When you think of a palace in the UK, you typically think of royal residence, but that’s not always the case. Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in the country to hold the title of palace. It is also the only historic house in the UK to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Blenheim Palace is one of the places you must see for yourself. We were lucky to visit shortly after new exhibitions on Winston Churchill and the Stables opened.
Let me share more about its history (including why it’s called a palace), and what you can expect when visiting Blenheim Palace.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Please see disclosure for more information.
- Blenheim Palace History
- What to See at Blenheim Palace
- Formal Gardens
- Walled Garden
- Tips for Your Visit to Blenheim Palace
- Blenheim Palace at Christmas
- More Places to Learn About Winston Churchill
- Other Things to Do Near Blenheim Palace
- Blenheim Palace FAQs
- How much does it cost to visit Blenheim Palace?
- How long does it take to visit Blenheim Palace?
- What is the best time of year to visit Blenheim Palace?
- Is Blenheim Palace good for kids?
- Is food available for purchase at Blenheim Palace?
- Is Blenheim Palace Covid secure?
- How do you get to Blenheim Palace?
- Can I take a tour to Blenheim Palace from London?
- Can I take a tour to Blenheim Palace from Oxford?
- Where can you stay near Blenheim Palace?
- Is Blenheim Palace Worth Visiting?
- Expert Tips for Visiting Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace History
While Blenheim Palace may be best known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It’s history goes back more than 150 years before that when Queen Anne gifted the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, the ruined Royal Manor of Woodstock, and £240,000 to build a grand new house.
The gift was recognition for leading troops to a huge victory over the French in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, in the War of the Spanish Succession. It is called a Palace because it would be built on royal land and also because John Churchill had been named a prince of the Holy Roman Empire following his victory.
Building Blenheim Palace
John Churchill chose Sir John Vanbrugh, who had worked on Castle Howard, to design Blenheim Palace in the English Baroque style. While the Duke approved of his work, he had disagreements with the Duchess. There was trouble over costs and payments, and Vanbrugh left the project before it was completed.
Most of Blenheim Palace was built between 1705 and 1722. The Chapel, which was the last part of the Palace to be built, was finished in 1733 after the 1st Duke had died. He was moved from his temporary resting place in Westminster Abbey and buried in the Chapel.
Successive Dukes and their partners (with the exception of the 10th Duke) are also interred in the vault beneath the Chapel. Other family members, including Winston Churchill, are buried in St. Martin’s parish churchyard at Bladon, a short distance from the palace.
Well-known English landscape architect, Capability Brown, who also worked on the grounds of Chatsworth House and Alnwick Castle to name a couple, was appointed in 1764, by the 4th Duke, to enhance the landscape of the park and gardens. He added newly planted trees and created the Palace’s lake by damming the River Glyme.
Reviving Blenheim Palace
Unfortunately, things were not always rosy at Blenheim. Compared to other British ducal families, the Marlboroughs were not very wealthy. The 5th Duke of Marlborough depleted the family’s fortune and many assets had to be sold off to stay afloat. Charles, 9th Duke of Marlborough, can be credited with saving both the palace and the family by marrying the American railroad heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt.
On November 30, 1874, Winston Churchill was born at the Palace. He arrived early while his parents were visiting Blenheim for a party. Later, on 11 August 1908, another significant event in Churchill’s life took place in the formal gardens of the Palace when he proposed to his wife, Clementine Hozier, in the Temple of Diana
Blenheim Palace contributed to war efforts during the first half of the 20th Century. During World War I, the Palace was used as a convalescence hospital for wounded soldiers and the gardens were turned into a large food production site. Then, during World War II, more than 400 pupils were evacuated there from Malvern College. The Palace was also used by MI5 and the British Council.
Blenheim Palace opened its doors to the public in 1950 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Today, it’s the home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.
What to See at Blenheim Palace
There is more to Blenheim, than just the palace. To be honest, it is difficult to see it all in one day. I will share an overview so that you can prioritize and plan your visit.
Note: We did not receive a paper map when we arrived, so we took a photo of one of the billboards with a map to guide us around.
The Palace is the star of Blenheim. The 12th Duke and his family live in the palace during the winter months. You can go inside some of the Palace rooms and also see exhibits about Churchill and the Stables.
The interior of Blenheim Palace definitely feels like a royal residence. It is ornate with lots of artwork and antiques. There were Blenheim Palace staff members in each room that were happy to answer questions.
Some of my favorite rooms were:
- Great Hall – As you might expect, the first room you visit when entering the Palace is grand with high ceilings. Don’t forget to look up and appreciate the large scale painting on the ceiling by Sir James Thornhill. It feels like it should be in a museum.
- Saloon – This room is now used as a dining room and for special events. The artwork on the ceiling is by Louis Laguerre, a French artist, and shows the 1st Duke being victorious but restrained by the hand of peace.
- First State Room – The gold trim throughout the room compliment the tapestries and furniture. The painting of Consuelo Vanderbilt was commissioned to help attract suitors.
- Long Library – Over the years, this room has had many uses but now it is the library. It has a nice view of the formal gardens and an imposing life-size sculpture of Queen Anne (pictured above in the Blenheim Palace History section), which is fitting given the palace’s history. The organ may be the most beautiful I have ever seen.
The Chapel and the Green Writing Room were under renovation when we were there.
The Palace was hosting an exhibition of photos by Cecil Beaton called ‘Celebrating Celebrity’ when we visited. Beaton was a British fashion, portrait, and war photographer, as well as an Oscar–winning stage and costume designer. His photographs were on display in many of the rooms we visited, including some photographs of the Royal Family. The photos gave a behind-the-scenes view into the personal lives of celebrities and added a different story as we went from room to room
Currently, as of June 1, 2021, you need to book a timed entry slot to go inside the Palace. It takes about an hour to go through the Palace rooms.
This new exhibition, opened May 17, 2021, tells the story of Winston Churchill and his ties to Blenheim Palace. You get to see some personal items like photographs, letters, gifts, and other artifacts. It was unexpected to see some of Winston’s curls from when he was a child. You don’t really think of Churchill as a little boy with long hair!
I also had no idea that Winston’s Churchill’s mother was American. Jennie Jerome, later known as Lady Randolph, came from a wealthy New York family and used her connections to help further Winston’s political career.
At the end of the exhibition, you can take a photo with the newly commissioned wax figure of Winston Churchill.
The Churchill Exhibit is included with your Blenheim Palace admission. You do not need to book a timed-entry slot. I would allow about an hour to see it.
This interactive experience showcases the importance of horses at Blenheim through the centuries. You can see the original tack room restored and a recreation of the stable office. There is a life size model of Churchill’s childhood pony Rob Roy. Kids can sit in an old carriage, play dress up, and attempt to ride side saddle.
The Stables Exhibit is included with your Blenheim Palace admission. You do not need to book a timed-entry slot. I would allow 30 minutes for this exhibit.
The Formal Gardens are a masterpiece of botanical art. There are many different sections with quite different styles that all work well together. The presentation and maintenance are immaculate. We spent a little more than an hour in the formal gardens and didn’t get to see them all.
You can explore the area on your own. There are two walking routes (Formal Gardens Walk or Lake Walk) on the map to choose from. Alternatively, there is an audio tour that you can access by scanning the QR code on the map information boards.
The water terraces are two levels of fountains with sculptures and perfectly manicured grass and hedges. They took five years to build, from 1925 to 1930, during the time of the 9th Duke of Marlborough.
As you explore this section of the garden, it’s interesting to know:
- The sphinx sculptures (one is pictured above) have heads modelled after Gladys Deacon, his second wife.
- The fountains on the lower terrace are patterned after Bernini’s fountain in Piazza Navona in Rome.
Temple of Diana
The Temple of Diana is the spot where Winston proposed to his wife, Clementine. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside the temple as there is a fence around it.
Winston Churchill Memorial Garden
Next to the temple, there is the Winston Churchill Memorial Garden, opened in 2015. The path that goes through it is 90 meters long, one for each year of his life. The centerpiece of the garden is the bust of Winston.
Just a bit past the Winston Churchill Memorial Gardens, you will see the Rose Garden. Since we visited in late May, it was not even starting to bloom, but I could still imagine how beautiful it must look during the summer.
This cascade is definitely grand, you will hear it before you see it. Capability Brown used the technique called visual delay to create intrigue since the cascade is hidden behind a bend and some trees.
I think the best view of this waterfall is downstream looking back at it. There is also a small bridge (called the Swiss Bridge added in 1836) that allows you to get closer and take selfies if you like.
Other Points of Interest in the Formal Gardens
Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the Secret Garden, the Italian Garden, the Arboretum, the Roundel, or the Temple of Health. They are on the list for our next visit!
You will also want to leave time to explore the Park. There are two different walk routes (Queen Pool Walk or Park Perimeter Walk) marked on the map that you could do. Alternatively, you can wander around and stop at the various points of interest.
Great Lake and Queen’s Pool
The Great Lake and Queen’s Pool are man-made as part of Capability Brown’s work in the Park. The bodies of water meet under the Grand Bridge and the Great Lake extends into the Formal Gardens.
The view looking over the Queen’s Pool toward the Grand Bridge and Palace was called “the finest view in England” by Lady Randolph, Winston Churchill’s mother. King George III was also impressed saying “We have nothing equal to this!”
I have to say that this view did not disappoint. The reflections of the Grand Bridge and Palace were picturesque. Seeing all the swans, ducks, and geese added to the sense of tranquility.
The Grand Bridge runs over the Great Lake and the Queen’s Pool providing access to the Palace. It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and has 30 internal chambers. When the bridge was first built, the chambers could be easily accessed using steps at the ground level, but once Capability Brown created the Great Lake this was no longer possible.
Today, the bridge is home to local wildlife including at least six species of bats. While you can still walk across the bridge, it is currently (as of May 2021) under renovation. Blenheim Palace is working with ecologists and bat experts to make sure the renovations do not bother the wildlife.
Column of Victory
You can’t miss the Column of Victory as it that stands 134 feet tall in the park. It was designed by Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, to commemorate the victory at Blenheim but was completed after the 1st Duke’s death. You can see back to the Palace from the column over the Grand Bridge.
Harry Potter Tree
You might recognize this cedar tree from the 2007 movie ‘Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix.’ Since the ancient Yew tree known as the ‘Whomping Willow’ on the Ashbridge Estate in Hertfordshire collapse, this is the only remaining Harry Potter tree.
It may have been planted as part of the work Capability Brown did sometime between 1763 and 1774. In order to protect the Harry Potter tree for future generations, Blenheim Palace engaged tree experts to stabilize it in 2016. It has also been fenced off, but don’t worry, you can still get a good picture with it.
The miniature train runs from the Palace to the Walled Gardens. They ask for a donation of £1 for the journey.
The Walled Garden is not part of the Formal Gardens, it is located in a separate area of the park. It is within walking distance, but you also have the option of taking the miniature train. There is also a parking lot right there. Since we visited late in the day, we just drove our car to that parking lot.
You will find a few attractions inside the Walled Garden. There are also plenty of picnic tables if you brought your own food.
This greenhouse is home to butterflies from all over the world. Some are quite friendly and will let you get close. We also saw a few colorful birds.
We did not leave enough time for the maze! It is two miles in length and made up of hundreds of yew trees. In the center, the hedges are shaped to spell out B-L-E-N-H-E-I-M. Some of the hedges in the maze form war-related shapes. There are two bridges in the maze that will give you a good view.
Note: Since the two bridges (with steps) are part of the maze path, it is not suitable for wheelchairs.
Tips for Your Visit to Blenheim Palace
It was our first visit to Blenheim, and there are a few things I wish I would have known in advance:
- When you sign on to the Wi-Fi network at Blenheim, you can access to a free audio tour, so you might want to bring some headphones.
- When we visited, we our time tickets for the Palace was for 11:30 and there was a short queue. When we went back later in the day, the queue had disappeared. You could book a time later in the day, but be sure to allow enough time to see the rooms.
- They offer free talks daily, so check the board by the main palace entrance to see if there are any of interest.
- Some parking areas are a bit of a walk from the Palace, so plan on taking what you need for the day with you.
- We found the staff very friendly and helpful. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.
Blenheim Palace at Christmas
I would love to come back and visit Blenheim Palace during the Christmas season. They have an illuminated light trail through the gardens with over a million lights. You might even see Santa along the way.
New for 2021, you can explore the Palace rooms decorated in a Nutcracker theme. It’s like walking through a fairy-tale world with a dashing Nutcracker Prince, an army of mice, a Sugar Plum Fairy, and a music box with a difference.
More Places to Learn About Winston Churchill
After visiting Blenheim Palace, you may want to learn more about Winston Churchill.
Churchill War Rooms in London
The Churchill War Rooms is a museum in London located in the Cabinet War Rooms, a historic underground complex that housed a British government command center in World War II. The Cabinet War Rooms were built beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster and became fully operational in 1939, a week before Britain declared war on Germany.
The War Rooms remained in use throughout World War II and were abandoned after the surrender of Japan. After the war, the government worked to preserve the Cabinet War Rooms until the early 1980s when the Imperial War Museum was asked to take over the administration of the site.
The Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public in April 1984. The public can explore this historic site, which has been left exactly as it was when the War ended. There is also a section exploring the life of Winston Churchill.
Chartwell in Kent
From 1924 until his death in 1965, Chartwell was the principal residence of Winston Churchill. The inside has been kept as it would have been when Churchill lived here, including decorations in pale colors with floral curtains made by Lady Churchill. The terraced gardens overlook a lake and a brick wall built by Sir Winston himself.
Chartwell is a National Trust property, so members can visit for free. Get more information about National Trust membership here.
Other Things to Do Near Blenheim Palace
If you are looking for more things to do in the area around Blenheim Palace, I have a few suggestions.
St. Martin’s Church in Bladon
St. Martin’s Church is a small parish church near Blenheim Palace where many family members of the Duke of Marlborough, including Winston Churchill, are buried. You can find the family plot in the graveyard behind the church. I like how they also notated the graves with their relationship to Winston Churchill.
There has been a church on this site since the 11th or 12th century, but the building you see today opened in 1804. It was renovated in 1891. It is free to go inside and you can also see a few old pictures of Winston Churchill.
The church is about a 1.5 mile walk from Blenheim Palace. You can drive to the church, but the roads are narrow and you will have to find parking on the side of the road.
You can learn about Oxfordshire’s story from the Jurassic period through to Anglo-Saxons and Victorians at this museum housed inside a large 18th century house in Woodstock Also on the site, there is the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. There are touring exhibitions in the Garden Gallery.
When you would like to relax, the walled garden is a tranquil also perfect for a picnic. Kids will also love the Dinosaur Garden with Jurassic planting, including the rare Wollemi Pine and a life- size Megalosaurus that is as big as a bus!
It is free to visit the Oxfordshire Museum. Get more information about it here.
The University city of Oxford is just 10 miles from Blenheim Palace. If you haven’t been before, it’s worth spending at least a day there. You can tour some of the colleges like Christ Church College, visit museums, the castle, the Bodleian Library, and more.
The Cotswolds are famous for some of the most picturesque villages that you will find anywhere in Engand! These villages are traditional, charming, and quintessentially English, with fantastic places to eat and drink plus an abundance of country walks and activities.
It’s a large area and there are many places that you can choose to visit. Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Bourton-on-the-Water are popular options that are only about 30 minutes drive from Blenheim.
Blenheim Palace FAQs
How much does it cost to visit Blenheim Palace?
You have the option to buy a ticket for just the Gardens and Park (£18.50 per adult as of May 30, 2021) or the Palace, Gardens, and Park (£29.50 per adult as of May 30, 2021). There are discounts for those over 65, kids aged 5-16, students age 17-25, and families. Children under 5 can visit for free.
Only the tickets for the Palace, Gardens, and Park can be converted into an Annual Passes.
How long does it take to visit Blenheim Palace?
There is a lot to see at Blenheim Palace, so it’s best to plan to spend the whole day. If you have a tight timeline, you could focus on the Palace, the Churchill exhibition, and the formal gardens.
What is the best time of year to visit Blenheim Palace?
Since the grounds around Blenheim Palace are so lovely, you want to try to time your visit when the weather is pleasant. I would try to avoid the winter months, except when the Christmas decorations are up.
Is Blenheim Palace good for kids?
Yes, while kids may not be able to fully appreciate the history of Blenheim Palace, they can still have a fun time visiting.
There is a new family-friendly trail starting at the Grand Bridge that will teach your little ones some of the fascinating history of Blenheim Palace’s people and park. If you submit all 10 answers correctly through your phone with the onsite guide and work out the secret word, you can claim a badge.
The Walled Garden has a kids play area, the butterfly house, and the maze. You can take the miniature train from the palace to get to the Walled Garden. These are a must if you are visiting Blenheim Palace with kids.
The new Stables exhibition is also kid-friendly.
Is food available for purchase at Blenheim Palace?
Yes. Blenheim Palace has a few dining options. In the palace area, there is the Oxfordshire Pantry, Stables Cafe, and Orangery. You can have afternoon tea or order a picnic basket at the Orangery. The Walled Garden has a pizza restaurant. If you plan on eating at one of these establishments, it’s best to book in advance.
Is Blenheim Palace Covid secure?
Yes. In addition to limiting the capacity and introducing timed-entry slots, there are one-way systems in place and masks are required inside all buildings. You will also find hand sanitizing stations around the grounds.
How do you get to Blenheim Palace?
Blenheim Palace is located about 10 miles north of Oxford right next to the town of Woodstock. It’s about an hour an half away from London by car. You can use the postcode OX20 1PP in your sat nav. Parking is included with your admission
They do encourage visitors to use public transportation where possible. You can use the discount code GREEN30 during online checkout to get 30% off admission and show proof of travel by bus, train or bike on arrival.
The quickest route on public transportation from London to Blenheim is to take the Chiltern Train from London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway and then connect to Blenheim by Buses 7 and 500. There are also three bus routes from the Oxford City Center to Woodstock. Buses stop outside the main entrance which is 10-minute walk through the park to the Palace.
Can I take a tour to Blenheim Palace from London?
Yes. If you are not comfortable driving or taking public transportation from London to Blenheim Palace a tour might be your best option. It can also be the most efficient way to see Blenheim if you don’t have much time.
These tours can give you a good introduction to Blenheim Palace but in most cases you won’t be able to spend the whole day exploring. Some of the tours combine visiting Blenheim Palace with other attractions. Here are some of the best tour options from London:
Private Tour of Blenheim Palace from London – This private tour gives you three hours to spend exploring the Palace and gardens. Get more information here.
The Cotswolds and Blenheim Palace Day Trip – With this tour, you get to see a few villages in the Cotswolds as well as visiting Blenheim Palace. It also includes a two-course pub lunch. Get more information here.
Can I take a tour to Blenheim Palace from Oxford?
Yes. There are Blenheim Palace tours that pick you up in Oxford. Here are some of the options:
Cotswolds and Blenheim Small Group Tour – Visit the quaint villages of Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds along with Blenheim Palace. Get more information here.
Downton Abbey Locations and Blenheim Palace Visit – See Downton Abbey filming locations, the beautiful Cotswolds, and then spend the afternoon at Blenheim Palace. It’s a small group tour, led by a Downton Abbey superfan. Get more information here.
Where can you stay near Blenheim Palace?
There are several options for places to stay when you visit Blenheim Palace in the town of Woodstock. These are all walking distance from Blenheim Palace:
MacDonald Bear Hotel – Stay in what was once a 13th century coaching inn with peaceful views and stunning period features. It also has an award-winning restaurant and bar. Read reviews and check the price here.
Blenheim Buttery – All six en-suite rooms have been recently refurbished to reflect the traditional charm and warmth of this 17th century building. It’s an affordable place to stay near Blenheim Palace. Read reviews and check the price here.
If you want to stay in a city, Oxford is only 10 miles away. Click here to check out the options for places to stay in Oxford.
Is Blenheim Palace Worth Visiting?
Yes! There is so much to see, so don’t worry you will get your money’s worth. The grounds are idyllic and a pleasure to lose yourself in for an hour or two. The Palace has a unique design with a storied history. You quickly learn why this place was so special to Winston Churchill.
Have you been to Blenheim Palace?
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Disclosure: Thanks to Blenheim Palace for hosting us, so that we could share our experience with our readers.
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Last Updated on January 25, 2022