Kew Palace exterior with blue skies
Art and culture

London’s secret palaces

May 23, 2022

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Grand and formidable, London’s palaces offer a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered. From kangaroos at Kew to the hidden heart at the centre of St James’s, we reveal a few of the secrets behind London’s royal residences.

Kew Palace

Cocooned by Kew Gardens, it was at Kew Palace that King George III found a peaceful refuge as rumours of his mental health swirled around court. Ascend the wooden stairs of London’s smallest palace and ponder where, in the late 18th century, the king, his wife Queen Charlotte and their 15 offspring spent their summers. Chancing upon the queen’s cottage, hidden among the gardens, it’s as if you’ve discovered her secret mausoleum, untouched since 1818. She kept pet kangaroos next door. 

Richmond TW9 3AE

key palace with blue sky and clouds in the background
eltham palace from the side with lake in focus
Courtesy of English Heritage

Eltham Palace

An unusual marriage of three buildings with a colourful history, Eltham Palace in Greenwich is part medieval palace, part Tudor residence and part 1930s millionaire’s mansion. Home to kings since the 14th century, King Edward III and Henry VIII spent their youth here, 200 years apart. Fallen from royal favour by the 1930s, the palace caught the eye of textile millionaire Stephen Courtauld and his eccentric wife Virginia, who built an Art Deco home with a room for their pet lemur. Once you’ve toured the palace, explore the rose garden and ponds in its 19-acre grounds.

Court Yard, London SE9 5QE

Lambeth Palace

With a prison in one of its towers, Lambeth Palace on the south bank of the Thames tells the turbulent history of the Anglican faith. The home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the palace has been a holy sanctuary for nine centuries, with ten acres of gardens set within brick walls. Behind its red and white Tudor gateway you’ll discover the study where the Anglican prayer book was penned and a new multi-million pound library. Here, among gilded manuscripts and religious texts the largest such collection outside the Vatican you’ll find the execution warrant of Mary Queen of Scots.

Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU
Lambeth Palace Library, 15 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7JT

lambeth palace with a blue sky
Courtesy of Alex Baker Photography
St James Palace close up exterior

St James’s Palace

At the heart of St James’s Palace lies a real heart: that of King Henry VIII’s first child, entombed within the Chapel Royal. The chapel’s sturdy red brick façade was put in place the year that Henry VIII became the head of the Church in England if only walls could talk. Less well known than nearby Buckingham Palace, but by no means less frequented by the royal family, St James’s Palace has been home to royals for more than 300 years. TRH The Prince of Wales, Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra still call this sprawling palace their London home.

Marlborough Road, St James’s, London SW1A 1BQ

Whitehall Palace

Scene of a royal beheading, Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House is where King Charles I met his end, executed on the charge of high treason in 1649. The house is all that’s left of what was once Whitehall Palace, which once had 1,500 rooms spread over 26 acres just south of Trafalgar Square. Elaborately decorated, lavish artwork by Rubens, still in situ, adorns the ceiling, bordered by gold leaf and illuminated with chandeliers. It’s under these masterpieces that the monarch would ‘cure’ his subjects of skin disorders dubbed ‘the King’s evil’ by a simple touch.

Banqueting House, Whitehall, London SW1A 2ER

Whitehall palace interior and intricate gold ceiling
Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces

You’ll find so many royal attractions and palatial landmarks right on the doorstep of The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane are perfectly placed to explore London’s royal sights. Follow our guide to the city’s rich and varied attractions.

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