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If Buckingham Palace is the lavish and stately family home where the kids come home to roost for the holidays, then Kensington Palace is definitely the funky city apartment where the kids get up to no good. Home to a constellation of famous Royals including Princess Diana, Alice and Margaret, the palace is currently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - Kate and William to you and me - as well as serving as the occasional pad for Prince Harry and girl-about-town Zara Phillips. It was also the birthplace of a then-Princess Victoria, who grew up there and first clapped eyes on Albert before ascending to the throne.
Yes, despite its discreet location and appearance, this palace is arguably the most interesting of the lot and is far more laid back, vibrant and fun than its big sister over in St James. Originally designed by Wren and Hawksmoor in the reign of King William III, it was built in 1605 and became the favourite home of William of Orange and was for a time the royal palace before King George III up and moved the family back to Buckingham (oh, the drudgery!).
History and Bellinis
Other than its ornately beautiful rooms, collection of old masters like Van Dyck and Tintoretto and lavish decorations, the magnificent state apartments open to the public and esoteric curiosities (the old turtle pond, anyone?), the palace's location also serves as a viable destination for the odd afternoon tea and pick-me-up in the Orangery, where afternoon and pre-dinner cocktails can also be had to accompany the bar's comprehensive champagne and wine offerings. There is also a sunken garden nearby, and as befitting of Princess Diana's previous residence, has also hosted art and fashion installations, ornately decorated and gilded rooms given over to the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Aminaka Wilmont to create their own enchanted spaces within the palace.
Regarding the late princess, the palace was a focus of the outpouring of public mourning in 1997 when she unfortunately passed away in Paris. Almost every inch of the palace's railings and golden gates were lined with flowers and tributes from the public. Fittingly, a collection of Diana's dresses - The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection - is on display in the palace.
How to get there? You have several options. Taking the tubeis the easiest option, with several stations (Queensway and Notting Hill Gate on the central lines, Bayswater and High Street Kensington on the District/Circle lines) being within a 15 minute walk. It's also possible to amble upon Exhibition Road or Gloucester Road from South Kensington and Gloucester Road tube stations and admire their respective neighbourhoods, before walking through Kensington Gardens to the palace. Any bus that takes you down Bayswater Road or drops you off at High Street Kensington is also a good bet.
Price-wise, admission is £14.95 for adults with concessions costing £12. Kids under 16 go free. Within each admission is the option to pay an extra £1 as a voluntary donation to go to future works at the palace. It's up to you whether or not to, but rest assured it is not like the 'donation' at New York's Met.
Kensington Palace , Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Kensington, W8 4PXView Larger Map
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