Do stately homes and small children mix? You might not think so, but you could do worse than visiting Blenheim Palace with kids.
This World Heritage Site is not only stuffed full of amazing rooms, treasures and artefacts, but its extensive grounds and gardens have plenty to do for little ones, keeping everyone happy.
Located near Oxford, Blenheim Palace is fairly close to us so we’ve visited several times. On every visit we’ve managed to see something different and the kids have always had a great day.
Inside Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace was built after the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s victory in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim. Queen Anne gifted the Duke £240,000 to build his home. He certainly went all out. The Palace is built in the ornamental Baroque style and is covered in amazing stonework and decoration. It has been immaculately preserved – there are no ruins here.
The Palace has been open to visitors since the 1950s and was designated a World Heritage site in 1987. The Duke’s descendants still live here, so only part of the interior is open to visitors.
I’d advise that once you arrive, you tackle the Palace itself straight away – the kids will be fresh and less likely to moan, and you can bribe them with the promise of ice cream or cake later for good behaviour.
Blenheim’s interior is pretty amazing. Look up as you walk in – don’t miss the watchful eyes above you! You’ll be agog at the entrance hall with its spectacular painted ceiling. Even more incredible is the dining hall which is covered in beautiful frescoes.
The tour around the rooms is one way. There’s a member of staff in each room who will happily tell you more about the tapestries or pieces of furniture, so do ask them questions.
Sir Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, and if you can manage it with your kids, there’s a very informative display about Churchill just through the library. Older kids and adults will find it fascinating.
We’ve been a few times now and there’s often an art exhibition in these rooms, or an event going on which adds extra interest. Check on the website to see what’s on for your visit.
The Formal Gardens and Palace Grounds
Through a small corridor to the right of the Palace entrance you’ll find the cafe, and from there the doorway to the Formal Gardens.
The Water Terrace cafe is a great place to pause for a drink (if you can find a seat) and watch the hypnotic fountains, which are surrounded by immaculately manicured hedges. Equally immaculate is the Duke’s private garden, although you’ll have to crane your neck to peek into it.
Blenheim Palace’s grounds are pretty extensive. It’s easy to lose a whole day wandering around and there are several paths to follow. The grounds were designed by the famous
Bloody Stupid Johnson Capability Brown. * Pick up a map at the information desk at the Palace entrance, or download your map here.
Some of the best paths to take are up to the Column of Victory – look back for a fabulous view of the house. Walking by the Great Lake is also very pretty especially on a sunny day.
Our kids love the Rose Garden on the way down to the waterfalls at the far end of the grounds. En route there are lots of things to discover, such as temples, statues and the Churchill memorial garden.
If your legs are worn out already, you could consider taking a buggy tour around the lake (£3.50 per adult, £2.50 per child). It’s not something we’ve done but I could be persuaded!
* Thanks to Terry Pratchett, I will never be able to hear Capability Brown without thinking of B.S. Johnson…
Take the miniature train to the Pleasure Gardens
If you’re going to Blenheim Palace with kids then you don’t want to miss out on the Pleasure Gardens. But be aware that you can’t get into the Pleasure Gardens from the Formal Gardens – you’ve got to go around!
Every half an hour or so, the miniature train sets off from near the main entrance to take families to the Pleasure Gardens. This little train ride beats walking and small children will love it. Take some change though as the train has a small fee and it’s not included in your entrance ticket.
Once inside the Pleasure Gardens, the kids will make a beeline for the play area; this summer there was a bouncy castle which we couldn’t tear the Cub away from. There’s an adventure playground and a hedge maze by the picnic area, as well as a miniature village. Our kids would happily spend all day here.
My favourite bit is the Butterfly House. In the summer it’s chock full of gorgeous hibiscus and other tropical flowers, and plenty of butterflies (it closes in the winter). The kids will have loads of fun spotting the different species and looking for chrysalises. There are also very cute little birds who fly about the inside.
Even if you don’t go into the house, there’s plenty to see and do at Blenheim Palace. If you manage to see everything at Blenheim Palace in a single day, I’ll be amazed!
We will be back again in December for the annual winter illuminations which look lovely, so stay tuned.
Know before you go
Getting there and away
Blenheim Palace is in the village of Woodstock, Oxfordshire. You won’t miss the Palace as you drive past but the postcode for your sat nav is OX20 1PS.
Blenheim Palace is a 20 minute car journey from Oxford so it’s worth a day trip if you’re spending time here. It’s also easily accessible from both London and Birmingham (about an hour and a half by car).
If you plan to arrive by public transport then you’ll need to get the S3 bus to Woodstock from Oxford train station or Oxford Gloucester Green bus station. Buses run every half an hour. You can plan your journey here.
There’s also the 500 bus to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace from Oxford Parkway. Timetable here.
Buy your tickets online or at the gate when you arrive.
Tickets cost £24.90 for an adult for full entry to the Palace, the park and the gardens. Children under 5 go free; the price of a child ticket is £13.90.
If you just want to go into the grounds, then tickets are £15.30 per adult and £7.10 per child. Family tickets (2 adults and 2 children) are available and will save you money.
Before you baulk at the cost, you can convert your ticket into an annual pass for no extra cost. The kiosk to do this is on your right in the first courtyard through the entrance. We did this and it’s worth it as it’s unlikely that you’ll do everything at Blenheim Palace in a single day.
You queue and pay/show your ticket from your car before you park. The car park is on grass and you might have to walk quite a way to get to the Palace.
We’re big fans of arriving early as possible. The Palace and gardens open at 10.30am although the grounds open at 9am.
Eating and drinking
There are lots of food options at Blenheim. There’s a small cafe just as you enter and a formal restaurant (which we haven’t dared to visit with our two) just off the main courtyard.
By the entrance to the Palace itself you will find the Water Terrace cafe. This is a large cafe with indoor and outdoor seating by the fountains and formal gardens. We’ve eaten here before and the food is nice but fairly expensive. In the summer I’ve been tempted by the Pimm’s stand here…
A much cheaper option is to bring your own picnic. The best place to picnic is in the Pleasure Gardens by the maze where there are loads of picnic tables and plenty of things to keep your kids occupied. There is also another cafe and an ice cream stand in the Pleasure Gardens.
You can get a buggy around most parts of the grounds but there are also lots of paved paths so Blenheim Palace is a good place to take babies and small children.
You can’t take a buggy into the Palace itself though; leave it in the buggy park by the entrance and get a ticket.
You can just about get a collapsible stroller onto the miniature train but it’s a squeeze!
There is disabled parking by the main entrance and disabled access to the house.
Exit through gift shop
There’s an enormous gift shop at Blenheim with plenty of souvenirs for kids and adults. It sells books, toys and dressing up clothes for kids and a huge variety of homewares (some branded, some not) for adults.
Luckily for our wallets, our kids have always been too tired to look around after our visit!