Coastal Kent and Sussex were England’s most vulnerable counties to attack from those overseas for hundreds of years, so it’s probably no surprise for you to hear that both counties have more than their fair share of castles and fortresses.
Whether they were built during the Norman Conquest of the 11th century or the relatively recent World War II conflict, these castles have stood the test of time.
Also having stood the test of time are many of the forts built in this part of England to house members of royalty, as well as the rich and the famous of the time, which are still as spectacular today as they were hundreds of years ago.
So to celebrate the best ones, here is my short guide to the best forts and castles of Kent and Sussex that you can visit on a trip to this beautiful part of the UK…
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#1 Dover Castle
Dominating a hilltop high above the town of Dover with views across the English Channel, Dover Castle has protected the country for nearly 2,000 years against invasion.
The castle was certainly built to last with features that include impenetrable walls, huge towers and a network of tunnels and rooms that honeycomb the hill below.
As a visitor, you can investigate the once-secret wartime warrens and an underground (former) hospital, which provide a brilliant air of mystery to this great castle.
There have been fortifications at Dover Castle’s strategic location since the Romans, followed by William the Conqueror, and later Henry II.
The first of the largescale walls were built in the 13th century and put to the test during a series of fierce sieges.
Most of the fortifications that can be seen today were then added during the Napoleonic Wars of the 18th century and World War II.
The castle last saw extensive military activity during the mid-20th century during the Cold War through which Dover Castle was used by the government as a strategical backdrop for nuclear attack survival drills.
Nowadays Dover Castle is managed by English Heritage.
For visitors, there are two types of tour that you could embark on – a self-guided one, and the partially self-guided Operation Dynamo tour.
On both tours you will encounter actors that are dressed in period-appropriate dress to help evoke the past glories at the castle.
You can also embark on a fully guided tour of the underground hospital which also houses permanent and touring exhibitions showcasing artefacts from the fort’s history.
If you are planning to take a day trip to Dover Castle there are two cafes onsite and a restaurant in the old NAAFI.
If you have small children in tow, there are over 80 acres of grounds to explore and play within, as well as a few play areas and an adventure playground.
During the summer, you can sit on one of the lawns and enjoy an ice cream from the parlour.
For more information on tours, opening times and entry prices visit Dover Castle’s website.
#2 Hever Castle
Hever Castle is the former home of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn: second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I.
Henry is known to have courted Anne here after meeting her under the gnarly yew tree at Ankerwycke near Windsor.
The ivy-gilded castle is a romantic old place and still stirs hearts as a visitor attraction to this day.
Artefacts on display at the castle include Henry VIII’s fabled lock, with which he used to lock himself into rooms wherever he slept for protection – guessing he had some issues!
The castle was home to the Boleyn family between 1462 and 1539, afterwards it was inherited by the royals and then given to Anne of Cleves (Henry’s fourth wife) as part settlement for the dissolution of their marriage.
In the 20th century, it was restored by William Waldorf Astor who went about adding an Italianate garden.
Today’s visitors can explore two mazes – the first of which is a 100-year-old yew tree maze, the second is a fabulously elaborate water maze and both are brilliant fun!
Hever Castle’s grounds are great for family day trips too, with a playground, boating lake and places to enjoy a picnic.
Throughout the year, the current owners of Hever Castle host a series of events for the public including Christmas fairs, jousting tournaments, and archery displays, all of which make particularly great times to take a trip there.
For more information on tours, opening times and entry prices visit Hever Castle’s website.
5 PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR KENT & SUSSEX
#1 Camera – Kent & Sussex are 2 of the most quintessential English places and travelling here with a good camera will help you preserve the memories. I highly recommend the mirrorless Sony A6000. Light, compact and robust, it’s the perfect travel companion.
#2 Walking Shoes – There’s going to be a lot of walking around all these castles, so good day shoes are a must. I love my New Balance trainers, which are town-friendly, good for short distances and super comfy.
#3 England Lonely Planet – A great travel aide to this country with tons of historical info, the England Lonely Planet will help you get the best from your time amongst the castles of this country.
#4 Waterproof Coat – Being England it can rain anytime and having my North Face lightweight, windproof and waterproof jacket when I visit Kent & Sussex therefore saved my life!
#5 Amazon Audible – Travelling down to Kent & Sussex often involves train travel, so having something to listen to while you enjoy the scenery rushing past is a must! I love Amazon Audible, which is the best audiobook service around.
#3 Leeds Castle
You’ll never forget the impact your first sight of Leeds Castle makes!
As you approach it down a driveway with thick tree cover, the woodlands open out suddenly to reveal the moated spectacle of this most graceful of follies.
With its honey-coloured stone and classical veneer this 900-year-old castle has aged beautifully.
Commanding lovely views of the surrounding parkland, Leeds Castle is truly one of England’s most handsome buildings.
Like Hever Castle, it was once home to one of Henry VIII’s unfortunate wives – his first, Catherine of Aragon – and has been a royal palace for five other queens of England since.
Parts of the castle date back to the early 12th century and have gone through many incarnations and many different owners.
Today, you can take a self-guided tour (and a great audio tour narrated from a servant’s point of view) as you visit fascinating displays of over 100 rare and unusual collars spanning five centuries on your way around… who doesn’t love a collar after all!
Set in the gatehouse, you will also find an interesting set of exhibitions that relate to the Battle of the Skies and another which showcases artefacts stored or found at Leeds Castle over the years.
On your visit, you can also witness a series of entertainment events like falconry displays or punting on the moat, as well as amble through some beautiful gardens including the Culpeper Gardens, the Wood Garden and The Lady Baillie Mediterranean Garden Terrace.
For more information on tours, opening times and entry prices visit Leeds Castle’s website.
#4 Stay in Your Own Castle
An English man and woman’s homes are their castles, so would could be more perfect for getting into this spirit of this country than by staying at one of the Sussex or Kent cottages offered by Bramley & Teal during your tour of the region?
With a location less than 2 hours from London, the coastal South East is a great place to explore and a great destination for those that want an escape to the sea, beaches and countryside.
And what better to experience it in all its quintessential glory than by a stay in a beautiful cottage?
Sure to make your time here more than memorable, this is one of those unique travel opps you just can’t pass up!
And here are my other top picks when it comes to other castles in Kent and Sussex you can explore…
- Bodiam Castle
- Herstmonceaux Castle
- Rye Castle
- Rochester Castle
- Tonbridge Castle
- Walmer Castle
- Deal Castle
And there you have it, the unmissable English castles of Kent and Sussex.
Have you visited this gorgeous part of the UK?
Let me know what you got up to there in the comments below…