9 Castles You Can Visit on a Day Trip From London
Often times when people think of castles, they think of far-flung palaces surrounded by endless acres of land in remote corners of the world. And while many castles actually are set on massive plots, plenty of others are near bustling cities like London.
Here, nine castles you can easily visit on a day trip from London.
With more than 200 rooms on over 1,000 acres of rolling land, Highclere Castle is a Victorian gem about 90 minutes from London. Highclere Castle is known as the real Downton Abbey, as it was used as the on-screen home of the show’s Crawley family. Visitors are able to see some of the 12 bedrooms on the first floor, plus the lavish library, saloon, drawing room, and smoking room, among others. Highclere has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679, when it was rebuilt as a castle from the site of the earlier house from 749.
About an hour and a half from London, Blenheim Palace is a massive baroque masterpiece and the boyhood home of Sir Winston Churchill. It was built between 1705-1724 and gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987. Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, the storied palace — which remains in the Churchill family — is regarded as the finest example of Baroque architecture in Great Britain.
Complete with a moat, Broughton Castle gives off major medieval vibes. The castle, around 80 miles from London, is built of local Hornton ironstone and was a center of opposition to Charles I. The house dates to 1306, but most of what people tour today dates from the 1550s. Broughton was used as a filming location for “Jane Eyre” and “Shakespeare in Love.” The castle has remained in the same family since 1447, and the house, garden, and tearoom are open to the public.
Home to Charles, Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, Highgrove House is about a two-hour drive from London. Since Prince Charles arrived in 1980, Highgrove has seen a drastic transformation to the gardens, which includes a center for organic farming and is a haven for wildlife. The house, a Georgian neoclassical beauty, is not open to the public, but the gardens welcome 40,000 people a year.
Forty minutes west of London, Windsor Castle is home to The Queen and is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the castle has over 900 years of history and has been home to 39 monarchs. The castle is open to guests throughout the year, and The Queen spends most of her private weekends at the castle.
Two cool features of this castle: a moat and a maze. Just over an hour from London, Leeds Castle was a palace for Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, a Norman stronghold, the private property of six medieval queens, and much more. The maze has 2,400 yew trees and is set in a square, yet has a circular pattern when viewed from the air, which adds to its difficulty. After reaching the center, exit the maze through an underground grotto, complete with mythical forms.
It’s hard to imagine that this grand castle is a mere hour south of London. Hever Castle, with 700 years of history and a double moat, was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I. The original medieval castle was built in 1270, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Tudor dwelling and walls were added. The castle is set on 125 acres and open daily.
Built starting in the 1080s to guard an important crossing on the River Medway, Rochester Castle consists of three floors above a basement, standing 113 feet high. In 1215, the castle endured a siege by King John and was rebuilt by Henry III and Edward I. The castle endured three sieges in total, and remained a fortress until the sixteenth century. Only 30 miles from London, Rochester Castle is easy to tackle in half a day.
About 65 miles from London, Arundel Castle has almost 1,000 years of history. The castle overlooks the River Arun and has immaculate gardens worthy of a visit alone. The oldest castle feature is the motte, an artificial mound, more than 100 feet high from the dry moat, which was constructed in 1068. The castle has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years.
These castles are all easy to explore using public trains or buses. Organized tours out of London are also readily available throughout the week. For an extended journey, experience many of these castles on a London cruise extension with Viking Cruises. The cruise line offers multiple extensions in London after cruises that stop Norway, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, and England.