Man the forts! The best castles within 90 minutes
Ready for a right royal day out? We've rounded up 12 of the coolest castles in Bucks, Oxon and beyond. Tiara at the ready, let's go!
Broughton Castle, Banbury
This beautiful moated and fortified manor house has belonged to the Fiennes family since 1447. It’s one of my favourite local castles – small enough to get around without boring young children, and there’s a lovely garden for them to bomb about in. You’ll need permission to park a picnic, plus you’ll need to wear a face mask to explore inside. Open Wed, Sun & Bank Holidays 2pm – 5pm. Adult tickets £10, children £6, under-5s go FREE).
Oxford Castle & Prison, central Oxford
It’s not often you find a castle slap bang in the middle of a city and Oxford’s one is a goodie with 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 for Afternoon Tea and cocktails.
Wallingford Castle, Wallingford
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.
Sudeley Castle, Glos Cotswolds
Located near Winchcombe, this majestic castle is a popular wedding venue which comes as no surprise – 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 historic exhibitions, 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. Booking essential. Adult tickets £12, child £5, under-3s go FREE.
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 grounds are both open (although you’ll have to wear a face mask inside) 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 Luna drive-in cinema is also popping up throughout August for twilight screenings against the stunning backdrop of the illuminated castle. Tickets from £20.
Windsor Castle, Berks
The Queen’s weekend hangout, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world – pretty impressive, right? Inside the castle 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 (every Thurs). Booking essential. Adult tickets £23.50, child £13.50, under 5s go FREE.
Kenilworth Castle, Warks
This impressive medieval fortress turned Elizabethan palace has loads to see within the castle grounds including the mighty Norman keep at the heart (above) and the fantastic views from the tower, 18 metres high, that was previously Queen Elizabeth’s bedchambers. Also worth mentioning are the beautifully restored Elizabethan gardens with their marble fountain, ornate aviary and pretty floral displays. The café is taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme if you fancy a bite after exploring. You have to pay to visit, unless you’re a member of English Heritage (£13.90 for adults, £8.40 for kids), but there are some lovely walks around the castle on public footpaths. Booking for the castle 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 – with rumours that Anne’s ghost still resides in the chambers. Aside from the spooks, the castle is pretty spectacular, filled with tapestries, antiques and an impressive collection of Tudor portraits. There’s also a 38-acre man-made lake with lovely vistas, nature walks and boat hire. Booking essential. Adult tickets from £15.55, child from £9.75, under-5s go FREE.
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. The heritage site is now open to visitors from 10am – 6pm.
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 and now parts of the castle are open to explore. Race you to the top! Booking essential. Adult tickets from £10, child tickets £5.
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, Birds of Prey Centre, mini golf, pretty gardens and restaurant. From 10 August, the castle itself will reopen, plus falconry displays will resume from 17 August. Tickets are on the pricier side (adult £27, child £18.50), but you’ll be able to visit again as many times as you want in the next 15 months. Booking essential.
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.