When the nights get longer and the weather cooler I’m always on the lookout for an illuminated garden walk or Christmas light trail. These have become increasingly popular across the United Kingdom, and abroad, in the winter months and I’ve become spoilt for choice.
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting Glow at RHS Wisley and its charming illuminated gardens and greenhouses. And while I had my eyes on Ignite at Polesden Lacey the timings simply couldn’t be coordinated due to my wedding in the late autumn.
Hampton Court Palace caught my attention quickly this year with their thematic and storytelling experience they called the Palace of Stardust. They created a setting of fantastical and whimsical exhibits while winding visitors through the courtyards and gardens of the Royal Palace.
In advance of the visit, we received an email featuring not only the usual details (FAQs, where to park, Covid safety measures, etc.), but also a few whimsical elements to set the tone of this narrative adventure. Including a little preview video to set the tone, the story and bring a touch of excitement.
The story, as inspired by the beautiful astrological clock in the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace, was charming. The clock maker’s great-great-great-great (and so on) granddaughter wanted to share the secret of the clock, which runs on stardust, with visitors. And it can only be done at Christmas when there is enough magic in the world to make it feasible.
Normally I would add details on the logistics of how to get tickets, when it’s on, and where parking can be found. However, Hampton Court Palace has taken down all its literature on the experience. It is unconfirmed whether this exhibit will return next year, or perhaps another in its place. I’ll keep my eyes open and happily update this page if next year there is news of a return of this fantastical display.
The Exhibits & Experience
The storytelling nature of the exhibit lends itself to an easy one-way system, only briefly interrupted with a delicious offering of food trucks and treats. Each exhibit is as impressive as the last and naturally, groups will form while they stare at the intricate details and nuances of each light or sound display. Be prepared for a leisurely stroll through the whimsical imaginations of the designers.
Base Court – “We are all made of stardust”
Setting the tone of whimsy and mystery for the rest of the visit the first exhibit is simple but impactful. A selection of lit letters that spell “We are all made of stardust” in the Base Court of Hampton Court Palace. They’re cleverly set up and well lit, providing a unique view of the area before you traverse through the wonders of the illuminated exhibits.
Clock Court – “Inside the Clock”
The actual location of the astrological clock, which has inspired the entire exhibit. They’ve created a variety of displays here – from the backlit clock faces (where you can pose to create your own time).
Fountain Court – “Tides and the River”
The “Tides and the River” display was one of the most moving at Hampton Court Palace. The lights made it feel like visitors were underwater and the neon fish created a unique landscape across the fountain and the charming courtyard.
East Entrance – “Stargazing”
Although this display was marked on the map as “Stargazing” it took me a while to remember where we had seen it along the way.
It was a small, transitional, display of constellations as the visitors moved between the interior courtyards and out into the gardens.
The charm of the exhibit was lost on me while we were there but on reflection, there was something calming about the constellations in tying the two worlds together.
Great Fountain Garden – “Whispering Trees”
Perhaps the most unusual display – the “whispering trees” included a variety of speakers at the base of the trunks. The whispered clips all told of the story, hints of the astrological clock, and were extremely hard to decipher from one another. But the effect was impactful, the hint of whispers and talking so quietly echoing between the arbour of trees.
20th Century Garden – “Moonlit Ball”
Twirling colourful silhouettes stood bright against a backdrop of the phases of the moon. It was a charming exhibit featuring a variety of bright colors and moving figurines – utterly charming.
Garden Walk – “Pieces of Space”
This was purely a transitional piece, similar to the “Stargazing” exhibit.
The iron sculpture pieces lined the pathway that linked the back gardens with the exit and the final 3 exhibits.
These pieces seemed like the type one would have in their garden, rather than an abstract unusual piece of artwork in an exhibit.
Garden Walk – “The Secret is Revealed”
This transitional piece was more engaging than the previous ones.
It featured several shadow boxes on either side of the trail that depicted various fantastical scenes.
Along with the shadow boxes a narrator spoke of stardust, the magic of the season, and the astronomical clock.
Garden Walk – “Out Through the Solar System”
The final, and one of the most impressive, exhibits was the illuminated solar system. Starting with the sun guests walked through the rest of the planets all the way to Pluto. They were laid out in order from the sun and created a beautiful display of lights and illumination.
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I adore the outdoor Christmas light walks and drives in the US. This looks amazing.
I love Christmas light trails! Palace of Stardust looks like a beautiful trail. I especially love the solar system at the end! Thanks for the great guide!
This seems like such a cool experience! I especially love the “Inside the Clock” and “Solar System” exhibit. Thanks for sharing!
I agree that the “Out Through the Solar System” is outstanding and absolutely beautiful, however all of the displays are magical. It would be a shame if they didn’t do it again next year.
Wow what a cool spot! I love how it looks at night! Also I love how you have the map location right at the top. I knew right away where it was. I always hate when travel bloggers write about a place and don’t give context to where it is.
Oh I love a lighted garden walk. We have a lovely one at the botanic garden here in Chicago. Glad to know there are more to explore in other parts of the world!
I am in awe of this place and your photos. I love night photography, and the exhibition at the Hampton Court Palace is impressive. Those illuminations are fantastic, I’d love to see them. The astrological clock in the courtyard is fabulous!
I love visiting England and miss international travel so much! Hampton Court Palace is a place I would visit for sure and the Palace of Stardust experience makes me want to go now! I’m a huge fan of light and sound shows and think the Inside the Clock exhibit would be my favorite
Really love the idea of weaving together a fictional story to bring the light displays to life! What a great idea and the clock-maker’s great great… grand daughter sounds like a great character to focus it on!
What an interesting thing to look forward in winter. And such creativity with those lights. My favorite is the Tides and river, followed by the moonlit ball. Whispering trees felt like a scene from Harry Potter.
I am not a big fan of winter, but I love visiting the Christmas Markets and going to light events. Palace of Stardust looks incredible. I love the “Tides and the River” display.
For a while I was wondering why does Hampton Court sound so familiar but I realised I visited there maybe 20 years ago. Oh, how fun it is to read about it. It looked much different though in day light but it is cool that they do this kinds if exhibitions. Hampton Court Palace is amazing and I would love to visit again!
It must have been magical to wander the palace grounds and gardens to see these colorful lights! Reminds me of holiday lights displays I’ve seen, only even better!
The Palace of Stardust does sound like a magical spot to visit. It was good you got to see this when it was running. I love all the lights and particularly love the astrological clock display. And feeling like I was underwater would certainly make me smile. Hope it returns to charm other people.
Oh my goodness! How festive this looks. I love going to places like these around the holidays. They are just so special and get me into the Christmas spirit!
I would love visiting lights display like this during the holiday. The Moonlit Ball is so pretty with all the colorful lights. I wonder if you felt like flying in the sky when walking through Out Through the Solar System. And they even put Pluto there.
Have heard a lot about Hampton Court Palace and it was good to get a true feel. Light and sound shows are always so interesting and therefore would love to experience. Inside the Clock exhibit would be my interesting as well. Would try and visit during my next trip to UK.