What?: Hampton Court Palace is one of my all-time favourite historical houses (second only maybe to the Bronte Parsonage, which I’m obsessed with because you can just imagine Emily sitting at the table in their front room writing about Cathy and Heathcliff and it just BLOWS MY MIND) but unless your two year old is really into the Tudors it’s probably not going to top your toddler days out list. That’s ok though, because HCP boasts plenty to keep even the tiniest of dragged-around dumplings occupied, whether it’s the 60-acre garden, numerous tot-friendly cafes, 300-year-old maze or the myths-and-legends themed walled playground. Here I’ll be focusing on the latter two attractions, which together, quite frankly, make up a pretty spectacular day out in their own right.
I’m weirdly discerning about my playgrounds, considering I’m, y’know, a fully grown adult. I just cannot abide a shit playground, for reasons no more complicated than I want cool things to look at. A good playground should be unique (preferably themed) and mostly wooden with varied apparatus, provide at least some shelter from the elements (preferably a bunch of trees and something with a roof), have a cafe either in it or close by (preferably one that sells oat-milk lattes) and be surrounded by a wall or fence to prevent toddler emancipation. The Magic Garden has all of this, minus the oat-milk lattes (although it does have a small hole-in-the-wall-type cafe).
My favourite thing about this playground though, aside from the fact that it just looks really cool, is it’s perfect for imaginative play – and, in our case, the never-ending game of hide and seek that we’ve been playing since October 2018. We’re actually going through a phase where every single destination we visit and activity we partake in quickly descends into a hide-and-seek opportunity, which can be pretty unrelenting, but on this occasion there were so many brilliant hiding places I didn’t mind. The focus here is less on finding thrills – i.e. your usual swings, slides and roundabouts – and more on exploration and role play, which meant that, while it was slightly smaller than I’d expected, we actually spent much longer here than anticipated because Babu was so in the zone.
So, what will you find here? Well, the main features are obviously the red and blue rival play castles, where you can act out some kind of Game of Thrones shit, and the massive dragon where, again, you can act out some kind of Game of Thrones shit. There are treetop walkways, colourful teepees, hidden slides, secret pathways, undulating hills, concealed dens and animal sculptures. The clue is in the name, but the Magic Garden is, like Kew’s new Children’s Garden, less a traditional playground and more of an exploratory green space, which to be honest is my favourite kind of playground. There’s also a nice water-play area with pumps, and a little cafe with a covered seating/picnic area that comes in pretty handy when it decides to piss it down like it did the day we were there.
Entry to the Magic Garden, if you decide not to do the palace too, includes entry to the 300-year-old maze, which is just next door. I remember doing this as a kid and thinking it was amazing, but thinking it felt much smaller this time around, which reminded me that when you’re little everything seems massive and we shouldn’t discount stuff just because it’s small. Babu absolutely loved the maze and I enjoyed relinquishing control while she tried to lead us to the centre and back again. When you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere getting really lost can be so liberating… until you need a wee, anyway.
Where and When?: The Magic Garden and maze are located next door to each other in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The nearest station is Hampton Court mainline, which is around a 10-minute walk away. The Magic Garden opens for the summer season at the end of May and closes for the winter at the beginning of November. Daily opening times are 10am-6pm.
Best Bits: It’s definitely not your average playground and I loved the knights and dragons theme.
Worst Bits: I loved this but I’ve seen a lot of people complain about there being nowhere where you can sit and still watch your child, so let’s go with that.
Facilities: Baby changing, on-site cafe, step-free access.
Cost: Tickets for the Magic Garden/maze only cost £8 per adult and £6 for over-3s. HCP tickets include entry to the Magic Garden and maze, and cost £21.30 per adult, while under-5s go free.
Would We Come Back?: We’ve invested in annual membership because it’s such a good deal.
Babu comes eye to eye with the dragon at the Magic Garden, Hampton Court Palace.