Man the forts! Royal castles in under 2hrs
Ready for a right royal day out? We've rounded up the coolest castles in Berkshire and beyond that are open for business. Tiara at the ready, let's go!
Highclere Castle, Newbury
The biggest star of Downton Abbey? No, Carson it’s not you or the Earl of Grantham’s labradors (they come a close second though) – Highclere Castle takes the crown. It was pretty famous before its TV and film debut, as the ancestral home of Howard Carter (5th Earl of Carnarvon) who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Now the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon open their home to coach loads of tourists who come to experience a bit of real life of Downton magic. Some may even nod enthusiastically at the “Capability” Brown gardens. Booking is essential. The gardens are open for Spring Afternoon Tea Picnic on 12 and 19 April. Adult tickets £84 for two. Guided tours resume from 18 May.
Sudeley Castle, Glos
Located near Winchcombe and reopening 12 April, it’s no surprise that this majestic castle is a popular wedding venue: the grounds are perfectly manicured and boast views of the rolling Cotswolds. (History nerds will also be interested to know that it’s the only private castle in England to have actual royalty buried within its grounds – Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.) There’s plenty to entertain for an afternoon with an adventure playground and 10 – yes 10! – award-winning gardens to explore. Extra points if you spot all 16 species of pheasants that strut around the grounds. The Castle’s reopening to the public is being celebrated with the appearance of a herd of life-sized elephant statues, which are making a gradual migration around the world, and head to London later in the summer. They’ll be available to see at Sudeley until 31 May. Booking essential. Adult tickets £12, child £5, under-3s go FREE.
Donnington Castle, Newbury
The striking twin-towered gatehouse of 14th century Donnington Castle, near Newbury, survives but that’s about it. Perched on a hill overlooking the Lambourn Valley, it’s a landmark that’ll entice the most reluctant walkers to put one foot in front of the other. Pack a picnic and enjoy the circular stomp takes in Snelsmore Common, woodland and the castle ruins (a bigger player in the Civil War) and rumour has it Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both stayed here. Free entry, parking £2.
Wallingford Castle, Oxon
The ruins of this major medieval castle, in the pretty market town of Wallingford, make for a gorgeous picnic spot. The castle grounds are bursting with colourful blooms (that have been recognised by the Britain in Bloom awards) and there’s an abundance of butterflies in the summertime. Open 8.30am – 7pm.
Warwick Castle, Warks
This spectacular castle just over the border is always a winner with Muddy and it’s very good at luring us back. The castle and knight’s village are both open from 12 April (although with limited access to some inside areas), and to keep the little people entertained there’s The Falconer’s Quest (the UK’s biggest birds of prey show) and the spooky castle dungeon. The castle is also introducing an exciting new 3D interactive trail, starring Julia Donaldson’s Zog the lovable dragon, available until 5 Sep. Tickets from £17.
Kenilworth Castle, Warks
Although the inside remains closed for now, this impressive medieval fortress-turned-Elizabethan-palace has loads to see within its grounds, including the mighty Norman keep at the heart (above). Also worth mentioning are the beautifully restored Elizabethan gardens with their marble fountain, ornate aviary and pretty floral displays. The café remains open for takeaway if you fancy a bite after exploring. You have to pay to visit, unless you’re a member of English Heritage (£12.60 for adults, £7.60 for kids), but there are some lovely walks around the castle on public footpaths. Booking in advance is essential.
Hever Castle, Kent
This 13th-century stunner and childhood home of Anne Boleyn has everything you’d want from a castle – towers, a moat, and a royal haunting thanks to rumours that Anne’s ghost still resides in the chambers. Inside the spectacular castle remains closed for now, but the gardens (including playgrounds and water maze) are open, with the café doing takeaway. The 38-acre man-made lake offers lovely vistas, nature walks, and even boat hire. Booking essential. Adult tickets from £15.55, child from £9.75, under-5s go FREE.
Arundel Castle, Sussex
Arundel Castle looks like something out of a storybook with its old motte perched high (100 feet to be exact) on an artificial mound overlooking the beautiful West Sussex countryside and the River Arun. The grounds are open to explore, though the castle’s interior won’t open until 18 May at the earliest. If you visit now, the gardens will be resplendent with one of the largest displays of tulips in the country, thanks to its annual Tulip Festival. The castle is also looking to host a Medieval event on 17-18 April, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Booking essential. Adult tickets from £12, child tickets £6
Leeds Castle, Kent
Perched on an island in the middle of the River Len, five miles southeast of Maidstone, this castle has a lot on offer for a jam-packed day including – deep breath – playgrounds, mini golf, pretty gardens, and takeaway kiosks. From 12 April, the Birds of Prey Centre, maze, and shops will reopen. The Castle and Castle View Restaurant will reopen on 17 May. Tickets are on the pricier side (adult £28, child £19.50), but you’ll be able to visit again as many times as you want in the next 15 months. Booking essential.
Berkhamsted Castle, Herts
Considering it was built during the Norman Conquest, way back in 1066, what remains of this timber motte-and-bailey castle is still pretty substantial (come on, use your imagination!) and a great option for a family walk peppered with history. Come for a walk around the ruins, and discover Berkhamsted’s history with their mobile-friendly interactive Castle guide. The heritage site is open to visitors from 10am – 6pm. Free entry.
Deddington Castle, Deddington
Okay, so this castle is slightly unusual in the fact there are no walls, brick, mortar – or even any ruins! Once the home of Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, what’s left of the site now is the impressive earthworks (up to 15 metres high in places), ideal for countryside rambles. After stretching your legs, head into the small, attractive town of Deddington for pretty dark honey-coloured architecture and plenty of foodie options. Open any reasonable time during daylight hours, with free entry.
Windsor Castle, Windsor
The Queen’s home from home, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Inside, you can see a collection of WWII pantomime pictures, painted as backdrop for the shows Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret performed to raise funds for troops at the front (they’re usually covered by portraits), or outside you can take a family tour of the Castle’s secret gardens nestled below the round tower. Book now for its reopening on 17 May. Adult tickets £23.50, child £13.50, under 5s go FREE.
Porchester Castle, Hants
Another great protector of the Solent, Portchester Castle was originally built in the late 3rd century, and is considered one of the most impressive ‘Saxon shore’ forts. King John was a regular here back in the 13th century and local gossips claim Pontius Pilate sought refuge here. Make the most of the wide open grounds and castle courtyard, and enjoy a family picnic surrounded by history. Reopens from 17 May. Adult tickets £7.90, child £4.20; under-5s go free.
Oxford Castle & Prison, Oxford, Oxon
It’s not often you find a castle slap-bang in the middle of a city and Oxford’s one, reopening 21 May, is a goodie. Think: guided character tours of the site taking in the historic Saxon St. George’s Tower with 360° panoramic views of the spires, the 18th-century debtors’ tower, and 900-year-old crypt. Oh yeah, and Malmaison is right on the doorstep, reopening 25 April for Afternoon Tea and cocktails.
Broughton Castle, Banbury, Oxon
This beautiful moated and fortified manor house, reopening 30 May, has belonged to the Fiennes family since 1447. It’s one of my favourite castles – small enough to get around without boring young children, and a lovely garden for them to bomb about in. You’ll need permission to park and picnic.
Calshot Castle, Hants
Constructed by Henry VIII to the keep out the pesky French and the Holy Roman Empire, Calshot Castle is an artillery fort that defends Southampton’s waters. But its defensive destiny has endured waaay beyond the 16th century. Calshot stepped into action again during the English Civil War, First and Second World Wars and now wants to welcome your with open arms rather than frighten you away. Will reopen this summer.
Want to stay closer to home? Don’t miss our Muddy-approved attractions on the Berkshire doorstep.