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Explore the king of the castles in Essex and beyond

For a family day out full of history and heritage, hit one of the many castles and crumbling keeps that punctuate the rolling hills of the Eastern counties.

(Wo)man the fort! Here’ are nine of the coolest castles for a right royal day out. Tiaras at the ready, ladies…

Hedingham Castle, Essex 

This castle is an iconic medieval fortress in Halstead, Essex, and it’s Great Tower is a thing of beauty. There’s a lot to discover so you can make a day of it, with everything from dungeons and towers to tree trails and wooded glades for picnics. Keep an eye out for all the events that take place here throughout the year, too. Open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 4pm.

Framlingham Castle, Suffolk

best castles in Suffolk

You’ll need a head for heights for this castle because the main attraction is a wall walk along the towering walls with stunning views across the Suffolk countryside. Framlingham is one of the best castles in the country and there’s a lot of history to discover – including the fact that Mary Tudor was crowned Queen of England here. It’s great for kids with a summer explorer quest to complete, plus there’s a cafe, shop and dog son leads can even join you. Booking essential. 

Norwich Castle, Norfolk

best castles - norwich

If you’re heading north for a shop up in Norwich make time for a stop at the city’s impressive castle, built by the Normans as a Royal Palace over 900 years ago. Today, it’s a museum and art gallery full of fascinating ancient objects. There are also tours to be taken of the dungeons, keep, battlements and the Victorian courthouse. There’s a cafe and shop, plus you can take you own picnic. The castle is currently closed due to Covid-19, so keep an eye on the website for updates on when you can visit.

Mountfitchet Castle, Essex 

Mountfitchet castle

The kids will absolutely love visiting Mountfitchet near Stansted. It is the only medieval castle and Norman village reconstructed on its original site in the world and you can step back in time and feel exactly what life was like hundreds of years ago in Domesday England. There’s a whole village to explore, and you can go inside the little houses with their log fires and roaming livestock. There’s also a toy museum on site, which has the largest collection of toys in the world apparently. Open everyday from 10am. 

Castle Rising, Norfolk 

Castle rising

Norfolk is also home to Castle Rising, which as the name suggests is atop a very steep hill, that is perfect for rolling down! It is one of the largest and best preserved medieval keeps in the country and is surrounded by 20 acres of amazing earthworks. You can go inside and see the lavishly decorated Great Hall as well as Queen Isabella’s apartments. Check website for up to date opening information. 

Rockingham Castle, Northants 

Rockingham Castle

This Norman castle was built under the instruction of William the Conqueror so you can imagine it’s steeped in history. It’s actually still a family house (nice for some!) and has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years so if in incredibly good nick. There’s a lovely tea room and the gardens are lovely to walk around, plus you can take a tour of the Servants Hall, The Street, Old Kitchen, The Great Hall, Naval Lobby, Panel Room and Long Gallery. Open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30am – 4:30pm.

Orford Castle, Suffolk

Orford castle

This jaunty little castle near the Suffolk coast is one of England’s most unusual and complete keeps. Because it is so intact you can explore everything from the basement right up to the roof, which has amazing views over Orford Ness. There are audio guides and the keep also houses lots of ancient artefacts as part of Orford Museum. Oh and there’s a shop for kids to spend their pocket money on tat/souvenirs. Booking essential. 

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. Open to visitors from 10am – 6pm.

Leeds Castle, Kent 

best castles in UK

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. The castle itself is now open, and falconry displays have resumed. 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.

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