There are plenty of historic sights to see in London, from remnants of the Roman Wall to the Tower of London and, of course, Buckingham Palace. But, sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the city and have a good wander around a castle. And luckily, there are loads in the south east where you can walk halls once occupied by the Tudors, photograph ruins and ramble around ramparts. Here’s our short list of palaces and castles near London, all a short train (30mins – 2 hours) ride from central London.

Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

Photo by Getty Images / Royalty Free

If the machinations of Henry VIII’s court and Tudor history is your bag, you don’t have to go far to find out more about it. He brought all six of his wives to Hampton Court Palace, before cruelly deciding their fate. Later, it was occupied by Willliam III and Mary II and then a bunch of aristocrats moved in when the Georgian king and princes left in 1737. Queen Victoria opened it to the public in 1838, and it’s still an impressive site to wander around today. You can wander around Henry VIII’s great hall, take a peek at Tudor kitchens, visit the baroque palace (because what is a palace without another one built within it?) and explore beautiful grounds and gardens including the maze. Another one worth taking some time over, it’s pretty huge and the price of admission is £26.10.

  • Getting there:

    Approximately 35 from London Waterloo – Hampton Court
  • Train cost:
    £15.20 off peak return

Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex

Entrance to the Brick Herstmonceux castle in England
Brick Herstmonceux castle in England East Sussex 15th century UK | Photo by Getty Images / annamoskvina / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Along with neighbouring Kent, Sussex has no shortage of castles to visit. But if you’re feeling spoilt for choice, the beautiful, red bricked Herstmonceux Castle is a very good place to start. It’s also less likely to be busy as some of the better known castles in the area. Herstmonceux Castle is actually one of the UK’s biggest brick built castles, and it’s surrounded by a large moat. The castle was owned by the Fiennes family, rather than royalty, but the estate was briefly confiscated by Henry VIII after Sir Thomas Fiennes was hanged for murder (in a poaching incident gone horribly wrong). Ownership was restored to the Fiennes family during the reign of one of Henry VIII’s children.

Herstmonceux is not just a place of historical interest — it’s also a scientific hub, home to the The Observatory Science Centre, with an impressive telescope collection. The estate also has several beautiful gardens, and you can follow the season guide to check out when to see particular plants and flowers at their best. Entry ticket cost £8.00 for adults.

  • Getting there:

    Approx 2 hrs from central London, take the Train from London Victoria to Eastbourne, then Cuckmere Buses, No.49 to the castle
  • Train cost:
    £23.00 off peak return

Rochester Castle, Kent

Rochester Castle is the tallest surviving tower of its type in Europe. It stands very tall (77ft) overlooking the River Medway, and opposite the medieval Rochester Cathedral. Although technically a ruin, it’s one of the best preserved Norman Keeps in England, despite extensive destruction and rebuilding over the centuries. King John laid siege to Rochester Castle in 1215 using pig fat as an explosive, which caused the tower to collapse. Although there are no grand banqueting halls or parlours to look at, the ruined keep is incredibly atmospheric and great for photography.

It’s also featured in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and there are two Dickens festivals in the town each year in summer and at Christmas. Tickets are £7.70 for adults, £3.40 children (5-17 years) or £17.05 for joint entry to Eastgate House, a Grade I listed 16th and 17th Century townhouse.

  • Getting there:
    Approx 1 hr from Central London
    Train from St Pancras to Rochester (then a 10 minute walk along the high street or short taxi ride)
  • Train cost:
    £19.80 off peak return.

Colchester Castle, Essex

Ariel view of Colchester, one of the oldest Castles near London
Colchester Castle. The keep of the castle is mostly intact and is the largest example of its kind anywhere in Europe. | Photo by Getty Images / Aerial Essex / iStock Unreleased

Colchester is England’s oldest recorded town (and now City, as of 2022), and the former capital of Roman Britain. It’s also the scene of a failed uprising against the Romans led by Queen Boudica. Colchester Castle itself is the largest keep built by the Normans in the 1070s, and was built on the foundations of a Roman Temple. So it’s a good place to brush up these two very different periods in English history. There are plenty of interactive elements and daily tours that include a visit down to the 2,000 year old Roman Vaults and city views from the Castle roof. Take a wonder in the grounds once you’ve soaked up your fill of history and archaeology. Adult tickets are £12.50, £6.95 children.

  • Getting there:
    Approx 1 hr from central London
    Anglia train from Liverpool St to Colchester then a short walk
  • Train cost:
    £29.50 off peak return

Windsor Castle, Berkshire

Long walkway up to Windsor castle
Windsor Castle | Photo by

One of the closest, and probably the most famous castles to London is Windsor Castle. It’s also the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion, it’s still standing strong, although was partly restored after a fire in 1992. The Royal Standard flag flies above whenever the current monarch is in, but tourists flock to visit most days. Windsor is a good place for a day trip, but it’s worth allowing a decent amount of time to explore the castle including state apartments, Queen Mary’s dollhouse, and the semi-state room. As it’s a working palace, some parts might be closed to the public. So do check dates ahead plus book advance tickets saves you £2.00 off entry (so £28.00 vs £30.00 tickets on the day).

  • Getting there:
    Approx 1 hr from central London
    South Western train from Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverson
    Elizabeth Line to Slough then change for the train to Windsor & Eton Central
  • Train cost:
    Around £13.60 off peak return

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