Blenheim Palace makes for a perfect day trip. There is grand baroque Palace and afterwards you can stroll in the beautiful grounds. Visiting Blenheim Palace is one of the first big excursions that my family made outside Norfolk that I can remember. Revisiting has showed the Palace to be every bit as impressive as I remembered it.
Visiting Blenheim Palace
UNESCO World Heritage sites are catnip to me. I’ve yet to visit a dull one. So UNESCO listed Blenheim a short drive from home was a magnet. Blenheim is perfectly sited to either be visited as a day trip from London or part of a tour of the Cotswolds.
Inside Blenheim Palace
You enter the Palace via the gift shop a grand courtyard and finally a jaw dropping parade ground of a space with the Palace wrapped around three sides. This is a building that was built to impress. Built to commemorate the first Duke of Marlborough’s many victories on the battlefield, military might is celebrated everywhere, starting with the canon and stone flags on the entrance steps
Once inside you find yourself in an imposing entrance hall. Make sure that get your audio guide here. It will take you from room to room with added information if you choose. Look up at the ceiling Queen Anne is depicted as Britannia, whilst fame sings the praises of the Duke of Marlborough. Sir James Thornhill painted the ceiling, he was also responsible for the Painted Hall at Greenwich
Now you process through a series of ever more elaborate state rooms. Many are hung with the famous Blenheim tapestries that illustrate the many victories that the Duke won in the war of Spanish Succession.
When the Duke achieved victory at Blenheim, the only paper he had to hand was a tavern bill which he used to scribble a missive to his wife.
All the glitz and glamour of the first duke had worn a bit thin by time of the 9th Duke. Funds were low and maintaining the Palace was hard. What better way to fund raise as a nineteenth century duke than to marry an American heiress. The 9th Duke duly married Consuelo Vanderbilt who he didn’t love and who certainly didn’t love him in return. They stayed together long enough to produce an heir and for her fortune to restore the Palace. The prize for her unhappy marriage? Many magnificent portraits of her still hang in the palace.
My favourite room in the whole house is the library. No snug quiet corners for reading here. Books are housed in the second longest room in the country. A statue of Queen Anne presides over the room and there is an enormous organ for those moments when you need Bach’s Tocata and Fugue to accompany your reading.
The room that I remembered most from my childhood visit was the chapel. I was deeply impressed that a family should have their own church. Turns out that the wood panelled room that I remembered must be somewhere else, as the Blenheim Palace chapel is austere stone dominated by vast monument to John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. During my latest visit it was also adorned with 200 stuffed pigeons as part of an art installation by Mauritizio Cattellan.
Winston Churchill and Blenheim Palace
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace. His grandmother was the 7th Duchess. Much is made of the Churchill connection. Your audio tour will guide you round the Churchill exhibition that includes a visit to room in which he was born. Outside in the formal gardens there is the temple of Diana in which he proposed to Clementine, his future wife and a statue of him.
Blenheim Palace Formal Gardens
The formal gardens at Blenheim are beautiful. Fountains play in the water gardens designed by Achille Duchene immediately outside the house. The map that you are given when you arrive at Blenheim shows indicates various routes. We choose the Lake and Grand Cascade path that meandered for a mile taking in a vast artificial waterfall and the Great Lake.
If you have children with you then make sure you head for the family pleasure garden. Small legs can be saved the walk by taking a ride on the Miniature Railway, just make sure you have the 50p fare ready. Hours of endless fun can be had in Marlborough Maze and there is also a Butterfly House for when the weather turns wet.
Blenheim Palace Park
Surrounding the palace and formal gardens is the vast 2,100 acre park. Capability Brown dammed the river to create two lakes, planted trees, had bridges built to create some of the most beautiful parkland in the UK. Entrance to the Park is free, you can park your car in Woodstock village and wander in. The park is the perfect place to stretch your legs and enjoy one of Capability Brown’s finest landscapes.
Is Blenheim Palace dog friendly? As a cat person I’m always a bit confused when people ask me this question. The answer is dogs (except guide dogs) are not allowed in the Palace or formal gardens. They are welcome in the Park but must be kept on a lead at all times so as not to disturb grazing animals.
History of Blenheim Palace
Queen Anne was so grateful to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough for his many victories over the French in the War of Spanish Sucession that she gave him lease of the land and the promise of money to build Blenheim after his victory in the Battle of Blenheim. Just how much money was never specified and continued to be a bugbear during the construction of the palace.
Sarah Churchill, the Duchess and the Queen’s favourite, wanted to use Christopher Wren as the architect. The Duke however went out one evening and ended up commissioning Vanburgh for the job. The Duchess was not best pleased and continually complained about Vanburgh’s expensive ideas and tried to pare things back. Eventually Queen Anne and Sarah fell out and the Queen stopped all further payments toward the Palace. The current Duke of Marlborough still owns Blenheim Palace and lives for part of the year in an apartment in the Palace.
Eating at Blenheim Palace
Gift shops and tearooms are never far away in any stately home. Blenheim is no exception. You can choose to eat in one four places. The self service Oxfordshire Pantry at the entrance or the Water Terrace Cafe over looking the fountains. If you’d like something more formal then the Orangery Restaurant is for you, this is also the place to take a Blenheim Palace afternoon tea. In the family Pleasure Gardens there is a Pizza Café.
How long to allow for a Blenheim Palace visit
Touring the house will take you about 40 minutes using the audio guide. The Churchill exhibition another half an hour. Within the house there is also The Untold Story exhibition which tells stories about the house and the people who lived in it takes another 40 minutes. Walking in the grounds can take as long or as little as you want. The map that you are given when you arrive indicates four routes which take between 45 minutes and 2 hours. Don’t forget to factor in essentials such as eating cake.
How to get to Blenheim Palace
Driving is the easiest way to get to Blenheim Palace, take a look at a map or set your sat nav to OX20 1PP. The drive takes about an hour and quarter from central London with good traffic. When you get there parking is free
Taking public transport to Blenheim is easy. From London hop on a train at Marylebone station and just a shade over an hour later you will arrive at Oxford Parkway. You then catch the 500 Park and Ride bus to Woodstock. If you show your train or bus ticket you will get 30% off entry to the Palace. You can also go to Oxford station and catch the 500 but the Parkway is a quicker journey.
If you are a keen cyclist then Blenheim Palace is on National Bike Route 5.
- Blenheim Palace, Woodstock OX20 1PP
- Park opening times: 9am – 6pm
- Formal gardens opening times: 10am – 6pm or dusk if earlier
- Blenheim Palace opening times: 10.30am – 5.45pm
- Blenheim Palace, Park and Gardens Admission: Adults £27 concession, child and family tickets are available
- Park and Garden only: Adult £17
- Tickets to the Palace can be converted into an annual pass for no extra cost.
- Military personnel get 30% off admission
- If you come by public transport and show your ticket you also get a discount