It would be very hard for me to name all my favourite castles and palaces in England. I am spoiled for choice here with so much history literally on my doorstep. It’s something I try never to take for granted. The little girl in me would never believe that she would have seen the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace five times or sipped champagne in the palace’s Bow Room after an evening tour. It still amazes me that I am literally minutes away from some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and that I can go and see it almost whenever I like.
So these are just a few of my favourite castles and palaces in England, all located either in or very close to London. It doesn’t really begin to scratch the surface but if you are planning a visit, it’s a great place to start.
Buckingham Palace is probably one of the first to come to mind when you think of castles and palaces in England and it really is not to be missed. Just the outside is spectacular enough but during August and September you can also take self guided audio tours of the beautiful State Rooms. The tours are timed and book up very early so do buy your tickets in advance. Special evening tours of the State Rooms are also offered at various times throughout the year. Friendly and knowledgeable guides take smaller groups through the palace, sharing anecdotes and allowing you a closer look at the furniture and paintings. I’ve attended three of these tours and they are well worth the price of admission.
If you have time, the Royal Mews and The Queen’s Gallery are just around the corner from the main part of Buckingham Palace and well worth a visit. Also don’t miss the Victoria Memorial outside and be sure to walk down the wide tree lined boulevard (The Mall) to Admiralty Arch. From here you can see Trafalgar Square -but be sure to turn around and check out the amazing view back up The Mall to Buckingham Palace before you visit the statue of Lord Nelson.
You can find out more about visiting Buckingham Palace here. The easiest way to get to Buckingham Palace is via London’s subway system (‘the underground’). Travel to Green Park on the Victoria Line, walk out of the station, across Green Park and through the black and gold Canada Gates. This brings you out right beside the Palace gates.
Home to George II, Queen Victoria, Diana, Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to name but a few, Kensington Palace has witnessed much of England’s history. However this is no stuffy historic installation. Recently refurbished, Kensington Palace makes history come alive with exhibits that take you into the heart of life at court. My favourite is Victoria Revealed, where you literally walk in the footsteps of Princess – and then Queen – Victoria, travelling through her life and reign.
Featuring a rotating programme of special exhibits, Kensington Palace is currently showing Fashion Rules, a collection of dresses from the wardrobes of HM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales. You can find out more about Kensington Palace and Victoria Revealed in this post.
Kensington Palace is a ten to fifteen minute walk from High Street Kensington underground station. High Street Kensington can be reached on the District and Circle underground lines.
Hampton Court Palace
Located 35 minutes from London’s Waterloo Station, Hampton Court is a treasure-trove of beautiful objects, history and intrigue. Costumed interpreters enhance the atmosphere and you may even find yourself fact to face with Henry VIII himself! There are also beautiful gardens and a Tudor kitchen to tour.
Windsor Castle is not just one of my favourites, The Queen herself makes no secret of the fact it is one of the homes she loves best. Located outside London, Windsor easily accessed by train or car – although the traffic can be quite heavy at times. Windsor is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world and there is so much to see here. From the beautiful grounds to the castle itself, Queen Mary’s doll house and St George’s Chapel, you could easily spend the best part of a day here.
A little further afield in the Berkshire countryside you will find the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle. Highclere has a wonderful history all its own but fans of Downton will not be disappointed as the Granthams have become very much a part of the place. You can also find out more about the women of Highclere and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who together with Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
I enjoyed a wonderful visit to Highclere last year. You can read more in this post. Unfortunately the tickets for 2014 are now sold out but keep an eye on the Highclere website later in the year for the release of 2015 tickets.
As I mentioned, these are only a few of my favourite castles and palaces in England. I’ve lived here for over twenty-five years and I’m still discovering many that are new to me – and that is before we get started on the amazing stately homes that are open to the public. It’s worth including a few of these wonderful places on any visit to our green and pleasant land – I know you will find many favourites of your own.
Do you have a favourite castle or palace in England?
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