Updated December 4, 2023
Whether you're looking for medieval castles or Victorian palaces, the United Kingdom is filled with castles.
England alone is home to approximately 4,000 castles, so visiting one or two during a trip is a must. But how do you decide which ones to visit?
The easiest to start with are the castles and palaces within greater London. The Tower of London (home of the Crown Jewel collection) and Kensington Palace are both open year round. Buckingham Palace, the King's official London residence, is open to the public for 10 weeks each summer.
After you've explored the castles of London you may be ready to travel a bit farther afield.
There are several well-known castles near :ondon (and a few lesser known ones) can be visited on a day trip from London, so if you're using London as your base this list is a great place to start!
Arundel Castle in West Sussex has been the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years.
The gardens alone are worth a visit, but the inside of the castle is beautiful too. Largely rebuilt in the late 1800s, the Gothic style castle is considered one of the great works of Victorian England.
The oldest part of the castle is the motte, an artificial mound over 100 feet high that was built in 1068. Most of the oldest sections of the castle itself were built by Henry II in the 12th century.
The castle still belongs to the Duke of Norfolk, who is also the Earl Marshal of England responsible for organizing major ceremonial state events such as the opening of Parliament, the Queen's funeral and the King's Coronation.
The castle is located about 60 miles south of London, with a picturesque location overlooking the South Downs.
You can get there by car from London in about two hours, or by train from London Victoria in about an hour and 20 minutes. Arundel Castle is about 15 minutes walk from the Arundel train station.
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire was the boyhood home of Sir Winston Churchill and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in England.
The castle sits amidst a romantic parkland created by Capability Brown, England's most famous landscape gardener. The castle gained UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1987.
Explore the state rooms and the rooms belonging to the Dukes of Marlborough and their families. There are also tours of the downstairs, allowing you to learn about the lives and duties of the servants who have kept the home running through the years.
You can also walk in Churchill’s footsteps through the grounds, visiting the places he most enjoyed including where he proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier.
Blenheim Palace can be reached by car in about 1.5 hours, or by train from London Paddington to Oxford and continuing by bus to the palace.
Bodiam Castle in East Sussex is one of England's most picturesque castles, and the 14th century square moated castle is everything you'd expect from a medieval fortress.
The castle was sold following the English Civil War, and the interior was dismantled and largely in ruins by the 17th century. Extensive renovations in the 19th century restored it to what you can see today.
The interiors are still in ruins, but you can explore the towers and battlements and imagine what it would have been like to take part in a feast as you stand in the Great Room.
The easiest way to get to Bodiam Castle is by car, it's about a 2 hour drive. You can also take a train to Robertsbridge, about an hour from central London, and arrange a private taxi to take you from the station to the castle and back.
Dover Castle in Kent is an icon of British history, towering over the White Cliffs of Dover. The fortifications were built soon after 1066 after the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror, and the current castle was started in the 1180s by King Henry II.
The Royal Apartments in the Great Tower were extensively refurbished under King Henry VIII. Royals last used the castle in 1625, after which it fell into disrepair. The castle was then used again extensively during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars to protect England against any potential approach across the English Channel.
The castle found new use during both WWI and WWII as both a military base and a significant coastal defense. Tunnels already existed under the castle, but they were enlarged significantly in 1942-43 and were used as a significant communications center. It was here in part that Operation Neptune, the naval side of the D-Day plans, were developed.
You can reach Dover Castle in about 2 hours by car, or by a combination of train to Dover Priory and bus up to the castle.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is one of the easiest castles to get to, located only about 45 minutes by train from central London in the borough of Richmond.
This royal palace is a member of Historic Royal Palaces, along with the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, so if you're planning to visit two or three of the palaces it may be worth considering a membership.
The Tudor palace was built in 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey before being taken over by King Henry VIII. Henry VIII brought all of his six wives to the palace, where he hosted lavish feasts and led an extravagant courtly life.
Under King William III and Queen Mary II the palace was going to be torn down and replaced, but instead architect Sir Christopher Wren left the Tudor palace largely in place and designed the addition of Fountain Court.
In 1838 Queen Victoria decreed that Hampton Court should be open to the public, and today it's a magnet for visitors. It's also the site of two annual festivals, the Hampton Court Music Festival and the RHS Flower Show.
The easiest way to get to Hampton Court is by train from Waterloo Station.
Just 30 miles south of London in Kent, the 700 year old Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
The castle passed to the ownership of Anne of Cleves, another of Henry VIII's wives, before being owned by a variety of families from the late 1550's on.
In 1903 William Waldorf Astor purchased Hever Castle and began restoring it. The castle restoration was completed in 1906, and the grounds were completed in 1908. During the restoration all the original castle structures were preserved, and all renovations were completed using 16th century techniques.
The castle can be reached by car in about an hour and a half, or by train in about an hour. You can take the train to Edenbridge Town Station and take a taxi the 3 miles to the castle, or disembark at Hever station and walk about a mile to the castle.
Best known as the setting for Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Hampshire has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679.
In 1842 Sir Charles Berry, the designer of London’s Houses of Parliament, transformed what was Highclere House into the Highclere Castle that we know today.
The castle is made up of over 200 rooms, approximately 15 of which are open to the public. Along with several of the state rooms featured in Downton Abbey you can also tour the Egyptian exhibit.
While most people are familiar with Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, many don’t realize that the man standing next to him on that fateful day was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who financed the expedition to find the tomb.
During WWI the castle was converted into a hospital run by the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. WWII saw the castle used as a home for children evacuated from London to protect them from the Blitz.
The castle is accessible by car in about 2 hours, or can be reached by train to Newbury in about an hour and then taxi to the castle. If you are planning to take a taxi you’ll want the phone number of the taxi company to call for a ride back to the station once you’re finished with your visit. There are also a variety of Downton Abbey themed group and private tours from London available.
Leeds Castle in Kent was formerly a home of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle has been a Norman stronghold, a home for six of England’s medieval queens, and includes both a moat and a yew-tree maze.
In the 1620s the main Tudor castle was razed and a Jacobean mansion was built in its place, but by the 1820s the entire property was beginning to crumble.
The Jacobean mansion was torn down and a Tudor New Castle was rebuilt in its place. After the family that owned it acquired additional surrounding land in 1895 Leeds Castle became one of the largest private estates in Kent.
By 1925 the owners were in financial difficulty and needed to sell the castle and lands. They were purchased by an Anglo-American heiress, who was known as Lady Baillie after her third marriage.
Lady Baillie had a largely medieval castle recreated during the late 1920s and 1930s, and Leeds Castle once again became one of England’s great country homes. The interiors were redone by Stephane Boudin, president of leading Parisian design firm Maison Jansen, who also did work for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Jacqueline Kennedy. His interiors can still be seen in the castle today.
Leeds Castle can be reached by car from London in about an hour and a half. Train service is also available to Hollingbourne and takes about an hour and 15 minutes, but the coach service that normally runs to Leeds Castle has not yet resumed on a normal schedule. If arriving by train it is best to pre-arrange transportation from the station since there is no taxi rank on site.
Located only 40 minutes west of London in Berkshire, Windsor Castle is the home of the King and is also the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.
The castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and has since been home to the Royal Family and 40 British monarchs.
The State Apartments are extensive, and there are many highlights to see including the Waterloo Chamber and the Grand Staircase. On certain days of the week you can also visit St. George’s Chapel, where many royal weddings have taken place and where 10 kings including Henry VIII and Charles I are buried. Queen Elizabeth II is also burried there.
Windsor Castle can be accessed by car or train in about an hour from central London.
The Bottom Line: Castles Near London to Visit
Whether you’re looking for a medieval castle or a baroque palace, there are plenty of castles near London for an easy day trip. The only question now is which one to visit next.
If you're looking for more England travel inspiration, check out our other England travel blog posts here.