Blenheim Palace is the magnificent country house near Woodstock that is the main residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Built between 1705 and 1722, it is one of England’s largest houses.
The World Heritage Site was built as a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his role in the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, which saved both Vienna and England from French rule.
Sir John Vanbrugh designed the lavishly appointed Blenheim Palace in the baroque style and it is decked out with a collection of fine furniture, paintings, sculptures and tapestries. The palace was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and there is an exhibition of his life and achievements.
Blenheim Palace has featured in film and television including Entrapment (1999), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), The Young Victoria (2009), Lewis (2009), Gulliver’s Travels (2010), Cinderella (2015), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) and Spectre (2015).
What to see inside Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is noted for its opulent interior, which is best seen on one of the State Room tours that depart from the palace entrance. Highlights of the State Rooms include the Marlborough Tapestries and the Long Library. Guided tours of the State Rooms do not operate on Sundays or bank holidays but you are still able to visit the State Rooms on these days.
Other attractions inside the palace include Blenheim Palace: The Untold Story, a visitor experience that features animatronic figures illustrating the lives of people who have lived and worked at Blenheim Palace, as well as the Churchill exhibition that features the room where Sir Winston Churchill was born along with exhibits about the former prime minister.
There is also a cinema in the west courtyard that shows documentaries about Blenheim Palace.
In addition to the free tours, between February and September, there are tours of areas of Blenheim Palace that are normally not accessible to the public. These include the 35-minute Duke’s Floor Tour, which lets you see the Duke of Marlborough’s private living quarters; the 50-minute Upstairs Tour, where you can see the State Bedrooms, whose previous guests have included Queen Mary, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson and the 40-minute Downstairs Tour, which shows you the servants’ quarters and areas used by the palace staff.
What to see in Blenheim Park and the palace grounds
The 809.4 hectares (2000 acres) of parkland and gardens that comprise the palace grounds were designed by Capability Brown, the 18th century’s leading landscape architect. The grounds include formal gardens, lakes, landscaped parkland and the Pleasure Gardens.
The formal gardens, immediately to the rear of the palace, include the Italian Garden and the Water Terraces.
The Pleasure Gardens feature a butterfly house and the Marlborough Maze. Between April and October they are accessible by a narrow-gauge railway.
The Park is the largest part of the parkland surrounding Blenheim Palace and it features Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge, which spans the Great Lake as well as the Column of Victory with its statue of the first Duke of Marlborough.
There are several walking trails that take you around the park and formal gardens. These include a 2.4km (1½ mile) one-hour walk around the formal gardens; a 1.6km (1 mile) 45-minute walk along the lakefront to the Grand Cascade; a 2.4km (1½ mile) 45-minute circular walk around Queen Pool as well as the longer 7.6km (4½ mile) Park Perimeter walk, which normally takes around two hours to complete. All these walking trails are wheelchair-accessible although wheelchair users on the Lake and Grand Cascade route should return via the Rose Garden after reaching the Cascade, rather than completing it as a circular route.
Visiting Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is less than a 10-minute walk from the centre of Woodstock. Both Blenheim Palace and Woodstock can easily be visited on a day trip from Oxford, which is only 17km (10½ miles) away. The easiest way to get here is on Stagecoach bus route S3, which runs between Oxford and Woodstock every 30 minutes or so.
Although expensive, Blenheim Palace is very well run with a programme of special events and plenty of things to see and do at the property. This includes several tour options, including several tours that are included with your admission fee.
For the independently-minded, there is also an audio tour (included as part of your entry fee) that you can follow at your own pace. The audio tour is available in nine languages: Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
There is also a web-based mobile app that includes guides to the palace and gardens as well as an English-language audio guide.
There are also several paid tours (which cost £5 each) that take you to parts of the palace that are not accessible with a standard entry ticket.
It is one of the more expensive stately homes that you can visit in Britain and as it is not managed by either English Heritage or the National Trust, English Heritage and National Trust members must pay to visit. However, visitors with a valid National Art Pass are able to get a 30% discount off the admission price.
You may also be able to get a two-for-one entry voucher valid at other properties in the Treasure Houses of England group (a collection of 10 castles, palaces and stately homes that also includes Leeds Castle and Woburn Abbey), which is a great deal if you’re planning on visiting one of these other properties. However, these vouchers are usually only available if you pay the full entry fee and you must visit the free property along with a full-admission paying adult.
In addition, UK taxpayers who agree to donate their admission fee under the Gift Aid scheme can have their entry converted to an annual pass.
For the most part, Blenheim Palace is wheelchair accessible and both wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be hired free of charge (for a refundable deposit) from the Flagstaff Visitor Information Point near the main entrance. The few areas that are not wheelchair accessible include the upstairs area of the palace, where The Untold Story visitor experience is located, the Duke’s Floor Tour, the Upstairs Tour and part of the Lake and Cascade footpath.
Blenheim Palace has four cafes and restaurants on site as well as two gift shops. The on-site eateries include the Oxfordshire Pantry, a casual option that serves hot drinks, cakes and light meals; the Pleasure Gardens Pizza Cafe, for coffee, beer and pizza; the Water Terrace Cafe, serving seasonal hot food and the fabulous Orangery Restaurant, which has an à la carte menu and is noted for its Sunday roasts and its afternoon tea.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the palace and the surrounding area.
It is possible to spend anywhere from two hours to a full day at Blenheim Palace, particularly if you take some of the walks. Most people spend around half a day exploring the palace and grounds.