When planning a visit to England there are some places that end up in most visitors must-visit list: in London probably the guard change in Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, a West End musical, London Bridge and Tower of London – maybe even the Portobello market, and London Zoo, if you are traveling with little ones. If there is time to venture outside London a castle – or few should definitely go on to that list.
I’ve been called a bit of a castle fanatic as our family is all time roaming around the country visiting a castle, country estate, gardens or some sort of ruins. We think it’s lot of fun – something that the whole family enjoys: there is normally some fun trails or worksheets for kids, playgrounds, wildlife to spot, and of course we try to enjoy a good traditional cream tea, especially on Sundays!
People have been often asking me what are good places to visit – now that obviously depends on whether you are on our first trip in England, a frequent visitor, or even local but just haven’t had time to explore around. As the visitors to Skimbaco Lifestyle come from all over the world, here are my top three tips for your very first visit to England:
1. Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire
This is the land of the Queen after all, and one just has to visit one of the Royal Palaces -and I think that Windsor is the grandest of them all. It is one of the oldest castles in Europe, as well as largest, so there is an endless amount of history written inside those thick stone walls! Windsor is just 23 miles from London and easily accessible by a bus or a train. You get to walk around the area, visit the grand state apartments and the Queen Mary’s Dollhouse – but the queueing time to the see the latter is always rather long.
Don’t forget the change of the guards, which takes place daily at 11 am at the Lower Ward. A practical tip about Windsor though: do check the website in advance as the castle is not always open and for special events – for example the famous Round Tower was open only from August to September this year. Buy your ticket also in advance so you can avoid the typical long queueing time to get in (up to an hour).
2. Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent
Leeds is about 40 miles from central London, accessed either by train, bus or by car by taking exit 8 on motorway M20. They call Leeds the loveliest castle in the world; it’s a picturesque moated castle, which is gracefully decorated inside and surrounded by beautiful and romantic gardens where white peacocks roam. The estate is large, and one can freely stroll around, take a Segway tour or so some lakeside bunting.
The estate also has a grotto, a maze, kids adventure playground, falconry, places to eat, lots of themed events and even hot air balloon rides – so definitely something for everyone. The youngest in the family love taking the little Elsie the Castle Train to the parking area. A visit to Leeds Castle becomes easily a full-day experience on a lazy Sunday, and can be extended in summertime with the glamping in knights tents – or year-round with a stay in the luxury cottages scattered around the estate!
3. Dover Castle in Dover, Kent
Dover is about 75 miles from central London, also accessed via train, bus or by car by taking the M20 highway and A20 main road. This is the largest castle in England and dates back to 12th century and Saxon times. The location is breathtaking by the White Cliffs of Dover.
You really should book a whole day for Dover Castle as there is so much to see from the richly furnished great tower where scenes from King Henry II’s medieval court life are played out, medieval tunnels, the church, walks around the battlement to secret wartime tunnels. And if you feel like staying longer in the region, book one of the refurbished holiday cottage on the edge of the castle hill.
And here comes my bonus tip: if you are looking for a lovely ruins of a castle, then head to East Sussex and Bodiam Castle. These are the prettiest ruins in England and just perfect for a little picnic and after-lunch stroll in the woods. Get your timing right and you could enjoy some old-fashioned jousting in the meadow next to the castle – a truly memorable experience!
Both Windsor Castle and Leeds Castle tickets are valid for a full year sos it’s worth visiting them again if you live nearby. Dover Castle is part of the English Heritage organization, and if you are planning to visit several of their destinations it certainly pays off to get a year’s membership. Bodiam Castle is part of the National Trust organization, and also here it pays off to get a year’s membership if you planning a larger tour of historic houses and castles.