Man the forts! The best castles within 90 minutes
Ready for a right royal day out over half term? We've rounded up 10 of the coolest castles in Leicestershire and Rutland and beyond that are open to visit. Tiara at the ready, let's go!
Oakham Castle, Rutland
Oakham Castle is a brilliant example of Norman architecture built between 1180 and 1190. Today, the castle can be visited and there’s usually a tonne of events that go on throughout the year and it’s also makes a stunning wedding venue. Inside, marvel at the unique collection of over 230 ornate ceremonial horseshoes, 12th century sculptures and the six stone musicians made using local stone from Clipsham. Open Wed, Fri and Sat 10am – 1pm.
Rockingham Castle, Market Harborough
A big fan of Disney’s Robin Hood, my son loves visiting this castle. William the Conqueror ordered it to be built, Richard the Lion Heart visited many times and apparently King John’s crown jewels are buried here – even the great Charles Dickens has stayed here. Don’t miss the castle gardens – 18 acres of gardens largely following the foot print of the medieval castle especially the vast 400 year old “Elephant Hedge.” Castle tours are taking place. Open Tues and Weds from 10.30am. Adult £7.50, Children £3.50, Family (2 adults & 2 children) £15.00. Castle tours extra.
Ashby Castle, Ashby de la Zouch
What began as as a manor house in the 12th century turned into a beautiful castle. Owned once by Lord Hastings, learn more about the castle’s colourful history and climb the Hastings Tower to enjoy the views from the top. Don’t miss the underground passage between the tower and the kitchen. Open Weds- Sun. Adult £6.90, children 5-17 yrs £4.10, family £17.90.
Belvoir Castle, Grantham
The ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, the castle’s turrets and towers rise over the Vale of Belvoir with marvellous views. Four castles have stood on this spot since 1067, and it’s a pretty perfect location for a fortified castle. Looking over the battlements from the North Terrace of the current Castle, you can see Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, and on a clear day, you can even see Lincoln Cathedral. Psst, did you know, the name Belvoir – meaning ‘beautiful view’ in French, and is actually pronounced ‘beaver’ not as posh as you thought – right? Read my review here. Open Tues- Sun from 11am. Adult £14 and children £7.
Lincoln Castle, Lincoln
Walk the full circumference of the castle’s stone curtain wall – an impressive third of a mile long. Take in views across the city and surrounding countryside. There’s also towers and dungeons to explore and lose yourself in and don’t miss the rooftop where public hangings took place and the eerie Victorian Prison. Adults £14 and kids £7.50 and under 5’s free or you can just book tickets for the Medieval Walk which are slightly cheaper.
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.
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.
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.