When visiting England, castles in London and castles near London are high on many people’s bucket lists. Although there are not that many castles of London, there are plenty of royal palaces in London. Royal castles of London are the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. If you really want the turret and moat experience of castles, Southeast England offer plenty of opportunities to slip back in time and history. For example, there’s the grandeur of Arundel Castle and Highclere Castle, the prettiness of Leeds Castle and Hever Castle or the atmospheric ruins of Pevensey Castle or Scotney Castle.
Castles in London
You would think there would be tons of castles in London, England. But famous castles in London are technically palaces – more on that below.
How many castles in London?
Well, technically there are only a handful of castles in London. When you think castles, London’s claim to fame is The Tower of London.
The other castles of London aren’t really the same level of grandeur.
- There’s Severndroog Castle which is actually a folly located in Oxleas Wood near Greenwich in South London. It’s got far-reaching views from the top.
- There’s also Bruce Castle, a manor house in North London’s Tottenham, which is named after Robert The Bruce (of Braveheart fame!). Bruce Castle is now a museum of local history.
The Queen’s favourite home, Windsor Castle, is actually in nearby Berkshire so it shouldn’t be included among the royal castles in London.
Those are the 3 castles in London to visit. Only one of the castles in London deserves the name.
Of course, there are more castles and palaces in London to visit and visiting Royal London is definitely one of the must-see things on a trip to England.
How many palaces are in London?
There are nearly a dozen royal palaces in London, including Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, Lambeth Palace and St. James’s Palace.
Famous palaces in London include Buckingham Palace, the largest of the palaces in London with 775 rooms, and Kensington Palace, one of the best palaces to visit because of its cool exhibitions.
So what’s the difference between a castle and a palace?
In addition to being a residence, a castle is fortified to be defended against attack. It’s got defensive features like thick walls, parapets, a gatehouse and a moat.
Palaces have no defensive structures and are really just built to show off wealth. The name comes from the enormous buildings on the Palatine Hill where Roman Empire’s elite had houses.
Of course, the terms have blurred lines. Bodiam Castle, one of the castles in Kent, had turrets, towers and even a moat just to make it look impressive. Its defensive mechanisms could have been easily breached though. For example, Bodiam’s moat is only 5 feet deep and easily crossed. On the other hand, the moat creates a beautiful reflecting pool for the castle’s walls.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is more than a famous castle. It’s also a fortress, a royal palace, and a prison. It’s home to the famous Beefeaters, who lead informative and amusing tours when you visit.
The castle grounds include the White Tower with its impressive display of historic armor. And the Crown Jewels of the monarchy are kept at the Tower of London. You can gaze on bejeweled crowns and other jewelry that contains in all more than 24,000 sparkling gemstones.
This castle on the north bank of the Thames dates to 1078. Henry III and Edward I expanded the castle, adding towers and constructing a large moat for protection. Kings and queens lived in the White Tower for centuries.
And those who fell out of favor found themselves locked in the prison just across the walkway. The most well-known prisoner was Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII. She lost her head on the grounds of the castle and was buried nearby.
One oddity of the Tower of London is the presence of seven ravens. They sit, having clipped wings, at various places throughout the grounds. The legend is that if all the ravens die, the kingdom will fall.
When you visit the Tower of London, you are immersed in hundreds of years of history. Enjoy learning about the quirky stories, the struggles, and the fascinating personalities who lived here. And see if you can spot all seven of the ravens!
– by Sharon Odegaard of ExploringRWorld
Castles Near London
These are the best castles around London to visit on a day trip from the capitol. You can either take an organised tour, or get to these castles by yourself. For example, Windsor Castle is the subject is accessible via an organised tour but also easy to reach via train from Paddington Station in about 40 minutes.
Other castles outside of London though are much easier to access by car.
We have been to many of these castles outside London ourselves but thought it would be useful to get a different perspective from other travel writers.
We tend to visit castles near London with kids and for events. For example, we have done a Halloween Tour of Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle and both a triathlon and a Spring Fete at Hever Castle. The festive atmosphere at these special events tend to be different than visiting these castles around London during ordinary visits.
Arundel is one of the grand castles in southeast England. Owned by the Duke of Norfolk, Arundel Castle has seen over 1000 years of history. The castle is full of historic memorabilia and Old Masters that the dukes collected over the years.
You may remember the 3rd Duke of Norfolk was a key player in the Tudor drama involving the royal succession. Two of the 3rd Duke’s nieces married King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. His son, the 4th Duke, was beheaded for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.
It will take at least 2 hours to visit Arundel and its extensive gardens. The Gardens include a walled garden, a kitchen garden, a Tropical Garden and an English garden.
Arundel is open for visits all year except the winter months. Arundel Castle holds regular special events like an April Tulip Festival and Medieval Jousting Tournaments.
Arundel is one of the easier castles near London to visit by public transportation. There are regular trains directly from London Victoria to Arundel station which is a 10 minute walk from the castle.
Operated by the English Heritage, Berkhamsted Castle is an excellent example of an early Norman motte and bailey castle. Seeing it in ruins, you don’t realise that it was one of the royal castles of London.
Berkhamsted Castle was ordered built by William the Conqueror. He needed a stronghold to control the route to the North of England from Castles around London. Berkhamsted stayed as a royal palace until the time of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth leased it to a nobleman who decided to build another manor home. Berkhamsted Castle fell into ruin and its stone was looted for other building works.
In terms of castles, London is relatively close at only 30 miles away. Berkhamsted Castle is now in suburban commuter country. There are direct trains from London Euston to Berkhamsted that only take about 40 minutes. It’s open every day except for certain public holidays.
Set in the picturesque countryside of East Sussex, Bodiam Castle is one of the most iconic castles in Britain. The 14th century medieval castle looks akin to a sandcastle and was originally built to defend the surrounding area during the Hundred Year’s War.
One of the most stunning features of Bodiam Castle is that it is surrounded by a moat. Although, those who know the history also know this moat was used as a sewage system for over thirty toilets! There is also an original portcullis – a heavy latticed grille – original to the castle, and one of the remaining few in all of Britain.
While the interior of the castle is mostly in ruins, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of what life was like inside the castle during the 1300s. Climb up the spiral staircases of the towers and look out over the land where knights once stood while keeping an eye out for potential threats.
After Bodiam was left in ruin for almost 200 years, it was eventually gifted to the National Trust in 1925.
There is a beautiful tearoom on site to grab a scone and a pot of tea, or bring a picnic to enjoy after strolling the grounds and taking in this medieval splendour.
– by Search Camp In Search of Sarah
Chiddingstone Castle is a charming historical house located in the heart of the Kent countryside. A visit to the castle is one of many wonderful things to do in Sevenoaks, and it’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon.
The Grade II house is home to an abundance of treasures. Visitors can explore the various collections of arts and antiquities curated by the collector Denys Eyre Bower. The collection includes pieces from all over the world and from various time periods and cultures, including Ancient Egyptian, Buddhist, Jacobite, Stuart, and Japanese. Once inside the castle, wander the Great Hall, marvel at the Library, discover the Victorian Kitchen, and learn about the history of the house in the Streatfeild Room.
Outside of the castle itself, visitors can explore 35 acres of beautiful grounds. In springtime, the paths are lined with Japanese cherry blossom trees, with the delicate pink petals wavering in the wind. Pay a visit to the charming Victorian orangery, discover the Egyptian-inspired grass maze, and take in the spectacular views across Greensand Ridge.
There are also a number of beautiful walks to enjoy in the surrounding area. Once you’re done exploring, stop by the castle’s tearoom for a well-earnt cuppa and piece of homemade cake.
By Jessie Moore from Pocket Wanderings
Colchester Castle is in Colchester, Essex. Colchester is the oldest recorded town in the UK and for a short time it was even the capital of Roman Britain.
The current castle is around 300 years old and is the largest Norman Keep in Europe. However it was built on the base of a Roman temple, which dates back to 50A.D.!
The main part of the castle is home to a museum. It has hands-on exhibits, activities and displays, documenting life in Essex spanning 2000 years of history. For an additional fee, visitors can take a guided tour going up onto the roof of the castle and down into the underground vaults, where the original Roman wall can be seen. On the roof, there is a tree that signifies the end of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Castle Park is also lovely to wander around. There is plenty of open space, with playground areas, walking trails, a mini golf course and a small boating lake. The park often hosts various events throughout the year, such as music events and food and drink festivals.
The castle is located at the bottom of Colchester High Street, so it’s within walking distance of transport links and other things to do in Colchester.
– by Kylie Neuhaus of Essex Explored
Dover Castle was founded in the 11th century and still stands tall on the White Cliffs of Kent today. It’s been described as the “Key to England” owing to its strategic defensive position. It’s also been called the largest castle in England, although Windsor Castle claims the same title. Regardless, Dover Castle is one of the best places to visit in Kent.
Size does matter when it comes to planning a trip to the castle however. Dover Castle is so big that you will need a full day to explore it in full, especially if you opt to take one of the guided tours available.
You can also choose to discover the castle solo and there’s plenty to see including underground tunnels used during the WWII and the Great Tower that was built by Henry II. One of the most popular rooms in the castle is The Annexe, the underground hospital that was established during the war to treat injured soldiers.
Make sure to visit the Escape Room, inspired by the castle’s real life Cold War History. Family and friends have to work together to solve puzzles, crack codes and reach the safety of the bunker in time.
At various times during the year the castle hosts events with characters dressed from the castle’s history, for example wartime figures that you need to help in order for them to succeed in a secret mission.
– by Katja Gaskell of Globetotting
Nestled in the historic region of East Sussex, Herstmonceux Castle is certainly a castle that is worth discovering. This unique red brick castle – complete with moat – was built back in the 15th century.
Interestingly, the castle was intended as a manor residence and not for battle! To this day, Herstmonceux is considered one of the most significant brick structures still standing across England.
Despite never seeing any actual battles, the castle fell into ruin due to neglect. Fortunately, it has been restored and is open to curious visitors.
The castle sits on a very large, very rural estate which was also the home of The Royal Greenwich Observatory. This designation lasted until the 1970s – but there are still white domed telescopes that dot the treeline of the property. Many are still used for observation to this day.
Herstmonceux Castle makes a nice day trip from London because there are plenty of things to do. Aside from doing a castle interior tour to admire the original woodworking and battlements, visitors can wander the Elizabethan gardens at the rear. There are also walking trails that cross the estate – and an English tearoom onsite if you’re in need of a refreshment.
– by Eric of Penguin and Pia
Hever Castle is one of the most beautiful historical castles in Kent. It features a moat, a gatehouse and a walled bailey. This is where Anne Boleyn spent her childhood, before being sent to France to serve at the court of the French Queen.
The castle is one of the best examples of Tudor architecture in England. The oldest part of the castle are the wooden beams in Henry VIII’s bedchamber, which are the original ones that were used when the castle was built, in the 13th century.
Visiting Hever Castle is like stepping back in time. Whilst some of the ground floor rooms have been renovated by the previous owners of the castle, the upstairs remains unchanged.
Hanging on the dining hall is the original lock that Henry VIII used to travel with, to protect himself. He used to be obsessed that someone will assassinate him whilst he slept, so every evening he would lock his bedchamber before going to bed.
At Hever Castle you can also admire one of the most impressive collections of Tudor portraits, including all five of Henry VIII’s wives.
The gardens at Hever Castle are spectacular as well. There are mazes, flower gardens, Italian landscaped areas and a lake to paddle on. You can spend the entire day here without managing to see all the estate’s grounds.
– by Joanna Davis at The World In My Pocket
Highclere Castle is widely known internationally as the setting for the television and film phenomena, Downtown Abbey.
Owned by the Earls of Canarvon, Highclere Castle started as a manor house in the 17th century. In the late 18th century, the Canarvons called in the same architect who built the Houses of Westminster to jazz up the family home. The Victorian facade created the castle effect with towers and turrets.
So technically, Highclere Castle is not a “real” castle. The castle facade is merely decorative and serves no defensive purposes. But it looks good and is very much a flaunting of wealth by the Victorians!
The gardens are designed by the famous English landscape architect, Capability Brown. The estate runs to about 5000 acres.
Highclere Castle and it’s gardens are open to the public regularly. The current Earl of Canarvon and his family still live on the premises.
In addition to guided tours of the house, another cool thing to see is the Egyptian collection in the basement. One of the former Earls of Canarvon funded Howard Carter’s expedition in Egypt that found King Tut’s tomb. There aren’t that many castles in southeast England with a King Tut connection!
Leeds Castle in Kent has been named the loveliest castle in the world and is one of the UK’s top attractions.
The castle takes on a fairy tale appearance with its well-maintained structure surrounded by a moat and beautifully kept gardens.
It was built in 1119, and despite not seeing much battle action, there is not much left of the original structure. What you see today is mainly thanks to King Henry VIII who lived there with Catherine of Aragon, his first wife and also thanks to Sir Richard Smythe.
Being one of the most popular castles in England, there is always plenty going on at Leeds Castle. The highlight of your visit will be the castle itself but make sure to spare some time to visit the grounds.
There is a challenging maze, a falconry display and archery lessons and during certain times of the year, there are special events such as firework displays, open air cinema and special concerts.
If you are visiting Leeds Castle with kids, there are a couple of fantastic play areas modelled on the castle – one for 6 years and under and the other for 6 – 14-year-olds.
– by Jacquie Hale of Flashpacking Family
One of the oldest castles in south east England, Pevensey Castle is more than 16 centuries old.
Pevensey Castle started out as a Roman fort before being requisitioned by William the Conqueror. William the Conqueror landed nearby and used Pevensey to protect his rear flank when he marched forward. Pevensey last served as a garrison for soldiers during World War 2 to defend against any German invasion across the English Channel.
Run by English Heritage, Pevensey Castle now lies in ruins. The ruins tell of its once grand presence though. For example, Pevensey’s curtain walls are an impressive relic of Roman times which were just added onto by the Normans.
Pevensey is one of the harder castles outside London to reach by public transport. There is a direct train from London Victoria to Pevensey and Westham that takes 2 hours. Pevensey is a mile from the train station.
There are many romantic castles in Kent England – such as Scotney Castle and Leeds Castle. One of the most romantic castles Southeast England offers though is Sissinghurst Castle.
Sissinghurst Castle was the refuge of Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson, both of whom were authors. Vita Sackville-Hurst had a torrid affair with fellow author Virginia Woolf (check out their story in the 2018 movie Vita & Virginia).
Sissinghurst Castle probably reached its historic zenith during Tudor times when it held 6000 French prisoner. In the 19th century, Sissinghurst was used as a poor house where able-bodied men farmed the land in exchange for room and board. Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson bought it in the 1930s.
At Sissinghurst Castle, Harold Nicolson did the architectural landscaping and Vita Sackville-West did the planting. They took the ruins of Sissinghurst Castle and created a marvellous array of indoor and outdoor rooms that blend into each other.
Sissinghurst Castle is another castle outside London that is hard to reach by public transport. There are regular trains from London Bridge station to Staplehurst that takes a little less than an hour. Sissinghurst Castle is another 5 miles from Staplehurst station though. You will need to order a taxi in advance to take you to the castle.
Scotney Castle is one of the most romantic-looking castles in England and is maintained by the National Trust. It is nestled in the glorious countryside of Kent and offers visitors an enchanting look at the 14th century moated castle and Victorian country mansion alongside beautiful planted and woodland gardens.
The Hussey family who were the last owners of the estate transformed Scotney castle into the romantic ruins that we see today. The family wanted a focal point to view from their newly built manor house sitting on the hill above the old castle. The result is beautiful with ivy climbing over stone ruins, tiny doors leading inside the castle and a beautiful duck pond complete with flowering lilies surrounding the building.
The castle also has a secret hiding place called a “priest hole”. During the persecution of the Catholic church in England during the 16th century, these hiding places were a safe sanctuary for priests. One was in hiding in Scotney castle for 7 years during the uprising!
The castle grounds are planted with beautiful flowers attracting plenty of wildlife and the quarry area highlights more tropical planting. This is also where you can spot the imprint of a dinosaur’s footprint dating back to the Jurassic period.
Other attractions at Scotney Castle include tearooms and a gift/plant shop. Entry is free for National Trust members or £8 for adults/£4 for children.
– by Angela Price of Where Angie Wanders
Located on the shore in the South East coast of Kent in England, Walmer Castle is one of England’s finest Tudor castles.
It is just a 15-minute drive from Dover and a 30-minute drive from Canterbury in Kent. The best way to see this castle is to include it as part of a road-trip exploring Kent.
Walmer castle was once a Tudor artillery fortress which later became the stately home of the Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports including the Duke of Wellington. Henry VIII built this fortress along with the neighboring Deal castle to protect the coastline from invasion. During WW2 Churchill used this castle to keep an eye on France.
The castle is best explored using the multimedia guide. After touring the rooms, visitors can go out into the terrace which has several impressive cannons pointing out towards the sea. Panoramic views of the sea can be enjoyed from here.
The eight acres of award-winning castle gardens include Broadwalk garden – a colorful, herbaceous and hedged garden, and Queen mother’s garden – a peaceful walled garden designed for the queen mother. In addition, the wooded walk has now been extended providing natural play areas for children.
There is a lovely tea-room that serves food cooked using produce from the kitchen gardens.
The Walmer Castle and gardens is the perfect place to enjoy history, beauty and some good family time in Kent.
– by Jan Banerjee of Leisurely Drives
Windsor Castle is definitely one of the most significant and beautiful castles in England as it is a royal residence and has over 1,000 years of history. The castle was built in the 11th century and was massively rebuilt in 1660 by Charles II — he added a lot of beautiful Baroque elements to it. During WWII, the royal family also used this castle as a refuge.
Today, Windsor Castle is a very popular tourist attraction especially given its proximity to London, and it is also Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite weekend home. In addition to that, it is where state visits are hosted, and also where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in 2018.
Today, you can visit Windsor Castle for a £23.50 admission fee and must book your visit online in advance. While this price is steep, it is totally worth it as the premises are simply beautiful. You’ll get a 30-minute tour of the Castle Precincts, an audio tour narrated by Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales), and can also watch the Changing of the Guard at the castle.
The architecture inside the premises is simply stunning, so be sure to bring good photography gear, such as some great lenses for Nikon D3100, to best capture the postcard-worthy views!
– by Jiayi Wang of The Diary of a Nomad
Map of Castles (London and Nearby)
Map of castles in London and castles near London that will help with trip planning.
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