Visiting Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace was once the home of Princess Diana and now its residents include at least two future monarchs.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting Kensington Palace in London

Home to some of the most famous (and infamous) characters in the British Royal Family, Kensington Palace is one of the best things to see in London.

You can get incredible access inside the building, but it's worth doing some planning, so here are my top tips for visiting Kensington Palace.

She stares down at me from the picture on the wall, smiling, a portrait of a happier time.

A white dress; a thin figure; short blonde hair; pearly teeth; and dazzling eyes.

This is the Princess Diana who the people remember.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

In a room full of portraits here at Kensington Palace in London, it’s this one of Princess Diana that draws the most attention. It’s not surprising – her presence here always did.

You only have to cast your mind back to the hundreds of thousands of flowers placed at the gate outside after her death to see how the building and the woman were so intrinsically linked.

Once she became a royal, she never truly stopped being one. Kensington Palace may have been her sanctuary at times but it was also her prison.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

And that’s why visiting Kensington Palace is so interesting. Right here in the heart of London, you can see the rooms she lived in, the corridors she walked – and you can feel a connection to the legend and the person.

Kensington Palace is included with the London Pass from Go City, which can save you a lot of money if you’re doing a lot of sightseeing.

There are tributes to the Princess Diana here – the portrait, a collection of her dresses, modern wallpaper created with sketching of her. But, although we may associate the palace with her, many imposing women have come before.

Before Diana it was Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. She used Kensington Palace as her residence and would host parties with some of the world’s most glamorous and interesting celebrities.

She was a controversial figure, perhaps more interesting in socialising than official duties, but it helped raise the status of the building in the eyes of royal watchers.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

King Edward VIII (her uncle) had once previously called it the “aunt heap” because of the number of lesser royals who had been given rooms there. Princess Margaret certainly made it more lively.

History of Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace gets its name because it was once a private home in the village of Kensington. (Back in the early 1600s when it was built, London did not stretch out this far.)

It became a royal residence in 1689 when King William III and Queen Mary II, as joint monarchs, bought it so they could live away from Whitehall Palace and out of the city (mainly because William was asthmatic).

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

The monarchs used architect Christopher Wren to turn it from a country house into a palace, which he did by adding sections to what was already there.

After Mary, and then William, died, Queen Anne took Kensington Palace to be her home. She asked Christopher Wren to complete the renovations. She also added the gardens and commissioned the famous Orangery.

The last ruler to use Kensington Palace as their official residence was King George II, who died in the building in 1760.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

After that, Kensington Palace was used to house minor royals, who would share the building by living in different apartments.

Princess Margaret was probably the most senior royal to live in Kensington Palace until Prince Charles and Princess Diana moved to the palace in 1981 as their official residence.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

Now, of course, it is home to Prince William and his family – meaning that it is the official residence to the first, second, third, and fourth in line to the throne!

For the full experience with stories about all the famous residents, I would recommend this VIP tour of Kensington Palace that also includes a royal tea experience.

Because it is still used by the royal family, you won’t see a lot of the inside when you visit Kensington Palace, but there’s something special about knowing William and Kate could be just metres away.

Considering that, it’s actually surprising there isn’t more security (although maybe it’s here and just well hidden).

Things to see at Kensington Palace

The areas of Kensington Palace you can visit are essentially a museum made up of some of the older and more historical rooms.

But these exhibitions at Kensington Palace are very interesting – particularly if you don’t already have a detailed knowledge of the history of the British Royal Family.

King’s State Apartments

The largest permanent exhibition at Kensington Palace is the King’s State Apartments, the series of rooms that was used for official tasks like audiences and meetings.

As you walk through the rooms – the Presence Chamber, the Privy Chamber, the Cupola Room, and so on – you’ll notice that there is not much furniture because staff and visitors would stand when they were meeting the monarch.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

But there are some exquisite sculptures and works of art on display here. The most important collection is in the King’s Gallery.

But, having said that, don’t miss the painting by Vasari of Venus and Cupid in the King’s Drawing Room. And the King’s Staircase that you enter from is a masterpiece in itself.

Queen’s State Apartments

This collection rooms were originally created for Queen Mary II in 1690 and there’s quite a lot that hasn’t changed since then.

Unlike the other rooms, the Queen’s State Apartments were made for living and so you get a much homelier feel here.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

The Queen’s Dining Room was where Mary and William would eat together in private and the Queen’s Gallery is where Mary would read and do needlework, for instance.

You’ll see more wonderful pieces of art here and get an insight into the life of the royals from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Temporary exhibitions

There are always a couple of temporary exhibitions at Kensington Palace that are usually on display for at least one or two years before being changed.

These exhibitions generally focus on previous residences of the palace and the recent collections on display have been about Princess Diana’s fashion and the life of Queen Victoria.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

I find these temporary exhibitions really interesting because they usually give you a lot more personal information than you normally find in the official stories of the Royal Family.

Kensington Palace tours

Although there is good signage within the palace, there’s only so much information you can get from information boards.

Most of the interesting facts and stories that I’m learning about is coming from the tour guide who is showing me through Kensington Palace.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

My guide, Alison, seems to be able to answer any tricky question I throw her. (“What does the Queen see when she looks out her window at Buckingham Palace?” I throw in at one point just to test her – and she does admirably.)

The history is just as interesting as the stories you read in the magazines these days, though. The most imposing figure presented through the museum is Queen Victoria, the longest-serving British monarch until Queen Elizabeth II.

She was living in Kensington Palace when she became queen at the age of 18. Although she moved to Buckingham Palace after her coronation, the rooms where she grew up have now been dedicated to her life.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

On display are fascinating items like childhood toys, presents and even her wedding dress. Photographs show her decline in mood after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.

My guide, Alison, explains that Victoria blamed her eldest son for her husband’s because he got sick after travelling to confront him about a scandal.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

The Kensington Palace tour is fascinating and ultimately it is more about the people and their stories than the building itself.

The best option available is this VIP Kensington Palace tour, which will show you through the building and the garden – and includes a royal tea experience.

Alternatively, there’s this good tour where the guide will show you around Kensington and tell you lots of stories, but then leave you to explore the palace at your own pace.

Some other options that include Kensington Palace or its surrounds are here:

Even if you don’t get a real sense of what it is like to live in Kensington Palace today, you will come away with an excellent understanding of some of the people who once called it home.

Tickets for Kensington Palace

Regardless of whether you’re going to take a tour of Kensington Palace or not, it’s worth being a bit prepared to save yourself time.

There can often be a long line to buy a ticket, so trying to avoid the busiest parts of the day would be a good start. You can save some time when you visit Kensington Palace by booking a ticket in advance for a specific time slot.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

Tickets for Kensington Palace are quite expensive so it’s worth considering whether one of the tourist cards for London would save you money if you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing.

The best option is the London Pass from Go City, where you can choose different durations from 1 day to 10 days. It gives you free entry to about 80 attractions in London, including Kensington Palace, along with other benefits.

It may seem like a big upfront cost, but you definitely save a lot of money if you’re planning to see a few sights. You can buy the London Pass here.

Kensington Palace tour, London, England

Another option, although it may not seem the obvious thing to do, is become a member of the Historic Royal Palaces. (If you’re not a UK resident, it’s best to do it in person than online, because otherwise they’ll try to mail your card to you.)

The membership gets you unlimited entry to Kensington Palace, Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens. (Which, for example, would cost £89 for standard adult tickets to see them all.)

For an individual membership, it costs £65, or just £100 for two adults at the same address. The real value is for a family (two adults and up to six children), which is £120.

Where is Kensington Palace?

The official address of Kensington Palace is Kensington Gardens, London, W8 4PX.
You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Kensington Palace?

If you’re coming by the Underground, the closest stations are High Street Kensington (District, Circle, and Piccadilly lines) or Queensway (Central line). Both stations are less than ten minutes’ walk away.
If you’re coming by bus, you can use routes 70, 94 and 148 along Bayswater Road, or routes 9, 49, 52, 70 and 452 along Kensington High Street.

When is Kensington Palace open?

Kensington Palace is open every day from March to October from 10:00 – 18:00.
From November to February, the palace is open from 10:00 – 16:00.
Last admission is an hour before closing time.

How much is entry to Kensington Palace?

Admission to Kensington Palace costs £20 for an adult and £10 for children under 16.

Do you need to buy tickets in advance?

Kensington Palace uses a time entry ticket system and it means you may have to wait if you buy a ticket when you get there.
I would recommend getting a ticket in advance so you don’t have to wait a long time in a queue.
I would also suggest using the London Pass from Go City to save a lot of money if you’re going to be doing other sightseeing while you’re here.

You can find out more information at the official Kensington Palace website.

And, if you need a rest after exploring the palace, or if you’re looking for a special London experience, there’s one more thing I want to tell you about.

Afternoon Tea at Kensington Palace

How British to take afternoon tea. And how royal to have one’s afternoon tea in Kensington Palace Gardens!

After being closed for several years for refurbishment, the Orangery is again open for tea. The baroque-styled restaurant was built in 1704-05 for Mary’s younger sister, Anne, who became Queen when William died.

The official afternoon tea includes sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea or coffee, although there are other options to have a drink or something to eat.

Remember, this VIP Kensington Palace tour also includes a royal tea experience, so it’s a great way to combine everything!

Regardless of how you plan your visit, this is a fascinating insight into the royal history of London – some of it well before we were born, but some of it part of meaningful moments during our lifetime.

Yes, it’s been the home of royalty, but it’s one that many people feel a connection to.

11 thoughts on “Visiting Kensington Palace”

  1. I felt the same in terms of not really getting to see much of the building itself. It was the main reason I visited and I left feeling a bit disappointed. I did however love the main staircase inside regardless of whether it is modernised or not and the gardens in full bloom are beautiful.

    • The way it has been presented is much more as a museum than an authentic representation of what the palace would have been like (or is like). I get the feeling people often don’t know what to expect (I was one of them). I enjoyed hearing all the stories from my guide, though, and it was actually a good way to learn a lot more about British royal history.

  2. I completely agree about the walking/guided tours. I’m all for self exploration and discovery, but some places (like this one!) is “hollow” without someone knowledgeable bringing it to life. Thanks for the post – I’ve really enjoyed hearing about it!

    • I’m just like you. You get so much information out of guided tours, it’s important to know which places are worth doing one. I found the same thing with the Tower of London too – there is lots to see but it’s the stories and the history that really make it worthwhile.

    • Great post! I didn’t actually learn too much about the spookiness of it so that’s a great read. The women were definitely unhappy there often, that’s true. Maybe I’ll have to go back and look for the ghosts next time!!

  3. Well, first of all, I want your camera. Beautiful photos. Striking, brilliant colours. I might have visited this residence years and years ago, but I’ve forgotten now. What a treat for people who aren’t able to travel to London. Your tour was great.

    • Thanks, Christopher. There’s actually nothing too special about my camera – I use a Canon 600D which is an entry-level DSLR from a few years ago. I do edit the shots a bit to give them a bit more brightness and colour normally but don’t do anything else fancy. I try to make an effort to not take the same shots as other tourists, though. I think if you play around with angles and stuff, you can make things look a lot more interesting.

  4. I’ve been to Buckingham Palace when it is open for a brief time in the summer, but not to Kensington Palace. I would love this tour because I am a bit obsessed with the Royals!


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