Since moving to Oxfordshire, I’ve always wanted to visit Blenheim Palace. With the emergence of the spring sunshine at long last, we headed to Blenheim for a day out last weekend to explore its splendours for ourselves.
Blenheim Palace, located just outside of Oxford, is the impressive home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, set amid a sprawling estate of 2000 acres. With the main part of the palace open to the public and the extensive grounds host to everything from an adventure playground, butterfly farm and a miniature railway to quiet secluded walking, this is a fantastic day out for families of all ages.
We were a little taken aback at first by the entrance fees – at £21 for an adult, £16 concessions and £11 for children for full access it is fairly steep for a day out. However children under five go free and when you look at what is actually on offer and how much entry would be for somewhere with just one of these attractions, the fee doesn’t seem so unreasonable. What’s more, if you live fairly locally you can convert your day ticket into an annual pass for no extra cost – you just need to remember to visit the green kiosk in the palace courtyard before you leave (or within 7 days of purchasing your ticket). £21 per adult doesn’t seem to bad for a year’s worth of access to quite considerable entertainment!
Upon arriving, the grounds are fairly impressive in their own right. Unless you are an early bird, parking itself is a good few minutes walk from Blenheim Palace entrance! With an excited toddler in tow, we headed straight to the miniature narrow-gauge railway next to the palace entrance for the short (and rather slow) ride to the Pleasure Gardens. Roo absolutely loved this and we had trouble dragging her away from the train at the station at the other end.
The Pleasure Gardens themselves are host to everything younger members of the family could want. The Butterfly House was a bit hit, with tropical butterflies winging their way around the colourful flowering plants in the hot and sticky interior. There are also glass viewing panels of the hatcheries for the butterflies which little naturalists will love, showing the butterflies in all their stages as they develop from a chrysalis to a fully winged and ready to fly beauty.
The Marlborough Maze is pretty impressive and challenging enough for parents as well as children to enjoy. Located close to the maze is a small adventure area for younger children with a fantastic set of equipment for under sevens. Despite being fairly high, the wooden tunnel, bridge, climbing area and slides are fully enclosed on the sides meaning even our eighteen month-year old could explore them fairly safely and we had a hard time dragging her away.
There is also a dedicated Adventure Playground in the walled garden behind the maze. With plenty of scrambling, swinging and climbing to keep the older children occupied, there is also a huge sand pit for little ones with a low-level adventure area with a slide and climbing bits right in the middle of it. Better still, this is a suntrap with the weak spring sunshine magnified and sheltered by the tall walls, meaning the parents were all able to sun themselves for the first time this year whilst the little ones played in the sand. I heard ice-cream mentioned several times which I think proves just how warm it felt for the time of year!
And talking of ice-cream…there are lots of options for eating out at Blenheim. From an outdoor barbeque in the Pleasure Gardens to formal tearooms in the Palace gardens or a casual ice-cream of slice of cake from the various booths around the park, there is plenty of choice. Picnicers will also be glad of the plentiful benches and picnic spots to enjoy their own lunches.
Having exhausted the Pleasure Gardens and thoroughly over-excited our daughter, we headed back up to the main palace. A World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace is hugely impressive. Built for the 1st Duke of Marlborough as a gift for his services in leading the allied troops to vicotry at the Battle of Blindheim (the origin of Blenheim) in 1704, the house is suitably grand to reflect the extent of gratitude that Queen Anne and the nation felt towards the Marlborought family at the time. Set amongst beautiful formal gardens and above a huge lake, Blenheim Palace is one of the UK’s finest stately homes and has an intriguing history to match. Exhibitions on Belnheim Palace ‘s more famous episodes in history are on display in the main palace area and include details of Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874.
Unsure what to expect and planning to explore the ground with a walk, we had decided to visit Blenheim with our daughter in her normal backpack. Unfortunately large rucksacks are banned from the main interior of Blenheim Palace and Roo was a little too tired to walk by this point, so we were not on this occasion able to visit the state rooms. In hindsight, almost all the paths around the estate are accessible with a pushchair and small pushchairs are even allowed inside Blenheim Palace ‘s main rooms (larger pushchairs will need to be left at the door). It is worth knowing that there are around twenty small steps up to the main entrance to Blenheim Palace itself but I’m pretty sure I could have managed these with a pushchair.
Not to be deterred, we continued our exploration with a wander in the grounds. There are several recommended and way-marked walking trails taking in the prettiest parts of the estate as well as a lovely formal gardens to explore. It is possible to walk for well over an hour if you choose or just to take a short amble and a picnic next to one of Blenheim ‘s impressive and peaceful lakes.
Overall, Blenheim Palace offers excellent entertainment for all the family and offers exceptional value for money for return visitors. There is more to do here than is possible to get through in one day and Blenheim Palace is a place that will grow with your children over many years. Definitely recommended.
For opening times and full information on Blenheim Palace, please visit the Blenheim Palace website.