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Anyone visiting the UK can be easily blown away and even overwhelmed by the enormous amount of history on offer whether that’s ancient stones, Roman ruins, medieval castles or Victorian architecture. Yes, we do have a lot! For anyone who is based near London and wants to visit a nice traditional English castle – where should they start? My list here of 5 of the best castles near London should definitely give you a good starting point and these are all pretty accessible from the capital city too.
We’re definitely spoilt for choice when thinking about castles with so many within striking distance of London. The ones I’ve chosen here all have something slightly different about them to appeal to people with interests from all areas of history whether that’s Tudor England, our current Royal family or even World War Two history! Most castles are close to London but some may need car hire to get to or for you to go on an organised trip if you don’t have your own transportation – some are a little easier with public transport and all directions you need are listed below.
- 1 What are the best castles near London to visit?
- 2 Windsor Castle
- 3 Dover Castle
- 4 Leeds Castle
- 5 Hever Castle
- 6 Bodiam Castle
What are the best castles near London to visit?
I’ve chosen 5 castles near London that are all easy to get to by car but also that can be reached by public transport or by going on a private tour. In no particular order, my favourites are:
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Probably one of the most well-known castles in the United Kingdom is Windsor castle which is still the Royal home to our Queen today. It’s a really impressive building, built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and has housed our monarchs ever since. As I said, the Queen still lives there today and you can tell if she’s home by the flying of the Royal Standard flag. If it’s present then you’re in luck and she’s around (although that only means you can say she was near you – you’ll likely not see her unless you’re very lucky!), if not she might be at one of her many other properties!
If you’re at all interested in British royal history then Windsor castle is an absolute must and you can marvel at the State Rooms that Charles II designed to rival that of his French cousins in Versailles although they have changed somewhat over the years. They house many portraits of the kings and queens that have lived there – it’s quite mind-blowing when you think about the history that this castle contains! Many of the rooms had actually been damaged in the fire that took place in 1992 and have been painstakingly restored to their original state.
You can also see the changing of the guards there (11 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays), go on a tour of the outside areas of the castle, wander around the amazing grounds and see St Georges chapel which has the tombs of many monarchs including Henry VIII
Practical information about visiting
It’s important to know that since the castle is a working royal home some dates require closure. Also, some days will have limited access to the State rooms although if you happen to visit on these days it’s slightly cheaper. The changing of the guard also only happens on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays so if you want to see that then try and time your visit accordingly.
There can also be quite a line to get into the castle and double so if you also have to buy your tickets there so I definitely recommend getting them in advance if you can. Unfortunately, security lines will continue to be a part of the day so do be aware of that. There’s also a decent amount of walking to do so wear comfortable shoes. A visit should last between about 2 and 3 hours so it’s actually a perfect trip to add to a London city break.
If you want to explore the area around Windsor, get the best views and are keen on seeing Eton (where the Royals go to school normally) then a hop on hop off bus tour of the area could also be a good addition to your day.
how to get to Windsor Castle from London
Windsor Castle is the nearest of the lot to London city centre and it’s situated on the outskirts of the western side of the city in Windsor itself. Arriving by car is a good idea if you’re not actually staying in London and coming from outside the city. There are no car parks directly for the castle but there is plenty of public car parks in Windsor which are about a 10-minute walk from the castle. These are pay and display car parks.
Coming by public transport is preferable if you’re in the city and don’t have your own transport. Trains leave from Waterloo, but check Trainline.com for other options as there may be other stations that depart nearer to you that require a change in Slough. Buses leave from Greenline station which is just next to Victoria Station – you need the 702 and it takes around an hour and 40 minutes.
Tours going to Windsor Castle
If you’re looking for convenience and don’t want the hassle of working out how to get to Windsor castle yourself then I recommend a tour. There are lots to choose from with some concentrating solely on a visit to Windsor, like this one, and others that combine it with other interesting places to visit like Oxford, Bath or even Stonehenge like this one.
This is one of my favourite castles that I have personally visited and if you like World War 2 history then you’re in for a treat with this one. Dover castle was built in the 11th century by King Henry II and has provided a much-needed defence to the country for a huge proportion of that time. Dover is one of the closest towns to mainland Europe and has always received plenty of sea traffic because of the short distance so as you can imagine, it’s seen some action! It’s also situated atop the white cliffs of Dover so an incredibly iconic place to visit.
There’s actually an even older part of the building inside the castle – a Roman lighthouse is still present and it dates all the way back to AD 43. Even in Roman times, this was an important place for people to arrive in the country and this lighthouse was there to guide ships safely.
You could pick any time period in the last 900 years and find out something interesting, but even though the castle is so old, it was used quite a lot in both world wars. In World War 1 it was used as a defence post and there were even anti-aircraft guns employed against zeppelins and German aircraft with the threat of invasion. In World War 2 the castle came into its own when used as the control centre for Operation Dynamo, or the Dunkirk Evacuation. This was the rescue operation for the troops that were trapped in France and Belgium and who were being pushed back by the German army in 1940, right at the beginning of the war. All was looking hopeless but back in Britain plans were being made for the most amazing rescue. You can see the rooms where it was co-ordinated from and many of the artefacts from the time period. The castle was used extensively for the planning of naval operations and also as a hospital so there is lots to see and learn about. We’ve done some of the tours that take place too which is really helpful for finding out information from the helpful guides there.
Getting to Dover Castle from London
If you have a car then it’s around 1 hour 40 minutes from the centre of the city, obviously depending on where you are situated this could be slightly different. Be aware if you’re going on the east side of the M25 that you might need to go over the Dartford crossing which is a toll road – they normally take your registration automatically and you have to pay within 24 hours. It’s easy, but also easy to forget! See here for details on paying. The journey is mostly motorways all the way to the coast although do be aware that since it’s such a busy port town that it can get snarled up with traffic. Parking is free for the castle with space for up to 200 cars. We’ve also parked in the town car parks as well when we had a larger camper van with no issues.
Coming via public transport is an option too. South Eastern Trains runs services that arrive in Dover from London. Trainline is my preferred website for finding out the best way to get there. You can also get coaches too which are quite a budget way of travelling to Dover – it takes around 2 and a half hours to get there. Check out National Express for more information.
Tours to Dover Castle
There are a few tours to the area, some including a trip to Dover Castle alongside a visit to historic Canterbury as well like this one. Some of the tours listed below for Leeds Castle will also take in Dover, although you generally don’t get time to see inside the castle.
Contrary to what I thought a few years ago when I first knew of the existence of Leeds castle – it is not in Leeds, nor Yorkshire! It’s actually situated in Kent, to the south west of London. It’s still on my ‘to visit’ list – next time we’re in the area I’m sure we’ll be heading there! The tagline for the castle’s marketing is the ‘loveliest castle in England’ and if you see a picture of it you’ll see why – it’s incredibly picturesque, a stunning building with gorgeous surroundings too.
The castle was built, again, in Norman times so there’s quite a bit of history to it, although what you can see now is largely from the 18th century when it was rebuilt in a Tudor style. It’s very grand, beautiful and has a regal air to it. Many kings and queens have lived here, including Henry VIII who used it as a palace when he was married to Catherine of Aragon and also Queen Eleanor of Castille who initially bought the castle in 1278 and began its Royal history.
There’s plenty to see in the castle today with the gorgeous rooms, and beautiful grounds to walk around. There’s even a maze for you to get yourself lost in and when you reach the centre, an underground grotto that brings you back to the castle. There are stunning, well kept formal gardens in the ground as well. There are often events on at the castle, especially in the summer months so it’s worth checking if there’s anything that takes your fancy there.
Getting to Leeds Castle from London
It’s around 45 miles from the centre of London and around and hour and a half journey time. Be aware if you’re going on the east side of the M25 that you might need to pay to go over the Dartford crossing – they normally take your registration and you have to pay within 24 hours now rather than paying direct. It’s easy, but also easy to forget! See here for details on paying.
Tours to Leeds Castle from London
There’s a few options available to you, many taking in the historic Canterbury with it’s cathedral as well, making it a full day. This one goes to Leeds castle, Canterbury and Dover, while this one also adds in some time at Greenwich as well!
This is a lovely little gem of a castle that is only about 30 miles from London. We visited here a number of years ago now, but it’s stayed with me and I’d love to revisit and see how it’s changed over the years. Hever castle is actually the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second and ill-fated wife although it dates from a few hundred years prior. The castle was built in 1270 as a medieval defensive castle, but the history almost everyone is interested in comes from the Tudor period!
It was in the Boleyn family from 1462 and passed to Anne’s father, Thomas, in 1504 just after she was born. In the castle, you can see the room thought to be her bedroom and also a room that is thought to have been used when Henry VIII came to visit while he was courting her.
As is common with the castles of England it fell into disrepair as the years went by and in Hever’s case it was bought by the famous Astor family who brought the castle back into the state that you see today. Their wealth has allowed for an amazing amount of artefacts relating to the time period to be brought in to the castle, for restoration to be done and also the extension of the grounds too. It’s a really lovely day out and quite different from some of the larger castles in England.
Getting to Hever Castle from London
Hever is deep in the Kent countryside, just south of London, and as such isn’t really as accessible from London by public transport as other places. It is best reached by car if you have access to one and it’s just over an hour away.
If you want to give public transport a go then the train is your best bet. You have two options: train to Edenbridge which is 3 miles away and a taxi to the castle or train to Hever and a one-mile rural walk from there. If you take the second option do take care especially if the weather is bad and bear in mind when it gets dark in winter months. Check Trainline for times.
Tours to Hever Castle from London
There’s not as many tours to Hever castle but if you like private tours and transfers this one here might suit you and will pick up from anywhere in London.
Finally, we have one of the most beautiful castles in England and a very typical, fairytale looking one at that. Bodiam castle is the only ruined castle in this list, but I think sometimes it’s quite nice to visit these castles and not have to wander around the well made up interiors. Wandering around the ruins you need to use your imagination to think about what life was like in the castle’s heyday. It’s not too hard though with its stunning moat and castle walls to imagine a life gone by.
Bodiam was built in the late 14th century, around 1385, so actually one of the newest castles on this page too – weird to think that a castle that is almost 700 years old can be the newest! Originally it was built to defend against the French during the Hundred Year war and it saw some interesting times during English history. The owners were Lancastrian supporters so they went from being initially on the wrong side during the war of the roses, and then back to the ‘right’ side when Henry Tudor became King. When it came to a few hundred years later and the English Civil war the owners were on the wrong side of history, siding with the Royalists and the castle had to eventually be sold to pay fines. From this time the castle was gutted and in a ruined state – it’s had some restoration work done to it but it’s mainly stayed how it was then.
Bodiam is a really great castle for anyone who likes photography and is wanting that quintessential English fairytale castle – get there early if you can and enjoy the peace as the day wakes! There are guided tours that take place, plenty of walking to do, a cafe and gift shop plus exhibitions detailing what life was like in the castle when it was occupied.
Getting there from London
Bodiam is about 60 miles from the centre of London and is easily reached by car taking around an hour and a half. There’s free parking and if you’re interested in history you can certainly make a day of it by also taking in the town of Battle – home to where the famous Battle of Hastings took place and a time of immense change for the Brits with the Normans conquering. It’s a lovely part of the country to explore too so I do encourage you to take time if you can to see the lovely villages in the area.
Public transport is a little trickier but doable. Trains go from London to Battle which is around 10 miles away and you can get a taxi from there.
I haven’t found any tours to Bodiam going from London but if anything changes I shall update this.
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