Castles in and
around London

London is brimming with history from its ancient architecture to its beautiful art. The capital city of the UK has some amazing sights you’d never find anywhere else in Europe, and one of these is the cities castles and palaces that are dotted around the city. These castles are gorgeous pieces of architecture, lived in by royalty and now the perfect day trip for a memorable day out.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle in one of the most iconic structures near London. Still used as a residence by the Queen on the weekends, it’s one of the prettiest castles in the country. If you see the Royal Standard Flag flying during your visit that means that the Queen is home. You can also witness the change of guard ceremony which tends to happen at 11 am on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Built-in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle is now about 900 years old and the largest inhabited castle in the world. Since then the castle has housed the monarchs of England including Henry I as the first resident, Henry VIII and Queen Victoria. Portraits of past kings and queens can be found throughout the castle. A tour of the area also includes the option of exploring the grounds and seeing St. George’s chapel which is the final resting place of many of the old monarchs.

Some highlights of the castle include the State Apartments which can be viewed in one of two routes. The ceremonial route takes guests through the main areas used today by the queen and other members of the royal family. Within these rooms, the queen hosts the Head of State from other countries and hosts award ceremonies. The historic route will take guests through the rooms that were built for Charles II and his Queen. These rooms follow the traditional pattern established in English palaces over hundreds of years: a series of rooms getting smaller as they get closer to the most private spaces.

Visiting Windsor Castle

As Windsor Castle is still a residential castle, it’s only open to the public on certain days while other days sometimes have limited access to the Staterooms. You can drive to the castle from London which should take almost an hour or take the train which will take about 40 minutes.

Hever Castle

As one of the most picturesque castles in England, Hever Castle is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. He then gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. The castle had been lovingly restored by William Waldorf Astor, and thanks to his efforts the castle has been restored to its original glory.

The castle stretches over three floors which are filled with antiques, books of prayers which belonged to Anne Boleyn and also one of the best collections of Tudor portraits in England. In the Book of Hours Room, guests will find two prayer books which were owned by Anne Boleyn which bear her inscriptions and signature. It is said that the castle and moat are haunted by the many people who were tortured there, but don’t let that put you off!

One of the castles main attractions is its beautiful gardens. The castle is spread across an area of 125 acres with a total of three mazes to get lost in. A tower maze which replicates a children’s adventure playground, a yew tree maze which has been planted in 1904 and a water maze in which the idea is to get to the middle without getting wet. There’s plenty more to do around the award-winning gardens including admiring the giant topiary chess set, relax in the Loggia or walk through and smell the quintessential English Rose Garden which is filled with over 4,000 rose bushes.

Visiting Hever Castle

Hever Castle is based just one hour out of London in Edenbridge. The castle is based in the rural countryside with good links to the motorway network and has a choice of rail stations nearby. Gatwick airport is also close by, just a 30-minute drive away by car. The castle is open all year round with stunted opening times in the winter season. There are also a number of seasonal events that take place, including festivals, celebrations and walks.

Highclere Castle

Just west of Windsor Castle is Highclere Castle; just as beautiful and almost as famous. The castle is probably mostly known from the TV show Downtown Abbey where the show was based. The castle is built upon an incredible 5000-acre estate which will make any guest feel miles away from anywhere else in the world.

Although the first written record of the estate date back to 749 when an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester, the country house was actually built by the architect Charles Barry in the 19th century. During the First World War, the castle was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers while throughout the Second World War the castle became home to evacuees whose names you can find etched on the roof lead. Nowadays the castle is home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.

One of the most popular attractions of the castle is its Egyptian Exhibition. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon who lived in the castle over 100 years ago, famously discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian Boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun with his archaeological colleague, Howard Carter. Now, guests can discover over 60 incredible replicas, wall painting of the tome and photographic archive in the cellars of the castle.

Visiting Highclere Castle

Do your research before visiting as the castle is only open on certain days to the public and you’ll be asked to choose one of two separate times to explore the castle. There are often fun and interesting events for all the family from seasonal tours to afternoon tea so keep your eye on the website. From London, you can drive to Highclere Castle in around one and a half hours.

Dover Castle

In the South of England resides Dover Castle, which sits atop the infamous white cliffs. The views from the castle an incredible, overlooking the English Channel. The castle is one of the most iconic of all English fortresses commanding the gateway to the realm for nine centuries earning it the nickname, “key of England.”

The castle has plenty to do with a complex of moats, walls, buildings and underground tunnels underneath the castle that were converted to air-raid shelter and a hospital during World War II. On a tour of the castle, guests can visit the many towers, walk down narrow staircases, explore the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country and pass through dungeons.

Dover Castle has something for everyone, even a themed escape room for visitors to challenge their friends and family. They will solve puzzles, crack codes and figure out riddles against the clock to try to escape the room. Inspired by the castle’s real-life Cold War history, the escape room’s scenario transports visitors into the Cold War. Players will have to reach the safety of the bunker before the missiles hit.

Visiting Dover Castle

Visitors to Dover Castle can get there by public transport by both train and bus. Stagecoach travels straight to the castle from East Kent. Trains can reach the castle by travelling to Dover Priory via train services operated by Southeastern. Visitors can drive from central London which takes roughly two and a half hours.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London is a historic castle based on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. As one of the oldest fortresses in London, built after the Norman Conquest of England, to house the new royalty who had just moved into the country and needed a secure place to live. Due to this, the castle is defensive in nature with two defensive walls and a moat to keep it safe from possible attacks.

The castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1066 to assert his power over England, with the castle doubling as a prison and imposing a dominant stance over the city’s skyline.

Nowadays visitors can come to the castle to see the England Crown Jewels which are guarded within or take a tour around the tower with the Beefeaters in their traditional ceremonial clothing.

Visiting the Tower of London

The Tower of London is easy to visit from anywhere within the city. The castle is open throughout the year with longer opening hours over Summer and is closed for a short period of time over the Christmas period.

Leeds Castle

Billed as one of the loveliest castles in the world, Leeds Castle is definitely one to be visited. Originally Leeds Castle began as a Normal stronghold but then went onto be the private property of six of medieval queens, a home for Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, a Jacobean country house, a Georgian mansion, an elegant early 20th-century retreat for the famous and influential, and now one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain.

The castle spreads over 500 acres of parkland and has a great itinerary of activities no matter what time of year you decide to visit. Animal lovers will get to visit the Falconry to see the Birds of Prey during free-flying demonstrations while children can take part in the adventure gold course and knight’s stronghold playground. The extensive gardens are also a great place to go for a relaxing walk with such places of interest as The Culpeper Garden which was originally the site for the castle’s kitchen garden, The Princess Alexandra Gardens with its vibrant bursts of colours and The Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terraces designed by landscape architect Christopher Carter.

Visiting Leeds Castle

The castle is open all year round and operates seasonal opening times, with longer days in the summer. The admission tickets allow the customer to use the ticket as many times as they like in a given year including a wide program of events. The easiest way to get to Leeds Castle from London is by public transport, taking the train or the bus. Southeastern Railway runs a direct service that takes only an hour from London Victoria to Bearsted.

Rochester Castle

Another one of the castles in this list that is based in Kent, Rochester Castle is another great day trip from London. Unlike the other, this castle is more of a medieval ruin than a stately home. Although the castle may not be as elegant or pristine as some others, it is the best-preserved example of Norman architecture in England and France which makes it important in its own right.

In 1087 Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester began the construction of the castle, one of William the Conqueror’s greatest architects who was also responsible for the Tower of London. Much of what is in the walled perimeter remains intact from that time. William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury was also a contributor to the immense project to build the castle. Henry I granted him custody of the castle in 1127, a responsibility that lasted until King John seized the castle in 1215.

Visiting Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle is situated to the east of London by the River Medway. It is easily accessible by train from London Kings Cross to Rochester Station where visitors can take a short walk to the entrance of the castle. You can also reach the castle from central London in 90 minutes with ample parking at the castle. A number of events take place at the castle from concerts to the Medway Mile, family-friendly arts and crafts to the Dickens Festival.

Summary

England is full of beautiful historic castles which can be found throughout England from medieval ruins to gorgeous stately homes that are still lived in to this day. The deep history of England’s castles offers a vibrant past and plenty of opportunity for visitors to learn about the UK’s monarchy, past wars and do some fun activities in the shadow of an architectural building.

Looking for something out of the ordinary to do that won’t take up too many holiday days? Check out our usual weekend and short breaks and see what you could get up to.

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