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. Decades later visiting Blenheim Palace remains one of my favourite day trips.
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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 is a magnet. Blenheim is perfectly sited to either be visited as a day trip from London, a day trip from Orford or part of a tour of the Cotswolds. You can catch the 0935 train from London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway where you will find the 500 bus to take you to Blenheim, arriving at about 1130.
What to See at Blenheim Palace
From the moment you enter the Blenheim Palace estate gates you are surrounded by grandeur. The park seems to go on for ever and the Palace itself looms at the end of the drive. Take time to look at the Palace from estate to appreciate just how large and imposing it is. This is a Palace built to impress. It was the gift of a grateful Queen to her most successful General the first Duke of Marlborough.
Blenheim Palace State Rooms
Look up as you step into the imposing entrance hall. You will see 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
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 informing her of victory.
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.
Blenheim Palace Chapel
The room that I remembered most from my childhood visit was the chapel. I was deeply impressed that a family should have their own chapel. Not that is was like any church that I had ever seen. It is dominated by a vast memorial to the first Duke of Marlborough that Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough had built to honour her husband, both of them are busied here.
Winston Churchill and Blenheim Palace
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace. His grandmother was the 7th Duchess. He proposed to his wife in the Temple of Diana in the gardens. One of his closest friends the the 9th Duke. There is a whole exhibition devoted Churchill and outside in the gardens there is sculpture of him. Churchill is buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s, Bladon on the edge of the Blenheim estate, the church also has a stained glass window devoted to his memory.
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 ranging from about half an hour to two hours in duration. We choose the Lake and Grand Cascade path that meandered for a mile taking in a vast artificial waterfall and the Great Lake.
Look Up to see Gladys
One of the more eccentric Duchess’s of Marlborough was the second 9th Duchess, Gladys Deacon (pronounced Glay-duz) she was the Duke’s mistress for a number of years before he go round to divorcing Conseulo, his first wife. Look up to the Portico roof before you enter the Palace and you will see giant eyes gazing back at you. Gladys was famous for her mesmerising blue eyes and had Colin Gill paint them on the Portico ceiling.
Outside in the gardens you will find a pair Sphinx guarding the fountains, look carefully at the face it is Gladys.
f you have children with you then make sure you head for the walled garden where you will find a play area, the Marlborough Maze and a Butterfly House. Small legs can be saved the walk by taking a ride on the Miniature Railway, just make sure you have the 50p fare ready. Lunch can be eaten at the family friend Pizza Place in the Walled Garden
Capability Brown Parkland
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. In the end she sacked him and Vanburgh never got to see the finished palace. The current Duke of Marlborough still owns Blenheim Palace and lives for part of the year in an apartment in the Palace.
Contemporary Art at Blenheim Palace
The Palace itself is stuffed with great works of art. James Thornhill, John Piper, Nicholas Hawksmore and John Singer Sargent to name a few. Contemporary Art has a place at Blenheim too, the current Duke’s brother Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill has established the Blenheim Art Foundation which holds regular exhibitions of work installed in the Palace. Gilded Cage by Ai Wei Wei was featured in the first such exhibition and has now found a permanent home in the formal gardens. From 9 July – 15 August 2021 Tino Sehgal will stage a series of roaming choreography in the gardens; socially distanced and deeply intriguing.
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.
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 can be found by the gift shop, the Water Terrace Cafe offers garden views, the Stables Cafe does an excellent coffee and for more formal eating there is the Orangery Restaurant. The Orangery is the place to for a Blenheim Palace afternoon tea, which comes presented on a beautiful stand. Hightlighs of my afternoon tea were a delicious mini mushroom tart and perfect passion fruit eclair in addition to usual sandwiches and scones.
How to get to Blenheim Palace
Taking public transport to Blenheim is easy. From the best Blenheim Palace Day Trip 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, or use GREEN30 when booking online.
For cyclists Blenheim Palace is on National Bike Route 5 it will take about 45 minutes to cycle from Oxford. There is bike parking available at Blenheim Palace.
If you are driving to Blenheim Palace set your SatNav for OX20 1PP. The drive takes about an hour and quarter from central London with good traffic. When you get there parking is free but there may be a park and ride system operating during busy times.
Where to stay when visiting Blenheim Palace
Last time we visited Blenheim we stayed at the Heythorp Park hotel, a 20 minute drive away toward Chipping Norton. It is an adult only country house hotel set in 440 acres of parkland. Take a look at my review of Heythrop Park.
- 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 £35 concession, child and family tickets are available
- Park and Garden only: Adult £22.50
- 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 or use GREEN30 discount code