It may be best known at present as the new residence of William, Kate, and baby George, but Kensington Palace should be on every visitor’s list for its stunning architecture, verdant Kensington Gardens setting, and compelling history. With origins dating back to the 17th century, the palace has housed royals from William III and Mary II to Queen Victoria and Princess Diana.
For those who plan on visiting Kensington Palace for the first time, we’ve selected ten of its most incredible features and artefacts. Best of all, those who are staying at The Milestone Hotel in Kensington will be mere steps away from the recently refurbished landmark.
1. Diana’s Evening Dress
Open until summer 2015, a new temporary exhibition at the palace, Fashion Rules, includes gorgeous dresses and items of clothing worn by members of the royal family. This gown, dating to 1986 and designed by Murray Arbeid, was worn by Diana to a dinner at Claridges Hotel with the President of Greece. Its striking purple-blue hue and star designs make it classic and contemporary.
2. Luminous Lace
Poised in the centre of the palace, the Luminous Lace installation is constructed from over two miles of electroluminescent wire. Spanning a wide circular area of the ceiling and dripping down into a central point in the floor, the structure is designed to resemble a traditional royal lace pattern.
3. The Sunken Garden
Kensington Palace’s sunken garden is one of the best-known features of the palace grounds. Combining water pools with vibrant flowerbeds, the gorgeous ornamental gardens were originally planted in 1908 but refurbished by architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan in time for last year’s Diamond Jubilee.
4. The Red Saloon
One of the highlights of the palace’s recent renovation is the Red Saloon, which has been transformed from its previous purpose as a ticket office. The saloon is a historical landmark, as it’s where Queen Victoria first met her privy council in 1837, aged just 18.
5. The Presence Chamber in the King’s State Apartments
Situated in the sumptuous King’s State Apartments, the Presence Chamber is decorated with tapestries, fireplace carvings by Grinling Gibbons, and a ceiling painting by William Kent. But the highlight is the throne-like gilded armchair, which belonged to George II’s son Frederick.
6. The Queen’s State Apartments
Boasting décor dating from the Glorious Revolution to the end of the Stuart dynasty, the Queen’s State Apartments offer historical items, paintings, and art installations. The Queen’s Gallery is a highlight, decorated as it is with hanging sculptures of porcelain birds.
7. Queen Victoria’s Wedding Dress
As part of the permanent Victoria Revealed exhibition, a number of artefacts from Queen Victoria’s life have been gathered together in Kensington Palace. Her wedding dress, a simple lace-bedecked piece, dates from 1840.
8. Bust of Prince Albert
A large portion of the Victoria Revealed exhibition examines Queen Victoria’s powerful relationship with Prince Albert. A number of artefacts of Albert’s are also on display, including this marble bust depicting him as a young man; it was sent by the prince to Victoria as a gift.
9. The Grand King’s Staircase
The highlight of the Grand King’s Staircase, located within the King’s State Apartments, is a huge wall fresco painted by William Kent. Depicting the whole of George I’s court, the 18th century subject matter is bright and colourful.
10. Statue of Victoria
Visitors to the palace don’t even need to enter its threshold to view this iconic sculpture of Queen Victoria. Depicting her as a young woman, the gleaming marble piece, which was crafted by her daughter Princess Louise, sits in front of the palace along the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens.