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Top 5: Castles to Visit in Southern England

The South of England is dotted with castles big and small. From pretty stately homes to imposing strongholds, these architectural archives reflect the country's military and social history. While many of England's castles have been reduced to picturesque ruins, these five Southern historical structures are still standing tall – and are all well worth a visit.

Leeds Castle
 
One of the most visited historic buildings in Britain, Kent’s Leeds Castle is a picture-perfect venue set within huge grounds, making it a great destination for a day out packed with history, heritage and picnicking. The castle was a royal residence for over 300 years, and was used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon in the 16th century. These days, Leeds Castle hosts a variety of events throughout the year including open air theatre, concerts, talks and charity fundraisers, not forgetting their popular falconry displays which take place every day from April to September. During your visit you can also go punting on the moat and explore the attractive formal maze – in the centre you'll find a bizarre underground grotto that kids will love exploring. Before you leave, take a scenic walk through the landscaped gardens and peaceful woodland to soak up the natural charm of the grounds.


(c) Dave Pearce 
 
Leeds Castle is located near Maidstone in Kent. It is open almost every day of the year, with a handful of exceptions.
 
 
Arundel Castle
 
Looming over the quiet town of Arundel is the impressive medieval bulk of Arundel Castle. The motte and gatehouse are both nearly 1,000 years old, with the rest of the castle built and added to over the centuries. The building was refurbished and restored at the end of the 19th century by Henry, 15th Duke of Norfolk, becoming one of the first English country houses to be fitted with electric light and central heating. There is a lot to see both in and outside the castle, so make sure you set aside plenty of time for your visit – half a day at the very least. The library, with its book-lined walls and sumptuous furniture, is a particularly lovely room. The gardens rival the castle for formal beauty, so you will want to set aside a few hours to wander among the flowerbeds and garden walks.


(c) Chris Parfitt

Arundel Castle is in Arundel in West Sussex. Arundel Castle is open Tuesdays-Sundays from April to October.
 

Windsor Castle
 
The oldest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor has been the family home of the British monarchy for almost a millennium, since William the Conqueror himself chose the site for the castle. It is currently the Queen’s official residence. Happily, this doesn’t prevent many areas of the castle being opened to the public, including the State Apartments, the gorgeous gothic St George's Chapel, and the iconic Round Tower. Decorated with the overwhelming splendor you would expect from a royal residence, the castle offers an insight into how the other half have lived throughout the centuries. And if the furniture and decorations aren’t enough of a feast for the eyes, Windsor is home to an impressive collection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto.
 

(c) Diamond Geezer

Windsor Castle is in Windsor in Berkshire. It is open to visitors every day except 25 and 26 December, although can be closed on short notice for State events.
 
 
Hever Castle
 
One of the most picturesque castles in England, Hever is closer to a grand country house than a defensive stronghold. Set within an unusual square moat, the castle itself is very small with charming rooms restored in 1905 to reflect the Elizabethan and Tudor history of the building. The sumptuous walnut-paneled Inner Hall is particularly attractive. In the grounds, children will have a great time in the eccentric 'water maze'. Garden enthusiasts will have their heads turned by the grounds, which contain magnificent formal gardens and wild parkland, as well as an expansive lake.

 
(c) Katharine Hunter 

Hever Castle is in Hever, near Edenbridge in Kent. Hever Castle is open daily April-October, with limited opening times over the winter.
 

St. Michael's Mount
 
The tidal island of St. Michael's Mount is famous for good reason. This magical little island off the coast of Cornwall by Marazion boasts both gorgeous coastal scenery and a village rich in history and myth. Approach the island at low tide to walk across the famous causeway, or take a short ferry ride if the walkway is underwater. Steep cobbled streets lead up to the castle, most of which is open for the public to visit during spring, summer and autumn. Explore the charming interiors, learn about the history of castle, village and island and make sure you leave plenty of time to admire the breathtaking views from the top of the mount.


(c) Andrew Bone
 
St Michael’s Mount is next to Marazion in Cornwall. The island and castle are open to visitors Sundays-Fridays throughout the year, dependent on weather and sea conditions.
 
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