“Oh tell me why, do we build castles
in the sky near London?”
Well, DJ Sammy/Ian Van Dahl (pick your version), people build castles near London because they look bloody spectacular, and they make for an excellent day trip too. It’s a chance to live like the kings and queens you are, whilst also learning a bit about medieval history and the various power struggles that have shaped our fair nation. Here are the best castles near London we reckon you should be paying a visit to!
Castles in London
There’s only one Queen in town, but if you fancied a lesser title for the day, head to one of these fine castles in London and maybe bestow yourself with a dukedom or something?
1. Tower of London
Like we could possibly overlook this one… One of the city’s oldest and most recognisable tourist attractions, the Tower of London has stood since William the Conqueror decided the capital needed a fortress to remind Londoners of his conquest. Nearly 1000 years later, it’s still standing, famously housing the Crown Jewels and a flock of ravens (including some recently-born baby ravens!). A visit here might encompass a paid guided tour – or checking out the Ceremony of the Keys, which is free – seasonal events such as their annual ice rink, or one-off events, like this breathtaking Remembrance Day event.
OK, so it’s technically a folly rather than a castle, but this little delight is still impressive enough to snag a spot on our list. Severndroog Castle never hosted armies or repelled invaders, but on a clear day, you can see seven counties (and most of London) from the viewing platform on the top. Unless you’re beset by cloudy foes, of course… Read all about it here.
Again, not technically a castle, but it looks enchanting enough to get away with it – you certainly wouldn’t be complaining if you lived here, would you? Strawberry Hill House is the creation of Horace Walpole, who wanted a suitably swish pad alongside the Thames, complete with battlements, towers, and some extremely blingy interiors. Find out more here.
Castles near London
Escaping the city offers a better chance of capturing a castle – these castles near London range from country mansions to hilltop ruins, but all are worth a visit!
4. Highclere Castle
Built 1679, remodelled 1842-49
I’m sure you recognise this one, even if you’re not sure where from. Highclere Castle is – of course – more widely known as Downton Abbey, and thus makes for an absolute must-visit for fans of the show. However, should you remain clueless about what the Crawleys are up to, you’re advised to visit for sumptuous state rooms, sculpted gardens, and picnic concerts, amongst other events. It’s now available on Airbnb, too! More information available here.
5. Windsor Castle
Built circa 1066
You’ll need a pretty convincing claim to dislodge the current tenant, so a day visit should suffice. The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Windsor Castle has been home to a whopping 39 monarchs, including our current Queen, Elizabeth II. You can take tours of the state apartments, see St George’s Chapel (where Harry and Meghan were married), and there’s the added benefit of Legoland being nearby, too. Read more here.
6. Bodiam Castle
You’d ideally need a boat to conquer Bodiam Castle, which – save for a small causeway up to the main gate – is surrounded on all sides by water. It was built to repel the French during the Hundred Years War, but since they didn’t bother pitching up, the castle was left alone until the War of the Roses, when even that moat couldn’t prevent a quick surrender. The castle was mostly dismantled during the English Civil War, and has remained a picturesque ruin despite some restoration work. See more about it here.
7. Warwick Castle
All these castles near London are brilliant in their own right, but for me, Warwick Castle stands alone for one simple reason: they’ve got a goddamn, honest-to-God awesome trebuchet, which they routinely use to fling heavy objects for the delight of guests. This is, naturally, the only reason one needs a trebuchet in 2020, but still, you love to see it. Archery displays, falconry shows, and informative historical displays round off an excellent day out. Here’s all the info.
8. Hadlow Tower
Your best chance to visit Hadlow Tower (the only remaining part of Hadlow Castle) came back in 2018, when it went on sale for a cool £2 million. Sadly, some lucky devil snapped it – and its drawing room, media room, top-floor master bedroom, and roof terrace – up, so your only chance to see it now is if you hire it out for an extremely extra weekend getaway. Which I highly endorse, by the way!
9. Dover Castle
The largest castle in England, Dover Castle has stood guarding the English Channel since the days of William the Conqueror – who, upon landing on green England’s shores, immediately fortified the castle to ensure that no-one followed him. It’s been described as “the key to England”, and has seen use in the Napoleonic Wars and World War 2, when it was used as a command centre and underground hospital. Stirring stuff indeed – find out more here.
10. Hever Castle
There are plenty of reasons to love Hever Castle, beginning with that seriously impressive moat – a perfect defence against enemies of your queendom, or just annoying relatives. It’s also famous as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (and later belonged to Anne of Cleves, one of Henry VIII’s more fortunate wives), and now boasts lavish interiors, award-winning gardens, and a Japanese tea house. One of the south east’s better wild swimming spots is nearby, too. Find out more here.
11. Hadleigh Castle
Built circa 1215
The good news is that Hadleigh Castle is free to enter. The bad news is that’s because the place is in ruins, with the stonework mostly sold off in the sixteenth century. Still, it’s a rugged, romantic place for a wander, commanding some neat views of the Thames Estuary. English Heritage are in charge now, and you can find out more on their website.
12. Carisbrooke Castle
Built circa 1100
Carisbrooke Castle managed to imprison Charles I despite his best efforts to escape, but your stay will hopefully be a little more temporary. One of the best tourist attractions on the Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke Castle hosts no monarchs these days, but does maintain a herd of donkeys, who raise water using a sixteenth-century water wheel. A wander round the walls and a slice of cake in the tearoom should ensure a peachy day trip. More information available here.
13. Leeds Castle
Stealing the title of “most confusingly-named castle near London”, Leeds Castle is nowhere near Leeds. It is in fact in Kent, perched on the edge of a lake, and thus revels in the title of “the loveliest castle in the world”, bestowed by Lord Conway of Allington. Hard to argue with him, particularly since it boasts plentiful gardens, birds of prey, a maze, and a history which has seen it belong to no fewer than six queens of England. Read all about it here.
14. Arundel Castle
The whole town of Arundel is well worth a visit, especially if Sussex CCC are playing their annual cricket match on the castle’s cricket ground. Built in the eleventh century, and restored with Gothic flair in the late nineteenth, Arundel Castle now hosts medieval jousting, knights tournaments, and an annual tulip festival. The castle’s art collection – featuring works by Gainsborough, Van Dyck, and Canaletto – shouldn’t be overlooked either. See more here.
15. Camber Castle
In between divorcing, beheading, and procreating, Henry VIII found time to commission the construction of Camber Castle, which was designed to protect the gorgeous Sussex town of Rye. The town itself cries out for a day trip, and even though Cromwell’s forces dismantled most of the castle during the English Civil War, it remains a dramatic place for a wander. Find out more here.
16. Rochester Castle
Guarding both the main road to London and the River Medway, Rochester Castle has been besieged by King John (who used pig fat to set part of it on fire, the wily fox), damaged by the forces of Simon de Montfort, and eventually ransacked during the Peasant’s Revolt. A hard life, indeed, although it’s been easier in recent years, having been open as public gardens since the 1870s. More information here.
17. Framlingham Castle
Built circa 1160
Two significant events have ensured Framlingham Castle’s place in history. In 1553, Mary Tudor assembled a mighty military force at the castle, ensuring her ascension to the throne of England in spite of her dying father’s attempts to redraw the line of succession. In 2017, Framlingham Castle made an appearance as the “Castle on the Hill” in Ed Sheeran’s song, and subsequent got lodged in all of our heads for several months. Try not to sing it as you’re wandering around the walls… More information here.
18. Hastings Castle
Having suffered at the hands of the French and the weather, Hastings Castle is now an impressive ruin. It’s a far cry from the castle’s heyday, when William the Conqueror claimed his famous victory at the Battle of Hastings, although it now features a 16-minute presentation about the history of the castle and battle. Learn more here.
If your ambitions are a little less grand, why not visit these picturesque villages near London instead?
Featured image: @leedscastleuk
Also published on Medium.