Over the centuries, the southeast coast has been the invader’s gateway to Britain. As the closest point to mainland Europe, it’s witnessed some of the most important moments in this countryʼs history and lays claim to having some of the most famous castles in England.
These iconic monuments have been the home to powerful kings, famous dukes, wealthy aristocrats and military commanders, each leaving behind their own indelible legacy. From dramatic clifftop ruins, to majestic moat-surrounded forts, the following five castles are a must-visit along this history-filled stretch of coast.
1. Dover Castle
If you only decide to visit one castle, make it Dover Castle. Perched atop the White Cliffs of the Kentish coast, this medieval castle dates back to the 11th century and features enormous ramparts and ditches that are believed to have originated in an Iron Age hillfort. Through the ages, it’s been of huge strategic importance – guarding the English coastline for 20 centuries.
Step back in time and explore the lavish rooms of the Great Tower, home to Henry II’s medieval court. Learn about royal life through interactive exhibits and games, meet a cast of costumed characters, and take the seat of regal power in the Throne Room.
Visitors can also wander deep within Dover’s White Cliffs to explore the secret tunnels used during World War Two. Here, atmospheric recreations bring back to life the story of the Dunkirk evacuation, complete with real film footage, recordings and vivid special effects – including projections of swooping Spitfires.
2. Leeds Castle
Described as “the loveliest castle in the world”, the 900-year old Leeds Castle is undeniably one of the most famous castles in England. Set amid 500 acres of gorgeous parkland and landscaped gardens, it straddles two islands on a magnificent moat.
Through the centuries, Leeds Castle has been a Norman stronghold, a royal residence, and a royal palace. Its most famous occupant is arguably Henry VIII, who ordered a major renovation from 1517 to make the castle more comfortable for himself and first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Today, visitors from around the world visit this stunning castle to soak up the history and explore its beautiful grounds, encompassing a maze, vineyard, aviaries, and parkland wildlife. Daily activities and events include falconry demonstrations and punting on the moat, while the world-famous Dog Collar Collection offers a fascinating insight into how dog owners have spoiled their pets for over 500 years.
3. Walmer Castle
From the Duke of Wellington to the Queen Mother, the illustrious Walmer Castle has been the residence of many famous names in English history. Set on the picturesque Kent coastline, this famous English castle boasts sweeping sea views and was originally built in the 16th century as part of a chain of coastal artillery forts.
One of the big attractions here is getting to learn more about the Duke of Wellington’s life. Along with the armchair in which he died, you’ll get to see a pair of original Wellington boots! Head outside to take in the beauty of the castle’s glorious 8-acre gardens and woodland.
4. Hever Castle
The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the charming Hever Castle is a beautiful double-moated castle dating back to the 13th century. You’ll need to walk across a drawbridge to reach the castle, before passing under two portcullis that lead into an inner courtyard.
Its elegant rooms are filled with antique furniture, original tapestries, Tudor paintings, and Anne Boleyn’s prayer books — signed in her own handwriting.
Save time to admire the castle’s award-winning gardens – sprawled across 125 acres. Breath in the scented air of the pretty rose gardens (with over 4,000 rose bushes!), enjoy boating on the glittering 38-acre lake, and stroll beside the iconic Pompeian Wall – located in the Italian Garden.
Bringing the kids? They’ll love the children’s playground, miniature model houses, archery sessions, jousting, and heading off for adventures inside the 100-year old Yew Maze.
5. Hastings Castle
Offering a dramatic clifftop setting, Hastings Castle was built under the order of William the Conquerer when he landed in England in 1066.
Converted into a tourist attraction in 1951, Britain’s first ever Norman castle now offers an array of family-friendly interactive exhibits and experiences. Watch a fantastic 20-minute video to learn about the legendary Battle of Hastings, explore the remains of the chapel and the famous whispering dungeon, and watch the kids play being medieval knights among the castle ruins.
Be sure to visit the atmospheric Smugglers Adventure Experience. Here, notorious smuggler Hairy Jack leads visitors through a labyrinth of underground tunnels and secret passageways, with a cast of pirates, smugglers and bootleggers lying in wait.
Discover Famous Castles in England
When you book a stay with us at Beside The Sea, you’ll find yourself surrounded by enthralling medieval history, and some of the most famous castles in England. Learn about centuries of English royalty, dramatic military battles, and explore some of the most picture-perfect gardens in the country.
Feeling inspired to visit? Book from our range of rentals today.