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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 last summer, 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
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 to 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.
Pictures of Sandringham Estate, Kings Lynn, Norfolk