georgian Royal Kitchens, which have been preserved for an astonishing 200 years since their last use.
Queen Charlotte’s Cottage
Kew Palace’s hidden gem is, without a doubt, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, which lies tucked away from the crowds amongst the woodland of Kew. Built as a place to rest, and enjoy tea and sandwiches after a long amble around the Palace’s grounds, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage is beautifully decorated (with original paint and stencilling) and has a fairytale-like quality to it.
Queen Charlotte’s Cottage is open weekends and Bank Holidays from 01 April – September, 11:30 – 15:20.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
After exploring one of the most beautiful palaces in the UK, it’s time to explore one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK (and world, perhaps).
Indeed, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew are some of the most diverse and have even been given UNESCO status. Highlights of the gardens include: the Great Pagoda for breathtaking views of London (be ready for some serious step count), Temperate House, Palm House and the beautifully designed and modern ‘Beehive’.
Exhibitions at Kew Palace for 2022: The Great Pagoda, Princesses’ Bedrooms and the Royal Kitchens.
3. Kensington Palace
A visit to the most beautiful palaces in the UK would not be complete without a trip to the illustrious Kensington Palace.
Home to the young Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace is where Victoria not only met her future husband, Albert, but where she was crowned Queen of England. Today, the palace is still very much home to the Royal Family, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Will and Kate) living on the grounds.
There are some fascinating permanent exhibitions to explore at Kensington Palace, including ‘Victoria: a Royal Childhood,’ with the young Victoria’s personal childhood belongings on display. There are also tours available of the King’s State Apartments and the Queen’s State Apartments (both fascinating).
Exhibitions at Kensington Palace for 2022: Life Through a Royal Lens and Victoria: a Royal Childhood (permanent exhibition).
4. Tower of London
The Tower of London might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of the most beautiful palaces in the UK, but this historic palace is truly a sight to behold.
Once the tallest building in London, the Tower of London sits on the river Thames, surrounded by glinting skyscrapers such as The Shard.
A site bursting with history, the Tower has enjoyed many roles throughout its long history, including housing the royal mint, a prison for the likes of the Kray Brothers, an exotic zoo, a luxurious palace and, of course, home to the Tower’s infamous guests – the ravens.
The Tower of London Opening Ceremony
While visiting the Tower of London, we were treated to watching the Opening Ceremony of the Tower. A ceremony that has happened every day for the last nine centuries, this sacred tradition even took place as bombs were dropping during WWII.
Simply put, the Opening Ceremony is the daily opening of the Tower, but takes place with great pomp and ceremony – and includes the Chief Yeoman Officer, Regimental Guards and a comically sized bunch of keys. There is also a Closing Ceremony, which is free to watch for Historic Royal Palaces members.
Tickets for the Opening Ceremony can be secured via tour operators such as Get Your Guide and cost approximately £85. This also includes early access to both the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
The Crown Jewels
Of course, no trip to the Tower of London would be complete without taking in the sight of the dazzling Crown Jewels. The jewels on display at the Tower of London date back to the 1660s and includes a whopping 23, 578 gemstones. Our favourite gems on display were the twinkling tiaras and crowns, particularly the tiny tiaras belonging to Queen Victoria.
The Tower of London’s Ravens
It’s impossible to explore the Tower of London without paying its long-term residents, the ravens, a visit. The official guardians of the Tower, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy and Georgie can be found in their lodgings on the South Lawn.
Upcoming exhibitions at the Tower of London for 2022: Superbloom.
We are so excited by the Tower of London’s new Superbloom exhibition, which has been created to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The Tower of London’s moat has been filled with 200 million seeds, which will bloom between June – September 2022. In order to enjoy this flower-filled spectacle, visitors can grab a mat and slide down the Superbloom slide into the moat – covering themselves with flowers as they go.
Other Tower of London exhibitions for 2022: The Gunpower Plot
5. Hillsborough Castle
Of all of the beautiful palaces in the UK, Hillsborough Castle, located in Northern Ireland, is perhaps the lesser known of them all. Jumping on a plane to Belfast, we were incredibly excited to visit Hillsborough Castle, which underwent a £24 million pound refurbishment in 2019.
The official Northern Ireland residence of The Queen, Hillsborough Castle has an unexpectedly homely feel to it. The State Rooms in particular – a floral, pastel, Laura Ashley affair – are adorned with family photographs of the Royal Family and feel more like private quarters, than public spaces.
It almost felt like we were trespassing when we toured Hillsborough Castle ourselves – and we were fully prepared to stumble across the Queen at any moment (disclaimer: we didn’t).
Hillsborough Castle Gardens also underwent a huge redevelopment before opening again to the public in 2019. During your visit, be sure to take a stroll through the 100 acre grounds, passing quiet woodland, babbling brooks and even Temple’s bench, where Tony Blair once sat during the Peace Talks with George W Bush.