With the Queen's Diamond Jubilee taking place soon, there's a lot of interest in all things royal, especially in London (see Diamond Jubilee Exhibitions in London) so it's very timely that Kensington Palace has now finished its £12 million renovation and is back open to the public. The Palace has a new entrance, leading directly off the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens, by the Queen Victoria statue, and there's now a cafe for visitors to the palace and the gardens, as well as The Orangery for afternoon tea, making the building much more inviting.
There are now four routes to explore the palace: a major new permanent display about the life of Queen Victoria, the King's and Queen's Apartments and a temporary exhibition space in Apartment 1a, which was Princess Margaret's home.
We often think of Queen Victoria as an old lady who looked miserable and wore black all the time but this exhibition reminds us what a colourful and vibrant young woman she really was and how utterly in love she was with Albert, and he with her. This exhibition takes up most of the first floor of the public side of the building and is housed in the rooms where she would have lived from her birth in 1819 until becoming queen in 1837, when she moved to Buckingham Palace.
These rooms, while stunning in their own right, are quite dark to visit and have a theatre company's interpretation of significant events in the rooms' history. The Queen's Gallery was used by Queen Mary II for her large collection of caged songbirds hence the paper birds art installation and the twittering audio. You need to interact with the costumed guides to find out what exactly is going on so this style may not suit all visitors.
The costumed guides linger in the grander and more imposing King's Apartments but the rooms are larger and lighter and make you feel as if you're in a royal building. The King's Staircase with its life-size William Kent paintings are a joy (do look for Peter the Wild Boy) and seeing the King's Gallery and all the paintings uncovered is an absolute delight. While there are some contemporary additions to the palace's displays all of the paintings are original.
This is the first temporary exhibition and, quite rightly, features the 'People's Princess'. The display of Diana, Princess of Wales's dresses is here until 1 September 2012.
The transformation of Kensington Palace has been worth waiting for and it's now a much more inviting building. The new entrance and ground floor public areas truly welcome visitors to the gardens and palace. As well as the new palace cafe, the two gift shops make it appealing to pop in more often too. Do look out for the luminous lace light sculpture, adorned with Swarovski crystals, in the Stone Hall near the entrance of the palace that was inspired by the Royal Dress Collection. There really are now many reasons to return to Kensington Palace regularly (not just because kids now go free) as it has a lot more to discover than just twentieth century history. Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site which is an online travel guide for visitors to London. She fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen's. You can follow her on twitter at @AboutLondon. See Laura's other articles on the Visit Britain Super Blog.