A renovation of regal proportions

Date Posted: 07/05/2012

Following an extensive two-year, £12 million project, which saw its doors close completely for almost three months, Melissa Cadby was keen to see where Historic Royal Palaces had spent its vast investment at Kensington Palace.

Responding to my royal duties, I followed the smell of fresh paint and wallpaper paste, and headed off to west London on a rainy April morning, destined for the new presentation of Kensington Palace.

This was to be my first ever visit to the historic attraction, which has been home to a range of royal residents since the late 1600s. The private wing is still resided in by the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, plus the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge currently keep a cottage in the grounds.

However it was the State Apartments I was there to see, and as I wandered through Hyde Park, it was clear that the day’s downpour had not dampened spirits, as both locals and tourists shook away the droplets to take in the impressive façade, welcoming entrance and distinctive light installation.

As for first impressions, the main element which struck me was the blend of traditional and modern that had been created within the public spaces. Its strapline ‘Welcome to Kensington – a palace for everyone’ is true to its word, as although the palace is very grand indeed, there is a warm, homely feel to the interior, which begins in the central vestibule.

All four of Kensington Palace’s key routes can be explored from said vestibule, and I began with a temporary display titled Diana: glimpses of a modern princess. The Princess of Wales lived on the site for 16 years before her untimely death, and this small display comprising five of her dresses is available to view until the 2nd September.

Next I headed up to the first floor to experience Victoria Revealed, a new permanent exhibition. Revealing the woman, wife and mother behind the crown, the life of the longest reigning monarch in English history is brought to reality through the spaces where she spent much of her childhood and became Queen.

Easy to navigate chronologically, I found the exhibit provided a fascinating insight into Victoria’s character, evident through personal quotes and letters. Celebrating both high and low points of her 81 years, the rooms dedicated to her relationship with Prince Albert and her mourning his passing were particularly moving.

On the second floor you’ll find both the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments, where actors have been introduced as a new component to the visitor experience. Created for Queen Mary II, the Queen’s State Apartments are intimate with beautiful high ceilings, whilst the King’s once hosted the courts of George I and II, and are ornate and richly-decorated.

I noticed that there was seating in most of the rooms which form the State Apartments - a perch from which to enjoy the reproduced informative and entertaining reading material, such as the Kensington Gazette. In fact, alongside the costumed actors who engaged visitors young and old, there was an abundance of knowledgeable red-coated staff milling in each space, happy to answer any questions and keen to share some royal anecdotes. 

Though the inclement weather put a stop to any intention I had of exploring the new gardens and terrace, they were clearly very well-manicured, and would make for a different perspective on a dry day.

The new palace shop was bustling with visitors and filled with quirky souvenirs, and the cafe is located within the shop’s hub, so not quite the place for some peaceful respite – the Orangery Restaurant would be more suited to that. Though I didn’t get the chance to sample any cafe delicacies myself; coffee, cake and sandwiches were all offered at reasonable prices.

Before I knew it, I’d whiled away several hours discovering all the new highlights of Kensington Palace. Though the history speaks for itself and will forever be the main draw for groups, in my opinion the new complete visitor experience – with its ease of navigation and accessing information, plus the contemporary facilities and amenities – enhances the attraction’s offering above and beyond its peers.

Group travel organisers considering a visit to Kensington Palace should know that parties of 15 or more receive discounted entry, and both coach drivers and Blue Badge Guides are admitted free-of-charge. Special interest group tours can be organised, and coach parking is available.

facebook twitter make as homepage