“At Blenheim I took two very important decisions; to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.” – Sir Winston Churchill
When you visit Blenheim Palace, you can easily understand why Sir Winston Churchill loved it so much and chose to spend so many days here. The gorgeous palace and the large estate with beautiful gardens and peaceful waterfronts make it a quiet paradise, away from the city noises.
Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal residence in the United Kingdom that holds the title of “palace”. It is the only historic house in the United Kingdom on the Unesco Heritage List. The Palace was built after Queen Anne gifted the ruined Royal Manor at Woodstock to the First Duke of Marlborough as a gesture of gratitude for defeating the French in the Battle of Blenheim. She promised him a grant of £240,000 to build a fantastic home called Blenheim, after the small German village of Blindheim, where the battle took place. The money was never received though, and the Duke of Marlborough’s family had to complete the work at their own expense.
How to Get to Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is located very close to Oxford, in the village of Woodstock. You can easily get here by car or by public transport from Oxford. There are three bus routes from Oxford to Woodstock. As I was travelling from the south of London, I drove. It took around one and a half hours, and I was lucky that the M25 wasn’t very busy. Parking is included in the entrance ticket.
If you choose to arrive by public transport or by bicycle, you can save 30% on the entrance ticket by using the GREEN30 code at checkout and then showing proof of purchase at the entrance.
Blenheim Palace Tickets
The easiest way to buy tickets for Blenheim Palace is online, on the official website, by clicking here. A ticket that includes the palace, the park and the gardens costs £29.50. There are also different packages for families, students and children.
When you buy a ticket to Blenheim Palace on the official website and choose to donate the cost of your entry to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity, it will be converted to an annual pass, which means that you can return as many times as you want in the next 365 days, free of charge. The annual pass also provides free or discounted access to the different events that take place at Blenheim Palace over the year.
Once you book your ticket you must also book your park arrival time and the Palace entry time. I chose to arrive at 10:30 and booked my Palace entrance at 11:45, so that I had time to look around and familiarize myself with the estate.
Tours to Blenheim Palace from London
If you prefer to visit Blenheim Palace in an organised tour, there are a few options from London.
Visiting Blenheim Palace
Visiting Blenheim Palace will take the entire day. I arrived at 10:30 in the morning and left at 5pm, and I still didn’t have enough time to see everything. The estate is huge!
At the entrance I was given a map of the grounds, which made it easier to plan my way around.
Blenheim Palace was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, who wanted to create a national monument as well as a home. Back in the 18th century comfort was often not as important as the grandiosity of the building, which was the case at Blenheim. The Palace was built in an English Baroque architectural style, with unique features such as gates and porticos that were modelled on Roman and Egyptian elements. Vanbrugh wanted Blenheim Palace to be seen and admired from a distance.
Vanbrugh didn’t get to see his palace finished though. Because of his big vision he was always in conflict with the Duchess of Marlborough, who wanted a cosy home, not a monument. He resigned and was not allowed to go back to Blenheim to see the work finished.
Blenheim Palace has over 300 years of history, playing an important part during both World Wars, when it was transformed into a hospital and an evacuation site for over 400 pupils at Malvern College. The Palace was also used by MI5 during World War II after the London Blitz, when most of the staff were transferred and worked from here.
Before visiting the Palace, make sure to download the audio guide app and take headphones with you, so you can learn more about each of the rooms you will be passing through.
Blenheim Palace Interior
The tour of Blenheim Palace starts at the Great Hall. The door to the hall is the original one, made in 1715 from oak on the estate. The hall is 20 meters high, the tallest in the Palace. It was painted by James Thornhill, the same artist who painted the dome of St Paul Cathedral in London.
The Grand Hall connects to the Saloon through a marble door-frame, but due to the one-way system, the door between them is currently closed. The Saloon is where the Duke of Marlborough would have had his throne. It was painted by Louis Laguerre in a “trompe l’œil” technique, which creates an optical three-dimensional illusion. The French Painter has actually included himself in the painting, which made me think of Christopher Wren and his Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, who did the same thing.
The Saloon is still in use today for special events, banquets and grand dinners.
The tour continues through to the Palace Rooms, each decorated with so many intricate pieces of art or memorabilia, and walls covered in tapestry and ceilings painted by famous artists. In between the Grand Hall and the Saloon there is a small collection of toy soldiers, belonging to the French Artist Paul Maze Sr, dating from 1870. It was given to the 11th Duke of Marlborough as a Christmas gift in 1935.
The Long Library was initially designed as a picture gallery, but was later converted into a library. On the bookshelves there are currently over 10,000 different books, including signed first editions of Winston Churchill’s volumes. In fact, this was his favourite room at Blenheim Palace and it’s not hard to understand why.
The last room you will visit is the one in which Winston Churchill was born. This small and modest room is now decorated with photographs of Winston Churchill and his wife, and has the walls covered in his own paintings.
During my visit the Palace was hosting a photo exhibition by Cecil Beaton, a British artist known for his photography, costume designs and illustrations. The “Celebrating Celebrity” exhibition which will be on until 30th August, includes 50 enigmatic photographs of famous people taken between 1920 – 1970.
The Churchill Exhibition
Winston Churchill was not supposed to be born at Blenheim Palace but at the family’s home in London. His parents were visiting the ancestral home for a St Andrew’s Day ball when, after what was described as a rather imprudent and rough drive in a pony carriage, the birth was brought on two months early.
The new Churchill Exhibition at Blenheim Palace follows the steps of little Winston, from when he was a toddler until he became the most famous British Prime Minister of all times. The exhibition starts with how Winston was born, as well as information about his parents. You can see in this part of the exhibition some fascinating items such as blonde curls taken from little Winston’s head when he was 5 years old, a replica of the saddle he used when he was learning how to ride a pony, and handwritten letters to his parents.
Later on, the exhibition shows how important Blenheim Palace was to Churchill after he became an adult. He used to come here often for dinners and social gatherings, attended by Lord and Ladies, Politicians, Actors and Actresses, and even Royalty. When he tried to impress a Lady, he would invite her to one of the vibrant events at Blenheim.
After three unsuccessful proposals, Winston Churchill met Clementine Hozier at a dinner party in London. Five months after they met, he invited her to Blenheim Palace and proposed to her in one of the most romantic ways, in the rain, under the Greek Temple of Diana. The exhibition recreates this moment in an interactive film.
The exhibition finishes with the start of the second World War, in which Sir Winston Churchill led Britain from the edge of defeat to victory.
Before leaving the exhibition, you must take a photo with the life-size wax model of Sir Winston Churchill, created by internationally renowned sculptor Jethro Crabb. The figure is so realistic that it gives the illusion that it’s going to move at any moment.
Just before leaving the Churchill Exhibition, don’t miss the relaxation room, beautifully decorated with scenes from India, murals and exotic plants. Here you will see his iconic brown leather chair, with his scarf on the back and his cane leaning against it. Next to it there is a table with a bottle of whiskey, an old radio, and a box of cigars. This is where Churchill would spend quiet afternoons, painting.
You don’t have to book an entrance time for the Churchill Exhibition. When I visited there was no queue waiting to enter.
The Stables Exhibition
Horses have always been extremely important at Blenheim Palace. This year, whilst the Palace was closed to the public, the original tack room was restored and transformed into a fantastic interactive exhibition. It is open to the public for the very first time.
I almost wished I was a child again, so I could see if I had any skills in riding Rob Roy, a replica of Winston Churchill’s pony, but unfortunately I was too tall. I had to settle for stepping into the carriage, as real ladies did not ride horses.
Each stall in the stable hosts a different equestrian display and interactive exhibits such as the recreating of an ancient oak tree on the estate, which was used as a filming location for one of the Harry Potter films.
The Stables Exhibition doesn’t require booking an entrance time either, just like the Churchill Exhibition.
Blenheim Palace Park and Gardens
The Blenheim Estate spreads over an area of more than 2100 acres of parkland landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who also designed the gardens at Warwick Castle, Highclere Castle, and parts of Kew Gardens, among others. The initial gardens were supposed to imitate the ones at Versailles.
Lancelot Brown built a dam on the River Glyme to create the Palace’s Lake. He also submerged the midway section of Grand Bridge, flooding the 30 rooms beneath it, to accommodate his design plan. He wanted the lake to appear infinite.
Lancelot Brown used a technique called visual delay in order to intrigue visitors; to hide the waterfall. Visitors would first hear the sound of the water, and it was only after they had passed though a wall of trees and a few bends, that they would actually see it.
You could walk the entire day around the estate and still not reach all of its corners. Strolling from the Rose Garden to the Marlborough Hedge Maze, from the Walled Garden to the Butterfly House, from the Lavender Garden to the Temple of Diana, from the Winston Churchill Memorial Gardens to the Harry Potter Tree.
Eat and Drink at Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace has a few cafes and restaurants on site, where you can enjoy lunch or stop for refreshments during your visit. You can also buy a picnic basket to enjoy in the Park.
I had a coffee at the Oxfordshire Pantry when I arrived, with a view over the lake and the bridge. Halfway through my visit, after returning from the Park, I sat down at the Stables Café for a local Cotswold beer.
If you want to experience an afternoon tea or lunch overlooking the Italian Garden, I highly recommend booking a table at the Orangery Restaurant, as you might not find a spot on the day.
There is also a souvenir shop, which I only passed through on my way to the Pantry. I wanted to go back and explore it, but I had spent so much time exploring that by the time I got back to my car, it was already closed. So, if you want to check out the local gins, chocolate and marmalade, make sure you pop in when you’re passing, as there might not be another chance.
Winston Churchill’s Grave
Winston Churchill loved Blenheim so much that he chose to be buried in the small, peaceful churchyard of Bladon just outside the walls of Blenheim Estate. His small grave is near other members of his family.
I highly recommend visiting his grave on foot, as there is no place to park nearby. The churchyard is on a small, steep hill, led to by a narrow road. St. Martin’s Church is an old small building, built in 1804. It is free to visit, currently just for prayers, because of the pandemic.
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Please note that I have been invited to visit Blenheim Palace and the entrance tickets were complimentary.