Visiting Blenheim Palace – an indispensable guide
As a visitor to England, one of the many things we have on our bucket list is Blenheim Palace which was the birthplace of Churchill. We were lucky to be housesitting in Oxfordshire and Blenheim was high on our list of must-sees.
Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage of outstanding universal value. Blenheim Palace is the only building in England that is considered a Palace even though there is no Queen (or King) in residence. For some strange reason, they often call this the “real Downton Abbey“. I’m guessing they call it that because it has inspired much of Julian Fellowes’s documentaries and work.
An easy day trip from London you will find lots of tours and guided trips to Blenheim from most areas of the City.
Thanks to Blenheim Palace and Experience Oxfordshire for providing complimentary entry for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and as usual brutally honest lol.
- Visiting Blenheim Palace – an indispensable guide
- The History of Blenheim Palace
- Blenheim Palace public footpath
- Blenheim Palace Plan
- Things to do in Blenheim
- Blenheim Palace tours
- Tours of Blenheim Palace
- Harry Potter tree at Blenheim Palace
- Blenheim Butterfly House
- Marlborough Maze
- Dining at Blenheim Castle
- Tips for visiting Blenheim Palace
- Who owns Blenheim Palace?
- Places to stay near Blenheim Palace
The History of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1705 and built in the early 18th century and presented by the nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. It was this victory that decided the fate of the Empire.
The Battle of Blenheim was fought on 13 August 1704, and it was the major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. The overwhelming Allied victory ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.
Blenheim sits within a large walled landscape park, designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown and considered a “naturalistic Versailles”. Originally the landscape of the Blenheim Palace grounds was set out by Vanbrugh who adjusted the course of the River Glyme to suit his building. It was Capability Brown who later created the two lakes and developed what became known as the naturalistic style of landscape design.
In a touch of understatement, Blenheim was considered a country house for the Duke and his family who visited often when not in the City.
Blenheim Palace is also closely associated with William Churchill of WWII fame who was born in the Palace. The Palace is privately owned but is open to the public because the cost of running such a massive estate by the Duke of Marlborough would be impossible.
Blenheim Palace public footpath
As it is a private estate entry to the Blenheim can be expensive, but a little known secret is that a number of public footpaths cross the park, so it’s possible to enter without needing to buy a ticket, absolutely free. Now this walk won’t allow you entry into the Palace itself but you can walk the gardens and grounds.
Here is all you need to know to access Blenheim for free, using the ‘secret green gate’ in Woodstock. It’s a public footpath and absolutely free to walk into the Gardens and grounds of the Palace. It isn’t a suitable walk if you have mobility issues, however.
When you are in Woodstock find the Black Prince Pub where you will spot a green gate on Google the location is named ‘the causeway’. Spot the green gate with the number 95 on it, then pass through the gate into the courtyard where you will see another gate that is usuallyopen that is the walkway to Blenheim Palace grounds.
One point to note is that there are steps on part of the route so it isn’t suitable for wheelchairs or those who have difficulty walking.
Blenheim Palace Ticket cost
These are the costs for an admission ticket to Blenheim. What is really cool is if you are visiting, housesitting or simply living nearby you could visit the Palace all year at no extra cost if you donate your entry fee to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity.
Blenheim entrance fee:
Palace, Park and Gardens – £27 (Adults) £16 (Children) this is the one you can donate to the charity and get to enter free all year.
Park and Gardens – £17 (Adults) £7.60 (Children)
How to get to Blenheim Palace
Blenheim by train
Blenheim is an easy trip from London If you get the train from London to Oxford Parkway Station. When you reach the station you will get the 500 bus which will take you about 15 minutes to get to Blenheim. If you show your bus ticket at the door Blenheim will also give you a 30 % discount which is awesome. Blenheim is near Woodstock one of my favourite Cotswolds villages.
Blenheim By Bus
To reach Blenheim Palace from London, you can take a bus to Oxford, and a bus ride takes about 1.5 hours. Once you get to Oxford, the main bus station, you can pick up the #500 bus to Blenheim Palace.
Driving to Blenheim
Parking is free at Blenheim Palace and it is a bit of a walk to the Palace itself from the parking lot. I would say around 10 minutes or so but there is disabled parking nearby if you have a sticker on your car. This is where I highly recommend bringing your sticker with you if you are travelling and renting a car.
Blenheim Palace Plan
Things to do in Blenheim
Blenheim Palace tours
There is an audio guide available at the entry and it is very helpful as a guide through the magnificent rooms.
When you arrive at Blenheim Palace you will enter through the grand East Gate. If you see the standard flying it means the Duke is in residence. The massive iron gates through which you will pass have the gilded double-headed eagle crest of the Churchill family and were displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Right in front of you will be the state apartments building, you will see the Marlborough Coat of Arms is above the entrance.
Palace State Rooms
Today, the Palace is home to one of the most important and extensive collections in Europe, which includes portraits, furniture, sculpture and tapestries.
The Great Hall
You enter into what is called the Great Hall with its massive pillars and classical statues looking down on you from the first floor.
The painted ceiling depicts Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim.
From the front entry and around 3 sides of the Great Hall you will see an array of family portraits, cases of Meissen and Sevres china and the stairs to the first-floor apartments. Each of the staterooms runs into the next with a limitless display of gilding, portraiture and stunning antique furniture.
Nothing was too good for the family over its long history. There is an outstanding collection of Louis XIV furniture, Belgian Tapestries and paintings by the likes of Sargent, Van Dyke, Romney, and many more.
The Green Drawing Room
The Green Drawing room has green silk walls and furniture with a simply stunning crystal chandelier. There are family portraits and gilded family crests in the corners of the room.
Red Drawing Room
From here you move into the Red Drawing Room with its large pier glass mirrors and incredible paintings.
The Green Writing Room
The Green Writing Room has two immense tapestries depicting the surrender of Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim. There are two incredible clocks next to the doors and that ceiling is beyond belief.
First State Room
In the First State Room there hangs a portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was the wife of the ninth Duke and whose American money preserved and built upon the wealth of Blenheim. You will see a beautifully carved cradle that was used by Consuelo for her children.
Second State Room
The Second State Room has tapestries commemorating Marlborough’s final victorious campaign at the Siege of Bouchain.
The Third State Room
The Third State Room was originally the state bedchamber. It was redecorated by the Ninth Duke with gilt panelling reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles. Above the fireplace is a portrait of John Churchill, the First Duke with Colonel Armstrong who was his military engineer and close friend and fought with him.
The Long Library
The Long Library was the last room to be finished and it was turned into a library by the Third Duke. Bookcases are arranged along the base of the walls with portraits above them.
On one end of the Long Library, there stands a statue of Queen Anne which was commissioned as a memorial to her after her death. It was this statue that Julian Fellowes says inspired him to create the Downton Abbey Film with the King and Queen visiting Downton. At the other is a stunning organ. You might also have caught a view of this room in the Bridgerton’s.
The Churchill Story
The Churchill Exhibition celebrates the life of Winston Churchill and much of his WWII efforts.
You can take a walk through the rooms he wandered through as a child and even see a lock of his baby hair in the room where he was born.
Churchill was born prematurely and so Blenheim was not expected to be his birthplace as his parents were waiting for their London residence to be made ready.
Don’t forget when you are in the park to visit the Temple of Diana where he proposed to his wife Clementine.
Untold Story Exhibition
This is an exhibition on the first floor rooms so be aware that there is no access to the area for people who require a lift or elevator to reach this floor. This exhibition covers 300 years of Blenheim’s history up to WWII.
This tour covers 11 rooms and is supposed to be an intimate fascinating look behind the scenes of the family stories. It takes about 40 minutes and truth be told is a little boring.
The tour ends at the Chapel down a superb double staircase that descends down into the Chapel. The magnificent plaster ceiling crowns a simple wooden altar and the pews all face into the middle of the Chapel.
There is an impressively huge memorial to Marlborough on the south wall and his body is interred here with Sarah’s.
On the wall opposite is the memorial to Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, father of Sir Winston Churchill.
Tours of Blenheim Palace
There are additional tours of the Palace which you might like to see, however, you can’t see them unless you have an annual pass.
The ‘Blenheim Palace Upstairs’ Tour – Visit the Marlborough family’s private apartments.
The ‘Blenheim Palace Downstairs’ Tour – Find out what life was like for the servants at Blenheim Palace.
Blenheim Palace Gardens
There is a lovely miniature train available to take you to the gardens from the house entrance at a cost of 50p each and another 50 p to return.
Harry Potter tree at Blenheim Palace
You’ll find the Harry Potter Tree by the lake in front of Blenheim Palace which is featured as the Black Lake at Hogwarts in the movie Order of the Phoenix. It is right next to the Blenheim Bridge or the ‘Grand Bridge’.
Blenheim Butterfly House
The Blenheim Palace butterfly house is a lovely surprise and where you can see species from around the world.
At 2 miles long the maze is quite a challenge if you are mobility compromised and the reward is finding the Cupid statue in the centre.
Dining at Blenheim Castle
There are 4 locations you can find food within the Palace.
- Water Terrace Cafe which has outdoor and indoor seating and overlooks the stunning water gardens. This is a really pretty place to grab a coffee or tea. The food is terrible though and much too expensive for what you get.
- The Oxfordshire Pantry sits between the Park and the Palace and again is very pricy and I suspect the food is much the same as the Water Terrace Cafe.
- The Orangery looks gorgeous and very classicly English. Here you can enjoy an afternoon tea at a very high price. Two courses at the Orangery costs 2 courses £26.00 per person or here is a typical high tea menu.
The Orangery Afternoon Tea is £34.00 per person it includes the following:
Finger sandwiches: Cream cheese, cucumber / Egg mayonnaise, English cress / Coronation chicken / Searcys smoked salmon, dill,
Scones: lemon Scones Plain buttermilk scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam
Afternoon tea cakes Selection of individual William Curley patisserie and your choice from the cake table: Pistachio and raspberry financier / Amedei chocolate Sacher / Lemon and Earl Grey macaron / Black Forest tart
A pot of loose-leaf tea or coffee
- The Pleasure Gardens Pizza Cafe serves Two Pizzas or Salads* and a Carafe of sparkling Italian wine, Pinot Grigio, Vinuva Terre Siciliane or Montepulciano D’Abruzzo for just £25.00. Also available is a selection of craft lagers and wines.
Tips for visiting Blenheim Palace
- Take some pocket change so you can take the miniature train.
- Don’t eat at the Cafe by the formal gardens the food is terrible – bring your own picnic.
- Events at the Palace, you will find that outside the main doors there are often special talks or exhibitions. When we were there a lesson in duelling was hosted by two fine actors. They demonstrated the art of the duel with both sword and pistol and it was immensely entertaining.
- If you are an annual pass holder check out some of the annual events that take place at Blenheim. We saw listed fabulous dinners with renowned chefs. Marathon races, horse trials, chocolate evenings, Halloween bashes and something I would love to go back for a Christmas Market and an illuminated evening.
Blenheim is steeped in English history, the very stones hold so many memories and events it is damned inspiring. Funny story though recently a very expensive exhibit was stolen from Blenheim Palace – America the 14K gold toilet has gone missing. Worth £4.8m, and it was made by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan.
This grand gold toilet was actually plumbed in and usable and when it was removed it caused significant damage. The toilet was installed opposite the room in which Sir Winston Churchill was born.
You too could have used the Golden Loo as the Brits called it.
Who owns Blenheim Palace?
Charles James (Jamie) Spencer-ChurchillThe palace remains the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, the present incumbent of the title being Charles James (Jamie) Spencer-Churchill, 12th Duke of Marlborough. Charles James succeeded to the Dukedom upon his father’s death on 16 October 2014.
Places to stay near Blenheim Palace
The Causeway Woodstock
A lovely house with 2 bedrooms and all the necessary equipment for cooking in the kitchen. The Causeway is located right on the path to the free footpath to access Blenheim Palace. Set in Woodstock in the Oxfordshire region, The Causeway, Woodstock is a 4-star property featuring free WiFi. The accommodation is 39 km from Bourton on the Water.
The Blenheim Buttery
The Blenheim Buttery is situated in central Woodstock, this charming 17th-century building is 12.9 km north of Oxford. Its downstairs eatery, where breakfast is served, overlooks the market square, and the 6 en suite rooms all benefit from free WiFi internet.
The 4-star Blenheim Buttery has a courtyard garden where guests can sit outside in warmer weather. Guests are welcome to eat in the traditional tea room, where the regularly changing menu features freshly prepared seasonal food.
Killingworth Castle dates back to 1637, this coaching inn is situated on the ancient Worcester to London road (B4027), on the edge of picturesque Wootton village, just 3.2 km from Woodstock.
Ideally located for touring the Cotswolds, the inn is also well positioned for visits to Oxford and Blenheim Palace. Retaining much of the character of the original building, the inn features a beamed ceiling and 2 large stone fireplaces, one with a wood-burning stove for a cosy ambience.
The Kings Arms
The Kings Arms is situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, The Kings Arms features a restaurant and a bar. The hotel offers free WiFi.The rooms are equipped with flat-screen TV, private bathroom, Nespresso® coffee machine, a desk, a wardrobe and luxury Bramley toiletries and breakfast is included.
Have you been to Blenheim? What did you most enjoy about the place? For me, it was the stunning gardens I do so love an English formal garden and wish I had the backyard for one.
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