Although London is home to a host of historical sites relating to the British royal family, there are some amazing castles just a short drive out of the city. Whether you’re on holiday in the capital or you live there, I think jumping in a car and discovering a bit more of the country’s heritage is a great way to spend a day.
Even if you don’t have your own transport, it’s easy to hire a car and go off on a journey of discovery around some of the UK’s top heritage attractions. I’ve put together a list of some of the castles within easy reach of London.
As its name suggests, Windsor Castle is located in Windsor, which is around a 45-minute drive from central London. It’s the world’s largest occupied enclave and is well known for being one of Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite weekend retreats and is somewhere she regularly hosts state visits.
Because the castle is still in use, you won’t have free reign to just wander around, but there are some fantastic state rooms open to the public. One of my personal favourites, though, is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – an amazing house that’s filled with miniature replica furniture created by some of the world’s top craftsmen, designers and artists. To give you an idea, the dolls’ dresses were created by the likes of the Cartier, Hermes and Vuitton fashion houses.
I think Dover Castle is worth visiting not only for its historical connections, but also for its location – it sits on the famous white cliffs looking over the English Channel. The castle is 800 years old and has seen numerous forces invade the British Isles, including the Normans and the Romans.
The history of this building is fascinating, with one of its most interesting features the subterranean tunnels that were constructed in the Napoleonic era. In World War II, a military hospital, an underground bunker and a highly secret command centre were all located beneath the enclave. You can take a tour of these during your day out.
It takes just over an hour and a half to drive here from central London, so it’s easy to reach if you’re staying in the city.
Deal Castle is a rather unusual looking structure located on the coast of Kent. It’s an exceptional example of a Tudor artillery castle that was built on the orders of Henry VIII, with a series of six rounded bastions positioned around a central tower.
It’s a great place to explore on a day out from London, as you’ll have access to the entire structure, from the storerooms to the captain’s residence. There are outstanding views from the top of the battlements, so try and make your trip on a sunny day. It takes around one hour and 45 minutes to drive to Deal Castle from the city, so it’s easily doable in a day.
Bodiam Castle might not be one of the most famous British fortresses, but it’s certainly one of the prettiest. This 14th century building is surrounded by a moat and looks as though it could have come straight out of the pages of a fairytale.
You can explore this National Trust property at your leisure – and if you’re planning a family day out the kids are bound to love seeing where knights once fired arrows from the battlements, the grand halls that hosted banquets and the stunning gardens that surround the enclave.
There are regular events hosted at Bodiam Castle, including falconry shows, jousting competitions and medieval re-enactments. I think it’s well worth to make the 1.5-hour drive from London to see one of the UK’s most stunning castles.