Whether it’s the sense of history, the fact that each castle is so different, or the power of imagination that sees us living the castle life, there’s no doubt that these historical buildings fascinate us. With well over 1500 examples in England ready to be explored, I’ve chosen a selection of castles near London for your visiting pleasure.
- 1 Castles Near London: Visiting Tips
- 2 Hever Castle, Kent
- 3 Bodiam Castle: East Sussex
- 4 Hastings Castle, Sussex
- 5 Camber Castle, Sussex
- 6 Berkhamsted Castle
- 7 Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
- 9 Scotney Castle, Kent
- 10 Dover Castle, Kent
- 11 Rochester Castle,Kent
- 12 Leeds Castle, Kent
- 13 Arundel Castle, West Sussex
- 14 Windsor Castle, Berkshire
- 15 Castles Near London And Beyond
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Castles Near London: Visiting Tips
Castles vary tremendously in style, age and state of restoration. Here we have chosen everything from splendid ruins to opulent spaces for our recommendations of castles near London. It’s worth checking out the details for the castles you plan to visit. For ruins, you’ll need decent footwear, even in summer, as gravel between your toes is not the best sensation. And layer up if needed. It would be a shame to limit your time because you are cold or splashed with rain.
Hever Castle, Kent
30 miles from central London by car. By train from London Victoria or London Bridge, then a short taxi ride or a one mile country walk.
The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the 2nd wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Hever Castle has much to explore. Dating back to the 13th century, Hever was magically restored by William Waldorf Astor in the early twentieth century. Here you’ll see panelled rooms, tapestries and a fine collection of Tudor portraits.
Inside the castle is full of sumptuous furnishings, with so much to see, you’ll want to allow time to appreciate it to the full. Then there are the gardens, complete with an extravagant topiary chess set. Smell something wonderful? That’s the perfume of more than 4,000 rose bushes. Oh, an there’s an enormous lake, fountains and a rhododendron walk. For those of you curious to see more, you’ll find plenty of period cottages in the grounds. If you are visiting in the summer, don’t forget to check out the jousting tournaments.
“Hever Castle is what every child wants a castle to be: crenellated, moated and haunted.” Hever Castle’s website
Fascinated by this place? You can read the scary tale of Anne Boleyn’s haunted carriage returning to Great Wood in Blickling here.
Bodiam Castle: East Sussex
Around 60 miles from central London. Train from London Charing Cross to Robertsbridge then taxi (pre-book, no rank). Seasonal steam railway from Tenterden, and seasonal passenger ferry from Newenden Bridge.
If you were looking to describe a castle to a visitor from another planet, Bodiam would be a fantastic example. A fourteenth century moated castle complete with plenty of turrets, Bodiam Castle is managed by the National Trust.
Here you can climb the postern tower via its steep spiral staircase for a magnificent view. The north-west tower gives you the opportunity to walk the battlements from the gatehouse. As you would expect, you’ll find places to eat here and there are also picnic benches. There’s a second hand bookshop, perfect for a read in the sun, looking up to admire the gorgeous view. And don’t forget to keep an eye on the special events. Currently I can see a Valentine’s dinner with a difference and a World Book Day celebration.
Hastings Castle, Sussex
Two hours forty minutes by car, or slightly less by train from London St Pancras, London Bridge or London Cannon Street
The next one of our castles near London is another ruin. As you can see from the picture, William of Normandy chose a great spot to build this castle, shortly after landing in England in 1066. And if 1066 sounds familiar, it should. It’s the date of the Battle of Hastings, in which William was victorious. In fact the first castle was prefabricated from wood, surely one of the earliest prefab building projects. The original motte and bailey castle was then rebuilt in stone.
What followed was a fascinating tale of destruction and rebuilding. Successive kings and lords worried the castle would fall into French hands and so demolished it, while others rebuilt it for defence. Savage storms in the 13th century saw parts of the castle fall into the sea and the harbour was destroyed. At that time, there was no further military need for the castle.
The castle site was a great choice, being virtually unassailable on three sides. Just under half the fortification remains now. You can also hear the 1066 Story about the Battle of Hastings on the castle site.
Camber Castle, Sussex
Two and a half hours from central London by car, or from London St Pancras to Rye in one hour ten minutes plus a mile walk across countryside.
The next one of our castles near London was built by King Henry VIII, Camber Castle lies between Rye and Winchelsea. This was an artillery castle designed to protect the port of Rye against French attack. The castle consists of a series of circles: a circular keep, four circular bastions designed to protect the curtain wall and a further circular entrance bastion. Originally equipped with 28 brass and artillery guns, the defensive duties of the castle were short-lived. The silting up of Rye harbour meant that it could not be used. .
Now you can visit the castle by guided tour. You’ll be following in the footsteps of 18th and 19th century picnickers, and also the artist Turner, who painted the castle. You can find the opening times here at the English Heritage Website.
One and a half hours by car from central London or 40 minutes by train from London Euston.
Open daily and with free entry, Berkhamsted Castle is managed by English Heritage. This one of our castles near London is really close to the train station, making it both easily accessible and a highlight of the train journey between Birmingham and London. This is another castle of the Norman Conquest, built to control the key route between London and the English Midlands. Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror’s half brother, was partly responsible for its construction, and later lived there. Self-build, Norman-style.
Later kings granted the castle to their chancellors. It was expanded in the twelfth century, probably by Thomas Becket. Like most castles, it was subject to regular attacks, captures and recaptures. One successful attack featured Prince Louis, the future Louis VIII. He attacked with siege engines – designed to break down the castle doors – for twenty days before the garrison surrendered.
By the mid 16th century, the castle was in ruins, and stone was taken to help construct buildings in the town. The railway that now runs past the site was instrumental in its future demise, with stone being taken to aid its construction in the 1830s. For this reason, Berkhamsted Castle became the first building to receive statutory protection from Parliament as an ancient monument.
Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
Two and a half hours by car or one hour and forty minutes by train from London Marylebone, followed by a short walk.
Although situated on the edge of the Midlands, Warwick is actually much quicker to reach from London than many of the castles on the Kent and Sussex coasts. One of England;s most popular tourist attractions, Warwick Castle is an experience packed with plenty to see and do. Also developed from a wooden fort originally built by William the Conqueror, it was later rebuilt in stone. New fortifications were added during the Hundred Years War. It was used as a stronghold until the 17th century, then granted to Sir Fulke Greville, who transformed it into a country house. The steep cliff to the River Avon helped to make the castle a well-defended fortification.
Today, Warwick Castle is a riot of activity. If you ever wanted to stay in a castle, you have a choice of glamping, lodges and the glorious tower apartments here. Take a history tour, see the magnificent Great Hall and staterooms or view the mighty trebuchet seige machine. You can even learn what it takes to be a dragon or see jousting and other events. In short, Warwick Castle is a great balance of history and entertainment.
Read more: 21 Fascinating Things To Do In Warwickshire
Scotney Castle, Kent
Just under an hour and a half by car from central London, and three miles from Royal Tunbridge Wells. Train takes 45 minutes from London Bridge, then taxi.
Nestled in Kent, the garden of England, Scotney Castle is a 14th century moated beauty surrounded by 770 acres of woodland. The gardens here are an example of the Picturesque style (based on an aesthetic ideal). At the centre of the gardens, you’ll find Scotney Old Castle, the ruins of a medieval moated manor house. It’s on an island in a small lake, which is sure to induce feelings of castle-living envy. The garden is full of seasonal delights from rhododendrons and azaleas in spring to wisteria and roses in summer.
There’s an incredible amount to see at Scotney, from the gardens and woodland to Scotney New Castle. Built between 1835-1843, it was designed by Anthony Salvin. It’s an early example of the Tudor Revival style of nineteenth century England. Following the death of its last resident, Elizabeth Hussey in 2006, it was opened to the public in 2007. It is, as the National Trust describes it, “as if Betty had just popped out to the shops”.
Dover Castle, Kent
One and three quarter hours drive from central London, and just under two hours by rail from Leicester Square or Charing Cross.
This is a castle that means business. Perched in a commanding strategic position, Dover Castle has been described as the key to England. There has been a fortress here since the eleventh century. This medieval castle is the largest in England, and includes one of Dover’s two Roman lighthouses (one of only three remaining in the world).
Just stand at the foot of the castle and look upwards. Here you can imagine so much of its history. What would it be like to be safe within the fortification, or responsible for storming it? William the Conqueror originally took the castle by setting it on fire. He then rebuilt it, but its current shape is dominated by the great keep built by King Henry II. It cost him £6,500 of his £10,000 budget for the year, so you can see the importance of the site.
Now you can see everything from the underground hospital of World War II to the Great Tower and the medieval tunnels. There’s even an excape room for puzzle-solving groups.
An hour from central London by car or around the same time by train from London Victoria or London St Pancras.
This castle was built to defend the road to London – Watling Street – at a strategic crossing of the River Medway. Managed by English Heritage and Medway Council, Rochester Castle has a history of attack and rebuilding making it a microcosm of English history. You can still see the Norman tower and keep built by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1127. There are epic tales of the castle, including the role played by the fat of 40 pigs. This was used by King John to fire a mine under the keep in order to evict rebel barons. They still had to be starved out after resisting for two months.
“Send to us with all speed by day and night forty of the fattest pigs of the sort least good for eating to bring fire beneath the tower” King John
Rochester Castle has been a tourist attraction since the 17th century and mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Peyps. You can find out more about the castle and its excellent programme for children here.
Leeds Castle, Kent
An hour and a quarter drive from central London or around two hours by train from London Victoria or London St Pancras
“The loveliest castle in the world” is how Leeds Castle‘s own website describes this site. And to be honest, you wouldn’t want to argue too much. This is an atmospheric castle with plenty to see and do during your visit. Situated not in Leeds in Yorkshire, but five miles from Maidstone, lovely Leeds Castle can be seen perched high and glorious above the M2 motorway as you head to the coast.
There’s been a castle here since 1119. And it’s a beautiful position for a castle too: set on islands in a lake formed by the River Len. It was a military stronghold in the Norman invasion, a favourite residence of King Edward I, and later a home for Catherine of Aragon, first bride of King Henry VIII. The present structure dates mostly from the 19th century.
Nearly half a million people visit Leeds Castle each year to see the castle, the famous maze with its shell grotto and the grounds. With the castle having been home to six medieval queens, the last private owner Lady Baillie sought to share the heritage of the state rooms. There are now fascinating exhibitions, including one showing the history of dog collars a hat-tip to the enduring role of canines in our daily lives. Don’t forget to call in at the Gatehouse for 900 years of history. If the castle seems familiar, you may have seen its splendors when it played Chalfont in the legendary Ealing comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets.
Arundel Castle, West Sussex
Two hours by car from central London, or around one and a half hours by train from London Victoria.
Established by Roger de Montgomery on Christmas Day 1067 – surely a more momentous task than roasting a few chestnuts – Arundel is a fully restored medieval castle. It has been the home of the family of the Duke of Norfolk for over 400 years. You can visit Arundel Castle between April and November.
The castle was beseiged twice during the first English Civil War, once by Royalists and once by Parliamentarians. That’s quite some bad luck. The house was almost completely rebuilt between 1870-1890, and is now considered to be a magnificent example of Gothic architecture from Victorian England. You’ll see plenty of wood paneling, sumptuous furnishings and elegant gardens.
The castle hosts a wide variety of history days, medieval jousting and even events such as car enthusiasts’ days and open air theatre.
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Around an hour by road from central London, or approximately the same time by rail from London Charing Cross
One of the Queen’s Royal Residences, Windsor Castle is home to more than 900 years of crown history. It’s definitely one of the most famous castles near London. Magnificently approached by the Long Walk, which I urge you to take if you have the time, the castle was originally built to assert Norman dominance. It also watched over an important part of the River Thames.
The original castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It has been a royal residence since the time of King Henry I, and is the longest occupied royal palace in Europe. The elegant state rooms have received copious praise:
“A superb and unrivalled sequence of rooms widely regarded as the finest and most complete expression of later Georgian taste.” Hugh Roberts, Art Historian
On your visit you can see the state rooms, the ceremonial route through the state apartments, Queen Mary’s dolls’ house, St George’s Chapel and take a tour of the precincts. It’s also possible to see the Changing of the Guard. This normally takes place – including a march through Windsor town – at 11am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Castles Near London And Beyond
With over 1500 castles to visit in England alone, it’s not difficult to work a castle-visiting day into your itinerary. These castles near London have been chosen to help minimise the travel time if you are based in the capital. But we’ve traveled further in search of more castles, and you can find them here:
If you like your buildings eccentric and frankly odd, please take a look at our collection of follies, quirky structures designed purely for pleasure:
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