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Visiting Blenheim Palace: Everything you need to know

Nine miles north of Oxford on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace is one of the largest and grandest stately homes in England. This UNESCO World Heritage site dates back over 300 years and is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill.

Today you can explore its lavish state rooms decorated with art, antiques and tapestries, acres of formal gardens and parkland – featured on screen in Spectre, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Queen Charlotte. So discover the palace’s history and highlights as well as how to get there, where to eat, drink and stay nearby with our complete guide to visiting Blenheim Palace.

Visiting Blenheim Palace: Everything you need to know
Blenheim Palace

The history of Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace was built for John Churchill, a military commander who became the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The land and a contribution towards building the palace was a gift from Queen Anne after his victory in the Battle of Blenheim on 13 August 1704. And it’s the only non-royal, non-episcopal (not governed by bishops) stately home in England with the title of palace.

Construction of the palace began in 1705 in English Baroque style. John Churchill’s wife Sarah, who was a close friend of the Queen, wanted Sir Christopher Wren to design it. But her husband met John Vanbrugh – an untrained architect who’d worked on Castle Howard in Yorkshire – on a night out and ended up commissioning him for the job, much to the Duchess’ annoyance.

The Long Library at Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace’s Long Library

Construction didn’t all go to plan. Vanbrugh had expensive ideas and there were disagreements on how much money should be provided to build the palace. Eventually the Crown stopped any further funding and the Marlboroughs were forced into exile until the Queen died in 1714.

Work restarted on the palace, with the Duchess taking the reins after the Duke suffered a stroke in 1717. But after a series of run-ins with Vanburgh over costs, she fired him and banned him from even visiting the site, so he never got to see the final palace which was completed in the 1730s.

Statue in the palace gardens
The palace gardens

The park around the palace came later, when the 4th Duke of Marlborough employed famous landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1763. Over 11 years he created an idyllic English landscape garden, damming the River Glyme to create a series of cascades and a lake. Part of the Grand Bridge was submerged, and there are still over 30 rooms hidden away underwater.

By the 1870s the Marlboroughs were in financial trouble, and artworks and jewellery were sold off to pay the bills. But the palace was saved by the 9th Duke of Marlborough, who married American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt in 1895. Her dowry paid to remodel Blenheim and replace paintings, tapestries and furniture. But it wasn’t a happy marriage, and they divorced in 1921.

The room Winston Churchill was born in at Blenheim Palace
The room Winston Churchill was born in

The 9th Duke was the cousin and close friend of Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace on 30 November 1874. Churchill was the grandson of the 7th Duke and arrived earlier than expected when his parents were staying at Blenheim. He came back throughout his life to socialise and paint – he even proposed to his wife in the Temple of Diana in the palace grounds.

Today Blenheim is home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough. And in a tradition dating back to Queen Anne, each year on the anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim, a copy of the French royal flag has to be presented to the King at Windsor Castle. This ceremony has taken place for over 300 years, but if it ever stopped the Marlboroughs would have to hand the palace back to the Crown.

Painted ceiling in the palace's Great Hall
Painted ceiling in the Great Hall

How to get to Blenheim Palace

If you’re travelling by car, Blenheim Palace is on the edge of the town of Woodstock, 9 miles north of Oxford via the A44. The palace’s address is Woodstock OX20 1PS. There’s plenty of car parking available at the palace, which is free for visitors (except during some special events).

If you’re travelling by public transport, the nearest train station is in Hanborough, which is on a direct line to London. From Hanborough you can catch the Stagecoach S7 bus to Woodstock, which takes less than 10 minutes. You can also reach Woodstock from Oxford train station and city centre using the Stagecoach S3 and S7 buses, which run daily and take 30–40 minutes.

The Water Terraces at Blenheim Palace
The Water Terraces

Buses stop outside the palace gates and then it’s a 10-minute walk across the park to reach the entrance. If you travel to Blenheim by bus, train or bike, you can save 20% on the cost of entry – just use the code GREEN20 when you book online and show proof of travel on arrival.

You can also visit Blenheim Palace on a group coach tour* from London, which also calls at Bampton (filming location for TV series Downton Abbey) and Bourton-on-the-Water.

The palace's Churchill Exhibition
The palace’s Churchill Exhibition

Blenheim Palace opening hours and prices

Blenheim Palace is generally open daily, except on Christmas Day – though it does sometimes close for special events. Opening hours vary slightly through the year and for the different parts of the site (the palace, grounds, park and cafés) – you can find the latest opening times here.

Tickets for Blenheim Palace must be booked in advance (unless you have an annual pass). There are a few different ticket options – it’s a fairly expensive day out but there’s lots to do, and many tickets are valid for a year at no extra cost, so you can come back as often as you like.

The elaborately decorated state rooms at Blenheim Palace
The palace state rooms
  • Palace, Park and Gardens: This ticket covers the whole site and costs £38 adults, £22 children aged 3–16 or £99 families (two adults and two children) and is valid for a year.
  • Privilege Pass: This is the same as the first ticket plus you get a discount of 15% in shops and restaurants. It costs £48 adults, £32 children or £109 families and is valid for a year.
  • Park and Gardens: This cheaper ticket only covers the park and gardens and costs £28 adults, £13.50 children or £80 families – though it’s only valid for one day.

There’s also an extra cost for the adventure playground, which costs £7 per child and £5 per adult for a three-hour session (you must also have a valid palace or park and gardens ticket).

Dogs on short leads are welcome in the park and East Courtyard (this includes outdoor seating areas at the Oxfordshire Pantry and Pizzeria), but not in the gardens or Great Court.

The private Italian Garden at Blenheim Palace
The Italian Garden

Things to do at Blenheim Palace

Tour the palace

The grand state rooms are a highlight of visiting Blenheim Palace. These rooms have hosted royalty, politicians and famous names and are lavishly decorated with priceless artworks, antique furniture, sparkling gilt and thick carpets. Look out for the palace’s collection of Meissen porcelain and the Blenheim tapestries, illustrating the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s military victories.

An audio tour takes you on a route through the different rooms, including the Great Hall, the Long Library with its statue of Queen Anne and the room where Winston Churchill was born. The tour lasts around 40 minutes, with information about the collections and artworks in each room.

You can also add on an Upstairs or Downstairs guided tour (£6 adults/£5 children). The Upstairs tour takes you through the rooms used by the Marlborough family and their guests. And the Downstairs tour is a look behind the scenes at the life of palace staff over the centuries.

The palace state rooms and Blenheim tapestries
The palace state rooms and Blenheim tapestries

Learn about Winston Churchill

Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace on 30 November 1874 while his parents were staying there. He returned many times through his lifetime, and the palace has a Churchill Exhibition in a room overlooking the Water Terraces where he once used to paint.

The interactive exhibition takes you through Churchill’s early life, political career and wartime leadership. There are artefacts like a vest he wore as a baby, family photographs, letters, military uniforms and the red despatch box he used when he was the Secretary of State for War.

There’s also a room at the end of the exhibition which is set up as it would’ve been during his lifetime. It comes complete with newspapers at the breakfast table and a bottle of whisky and a radio next to his armchair. And if you want to visit Churchill’s grave, he’s buried next to his parents and other family members at St Martin’s Church in Bladon, a mile south of Blenheim Palace.

Recreated room at the Churchill Exhibition at Blenheim Palace
Recreated room at the Churchill Exhibition

Explore the formal gardens

Blenheim Palace’s formal gardens surround the palace and are split into different sections – they’re a mix of ages and styles, dating from the 18th–20th century. There’s a Rose Garden, Cascades, Churchill’s Memorial Garden and a private Italian Garden (which you can only look into).

You can also explore the Water Terraces (look out for the sphinx statues guarding the fountains which have the head of Gladys Deacon – mistress and later wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough) and the Secret Garden, a tranquil spot originally built for the 10th Duke of Marlborough as an escape from the crowds when Blenheim opened to visitors, which is now also open to the public.

There’s also the family-friendly Walled Garden area. This is where you’ll find the two-mile-long Marlborough Maze, the Butterfly House and adventure playground (see below). It’s around a 10-minute walk from the palace or you can catch a lift on a mini train for £1 per person.

And the Blenheim Palace stables exhibition gives an insight into the Marlborough family’s love of horses, with hands-on exhibits and a life-size model of Churchill’s childhood pony Rob Roy.

Sphinx statues with the face of Gladys Deacon – mistress and later wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough in the Water Terraces
Sphinx statues in the Water Terraces

Take a walk in the park

There are over 2000 acres of beautiful parkland surrounding Blenheim Palace, with lakes, bridges and monuments – including the 41-metre-high Column of Victory which was built after the death of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. You can also see an ancient cedar tree which featured in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which dates back to Capability Brown’s work on the park.

If you’re just visiting the park, it’s free to enter and you don’t need a ticket – you can park in Woodstock town and enter via Woodstock Gate (map). There are some lovely walks around the park, including a 1.5-mile walk around the Queen’s Pool and a 4.6-mile perimeter walk.

The Column of Victory in Blenheim Park
The Column of Victory

Visit the adventure playground

If you’re visiting Blenheim Palace with kids, there’s a big adventure playground where they can burn off some energy. The Lost Garden Adventure Play is designed for children aged 2–12 and is split into different sections, with a palace-inspired design featuring its own towers and bridges.

At the centre is the Winding River where kids can splash about in the water on a hot day. Then there’s a Toddler Zone for the younger children, and zip lines, aerial walkways, climbing walls, cargo nets, tunnels and hidden lairs for older adventurers. The playground is the size of a football pitch so there’s lots to do, but there is an extra cost for entry on top of the regular ticket price.

Blenheim Palace adventure playground
Blenheim’s adventure playground (photo © Blenheim Palace)

Check out the events

There’s a busy calendar of events running though the year at Blenheim. Some of the regular events include an annual food festival (May), flower show (June), Battle Proms concert (July), international horse trials (September) and autumn festival (September) – see the full list here.

The palace also goes all out for the festive season. Inside there are lavishly decorated rooms and sparkling trees, with a different theme each year – last year’s was Sleeping Beauty. And outside there’s an illuminated light trail running through the grounds and a Christmas market.

Christmas at Blenheim Palace – Sleeping Beauty themed rooms
Christmas at the palace

Where to eat and drink near Blenheim Palace

The palace has several cafés, restaurants and takeaway stands. The Orangery Restaurant has been recently refurbished and is a light and elegant space. You can have lunch there but it’s best known for its traditional afternoon teas, with savoury sandwiches and rolls, cakes, pastries and macarons, and scones with jam and clotted cream (and there’s a kid’s version too).

There’s also the Stables Café and Oxfordshire Pantry Café, who both serve breakfast, lunch and cakes. Dishes on the menu include soups, sandwiches, quiches, salads and jacket potatoes. You can also pick up wood-fired pizzas at the Walled Garden Pizzeria on Fridays–Sundays. Or there’s the Snack Shack at the adventure playground selling ice creams, snacks and drinks.

Further afield, there are lots of places to eat and drink in Woodstock. Our favourite spots include The Back Lane Tavern for small plates inspired by flavours from around the world, Brothertons Brasserie for authentic Italian dishes, and The Woodstock Arms for tasty Sunday roasts.

The Stables Café at Blenheim Palace
The Stables Café

What else can you do near Blenheim Palace?

Woodstock is home to the free Oxfordshire Museum, with exhibits on local history, archaeology, art, landscapes and wildlife, as well as the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. There’s also Combe Mill, which was once the sawmill and workshop for Blenheim Palace and is now an industrial museum where you can discover what it was like working on the estate in Victorian times.

Also within easy reach of Blenheim are the remains of North Leigh Roman Villa (6.5 miles) and Cogges Manor Farm in Witney (9 miles), a historic manor house and farm that was a filming location for Downton Abbey. And it’s just nine miles to Oxford where you can tour its university colleges, visit the Ashmolean Museum, Botanic Gardens and punt on the River Isis.

The Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University
Oxford University

Where to stay near Blenheim Palace

If you want to have the palace right on your doorstep, you can stay overnight at the Blenheim Palace Lodge Retreat.* These new self-catering lodges are run by Darwin Escapes. They have one-, two- and three-bedroom contemporary, Scandinavian-style properties with open-plan living/dining areas and full kitchens. And there are some dedicated pet-friendly properties.

There’s also a selection of places to stay in Woodstock. The Macdonald Bear Hotel* is a traditional coaching inn dating from the 13th century. It has 54 rooms, some with exposed beams, antiques and wooden four-poster beds. The Woodstock Arms also has five cosy bedrooms.

Or Estelle Manor is a lavish country house hotel and private members’ club, six miles from the palace. It has 108 rooms and suites across the manor house, walled garden and stables, plus a Roman-inspired bathhouse and spa, three restaurants and 3000 acres of parkland

Cabins at Blenheim Palace Lodge Retreat
Blenheim Palace Lodge Retreat (photo © Darwin Escapes)

* This site contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission from purchases at no extra cost to you.

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Complete guide to visiting Blenheim Palace, a grand 300-year-old Baroque palace in Oxfordshire, with how to get there, what to see and do. | Blenheim Palace Cotswolds | Blenheim Palace history | Blenheim Palace park |Things to do at Blenheim Palace

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