29 APR 2019: From a transformed castle to explore and brand-new Queen Victoria exhibitions to live performances uncovering the “Terrible Tudors” in all their gory glory, there’s a whole range of activities visitors can join in at Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) this Spring.

Better still, HRP is eager to work with travel counsellors and the trade to help create and sell the best experiences for clients, says the organization’s head of sales, Ann Wilson, who points to the organization’s dedicated groups and travel trade team as an invaluable source of information.

Agents and group organizers can also check out the trade web site at hrp.org.uk, she says, which details a host of travel trade resources including practical information on visit planning, ticket information as well as access to regular newsletters and an image library.

Some of RHP’s amenities for the trade to take note of, Wilson says, are:

The Royal Pass: There are three different combinations of the pass, so trip planners can create an itinerary that appeals to all client requests. The flexible multi-palace admission ticket gives visitors full control of when they visit the palaces – at the beginning or end of their trip, morning or afternoon, it’s entirely up to them! Clients go direct to the entrance of the palace and step straight into the past.

Exclusive visits and private tours: The options across all palaces are “as long as Meghan Markle’s wedding train,” say HRP, so there is plenty to choose from to satisfy the most demanding clients. Among the options: exclusive morning tour of the childhood home of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace, or soaking up the breath-taking views from the rooftops of Hampton Court Palace.

Sample tour: Private viewing of the Crown Jewels – This is a unique opportunity to view the Crown Jewels outside normal visitor hours. Available in the morning from 8.15 a.m. when your group is met by a Yeoman Warder and escorted to the Jewel House, after which the Tower is fully open for your group to explore further. In the evening the visit starts at 6.30 p.m. with sparkling wine and canapés in the Jewel House until 8 p.m. The morning viewing is £85 p.p. (CA$147) plus VAT and the evening at £120 p.p. (CA$208) plus VAT; minimum 15, maximum 150.

Agency Voucher Scheme: In 2018, the HRP booking portal for Agency Voucher Scheme clients went live. Following positive feedback, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens were added to the portal. By booking via the portal, guides and clients can proceed directly to the entrance where their barcodes will be scanned on admission avoiding delays to exchange vouchers.

Group tickets: Those not enrolled in the Agency Voucher Scheme can still book tickets online. Group tickets for the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Banqueting House are available to buy directly from the website for parties of 15 or more. Booking group tickets online gives the flexibility to pre-print tickets or have them scanned on site, while offering a discount on the group gate price.

For information go to the web site or e-mail groupsandtraveltrade@hrp.org.uk.

Meanwhile, some of the highlights for visitors to HRP properties this spring include:

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens: After five years and a £20 million (CA$34.7 million) restoration project, this royal residence and official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has officially opened to the public. Set within 40 hectares of majestic grounds, the newly reopened castle features beautifully landscaped gardens and carefully conserved staterooms that provide the backdrop for visitors to uncover stories from the fascinating history of this royal residence and government building. There are a series of activities for all guests, including tours of the sumptuous staterooms and gardens led by a team of expert explainers. (Info and tickets at: hrp.org.uk)

Kensington Palace: To mark the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth at Kensington Palace in London, Historic Royal Palaces will unveil two new exhibitions at the palace on her birthday. From May 24, Victoria: A Royal Childhood will examine Victoria's early years spent at Kensington, with the suite of rooms she and her mother occupied being reimagined in an evocative and family-friendly exploration of royal childhood. In the Pigott Gallery, Victoria: Woman and Crown considers the private woman behind the public monarch and will re-examine her later life and legacy. The exhibitions are included in Kensington Palace admission.

Tower of London: Visitors can dive into the world of the “Terrible Tudors” from May 25 to June 1 with Horrible Histories live on stage… with all the nasty bits left in! From Henry VIII’s punch up with the Pope to surviving the Spanish Armada, the grisly details of this infamous royal dynasty are revealed in an open-air hour-long performance set in the Tower’s historic dry moat. (Tickets: Adult £12, (CA$20) Children £7, (CA$12) Under 5s free.)

EVENTS

Kew Palace and the Great Pagoda: The picturesque Kew Palace opened for the summer months in April with a display celebrating the life of Queen Charlotte – a figure closely associated with Kew – throughout 2019. Following its inaugural season, the recently restored Great Pagoda also reopened, allowing visitors to ascend its 253 steps to enjoy the stunning 360-degree panoramic views over London. Entry is included in admission to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

Kensington Palace: This May, visitors to Kensington Palace will be treated to talks by food historians uncovering how the unlikely trio of tea, coffee and chocolate have shaped society, from their impact on the stock exchange to literature and even fashion. The “How Drink Shaped Society” talks are drop-in sessions and take place in the palace’s opulent State Apartments. (May 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19; included in Kensington Palace admission). Also, at the Palace, from May 25 to June 2, the world of Princess – later Queen – Victoria’s imagination takes on a interactive theme as families can dress up as characters from a Victorian puppet show, just as Victoria herself did as a little girl.

Hampton Court Palace: Families visiting Hampton Court from May 25 to June 2 can discover how Henry VIII and his six wives made the palace their home in the newly-conserved Tudor State Apartments. After enjoying the fun and interactive activities inside, a visit to the Magic Garden is an absolute must. Included in Hampton Court Palace admission.

Tower of London: On June 18 at 7 p.m., the Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London and the Band of the Chapels Royal commemorate the life of Peter Parker, who worshiped at the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London for 40 years. “Sing We at Pleasure” features Elizabethan madrigals and music by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert, set within the atmospheric Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. Tickets: £30 (CA$52).

LOOKING AHEAD

• 2020 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold when Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France met for a Grand European Summit. To celebrate this event, Hampton Court Palace will host a special exhibition where visitors will be transported back to 1520 as they explore surviving artworks, objects and documents from the event itself and meet the key characters from the rival courts of Tudor and Valois. A spectacular festival complete with jousting, foot combat and wrestling alongside a culture war of food, crafts and art will also be held at the palace from May 23 to 31, 2020.

Established by the British government in 1989, Historic Royal Palaces is an independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle (Northern Ireland). Its aim is “to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.”


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