blenheim palace

Blenheim Palace: A brilliant cultural day trip from London

01 May 2024 | |By Annabel Harrison

This Oxfordshire estate has plenty of strings to its bow, including a new permanent exhibition exploring its 300-year history, beautiful grounds, a maze and an irresistible adventure playground

Blenheim Palace already had a lot going for it. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has 2,000 acres of grounds sculpted by – who else? – renowned landscape gardener Capability Brown. It’s appeared on screen as a location in everything from James Bond’s Spectre and Cinderella to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It has an immaculate and discombobulating maze of yew trees two miles in length, its own Butterfly House and an adventure play area deemed by my four-year-old as “the best playground ever, ever”.

Now it’s added The Blenheim Story into the mix, a new permanent exhibition which explores the 300-year history of the baroque palace. If you wanted to know why it was built, who built it and how Blenheim got its name, all those missing pieces, as explained in The Blenheim Story, complete the palace history puzzle. It all started with the birth of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, in 1650, although the palace, designed by John Vanbrugh, took 30 years to build and wasn’t completed until 1725.

blenheim palace

We’ll let you discover the rest of the details for yourself but it is worth saying that this new area hugely enhances the experience that follows. Having learnt about the key people who influenced the building of the palace and its early history, I continue to the Palace State Rooms, where the stories of these main characters are represented in everything from the tapestries and portraits to the ceilings and statues.

Kate Ballenger, who has the grand and enviable title ‘Keeper of Palace and Collections’, explains, “We want all those who visit to know the reason why it was built, and the stories of all those that have lived in it over the years – and our new permanent exhibition does just that. One of our aims is to keep the history of the palace alive, and shining a light on its illuminating past allows us to share this with all who visit, to enhance their experience.”

If you’re visiting with children, especially young ones, they are unlikely to be as enthralled by this area of the palace as they are by the permanent Stables Exhibition. It showcases the importance of horses at Blenheim through the centuries in a fun, interactive way. Kids can hop on a life-size model of Churchill’s childhood pony Rob Roy and try to ride side saddle, plus there’s a huge wicker model of a Shire horse and a talking tree.

Allow plenty of time to leave the palace and walk the 15 minutes to the walled garden, where you’ll find the epic adventure play area and Marlborough maze. I can promise your kids will agree it’s worth the walk once they’re sliding, splashing, climbing, clambering and zip-lining around to their heart’s content.

blenheim palace

If this all appeals to you, it is absolutely worth visiting Blenheim before 30 June 2024, when the fantastic Icons of British Fashion exhibition ends – especially if you love the idea of 300-year-old palatial rooms being given a temporary, dress-heavy shake-up. In celebration of the renowned creativity, diversity and talent of the British fashion industry, a stellar line-up of designers have taken on the challenge of dressing an opulent state room, inspired by the building and its people.

Elaborate, show-stopping gowns by the late Dame Vivienne Westwood and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler kick things off in the Great Hall. Lulu Guinness’ space is one of the most fun; there are huge, bright orange ‘trees’ rotating, upon which are suspended baskets and bags. Lots of her iconic lips too, of course. Temperley London, meanwhile, hosts a lavish dinner party scene with a model standing on the table and a number of dazzling bejewelled dresses.

Stella McCartney’s Runway Moments takes over the biggest space, showcasing, among many others, a zero-waste dress crafted from repurposed materials and a silk corset dress worn by both Kate Moss and Sarah Jessica Parker. With 2024 marking the 150th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s birth – in a small bedroom at Blenheim Palace – visitors can also see one of the original Churchill Siren Suits, loaned by Turnbull & Asser, as well as a new take on the iconic boiler suit and a smoking cap designed by milliner Steven Jones. I also enjoyed exploring distinctively different spaces decked out by Jean Muir, Terry de Havilland, Bruce Oldfield, Zandra Rhodes and Barbour. 

icons of british fashion blenheim palace

And there’s still more. Throughout the year Blenheim hosts everything from fun runs, a triathlon and an annual jousting tournament (really) to organ recitals, Giffords Circus, food festivals, horse trials and live music events. We’ll see you there.

Entry to The Blenheim Story permanent exhibition and the Icons of British Fashion exhibition (ends 30 June 2024) are included within a Palace, Park & Gardens ticket, Annual Pass or Privilege Pass. For more information and to book tickets visit

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