7 Best castles near London every history lover should visit

Visit the castles that tell the story of Britain through the ages

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  • 09 December 2021
  • • 8 min read

If you’re interested in medieval history, English heritage and the Royal Family, making time to visit these castles near London is one of the best things you can do. Whilst there are plenty of opportunities to delve into British history without hopping on a train out of London, castles like Queen Elizabeth’s second home, Windsor Castle, and the childhood home of the notorious Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle, outside the busy capital are incredibly easy to reach. Plan a or two in advance to learn more about England’s fascinating former monarchs and what happened within the walls of some of the most historic buildings in the UK. Read on to discover the castles and palaces near London you simply have to visit during a trip to the Big Smoke.

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1. Windsor Castle

Get to Windsor Castle from London Paddington or London Waterloo by train: 45 minutes

Just outside London on the River Thames is the world’s biggest occupied castle, Windsor Castle. A day trip from London to this part of the country will give visitors a look into what a quaint, historic English town is like, with its contrast of traditional pubs and cobbled streets against the more modern brasseries and shopping arcades. The castle itself is the centrepiece of Windsor - its stone walls are surrounded by a grassy moat where people picnic in the summer, and The Long Walk from the castle gates offers a magnificent view. 

Tours inside the castle are available and absolutely worth the extra spend, but you can also take a free 30-minute tour of the castle precincts led by one of the wardens who know the history of Windsor inside-out. Every Thursday and Saturday, visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard spectacle, seeing the soldiers in red coats and tall, fur hats march through Windsor town and into the castle just before 11 am in time for the main event - although you’ll need to purchase a ticket to watch the whole thing. 

2. Highclere Castle

Get to Highclere Castle from London Paddington by train: 40 minutes

Highclere Castle shot to fame when the award-winning television period drama, Downton Abbey was brought to our screens (you can watch it on Netflix now, you know). It’s such an easy journey from London Paddington, with trains running directly to Newbury station which is just a 15-minute taxi from the castle. While we all imagine the Crawley family and their beloved servants running around the estate, in true life, Highclere Castle was actually never too dissimilar from this. However, it had far more owners than just one high-profile family throughout its time. Like the series, however, it was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War, before becoming a home for evacuees in the Second World War.

Now, you can visit Highclere Castle from London on certain dates throughout the year when it opens to visitors for self-guided tours. Tickets will get you access to the gardens, inside the castle itself and the Egyptian Exhibition - the Earl of Carnarvon and Highclere owner was one of those to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. 

3. Warwick Castle

Get to Warwick Castle from London Marylebone by train: 1hr 25 minutes

One of the most famous castles in England is located in the midlands on the banks of the River Avon, an easy journey out of London from Marylebone station. What you see of this medieval castle now is certainly not how it looked when it was first built back in 1068 by one of the most notorious figures in British history, William the Conqueror. Originally, Warwick Castle was built out of wood with the purpose of keeping control of the midlands as William the Conqueror advanced into the north of England. It was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and saw several battles and wars fought around it, and was the site of King Edward IV’s imprisonment. 

Now, Warwick Castle is a major tourist attraction for all ages, offering tours inside and plenty of activities on the castle grounds that will take you right back to medieval times. Book your tickets in advance to save some cash and discover over 1,100 years of history at Warwick Castle near London.

4. Hever Castle

Get to Hever Castle from London Bridge by train: 40 minutes

Built in 1270, Hever Castle near London in the county of Kent was home to one of the most powerful families of the Tudor period: the Boleyns. In the 15th and 16th century, the Boleyn family occupied Hever and made it home, as Anne Boleyn grew up to be the Queen of England by talking her way into becoming King Henry VIII's second wife. This was where the Boleyn ownership took a downward turn, as it was later taken out of their hands and passed onto Anne of Cleves, another of the King’s six wives. From then, many wealthy families have taken ownership of Hever, but it was William Waldorf Astor that took time and money to transform the property into the beauty it holds today, being the one to construct the incredible gardens and lake within the castle grounds. Hever Castle is steeped in fascinating tales and a rich history and you can visit it from London in less than 40 minutes. Book your tickets in advance to guarantee your entry on the day.

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5. Blenheim Palace

Get to Blenheim Palace from London Marylebone by train: 1 hour 15 minutes

We know that castles and palaces are not the same things, however, Blenheim Palace well deserves a spot on this list if you’re looking for a day trip from London packed with history and beautiful architecture. Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site, beginning its time as a gift from Queen Anne to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill as a display of gratitude for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The palace was the very place where Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874 - you can even take a look inside the bedroom. Take an audio tour within the walls of the magnificent Blenheim Palace, exploring the wealth of stories from the rich ‘Upstairs’ and how it all worked behind the scenes ‘Downstairs’. 

There is so much to see at Blenheim Palace: the Churchill Exhibition, the Stables Exhibition, the palace state rooms, its stunning sensory garden and countryside walks within the palace grounds and beyond. This palace near London is a must-visit for a truly captivating experience of discovering more about British heritage.

6. Dover Castle

Get to Dover Castle from London St Pancras by train: 1 hour

Overlooking the English Channel by the port of Dover, this castle has a history dating back over 2,000 years. Put your walking shoes on because there is a lot to explore in this medieval corner of England, with a fair bit of uphill walking to reach sweeping views of Dover harbour and the sea once you reach the castle. Being on the southeastern coast, it’ll come as no surprise that this settlement has seen its fair share of wars and battles during its time. It’s thought that the first fort was built at this site in the Roman era, but what you can visit today was established by Henry II in the 1180s - the most advanced design for a castle in Europe for its time. In more recent years, Dover Castle was the headquarters during World War I and World War II, as the harbour became the base for the Royal Navy’s Dover Patrol in order to defend against German submarines and protect communications to and from the Army in France and Flanders.

On a visit to Dover Castle today, you can easily spend an entire day soaking up the endless stories it holds. Climb the Great Tower for brilliant views, discover what was once a medieval court and walk through the secret wartime tunnels - it really is a walk through history.

7. Leeds Castle

Get to Leeds Castle from London Victoria by train: 1 hour 10 minutes

Don’t be fooled by the name… Leeds Castle is near London, not Leeds, in the southeastern county of Kent. Surrounded by a serene lake, this castle has an incredibly rich history. From being a Norman stronghold to housing six medieval Queens to being Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s palace, there’s no doubt that Leeds Castle will fill you up on juicy stories from throughout history. Tour its majestic rooms and discover more in the Gatehouse Exhibition, which houses countless original artefacts throughout the castle’s time including its 300 years of royal ownership. With over 500 acres of greenery, you can stroll through the beautiful gardens, watch a falconry display and discover the surrounding wildlife on a charming circular walk through its countryside. Being such an easy train journey from London, this castle really is a fine display of English heritage.

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