Monday, April 2, 2012

Being Curious at Kensington Palace

Last Monday, Kensington Palace opened after a 2 year, multi-million pound refurbishment.  We decided to visit on Friday.   

It's within walking distance of Notting Hill, so we grabbed lunch at Pret a Manger and plopped down in the Kensington Gardens.  (You can find a Pret all over London for great sandwiches, wraps, salads and more.) 

We were hoping we might catch Kate walking her new puppy, but no such luck.  Instead, we saw nekkid bloke from my last post.

The new entrance is at Kensington Gardens and is very open and inviting.  The marble statue of Queen Victoria was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise and unveiled for her Diamond Jubilee.  It now welcomes you to the lovely grounds and has been surrounded by a new reflection pool.  

They've completely opened up the entrance and enhanced the gardens during the renovation.  This is our first visit, but comparing it to pictures before the revamp, it's quite improved. 

The gardens are beautiful and there is a restaurant and a cafe on the grounds.  Everything is accessible and welcoming.  You don't need tickets to get this far. 

Once we entered the palace, we paid £14.50 each to explore within.  

This is the Luminous Lace, a light sculpture in the entryway that replicates a royal lace pattern.  This is your first clue that this isn't the typical Palace tour.   No velvet ropes to nudge you along.  No chronological path to follow.  No audio tour (gasp!).   Now what?

No, wait!  Here is some semblance of order.  

Each of the four current exhibits are represented by a ribbon along the wall to guide you along.  

The renovation was done in a much more theatrical way then I've seen at other places we've visited.   It's meant to appeal to all ages and is to be experienced rather than just observed.   I quickly tapped in to my Left Brain, but my Right Brain husband?  Not so much.   

We started at the Diana exhibit.  This is a small, temporary exhibit that includes five of her dresses.  

Princess Diana lived in a private apartment at Kensington for 16 years during and after her marriage to Prince Charles.   She certainly knew how to rock a LBD!

But the most fascinating thing was this wallpaper in the hallway leading to the exhibit.  

I wanted to stop and study it.  It's fascinating.  

Her son Prince William and his bride Kate will soon make their home together here.  It's special to think that someday her baby's babies will come home to Kensington.   

The Princess Diana Memorial Park is in Hyde park not too far away.  And you can visit the golden gates where thousands left flower tributes after her tragic death.  

We saved the Victoria Revealed Exhibit for last, but it was probably my favorite.  This is a permanent exhibit and I would suggest you start here. 

The story of her life is told in her own words, embossed on every surface throughout the rooms.  You wander through and read quotes from the mirrors, the walls, the furniture, the carpets. 

You have to take your time and go slowly or you might miss something.  Many of the important events of her life and long reign happened at Kensington.  

She was born and raised here.  She became Queen at the age of 18 in the rooms here.  She met and fell in love with her husband Albert at Kensington.  They raised their children here until she became a young widow and mourned his death at Kensington.  

It is a beautiful and intimate exhibit that shows you a very personal side of the Queen who reigned for 63 years.  

In these rooms, an 18 year old girl became the longest reigning English monarch to date.

This is the dress that she wore to marry her beloved Albert.  The room that focuses on their romance was very sweet. 

The exhibit is very different than you are used to.  You just have to be patient and curious to get the whole picture.  Go when you have time to linger.

The King's and Queen's Apartments are the other two permanent exhibits.  They are interesting and beautiful, but I must admit, there were times when we just didn't get it.

The spaces have been redone and are very staged.  There are themes to both exhibits that seem a little contrived. 

In the King's apartments, you are playing a card game of chance.  It is meant to mirror life at court and all of the intrigue that goes with it.  Visit all of the little tables and open the drawers to collect playing cards.  

The spaces are beautiful and creative, but a little odd at times.   We were often walking around a bit confused. 

 You will see some historical costumes, but not many historical relics or paintings.  And a lot of what you see is not explained well.  So, often you are left scratching your head.  

 The coronation robe of King George III. 

 Be sure to sit in the window seats for whispers of palace intrigue. 
These are the songbirds from the Queen's apartments.  They are here because songbirds were kept in cages in these chambers.  You can hear them as you enter.   But, the only reason I knew the significance is because I read reviews before we went.  

I love that they have done something different.  I appreciate the challenge that you are to engage the volunteers in each room to discover the significance of every little nuance.  

I'm just afraid that most people will miss the details.  

I also wonder at the lasting power of some of the exhibits.  These paper cuttings were beautiful and whimsical.  But, I could just picture a how they will look once 400,000 visitors have traipsed their way up this staircase. 

And these stapled and clamped booklets where a bit curious.  

Because they don't have the traditional placard giving details for each historical article, you will find a booklet or two in each room describing the articles.  They are looking pretty rough after a week.  I can only imagine after a year.  

This room was curious to us both.  We looked around for some sort of explanation for the little numbered chairs, but never found it.  After researching for this blog, I discovered it's poignant significance.  Queen Anne bore 18 children but only one lived past the age of 4 and he died at the young age of 11.   I wish I had known that when we were walking through.  But, somehow I missed it.   

I think it might be a little bit ambitious.   And like most things artistic, it's about balance.  Balance between the interpretation of the message and the audience's ability to get that message.   I would definitely recommend a visit.  But, be sure to linger and explore with curious eyes.   Make the effort to hear the story. 



  1. Thanks for the recap - if I do get around to visit (as I hope to), I'll be thankful for the advice!

  2. I have never been to Kensington Palace but after seeing this I have added it to my list of destination to take my American hubby too.


  3. These exhibits look fantastic!! And I cannot get over that wallpaper! It's incredible :)

  4. Thanks for such a thoughtful review. We're heading there this weekend so your post came about at the perfect time.

  5. Thanks for your kind comments Selena. This looked so interesting - I absolutely loved the light lace sculpture! and it looks like you had perfect spring weather for wondering around the gardens too! Hope London is being kinder to you on the cuisine front :)

  6. How interesting and intriguing! Such a unique way to showcase a palace! Certainly on my list of places to visit if I ever get there!

  7. Wow. The Kensington Palace has certainly changed since I was there in 1997. Incredible how things are different!

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  9. that is lovely :D makes me wanna visit it ;) btw did you ever watch the movie "Young Victoria"? I think you may enjoy it :)

  10. Kensington Palace is an interesting place. It is always nice to dive into royal history :)

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