3 English Castles You Must Visit
Where Do I Find the Best Castles?
While there are castles all over the United Kingdom, many of the best are concentrated in Kent, a county in Southeast England. Kent boarders Greater London and, due to its proximity to Europe, has plenty of history. In fact, it's only about 30 miles from coast to coast! If you are in France, it's worth driving or taking the to England and visiting some of these gems. A few of the castles in Kent boast being started by Henry II in the 1160s, being one of the tallest keeps in England, and the title of "The Loveliest Castle in the World." chunnel
You can't go wrong with any one of these locations. Happy castle hunting!
Map Your Castle Visits
How Do I Decide Which Castles to Visit?
Now that you've settled on Kent as your castle-visiting region, you need to figure out which of those castles best suits your interests. Are you searching for your wedding venue? Are you interested in castles that were used during a war? Can you not get enough of seeing ruins? You should also decide whether you want to check out an assortment of diverse castles or if you want to visit only castles of a certain type.
If you're short on time or don't like driving long distances in between castles, you should probably try narrowing your list to those closest to one another. For example, if you're staying in London you may not want to visit Herstmonceux and Dover Castlein the same day. However, if you don't mind the distance, consider seeing only one or two castles a day and spending a good amount of time at each!
The World's Loveliest Castle
Leeds Castle prides itself on being the "World's Loveliest Castle," and it definitely lives up to the label. Sitting on 500 acres of gardens and parkland, Leeds Castle makes for a beautiful place to visit, no matter the weather. There is a hedge maze, cottages for rent, and the oddly connected "Go Ape," which could be worth visiting if you have kids with energy!
The castle started as a Norman stronghold back in the 1100s, was the private property of six different medieval queens, and was used by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Later, in the 1900s, Leeds Castle was proffered by Lady Baillie as a retreat for the influential and famous. It is perfectly preserved and worth the trip. Prepare to spend a few hours here as the property is large and fun to wander. The castle itself is not expansive, but each room is filled with furniture, books, and artwork to admire.
The castle functions as a wedding venue for those looking to be married in a castle library. Unfortunately weddings are not held on the grounds because in England a covered, immobile structure must be used for weddings. Positive characteristics: wedding party and guests can stay in the castle the night of the wedding, sleeping in any of the many beautiful rooms. The downside? Although the wedding will be held inside, during the times you are outside you may hear traffic from the M20 nearby.
Drone Video Over Leeds Castle
Great Exterior, No Interior
Not far from Leeds Castle is Bodiam Castle, a tremendously picturesque structure—if you don't go inside. Don't get me wrong, it's still worth a visit! Just be aware that the interior is completely empty. You won't be walking through ornate rooms filled with legendary furniture. However, if you like ruins, history, and the classic castle look, this is right for you!
If you're looking for a wedding venue, Bodiam Castle is a great option. Because the interior of the castle is unroofed and open you can seat your guests on the grass, surrounded by the walls of the castle. Just inside the gate is permitted so you will be married under a structure—under the murder holes, in fact. The downside is that you'll have to hold your reception under a marquee up the grounds a bit, from which you may not see the castle.
History: The castle was built in 1385 and after the English Civil war in 1641 it was partially demolished and left a ruin until its purchase by John Fuller in 1829. Thereafter the castle was restored by multiple owners and is now owned by The National Trust.
Bonus: The castle was featured in a Jeep commercial that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl!
Bodiam's Empty Interior
White Cliffs and Tall Towers
Dover Castle is great for those who love views, expansive grounds, and military history. The castle was started by Henry II in the 1160s, a time you can imagine when you see the technicolor furnishings and costumed actors portraying medieval life in the Great Tower. If you don't mind small, dark, slightly spooky underground places, check out the Secret Wartime Tunnels from the Napoleonic era, the Battle of Dunkirk, and the Cold War.
The castle is known as the 'Key to England' because it's just about the closest you can get to the continent of Europe while still in the U.K. This is also the reason for the bounty of war history at the castle. If martial history doesn't interest you, just hike the (many!) steps up the tower and check out the view. You won't really see the White Cliffs of Dover, but rest assured, you're upon them!
Lovely Herstmonceux Gardens
Are There Other Castles I Should Visit?
If you can visit only three castles, you should go to Leeds, Bodiam, and Dover Castles. However, if you have time for more you may want to check out Herstmonceux (pictured below), Upnor, and Rochester Castles.
Like Dover Castle, Upnor and Rochester are both English Heritage sites, so if you're a member this may induce you to visit these. Upnor Castle is great for photographers—there's a spiral staircase and gorgeous entrance gates. It's next to a riverside village, so when you look out the back of the castle you'll see the river—and the out of place high rise buildings across the way. It began as an artillery fort in 1559 and was redeveloped in 1599 to protect warships moored at Chatham dockyards. If you weren't impressed by Dover Castle, you may want to skip Upnor Castle, as it's muchsmaller and lacking in historical displays.
Rochester Castle boasts a 113 foot tall Norman tower keep build of Kentish ragstone around 1127 with the encouragement of Henry I. If you like views—and really, who doesn't?—check this place out! The castle has a bizarre story attached to it: In 1215 the castle was besieged by rebel barons and King John used the fat from 40 pigs to fire a mine under the keep, which toppled its southern corner.
Herstmonceux is worth a visit if you like gardens. The castle is moated and set on 600 acres of parkland and Elizabethan gardens. Take the time to walk through them and read the names of plants generously posted about. They do host weddings and have on-site accommodations, so if you love the grounds you should consider it. Be sure to contact them ahead of time though, as they do all wedding inquiries over the phone and aren't too responsive to email. One more thing of note: in 1946 the castle was sold to the Admiralty and established as the new home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory—check out the building on your way in!