Looking to get out of London with the family this summer? Woodstock’s stately Blenheim Palace – Churchill’s birthplace and ancestral home and hot spot for film and television shoots – has a summer programme loaded with activities for families, adults and kids. And, as 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 grand (and huge) Baroque country estate with more than 2000 acres of parkland and gardens (and apparently 200 rooms as well), it is steeped in history too.
It was built in the early 18th century as a gift to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough from Queen Anne for his efforts in the Battle of Blenheim and has remained in the Churchill family since – Sir Winston Churchill was born there in 1874 and currently the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and their family live there.
During WWI, the country estate was used as a convalescence hospital for soldiers and the gardens were turned into a food production site. More than 400 Malvern College school boys were evacuated to the palace during WWII.
It has also made it onto the big screen, featuring in Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, James Bond’s Spectre, 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 be granted a palace status, which is pretty cool.
The Resident’s Pick on What’s On this Summer
Explore the magnificent home and its expansive grounds which are a mix of ancient woodland, formal gardens, lakes and landscaped parkland this summer. But don’t miss out on these additional things to do and see.
1 Family: Camp Wilderness, until August 27
Camp Wilderness offers back-to-basics three and five-day residential camping experiences for children aged 8–14 years, in the heart of Blenheim’s ancient woodland. Held in safari-style tented camps, days are spent learning traditional fire-lighting, building shelters and working out what to do in various survival scenarios – which sounds all very young-Bear-Grylls-in-training and fun. Evenings are spent enjoying bush tucker feasts, playing games and roasting marshmallows over the campfire, which also sounds like great fun too. Are you a parent but don’t want to miss out on the adventure? This year there’s a Camp Wilderness Family Experience you could try.
2 Food: Luxury Picnics
Enjoy a deliciously indulgent picnic hamper in a magnificent setting. Blenheim Palace and its catering partner Searcys have produced a new range of luxurious picnics should the weather hold out. Visitors can picnic in the stunning landscaped parkland, and tuck into tasty picnics prepared by the palace’s team of chefs – either a ploughman’s, vegetarian or afternoon tea bento box. There are three picnics to choose from starting at £29.50 for two people. If you want to go full decadent, pick the option that comes with a bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV Champagne.
3 Family: Bushcraft Axe Throwing and Archery, daily throughout summer
Perhaps you’ve never realised you wanted to throw a tomahawk because you’ve never had the chance to. Well, now you can. Blenheim Palace visitors of all ages are being encouraged to channel their inner Robin Hood and let off some steam with axe throwing and archery sessions. Running daily throughout the summer, the sessions are organised under the watchful eye of The Bushcraft Company whose expert guides will provide specialist tuition. On the hour sessions are split between archery and tomahawk throwing, so you can have a go at both.
4 Family: The Walled Garden Summer Programme, various dates
The estate’s own adventure playground, reached by miniature train. There’s a play area, as well as a cafe serving light refreshments and a Butterfly House and a Marlborough Maze to explore and get lost in. This summer, the Walled Garden plays host to various fun and creative activities for youngsters including magic shows, bubble performances and workshops, recycled art workshops and circus skills workshops.
5 Exhibition: Cecil Beaton and the Theatre, on until August 31
This exhibition focuses on a collection of the acclaimed fashion designer and photographer’s work, relating to theatrical productions of the 1950s. This decade accounted for some his most memorable designs for the stage, including a significant body of work for great figures in the world of ballet such as Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine and culminating in his iconic work on the play and film of Lerner and Loewe’s musical ‘My Fair Lady’.
6 Family: Meet the Hawk, Wednesdays in the Great Court until September 1
Meet Bella the Harris Hawk as she works with her handler Gary to control pests around the Great Court. See her in action scaring pigeons away from the Palace Stonework and learn all about this very important job.
7 Festival: Blenheim Palace Food Festival, August 20-22
This foodie delight showcases the best local and national produce, from indulgent sweet treats to organic fruit and veg, bakes and street food. The Festival Kitchen and Marquee has a full programme of demonstrations, Q&As, 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: Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage, ongoing
A monumental sculpture by the Chinese artist, dissident and activist Ai Weiwei is on long-term view in the gardens. His sculpture, the Gilded Cage (2017), addresses the international migrant crisis and the physical and ideological constraints of life as a refugee. In 2014, Ai Weiwei became the first contemporary artist in the Palace’s 300-year history to exhibit at Blenheim, and his Gilded Cage marks his return.
9 Food: Churchill Afternoon Tea at The Orangery
This afternoon tea is based on recipes by Georgina Landemare, Churchill’s long time personal cook. Swiss rarebit is on the menu, so are smoked salmon and caviar muffins and chicken and mushroom pie. There’s also a Winston Churchill fruit cake, eclairs and a peach savarin to try. You also have the option to add Pol Roger Brut Réserve – Churchill’s favourite Champagne, or to try a traditional afternoon tea instead. Prices for the Churchill Afternoon Tea start at £72 for two guests; the Traditional Afternoon Tea is £29.75 per person.
10 Film: Luna Open Air Cinema, August 12-15
Enjoy an unforgettable big-screen experience set against the stunning backdrop of Blenheim Palace. Throw in great food, a full bar, both with click and collect service, an optional seating upgrade, and of course giant screens with incredible state of the art sound, and you’ve got a perfect summer’s evening out. Films include Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Star Wars: A New Hope as well as Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like it Hot and the singalong version of the smash-hit movie musical The Greatest Showman.
11 Exhibition: Sir Winston Churchill, permanent
Located in an area of the Palace overlooking the Water Terraces which Churchill used as an artist’s studio, this exhibition documents key aspects of the wartime leader’s life using a mix of historic artefacts and new technology. Visitors gain a sense of the ‘Greatest Briton’ through photographs, letters, artefacts and excerpts from Churchill’s most famous speeches. It is free with a Palace, Park & Gardens ticket or valid Annual Pass.
Open 9.30am-5pm, last entry into the palace is at 4.30pm; tickets start from £18.50/£9 adult/child and visitors have the opportunity to convert their day ticket into a free annual pass; Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1UL; blenheimpalace.com