If you’re looking for fun days out in Oxfordshire, Blenheim Palace is definitely worth a visit! The only building in England other than royal buildings with the title of “Palace”, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Grade I listed building. Winston Churchill was born here, and if his cousin hadn’t had a son he would have inherited the palace, possibly changing history forever. A popular film location, you’ve probably seen at least one movie or show filmed here!
Fun Facts About Blenheim Palace
What You'll Find on This Page
As I mentioned in the intro to this post, Blenheim Palace is the only non royal building in the United Kingdom that is called a palace. It earns the title with its 200 rooms and 1000 windows, not to mention more square footage than Buckingham Palace.
The Palace was build in the early 1700s as a thank you to the John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Queen Anne was rewarding him for leading troops to victory at the Battle of Blenheim. This victory was the first time anyone had won a battle against King Louis XIV. The palace is named after the battle.
Interestingly, royal gifts come with strings. Technically the royal family owns the land. The Churchill family lives there and pays her “rent” in the form of a Blenheim flag. They are also responsible for all maintenance of the place. This article on the crown estate (royal family holdings) is worth a read, as is this one about how less than 1% of the population owns half of England.
How to Get to Blenheim Palace
It’s definitely easiest to get to Blenheim Palace by car, but traffic around Oxford especially is a nightmare and they are trying to encourage green transportation. They now offer a free shuttle bus from Long Hanborough Station, and the Stagecoach Bus S3 and Bus 7 both run from Magadalen Street in Oxford City Centre to the main entrance (it takes around 10 minutes to walk from the main entrance to the actual palace).
Right now, there’s a 30% discount if you visit via Green Transport (train, bus, electric car, or bicycle).
What to See at Blenheim Palace
There is plenty to enjoy at Blenheim, from a nice wander around the palace grounds to touring the actual palace. Several of the rooms are open year round, and special exhibits change throughout the year.
Here are our top recommendations.
The Palace Interior
The palace features stunning architecture. Just look at the painted ceiling in the image below, not to mention the marble statues surrounding it.
The public rooms are clearly set up as they would have been around when the palace was first built. The bust below is of Alexander the Great, excavated from the ruins of the Herculaneum.
As someone who enjoys fiber arts, I was particularly impressed by the artisanship of these tapestries, which remain in incredibly good shape. The top right image above includes some tapestry detail. I was amazed at the excellent condition of these tapestries from the 1700s. I did not love the theme of victory in war of said tapestries, but they make sense given the palace history.
The front hall is home to rotating exhibits. When we visited, there was an exhibit on Consuelo Vanderbilt (yes, those Vanderbilts), who married the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Unfortunately, he informed her soon after they married that he married her in order to save Blenheim Palace.
I cannot even begin to imagine the cost of these rooms and their upkeep. It’s no surprise that the Marlborough family was running out of money.
In spite of the very unromantic beginning, their marriage survived a rather difficult 25 years. Consuelo’s wealth did, indeed, save the palace. She was popular among both the British aristocracy, and remained friends with many of them throughout her life, including Winston Churchill. More importantly (in my opinion), she was well liked by the tenants on her husband’s estate, whose lives she tried to improve.
Consuelo Vanderbilt had two sons with the Duke of Marlborough. They eventually divorced, and then had the marriage annulled since the Duke decided he wanted to become Roman Catholic.
Thankfully, the modern Marlborough family appears to finance their estate through tours and events, rather than loveless marriages.
The Blenheim Library
The library was my favorite part of the palace, and the one room out of the ones we toured where I could imagine the current Marlborough family (who do still live somewhere in the palace) spending some of their free time. These couches actually look comfy, and the rug is rolled up to the fireplace rather than laid perfectly.
I would love to hear that pipe organ played. I believe they do offer occasional concerts.
The statue is a memorial to Queen Anne. Remember, she rewarded the original Duke of Marlborough with this palace after he led British troops to victory in the Battle of Blenheim.
Winston Churchill Exhibit
Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, and at one point he was in line to inherit the place (and the title of the Duke of Marlborough). History might have been very different if he hadn’t been replaced by his cousin’s son. I think it’s probably for the best that he didn’t inherit, as I doubt he would have pursued the role of prime minister if he’d been a Duke. His leadership as Prime Minister was critical to the UK’s survival during World War II.
In the permanent Churchill exhibition, you can tour Churchill’s birthplace in Blenheim Palace, and see some of his paintings (one of his favorite ways to relax).
Churchill painted this picture of The Mill at St Georges Motel around 1930.
The Palace Grounds
As you might expect of a palace, the grounds are meticulously maintained. We loved the whimsical touches, such as the duck plant sculpture featured above. There is also a fun maze that my children aced, but then had to rescue us adults from.
I always enjoy butterfly houses. The Blenheim butterfly house is relatively large, and home to an impressively diverse collection of butterflies.
The butterfly house is also very warm (they always are), making this a lovely place to defrost on a chilly day.
Christmas Lights and Other Seasonal Events
We enjoyed the Christmas lights event while we were in Oxford. We bought access to the palace exhibit as well. It was expensive, but came highly recommended by friends. My 10-year-old LOVED the palace exhibit, which included a game where you were finding characters in every room.
Everyone enjoyed the lights, but it was freezing. They do have drinks and treats for sale along the route to warm up (at premium prices, of course).
There aren’t any animals in the stables as it is now an exhibit, but these were clearly very comfortable horse accommodations once upon a time.
You can see a model of a Shire, the enormous draught horses that the family raised, as well as carriages and an old fire brigade engine.
Stay On the Grounds
You can’t stay in the palace itself, but they’ve built modern lodges on the grounds that you can rent. This is not something we did, but I could see it being fun. It’s a beautiful spot in England.
We didn’t make it on the movie tour, but it sounds really fun! We were able to download their self guided tour (linked from the above site).
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Movies Filmed at Blenheim Palace
Blenheim palace has more TV and film appearances than any other country house, so chances are excellent that you have seen a movie filmed here. You’ll recognize a ton of scenes from the Amazon Original Cinderella movie. The Blenheim Palace gardens feature in the Disney live action 2015 Cinderella movie. They also filmed the popular Queen Charlotte series here.
These are movies my family recognized, but it’s barely scratching the surface of the list! The film list for this location ranges from TV show Inspector Morse to James Bond’s Spectre, Gulliver’s Travel, Mission: Impossible, and even a Walkers Crisps ad featuring Victoria Beckham:
I had to dig that one out of the archives for you!
The Whomping Willow Tree?
We heard that the whomping willow from the Harry Potter movies was here; we searched and searched and didn’t find it.
It turns out that this is because they whomping willow is not from Blenheim Palace! There is a Harry Potter tree at Blenheim Palace, but it’s the Cedar of Lebanon tree where Snape was bullied by James Potter in a flashback scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The tree is fenced off, because over-enthusiastic Harry Potter fans actually killed the actual Whomping Willow (a yew tree, it turns out) at Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire by climbing on it and even cutting away pieces as souvenirs.
Have you ever been to Blenheim Palace? Do you have recommendations on what to see that we should add to this list? How about a favorite movie that was filmed here?
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