I love a good castle. There’s something about these fortresses that gets my inner fairy-tale enthusiast excited about knights and princesses. So it’s probably a good thing that I’ve ended up in a part of the world with so many of them. It never ceases to amaze me how many are in close proximity to the UK capital, and today I want to share with you 9 of the most impressive castles near London.
Castles near London
These castles come in a variety of styles and states of repair. Some are medieval ruins, others royal residences. Some were built to defend their occupants from enemy invasion, others to be pleasure palaces. But the one thing they have in common is that they’re all stunning to see.
1. Windsor Castle
I have to start with Windsor Castle, as it’s one of the most famous castles in England. Still used by the Queen as a residence, it’s both a working home and a historic treasure.
I’ve toured the State Apartments a number of times, and seeing the rich interiors and art is a treat. Add to that St George’s Chapel and the castle gardens, and Windsor Castle is definitely worth a day trip from London.
2. Highclere Castle
West of Windsor Castle, Highclere Castle is almost as famous. Known to many as Downton Abbey, this stunning edifice more closely resembles a palace than a medieval fortress. But whatever the style, Highclere Castle is a great place to visit.
Many of the rooms were used in the filming of the TV show, so it’s exciting to see them in person. The grounds are expansive and ripe for exploration, too.
I’ve been to Highclere Castle twice. On the first occasion I did the traditional tour, and on the second I was lucky enough to watch friends play in a cricket match on the estate’s private ground. It was fun to channel my inner Lady Mary for the day.
3. Leeds Castle
Over in Kent, Leeds Castle is one of the most visually appealing castles near London. Surrounded by a moat, the structure looks as if it’s rising out of the water. The interiors of Leeds Castle are eclectic, reflecting a range of owners that have left their marks on it over the centuries.
My favorite memory of Leeds Castle is a falconry day I did not long after I moved to London. Flying the birds in the winter sky was magical, and made me think I could have felt at home there in days gone by.
4. Rochester Castle
Also in Kent, Rochester Castle is another great place to visit on a day trip from London. This one falls more under the category of medieval ruin than stately home, but the fact that it sits right in the middle of town adds atmosphere to it.
Rochester Castle keep is also one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture in England and France, so it’s important in its own right.
I visited a couple months ago and loved seeing the keep on my way up and down Rochester‘s high street. When I explored the castle grounds I caught great views over the water, too.
5. Hever Castle
Not far from Rochester Castle, Hever Castle is another of the most picturesque castles near London. This moated beauty was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and has since been owned by the likes of William Waldorf Astor. Its interiors reflect its various owners’ tastes and the styles of their times, and it’s exciting to explore the rooms.
But the best thing about my visit to Hever Castle was seeing the gardens. From walled extravaganzas to topiary hedges and water features, this place has everything a garden lover could dream of.
6. Dover Castle
Down on the south coast, Dover Castle sits atop the white cliffs in stately splendor. The views of it from the waterfront are stunning, and it’s even more impressive up close. This place has everything from a Roman Lighthouse to underground tunnels and was used as a strategic center of command for centuries.
I love visiting Dover Castle to see how much history one fortress can contain. From ancient times to 20th-century wars, this place has seen more than most other standing structures in the world.
7. Warwick Castle
Out west in Warwickshire, Warwick Castle is one of the biggest and most active castles near London. Steeped in history, the fortress was developed from one built by William the Conqueror in 1068. It has layers of medieval towers and battlements, and beautiful grounds along the River Avon.
I visited Warwick Castle on a day trip from London and loved soaking up its historic exterior and peaceful gardens. Some of the exhibits and events are a bit hokey for my taste, but the castle itself is hard to top.
8. Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle in West Sussex has been on my list of places to visit near London for ages. Established by Roger de Montgomery in 1067, it has round towers and Gothic windows all along its facade.
The castle’s hilltop position means there are great views of it (I’ve spotted its medieval walls from a train) and from it (you can see all the way across the South Downs).
I’m including it in my round-up of the best castles near London in the hope that it will finally push me to get there. So many friends have visited and come back raving about it that I know I’ll love it when I go (and I’ll be sure to tell you when I do).
9. Camber Castle
Also in Sussex, Camber Castle flies under the radar to the point most people don’t even know it’s there. But it’s worth a visit, not least because it was built by Henry VIII and there are lots of cute sheep grazing in its pastures (yes, those two things are equally important).
Camber Castle is a ruin but its low, round towers are still beautiful to see. I visited with friends when we spent a weekend in Rye, and I loved that we had to walk through fields to get there (there’s no road). It felt like stumbling upon something enchanted.
Which brings me back to where I started. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing England’s castles, and given there are so many castles near London I will probably be busy going from one to the next for a long time.
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