20 Best Britain’s Greatest Palace to Visit

Britain’s Greatest Palace

20 Best Britain’s Greatest Palace to Visit

  Whatever your idea of the perfect historic house imposing  architecture, beautiful interiors or glorious gardens you’ll  find it in these page. We peek through the (gilded) keyhole at  20 of the country’s finest manors, palaces and estates.

Tredegar House

Tredegar House, South Wales  

  This marvellous late 17th-century house is one of Wales’s most  beguiling architectural wonders, set within 90 acres of gorgeous  gardens. For more than 500 years Tredegar was home to one of  Wales’s most powerful families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar,  and no expense was spared in its decor. The interiors feature plenty  of flamboyant touches, from the glittering Gilt Room, once a venue  for glamorous parties, to the exquisitely carved serpents, lions and  griffins in the Brown Room.

Petworth House

Petworth House, West Sussex  

  Inspired by European baroque palaces, Petworth is a stately  ancestral seat with an astonishing art collection, including major  works by Van Dyck, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough. Intriguing objects abound, such as the earliest English globe in  existence, dating back to 1592. The grounds, designed by  Capability Brown, hold a 700-acre deer park.


Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle, Scottish Highlands  

  The most northerly of Scotland’s great houses is also one of  its most spectacular. Home to the Earls and Dukes of  Sutherland since the 13th century, it resembles a French  château with its whimsical spires and fairytale turrets. A  fortified square keep for centuries, it was extensively  remodelled by Charles Barry in 1845; the gardens, based on  those at Versailles, were laid out in the 1850s.

Harewood House

Harewood House, Yorkshire  

  The 1st Baron Harewood, Edwin Lascelles, assembled a dream team to  create his ideal home in 1759: interior designer of the moment Robert  Adam, legendary furniture maker Thomas Chippendale and famous  landscape gardener Capability Brown. Their extraordinary efforts  provide a fitting showpiece for Harewood’s priceless collections of  Renaissance masterpieces and Sèvres porcelain, among much more.

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire  

  One of the country’s most magnificent Elizabethan houses,  crafted by the finest craftsmen of the age in the 1590s,  Hardwick is quite a spectacle. Then there’s the backstory:  it was the creation of the formidable Bess of Hardwick Tudor England’s other great Elizabeth – whose four  marriages led her to become one of England’s most  powerful and richest women. Towering turrets bear her  initials, and her influence can be felt in every aspect of the  extraordinary house.

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire  

  There’s something very special about Blenheim, seat of the  Dukes of Marlborough. The only non-royal or non-episcopal  house in Britain to be called ‘palace’, it has a regal air that lives  up to the name. For some, it even eclipses the royal palaces; on seeing Blenheim for the first time, King George III is reported to have said to Queen Charlotte, “We have nothing to equal this!”
  Blenheim was built in the rare English Baroque style for John  Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, on parkland gifted to him  by Queen Anne, as a reward for victory over the French in the  Battle of Blenheim, Bavaria, in 1704. Almost two centuries  later, the duke’s descendant, Winston Churchill, was born here.
  Each room of the palace is more spectacular than the last.  The marble-clad Great Hall with its frescoed ceiling and stone  carvings makes a bold first impression, but the palace’s finest  room is the aptly named Long Library, an incredible 55 metres  in length.
  Rivalling the house for magnificence are the grounds: 2,100  acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown. Churchill  chose one of his favourite corners, the Temple of Diana, as a romantic spot to propose to his beloved, Clementine Hozier. They married just a month later.

Longleat

Longleat, Wiltshire  

  Built by Sir John Thynne in 1580, Longleat is a spectacular Elizabethan  house in parkland designed by Capability Brown. It is now occupied by  Thynne’s ancestor, the 7th Marquess of Bath, who transformed part of  the grounds into a safari park, complete with lions, tigers and giraffes,  in 1966: the first drive-through safari park outside Africa.  
  The family still live in part of the house, but 15 rooms are open to the  public. Famous for a 40,000-strong book collection, Longleat’s seven  libraries are a sight to behold.

Montacute House

Montacute House, Somerset  

  This magnificent Elizabethan Renaissance house was built to impress  by Sir Edward Phelips, a member of Elizabeth I’s parliament. Built in  1598, it remained in the Phelips family until 1931, when it was  acquired by the National Trust. Its hamstone facade with mullioned  windows is imposing, though all is not as it seems: the Tudor West  Front was not designed for the house, but removed from nearby Clifton  Maybank House and installed here in 1786. Inside, the 52-metre Long  Gallery is the longest of its kind in England, holding 60 Tudor and  Elizabethan portraits on long loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Burghley House

Burghley House, Lincolnshire  

  A grand Elizabethan pile, Burghley was built by  William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s most trusted minister, who  designed the house as a grand tribute to his Queen. The  house’s splendid interior contains a fine collection of  Italian Old Master paintings, as well as a celebrated  ceramics collection. You can explore the evocative  Tudor kitchens below stairs, as well as the breathtaking  State Rooms furnished thanks to the efforts of two of  the house’s Earls, who travelled widely and purchased  an incredible array of art and antiques. Their history  and the hoard is examined in this year’s big exhibition,  Treasures of the East.

Osborne House

Osborne House, Isle of Wight  

  “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,” said Queen  Victoria of her palatial holiday home on the Isle of  Wight, and it’s hard to disagree. 2019 marks the 200th  anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, and with a packed  programme of celebratory events, it’s the perfect time to  plan a visit.  
  Built specially for Victoria and Albert, the house  reflects their style and passions. The sumptuous State  Rooms, designed to impress the great and the good when  Osborne was at the centre of the British Empire, are  extraordinarily lavish, and you can have a glimpse into  Victoria and Albert’s private world too: their bathing  beach and the play cottage built for their children. Prince  Albert’s private suite was poignantly kept as it was in his  lifetime by the devoted Queen, and many of the objects  he used at Osborne still lie where he left them.

Barrington Court

Barrington Court, Somerset  

  This handsome Tudor manor house lay neglected until the 1920s,  when one Colonel Lyle visited and, moved by its sorry condition,  bought it and painstakingly restored it with historic salvaged  fireplaces, staircases and panelling, collected from derelict manors  all over the country. The National Trust have kept it without  furniture, so that you can appreciate the beauty of its features and  the passion that went into its restoration. After wandering the  atmospheric rooms, you can explore the beautiful gardens, planted  after consultation with the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall, Norfolk  

  This magnificent Jacobean pile stands  on the site of the home of the Boleyn  family, where it is believed Anne  Boleyn was born. No documentation  exists to back this up, but legend has  it that one of the three ghosts that  patrol the house is that of Henry  VIII’s second wife, who is said to  appear every year on 19 May, the  date of her execution, bearing her  severed head.  
  Reliefs of Anne and her daughter,  Queen Elizabeth I, can be seen on the  staircase of the Great Hall. The Long  Gallery is also worth seeking out. It  holds the National Trust’s most  important book collection, including  the first complete Bible to be printed  in English, and first editions of Jane  Austen’s Sense and Sensibility,  Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire  

  The scale of Castle Howard, the residence of the Howard  family for 300 years, is quite mind-boggling: with 145 rooms,  it is one of England’s biggest stately homes. The house took  over 100 years to construct, spanning the lifetimes of three  Earls. The original architect Vanbrugh’s vision of a house of  two identical wings capped with a central dome did not quite  come to fruition: changing tastes over the centuries meant that  east wing was built in flamboyant baroque style, while the later  west wing is all restrained Palladian elegance. The result,  though, is nothing short of spectacular.  
  A fire devastated much of the building in 1940 and would  have caused even more extensive damage but for the efforts of  some quick-thinking schoolgirl evacuees, who were able to  salvage some of the house’s priceless contents. The filming of  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited here in 1981 helped pay  for much-needed restoration works, though a section of the  building remains a shell.

Tyntesfield

Tyntesfield, Somerset  

  Conceived as a family home rather than a statement of wealth,  Tyntesfield has an intimate, warm feel. William Gibbs bought  Tyntes Place for his family in 1844 and remodelled what was then  a simple Regency house into the stunning Victorian Gothic  Revival house that you see today. It’s home to over 60,000 objects,  from ornate furnishings and precious paintings to the evocative  remnants of four generations of domestic life, from ice skates to  picnic sets.

Ham House

Ham House,London  

  Sitting on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond,  Ham House is a 17th-century treasure, full of fine  paintings, furniture and textiles. Built in 1610, it was  remodelled by the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the  1670s. Richly transformed to impress London Society, it  was one of the country’s grandest Stuart houses. 
  The  interiors boast baroque ceiling murals by Antonio Verrio,  rare damask hangings and a gilded staircase. Among the  collections, you can see the Duchess’s own teapot, one of  the earliest to arrive in Britain: ever fashionable, she was  quick to adopt the new tea-drinking trend.  
  Keep an eye out for unusual happenings Ham is  thought to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain.  Some visitors even report catching a waft of the Duke’s  pipe tobacco in the Dining Room.

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

  Another Pemberley stand-in that featured in the TV  adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth’s  creamy stone facade made an appropriately grand  setting as Darcy’s ancestral home. Surrounded by  extensive parkland and backed by the craggy  wooded hills of the Peak District, it holds many  priceless treasures.  
  Chatsworth has been home to the Cavendish  family since 1549, but many of its grand rooms are  open to the public. Be dazzled by the Painted Hall,  the grandest room built by the 1st Duke; the Great  Dining Room, dripping with gilt and swagged  curtains; and the State Apartments, lavishly  decorated in preparation for a visit from King  William III and Queen Mary II that never actually  took place.

Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart, County Down

  Neoclassical Mount Stewart has been home to one of Northern  Ireland’s most powerful families, the Marquesses of Londonderry,  for 250 years. Edith, Lady Londonderry an author, designer and  legendary hostess made Mount Stewart home in 1921, filling it  with art and antiques and planting its exceptional gardens. Now in  the care of the National Trust, the house has been beautifully  restored and is still dotted with family memorabilia and treasures.  
  Mount Stewart was only one of the family’s houses but was a firm  favourite with Edith. As she wrote to her husband Charles, “This  is the most divine house, why do we live anywhere else!”

Hatfield House

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

  Some of our favourite stately homes are those still  occupied by the same family that have been in place for  centuries. Beautiful Hatfield House is a prime example:  home to the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of  Salisbury, it was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl  of Salisbury and trusted advisor to Elizabeth I. Cecil  used materials from the Old Palace, built in 1485 by the  Bishop of Ely – some of which can still be seen today  – to build the magnificent Jacobean house you see today.  
  Much of Hatfield’s fascination comes from the fact that  Henry VIII purchased it for his children, Mary, Edward  and Elizabeth, to use as a nursery. In 1558 a young  Princess Elizabeth was resting under an oak tree in the  grounds when she learned of her accession to the throne  of England. Inside, seek out the Rainbow Portrait, an  atypically vibrant Tudor portrait of steely-eyed Queen  Elizabeth marvellously clad in a coppery cloak, and  holding a rainbow. An inscription reads, “Non sine sola  iris” (No rainbow without the sun) – portraying Elizabeth  as a bringer of peace after stormy political times.

Lyme Park

Lyme Park, Cheshire

  You might recognise Lyme – or rather, its lake – from the starring role it played in the  1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, when Colin Firth as Darcy emerged from  the lake and sent a million hearts uttering. Lyme’s glorious Italianate facade and lavish  Regency interiors tend to have the same effect.  
  Visitors can dress up in period costume, take a peek at Truelove the butler’s rooms,  and browse in the library, where the Lyme Missal prayer book is conserved. Printed by  William Caxton in 1487, it is the National Trust’s most precious printed book. Outside,  a medieval herd of red deer roam the estate, nestled on the edge of the Peak District.

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, Berkshire

  This beautiful ancestral  home is one of Britain’s finest. It has been the family seat  of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679, though its history  stretches back centuries further.
  In 749 an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the  Bishops of Winchester, who built a stately medieval  palace on the parkland here. Various rebuildings and  developments later (including the landscaping of the  grounds by Capability Brown), in 1842 it was  transformed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the  Houses of Parliament, into the Italianate gem you can  admire today.
  The twists and turns in the history of the house and  its occupants could rival a Downton Abbey plotline. In  one dramatic episode, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon  discovered Tutankhamen’s Tomb with his friend and  associate Howard Carter. His death soon afterwards led  to the story of the ‘Curse of Tutankhamen’, though an  infected mosquito bite is the likelier cause. Some of the  Earl’s discoveries can be seen in the Antiquities Room.
  You can also wander the State Rooms for a glimpse of  life above stairs. Highlights include the Saloon with its  gilt leather wall hangings; the Drawing Room, decorated  in watery green silk, and the sunny Music Room, hung  with 16th-century Italian embroideries.

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