A Day Trip from London for Families | The London Resident
Want to get out of London with the family this summer? The majestic Blenheim Palace in Woodstock – Churchill’s birthplace and ancestral home and hotspot for film and TV sets – offers a busy summer program for families, adults and children. And, since it’s just north of Oxford, reaching the World Heritage Site is an easy day trip from London…
Photos: Blenheim Palace
Why visit Blenheim Palace?
Not only is Blenheim Palace a large (and huge) Baroque country estate with over 2,000 acres of parks and gardens (and apparently 200 rooms, too), it’s also steeped in history.
It was built in the early 18th century as a gift to Queen Anne’s First Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill for his efforts in the Battle of Blenheim and has remained in the Churchill family ever since – Sir Winston Churchill was born there in 1874 and currently the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and their family live there.
During World War I the estate was used as a convalescent hospital for soldiers and the gardens were turned into a food production site. More than 400 schoolchildren from Malvern College were evacuated to the palace during World War II.
He’s also made it to the big screen, with Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, James Bond’s Specter, The BFG, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Antiques Roadshow.
Blenheim Palace opened to the public in 1950, and it’s also the only non-royal building to achieve palace status, which is pretty cool.
Blenheim Palace and its Italian garden. Photo: Blenheim Palace
The Marlborough Labyrinth of Blenheim Palace. Photo: Blenheim Palace
The residents’ choice on what is happening this summer
Explore the magnificent house and its expansive grounds which are a mix of old growth forests, formal gardens, lakes and landscaped parks this summer. But don’t miss out on these extra things to do and see.
1 Family: Camp Wilderness, until August 27
Camp Wilderness offers three- and five-day residential camping experiences for children ages 8-14, deep in the ancient Blenheim Forest. Held in safari-style tent camps, the days are spent learning about traditional fire lighting, shelter construction, and figuring out what to do in various survival scenarios – this who looks very young and fun. Evenings are spent bush feasting, games, and roasting marshmallows over the campfire, which also sounds like a lot of fun. Are you a parent but don’t want to miss the adventure? This year there is a Camp Wilderness Family Experience you could try.
2 Food: luxury picnic
Enjoy a deliciously gourmet picnic basket in a magnificent setting. Blenheim Palace and its catering partner Searcys have produced a new line of luxury picnics weather permitting. Visitors can picnic in the beautifully landscaped grounds and savor tasty picnics prepared by the palace’s team of chefs – either a plowman, vegetarian or afternoon tea bento box. There are three picnics to choose from starting at £ 29.50 for two. If you want to go completely decadent, choose the option that comes with a bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV champagne.
Blenheim Palace has a resident falcon to scare away pigeons. Photo: Blenheim Palace
A photograph of Audrey Hepburn taken by Cecil Beaton featured in the Cecil Beaton and the Theater exhibit. Photo: Blenheim Palace
3 Family: Bushcraft Ax Throwing and Archery, daily all summer
Maybe you never realized you wanted to throw a tomahawk because you never had the chance. Well, now you can. Visitors to Blenheim Palace of all ages are encouraged to channel their inner Robin Hood and let off steam with ax throwing and archery sessions. Taking place daily throughout the summer, the sessions are organized under the watchful eye of The Bushcraft Company whose expert guides will provide specialized lessons. The hour-long sessions are split between archery and tomahawk throwing, so you can try both.
4 Family: The summer program of the enclosed garden, several dates
The domain’s playground, accessible by small train. There is a playground, as well as a cafe serving light refreshments and a butterfly house and Marlborough maze to explore and get lost. This summer, the walled garden hosts a variety of fun and creative activities for young people, including magic shows, bubble shows and workshops, recycled art workshops and circus skills workshops.
5 Exhibition: Cecil Beaton and the Theater, until August 31
This exhibition focuses on a collection of works by the famous fashion designer and photographer, linked to the theatrical productions of the 1950s. This decade has represented some of his most memorable designs for the stage, including a significant set of works for leading figures in the ballet world such as Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine and culminating in his iconic work on the play and film from Lerner and Loewe’s musical ‘My Beautiful Lady’.
6 Family: Meet the Falcon, Wednesdays in the Great Court until September 1
Meet Bella the Harris Hawk as she works with her master Gary to fight pests around the Great Court. See her in action to scare the pigeons from the palace masonry and learn all about this very important job.
7 Festival: Blenheim Palace Food Festival, August 20-22
This gastronomic delight features the best local and national produce, from sweet treats to organic fruits and vegetables, pastries and street food. The Kitchen and Marquee Festival offers a full program of demonstrations, Q&A, workshops and book signings. Special guests include BBC Masterchef Champions Kenny Tutt and Thomas Frake and family-friendly activities and entertainment will be available throughout the weekend.
8 Exhibition: The Golden Cage of Ai Weiwei, in progress
A monumental sculpture by Chinese artist, dissident and activist Ai Weiwei is on display throughout the gardens. His sculpture, the Gilded Cage (2017), addresses the international migrant crisis and the physical and ideological constraints of refugee life. In 2014, Ai Weiwei became the first contemporary artist in the Palace’s 300-year history to exhibit in Blenheim, and his Golden Cage marks his return.
The Churchill exhibition at Blenheim Palace. Photo: Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is currently preparing three picnic options to take on the grounds of the estate. Photo: Blenheim Palace
9 Food: Churchill Afternoon Tea at the Orangerie
This afternoon tea is based on recipes from Georgina Landemare, Churchill’s longtime personal cook. Swiss rarebit is on the menu, as are the smoked salmon and caviar muffins and the chicken and mushroom pie. There’s also a Winston Churchill fruit cake, éclairs, and peach savarin to try. You also have the option to add Pol Roger Brut Réserve – Churchill’s favorite champagne, or try a traditional afternoon tea instead. Prices for Churchill Afternoon Tea start at £ 72 for two; traditional afternoon tea costs £ 29.75 per person.
ten Film: Luna Open Air Cinema, August 12-15
Enjoy an unforgettable experience on the big screen in the breathtaking setting of Blenheim Palace. Add great food, a full bar, both with click and collect service, optional seat upgrade and of course giant screens with amazing state-of-the-art sound, and you will have an evening of fun. was perfect. The films include the Queen Bohemian Rhapsody biopic, Star Wars: A New Hope as well as Some Like it Hot by Marilyn Monroe and the singalong version of the hit musical The Greatest Showman.
11 Exposure: Sir Winston Churchill, permanent
Located in an area of the palace overlooking the water terraces that Churchill used as an artist’s studio, this exhibit documents key aspects of the warchief’s life using a mix of historical artifacts and new technology. Visitors gain insight into the ‘Greatest Briton’ through photographs, letters, objects and excerpts from Churchill’s most famous speeches. It is free with a valid Palace, Park & Gardens ticket or Annual Pass.
Open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry into the palace at 4:30 p.m. tickets start from £ 18.50 / £ 9 adult / child and visitors have the option of converting their day ticket to a free annual pass; Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1UL; blenheimpalace.com