Sandringham in Norfolk is one of HM The Queen's homes, and its gardens have been open to the public for over 100 years. It was bought for King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Alexandra in 1862 by Queen Victoria. The original building no longer remains, as the current house was built on its site 1870. It has been a popular retreat for many members of the Royal Family ever since. Our present Queen has opened the house to the public since 1977 and there is also a museum opened by her grandfather George V. It is a working estate and manages a number of farms, the produce of which can be purchased at the visitor centre.
Fortunate to have some good weather whilst visiting Norfolk recently, my friend and I decided to visit here. It is well signposted, so easy to find once you reach the local area. There seemed to be plenty of parking also. The gardens open at 10.30am and the house and museum at 11am. Arriving at 11.45am the place was still quite quiet, but we notice it was a lot busier when we left at about 3pm. You need to be here before 4.30pm when the ticket office closes, but this would make your visit rushed, so I would recommend getting here earlier. The house, gardens and museum are only open in the summer months and exact dates vary. For example in 2012 it was open from the beginning of April through to the beginning of November but is closed on three days in between, so it is worth checking the website to be on the safe side. However you can go to the visitor centre and country park area at any time of year, and dogs are welcome here. Car Parking is free.
It costs £11.50 to visit as an adult and see the house, museum and gardens. If you just want to see the gardens and the museum it is £8. Discounts are available for senior citizens, students, children aged 5-15, family groups and those that came on public transport. You can get a bus from nearby Kings Lynn, which is served by National Rail services.
This is close to the car park and here you will find a few shops, lavatories and a restaurant. There are picnic tables, so you can bring you own foods or purchase food to take away or an ice cream. As it was 11.45am we went in and had a drink (£1.60 for a coffee or hot chocolate) and a snack. I had an absolutely massive (and delicious) homemade cheese scone with butter, which kept me going through the day. They do full meals here and they looked good and seemed reasonably priced. The restaurant was light and airy and air conditioned. There was a separate take away section if you just wanted a drink and a snack to take outside. The gift shop was large and had a huge range of gifts. Mostly Royal Family related, as well as Norfolk related (I bought some handmade Norfolk soaps for £2.99 each), but they also stock a range of general of toys and games. There is also a Plant Centre offering local produce and an outdoor clothing outlet.
This is open year round and is free to visit. You park in the usual car park by the visitor centre and can walk freely as you wish or follow designated nature trails of between 1.5 and 2.5 miles. There is also a tractor and trailer tour for a small fee that can take you around if you wish, and I believe goes to parts that you cannot do on foot. My friend (a local) had done this when his mum had been visiting the area, and he thought it a good way to see the park. In retrospect I wish we had allowed more time for this.
This is a short walk from the Visitor Centre, just past the ticket entrance for the house and gardens. St Mary Magdalene church is 16th Century and is used by the Royal Family and estate staff. It is the one you will see the family coming out of after the Christmas day service. It is not a large church, but is very pretty, with some attractive stained glass windows and a number of plaques and busts remembering various royals as well as estate staff that had served for many years. It is free to visit during the opening times of the house and gardens (closed Sunday mornings), but during the winter months it is open only for services. I have no idea if you can just turn up and the services and worship alongside the Queen however! They do sell a few relevant gifts and books here, and whilst free to visit, donations are welcome. You cannot take photos inside the church.
After purchasing our ticket to the house and gardens area, we had a wander through the pretty gardens to the house and after our visit to the house, took a different route back. The gardens are very pretty and we were fortunate to have good weather on our visit (gardens always look prettier in the sunshine). If you feel unable to make the walk to the house they have a little cart that will take you there and back. The visitor's entrance to the house is round the back. Upon leaving the house and the museum we followed the signs for a lake walk. This isn't paved like the walk up to the house was, so in wet weather this may not be ideal. We spent some time looking at the lake and at the geese and the goslings. There are benches if you want to sit down, with a nice view of a mini-waterfall across the lake and what appears to be a small grotto. I wouldn't mind something like that in my garden...
You only visit part of the ground floor of the house, you don't get to wander around the Queen's bedroom or anything, or check out the kitchens. There seemed to be a few sitting rooms and there are many pieces of art and porcelain around the place, often gifts from other European Royal Houses - one small room seemed to be full of Danish urns and paintings. You do get to see the dining room, with its lovely view of the gardens, which is where the Queen eats her Christmas dinner (in fact all her meals when staying here). There is also a room showing various hunting pictures, guns and naval memorabilia. I wasn't particularly interested but my friend was. Every room had a guide in and they were happy to answer any questions we had, and we found them all very informative, polite and friendly. In one of the rooms there was an exhibition of royal pets with pictures and photos. When my friend visited previously it was about clocks and showed various clocks the family owned, so it looks like this could change every year or so. I did love seeing the house and we did spend some time here, but I would loved to have seen a bit more.
The Museum was first opened by George V and is included in your admission even if you just visit the gardens. It is in a former coach house and stable block. Inside are a lot of old cars as used by the family throughout the years, as well as mini children's cars including a toy Aston Martin able to be 'driven' by a little boy of 4-5. I can think of a few big boys who would covet that car too. A few other gifts as received by the Royal Family are there, including china collections and hunting trophies. Most of the space is taken up by the cars and the history of the local fire station. Back when Sandringham was first built, it were not covered by the local fire authority so had their own volunteer fire service on site, manned by staff and you can learn about that here too. There are also toilets and tea rooms here.
It is recommend that you allow 3-4 hours for a visit and I think that is a good idea, although if you want to explore all the gardens and the park then allow some more time, or come back another day to explore the park. Price wise, I think it is reasonable considering what there is to do, and I recommend spending a few pounds extra to see the house. Of course, if the gardens and park are more for you, this would be more weather dependant. The food in the restaurant was of a good quality and reasonably priced, as well as there being picnicking options, so a family can make a day out here without breaking the bank.
Sandringham Estate is the Norfolk retreat of the Queen. The house was built in 1870 on the site of an earlier house by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (at the time the Prince and Princess of Wales). It is privately owned by the Queen, and managed by the Duke of Edinburgh. It is surrounded by 24 hectares of gardens, and the estate also includes a fruit farm, the Royal Stud, and many conservation projects. The house, museum and gardens are open to visitors.
The estate is open to the public for most of April to October, but there are some closures so check before you visit. It is located not far from Kings Lynn, and there is ample parking. Entry is £10 for adults, £5 for children and £8 for concessions for entry to the house, gardens and museum. You can save a bit by opting not to visit the house, and buy tickets for the museum and gardens for £7, £3.50 and £6, but in my opinion compared to so many other places now, £10 is great value for entry to an attraction such as this.
I visited Sandringham with my parents recently while staying on a nearby campsite - which is in fact part of the estate. It was a beautiful hot summers day, so we paid our entry and in we went.
The gardens are immediately beautiful, although not over the top on the approach to the house. There are a lot of very old and tall trees, surrounded by immaculate lawns. The first sight of the house was not quite what I expected - I must be honest and say I have never paid a great deal of attention to Sandringham, and didn't really know what it looked like. I think I was expecting something more palatial, but it really is a large country house. It is built of a red stone, and is quite long and low - only 3-4 stories high. The front has terraces all along it, where apparently the Queen Mother liked to sit in the sun.
We continued round the path, and before we reached the entrance to the house itself, I stopped at a rather surprising sight - a Buddha statue at the end of an avenue of limes. We opted not to go into the neighbouring flower gardens, as I could smell the pollen waiting to assault me. On reaching the entrance to the house, I had a few minor difficulties manoeuvring my mum's wheelchair off the gravel and onto the ramp, but that was the only access issue of the day.
Inside the house, a selection of rooms on the ground floor are open to the public. The first is the family sitting room, still used today when the family is in residence, as are all the rooms. It has a very homely feel about it, with lots of squashy sofas, family photos and hobbies scattered around. I was particularly interested in the photos, as they were all quite old - shots of past British monarchs, and also of Nicolas, the last Tsar of Russia. We passed through a heavily armed corridor (an apparently important collection of arms is housed there) where I realised you wouldn't want to get into an argument there, and before moving to the small drawing room, we stopped for a look at a painting done for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh's 50th wedding anniversary. It was done at Sandringham, where a huge number of visiting royals came to celebrate with them. It's a bit of a who's who of modern royalty, many reigning European monarchs as well as those who no longer have a throne such as Greece. My mum and I were getting into one of our "so how is so-and-so related" discussions when we decided we'd be better buying a card of the painting in the gift shop, and moved on.
The small drawing room has some interesting paintings and china, but what I really like was the Duke of Edinburgh's collection of duck ornaments. Well, I say liked - they weren't to my taste but I liked the fact that he has such a normal collection, it could be anyone's. And these ducks were sitting beside important historical paintings and beautiful china. A nice touch which demonstrates how each generation has added to the house.
We moved onto the next room, a lovely long room with full length windows open on the terraces. It being such a nice day, this gave the room a really idyllic feel, like it would be somewhere I'd be happy to sit and while away the hours with a book. Again there were plenty of things to see, including a collection of old photos from Edward VII and Alexandra's time, but the highlight and dominating feature of the room are portraits of Alexandra and her daughters Louise and Maud. They are painted onto the panels of the wall, and so can never be removed for exhibition. The ceiling was also painted, with clouds so it was like you were under the sky outside - that would be nice for a rainy day.
I didn't find the dining room terribly interesting; there's something about a large table set with china that just bores me. We then found ourselves in a corridor which was full of interesting pictures and sculptures of the royal family past and present, including line drawings of the Queen out hunting. Then it was into the final room, the ballroom, where there was an exhibition about Edward VII and Alexandra. There were cases of family mementoes and heirlooms, each with a story attached. This was all rather interesting, but the best part of the ballroom was a small stand just by the exit - where a few of the Duke of Edinburgh's collection of cartoons were displayed. He likes to collect cartoons of the royal family, and they were quite hilarious, including one of the Queen playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace á la Brian May, and Charles being told "Mummy's practising".
After we exited the house, we strolled the short distance to the stables, where the museum and tea room are located. The museum was interesting, with plenty of old cars and carriages from Sandringham's history, and information boards telling the story of the house and its inhabitants. It isn't terribly large so doesn't take forever to go round, although there is plenty of reading on the information boards if you are interested. We read some, but by no means all. However, by the end I was getting quite thirsty and peckish, so was glad to get into the Stables Cafe.
I was disappointed by what was on offer in the cafe, it was a very small selection. There were some sandwiches and cakes, and that was it, apart from the choice of hot and cold drinks. So I chose a cheese and red onion sandwich, my dad had a coronation chicken sandwich and my mum had a scone. I opened my sandwich, and squawked loudly - there was an earwig crawling around in it! I went back to the counter, and the rather gormless teenager behind the counter asked me what I wanted to do. Well, I wasn't going to eat it! So I told him I was taking another one and just did it, he didn't seem capable of making such a sensible suggestion. After much checking I decided it was safe and tucked in. The sandwich literally was just grated cheese and red onion, nothing else. I had a small bottle of Sandringham apple juice, which at £1.80 was pricey but it really was lovely. My sandwich and juice were a fine lunch, but I was disappointed by the limited choice on offer at the cafe.
After our lunch we set off again, this time to stroll back towards the exit, but taking the long way round through the gardens. The gardens now are much less elaborate than they were when the house was built, but they are still beautiful. There is a pond surrounded by bright coloured trees and flowers, and you get a view of the house behind, just peeping through the trees. We were lucky to visit on such a nice day, as I really think we got the best of the gardens.
We reached the exit, and before heading over to the gift shop, we went into the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, regularly used by the royal family since they started coming to Sandringham, and of course with many items donated by them. The church is small, but it has a fairly impressive silver altar, but I was more interested in the various memorials to members of the royal family. They mostly took the form of plaques featuring the persons profile, and were very simple, nothing over the top. The earliest is Queen Victoria, mother of Edward VII, and there are memorials to the Queen Mother and George VI. I'm not a church person, but St Mary Magdalene is a little bit special, and we didn't stay in there very long.
The gift shop and another cafe and restaurant are located beside the car park, which is actually on the other side of the road to the house. We had a browse through the shop, but it was mainly gifts which were unrelated to Sandringham. There was a nice little deli section, with produce from the estate and local farms. I bought my postcard of the painting, and a keyring, and then we were done.
Sandringham is a very tranquil place to visit, at least on a nice summers day. I felt very relaxed throughout our visit, never in a rush to move on, or uncomfortable being in a stately home as I sometimes do. I really enjoyed the insight into the royal family, and seeing that like any other family, they like to relax and have fun when they spend time together. I can see why the Queen loves the retreat of Sandringham so much.
Decided to go to Sandringham this week with my husband and teenage daughter. My daughter wasn't impressed about the idea of looking around a stately home and, as with most teenagers, let her feelings be known. However, we all had a very enjoyable day. The estate was very easy to find with good sign posting and the car parking was refreshingly easy, with "a park where you like" attitude under the trees, which was good as it was a hot sunny day. Parking and entrance to the park are free and there is a teashop and gift shop together with a place to buy plants and local produce. Entrance to the museum, house and gardens is priced at £10 for adults and £5 for children up to 15 years. Concession rates are also available. We thought this price was reasonable for a day out.
The house only has a few rooms open to the public but they are all used by the Royal family when they are in residence and give a glimpse of their lifestyle which is facinating. Each room was staffed by a guide who was more than happy to answer questions about the house, its history and information about what the Royal Family do when they are staying at Sandringham. They were very knowledgeable and we left feeling that we had obtained a unique glimpse of the Royal Family's lifestyle. We saw the room in which they open their presents at Christmas and the dining room where Prince Charles had entertained only last week! We were told that all the crockery and cutlery on display on the dining table are used on a daily basis by the Royal Family. Because of the guides m daughter found these facts a lot more interesting than she thought she would!
The gardens are lovely and there are some very pretty areas such as the little waterfall where a small summer house is situated.
The museum has lots of vintage cars used my past members of the Royal family, including pedal cars used by the royal children. There is also a lot of information on the Royal Family in general with many photos and family trees all of which I, in particular, found facinating.
The Church where the Royal family go for Christmas Day service is well worth a visit and is beautiful inside.
All in all we had a lovely day out in a relaxing place and learned some new things along the way.
Have a sunny day in Norfolk? Have foreign visitors? The Norfolk retreat of the Queen, Sandringham is a great place to while away a few hours and has something for everyone. The photo above does not do the house, gardens or estate any justice. A fairly new house having only been built in 1870, Sandringham is not as imposing as some of the royal residences, but it has a pretty, comfortable feel that makes for a lovely visit. The estate itself covers 20,000 acres and the 60 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens could keep you wandering all day if gardens are your thing.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
The House and Gardens are closed at certain times of the year so be sure to double check on the website before heading out. For 2009 the House is open daily from 11 April to 24 July and then open again from 2 August to 1 November. The Gardens are open daily from 1 April.
The cost of visiting the House, Museums and Garden is £10 with discounted rates for Seniors, Children and Families.
The good news is that parking is free and plentiful. You may have a bit of a walk to get to the entrance but at least it is under tall, impressive trees. Also the country park is easily accessible and free of charge.
I find toilets a vitally important part of any location and the Queen's public toilets are well kept.
WHAT WILL KEEP MY INTEREST?
I have visited the House, Museum and Gardens at Sandringham twice. Both visits were on lovely sunny days in warm weather so I cannot vouch for what it is like when the weather is... a little more typically English. On both occasions the group included several colonials (Canadians to be specific) and we colonials love such things so the group was in high spirits the whole time which makes the difference when visiting anywhere. Each time we were also accompanied by men who have a limited tolerance for admiring china patterns and porcelain collectables.
The gardens at Sandgringham are among the best I've seen. In places there is the traditional formal gardening but most of the garden is made up of lush, comfortable greenery with cheerful floral accents. It is an inviting place with a relaxed atmosphere. You never once felt that a guard was going to cart you off if you stepped out onto the grass. There are also some fun and interesting sculptures and pieces of interest scattered about.
The house itself is definitely worth a visit. The guides are friendly and knowledgeable. I've certainly never seen the Queen, nor has anyone I know who has visited. However, the guides promise you that she can often be seen looking through the daily post or simply enjoying the garden when she is visiting. So if you're going purely to get a photo of you with Queenie I'd say you're likely to be disappointed, but perhaps there is hope.
Some items of interest in the house include anything collected by the former Queen mother. It seems she had rather a love of all things hot pink and gaudy. It will astound you. All of the tributes to the royal animals (plates with portraits of royal horses and dogs) are equally amusing. The men in the group had to be dragged away from the extensive collection of fire arms, but we were glad that they'd stopped calling everything ugly!!
The museum is also wonderful for keeping men occupied (they just weren't really garden people). Set in the old stables the museum provides a wonderful glimpse into the history of the estate. The best asset of the museum is its collection of royal vehicles stretching back over the last hundred years. Some of the vehicles are occasionally in use. My husband was very disappointed that the royal Land Rover was missing when we went back a second time but cheered up at the image of the Queen off driving around the estate in it. This collection includes a delightful little car that belonged to Prince Charles as a boy as well as some gorgeous old fire trucks. Warning, the royals have a long history of hunting and it seems that Prince Phillip (who is in charge of the estate) believes a collection of stuffed animals with accompanying animal noises makes for good entertainment.
Little Sandringham Church is worth a visit, particularly if you're looking to stretch your legs and take a slightly longer walk around the grounds.
We don't have children and didn't borrow any for the day so we didn't approach the site with them in mind. There is a bit of a play area and certainly lots of green space for running and playing. I wouldn't say that the house is overly child friendly, in that there is only so much to keep their interest, but the guides seemed particularly fond of engaging with the children who were in other groups, pointing out animal ornaments and such that they might like.
My husband doesn't let me into shops and such at these places for very long. It seems he feels that is dangerous to our bank account and to our available space in our tiny apartment. I can say that there is a gift shop full of all sorts of things but slightly short on postcards depicting the actual house. However, if you have a family member who would appreciate close up portrait postcards of any of the royal family, this is your place. Goods and products of the estate are also for sale. The restaurant/tea room is lovely and reasonably priced for such a location.
If you happen to be in Norfolk Sandringham should be on your list of places to visit. It's not far from the coast so can be incorporated into a holiday to the seaside or a day trip out and about.
I live about 30 minutes away from Sandringham, and frequently go for walks there with Lucy for some fresh air. It really is a luxury to live so close to somewhere so relaxing and peaceful (even more so out of the tourist season). If you didn’t know, Sandringham is the alternative residence of the Queen and other members of the Royal family. Princess Diana spent the majority of her childhood growing up around this area. Of course, these days, the House and Gardens are a haven for tourists, particularly during July and August. The visitor centre and country park boasts the following features: *An air-conditioned self-service restaurant.* I have eaten there several times – the soup is always excellent after a cold winter walk. It is often quite pricey though, and in the summer, a picnic is definitely the best option. *A traditional waitress-service tea-room.* Again, quite pricey and they tend to do special “deals” which aren’t really special deals by the time you get to the cash desk. *Gift shop* This is great for all you tourists out there (particularly American and Japanese ones). All manner of Royal souveniers are sold here, for a price of course. Sandringham tea-towels and local produced jam and honey are in plentiful supply. There is also a very good selection of children’s books. Finally, the mature cheese from the chilled cabinet is out of this world and will blow your head off! *Royal gardens flower and plant stall* Actually, the plants are quite reasonably priced. For the sake of a fiver or so, you can grow your own bit of royalty in your back lawn. (sort of.) *Free car and coach parking* Very beneficial, these days. There are also plenty of close parking spaces for disabled access, and the car parks are very well signposted. *600 acres of woodland and heath walks* I have been a regular visitor to Sandringham for over 5 years now and I am
still finding new walks to go on. It really does blow the cobwebs away if you have had a stressful week at work. *Grounds in general* There are sixty acres of lovely grounds, very well maintained, especially in the summer months. In peak seasons there is a “land train” (like a tractor with a trailer on the back) to take you round. I would advise queuing early though, as there are only limited places available throughout the day. For those of you with green fingers, there are beautiful examples of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and fuschias. *Sandringham House* The house was built by King Edward VII and passed down as a private home through four generations of monarchs. Now it is of course the country retreat of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. I have never seen the Queen at Sandringham, nor been invited in for cucumber sandwiches, but I have seen Phillip riding his horse in the grounds. In the house itself, which is well worth a visit are many family portraits, fine porcelain, crystals, silver gifts, bronze and marble sculptures, guns and armour and personal gifts. *The Museum* This is also well worth a look. There are many interesting things to look at – I was particularly fascinated by Prince Charles’ toy cars, vintage royal vehicles, the fire engines and the carriages and coaches. There are also many weird and wonderful gifts which have been given to the Royal family over the years, which now gather dust in a cupboard! If you are intending on visiting, Sandringham is clearly marked from the A10 / A47 junctions, head for King’s Lynn and whizz down the A47 a bit and turn right at the roundabout – follow the brown signs and you’re there! It costs nothing to walk around the grounds, but admission prices to the House and Museum do vary throughout the season. There are also regular Craft Fairs, which are good if you are into that sort of thing, but they
do attract vast crowds – in my opinion they are best avoided! Therefore, it is best to phone before hand, especially out of season. Phone: 01553 772675 or fax 01485 541571.