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The Best Stately Homes in England You Can Visit

Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie, Marketing Executive
More by Alex

Historic Houses & Royal Residences

Many of England’s greatest novels find themselves amongst grand stately homes; Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Emma, and Wuthering Heights, to name a few. England is an ancient land dotted with many magnificent houses. Each manor house offers a unique history and fine historic collection. Whether you’re a history buff or an art lover, you prefer grand palaces or medieval castles; there’s something for everyone amidst the best stately homes in England.

Experience iconic London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Enjoy lesser-known gems such as Cliveden House and Belvoir Castle. Step back in time as you immerse yourself in beautiful gardens, grand architecture and rich history. Stately homes offer a peek behind the curtain into a glittering world of days gone by and unimaginable luxury.

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Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is an iconic English castle built by William the Conqueror (c.1028-87) in the 11th century. It remains the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle. Home to around 40 monarchs to date, the first resident monarch was Henry I (c.1068-1135).

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Following many additions, Windsor Castle is a large and imposing fortification today. Built around a central courtyard, several defensive stone towers stand proudly as you approach the castle. The closer you get, the more impressive Windsor appears. Savour the magnificent architecture wherever you look, paired with ancient defences.

Visiting Windsor Castle

Inside the castle, pick up an informative audio guide to unlock the secrets of Windsor. Staff are on hand at various locations around the site to answer any additional questions. Discover inspiring art, rich textiles and the intriguing Queen Marys Dolls House. Keep an eye on your watch to witness the Changing of the Guard, a ceremony dating back to the 1600s.

After you have explored Windsor’s stories, head out onto the estate. Here, you’ll discover St George’s Chapel, the final resting place of several British monarchs. This includes the infamous Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour, four King Georges and Elizabeth II. The Home Park also has charming parkland, the Royal Mausoleum and Frogmore House.

Windsor Castle is in Windsor, a historic market town west of London. Easily accessed in just over an hour on the tube from Kings Cross, this is a site that one can happily spend an entire day exploring. The castle is open all year round. Windsor remains a working castle – always check the website before visiting to avoid disappointment.

Tower of London

The Tower of London is unmissable within the urban landscape of central London. Did you know that it is the most secure castle in England? It has spent its 900-year history as a mix of prison and palace under an array of kings and queens. Another London landmark built by William the Conqueror, the Norman invader completed the central tower in the 1070s. William I designed the Tower as an intimidating monument to quash potential rebellions.

Henry III (1207-72) expanded the fortifications, as did his son, Edward I (1239 – 1307). They both added to the walls around the Tower, resulting in the concentric walls seen today. Henry III also painted the Tower of London, earning it the name still used today, the White Tower. Additionally, Edward I brought the Royal Mint to the Tower in the 1270s. It remained in this location until the early 1800s before moving across the road to Tower Hill.

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Today, the Tower of London is a popular tourist destination. Some unique elements help its popularity. The Crown Jewels are an incredible collection of gemstones and regalia still used by the Royal Family. The Crown Jewels have been in the Tower of London since the Coronation of King Charles II in 1661. A dazzling experience, the Tower Guard carefully protects the Crown Jewels. Working soldiers, the Tower Guard work alongside the Yeomen Warders, or Beefeaters, to protect the Tower. Henry VII founded the Yeomen Warders in the 1480s. All retired Armed Forces members, the Beefeaters perform a largely ceremonial role today, including tours for visitors. A Warder also holds the responsibility of Ravenmaster, responsible for the Tower ravens. The ravens are captive today but have not always been; legend states that the Tower and kingdom will fall should they leave.

What Is the Tower of London Famous for?

The reputation of the Tower of London is another draw. The site has a long history as a prison, and many have spent uncertain times here awaiting their fate. Famous names ‘sent to the tower’ include Anne Boleyn (c.1501-36) and Catherine Howard (1524-42), wives of Henry VIII (1491 – 1547), and Lady Jane Grey (1537-54, Queen 1553). All three were consequently beheaded. The Tower also hosted more mysterious murders, including Henry VI in 1471 and the Princes of the Tower in 1483. Many of the aforementioned names are said to haunt the site today.

You can find the Tower of London between Tower Bridge and London Bridge in central London. The nearest Underground station is Tower Hill. The Tower of London is open throughout the year and makes an excellent half-day adventure in the capital.

Cliveden House

Located west of London, just 10 km/6.3 miles north of Windsor Castle, sits the glittering sprawl of Cliveden House. George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, acquired the land on which Cliveden sits in the 1660s. The unusual name is the result of its position on a chalk cliff. Thirty years later, George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney and a notable soldier bought the duke’s house. Orkney installed many of the beautiful gardens still seen at Cliveden. He also removed the top floor of the house as he felt it was too tall. A fire destroyed the central block of Cliveden House in the 1790s. Shortly after the Duchess of Sutherland bought the house in 1849, another fire broke out. It was the duchess who rebuilt Cliveden as it stands today.

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Cliveden House is the home of many owners. It passed to America’s richest man, William Waldorf Astor, at the end of the 19th century. The site served as a military hospital during the 20th century. In 1942, the Astors donated Cliveden to the National Trust while continuing to live there. During this period, the house played host to the scandalous Profumo affair. Shortly afterwards, the Astors moved out, opening the house to visitors in 1966. Twenty years later, Cliveden House opened as a luxury hotel that continues to operate today.

Although Cliveden serves as a hotel, plenty remains to be enjoyed here. Spend time wandering 80 acres of formal gardens, including the Cliveden Maze. Enjoy Cliveden Reach, a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Thames. Also on the land is an ornate chapel and over 300 acres of woodland. Much of the charming grounds are accessible to visitors, with short tours inside Cliveden House during the summer.

Truly one of the best stately homes in England, the Cliveden Estate is open all year round. It is less than an hour’s drive from Reading and just over an hour from Oxford, the perfect stop on your way to or from London.

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Buckingham Palace

Undoubtedly the best-known stately home in England is Buckingham Palace. John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, commissioned the core of the palace, Buckingham House, in the early 1700s. Sheffield is not the be confused with the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who built Cliveden (above). This peerage has passed in and out of extinction since the 1400s. George III (1738 – 1820) bought the property in 1761 for his new wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744 – 1818). However, Buckingham Palace was not used as the London residence of a monarch until Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ascended the throne.

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The house has undergone several extensions since its initial construction. These renovations give Buckingham Palace the majestic appearance of today. A must-see for visitors to London, there is so much more to explore than the iconic view of the facade. The visitor experience provides lovely attention to detail. A visit to the State Rooms is one of fascinating history and magnificent architecture. Head outside to enjoy surprisingly extensive gardens, secluded from the hubbub of London just beyond the walls. Don’t miss the Royal Mews during your visit. Still a working stables today, they are responsible for road travel arrangements for the Royal Family. The Mews include the Gold State Coach, used in every coronation of a British monarch since 1831. Whether you go inside the Palace or not, enjoy the impressive Changing of the Guard, with soldiers in their iconic red coats and black bearskin hats.

Buckingham Palace is in central London. It is a short walk from many of the capital’s most recognisable landmarks. The nearest Underground stations are Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, Victoria and St James’ Park.

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Stourhead

Stourhead is the quintessential embodiment of the best stately homes in England, nestled amidst hundreds of acres of country estate. Henry Hoare I bought the earlier Stourton Manor on the site in 1717. He was the son of the founder of Hoare’s bank, today the oldest privately owned bank in the country. Twenty years later, Henry had replaced the house with a Palladian-style villa, Stourhead. Henry’s son installed many of the world-famous gardens that thrive here today. The 1780s saw fine wings added and the grandiose portico 50 years later. Like many of England’s finest houses, Stourhead passed to the National Trust in 1946. This ensured its safety and preservation for future generations.

Stourhead Gardens

Today, the house and gardens offer a wonderful day of adventure. Stourhead is a treasure trove of magnificent artwork and grand rooms to transport you to a time gone by. Yet, the true gem of Stourhead is the garden. Designed in the early 1700s to reveal new treasures with each passing season, the estate is alive with colour and hidden nooks to explore. Particular highlights include a generous smattering of follies. Excellent examples of this 18th-century trend include the Grotto and the Temple of Apollo.

Stourhead is located in Wiltshire and sits on the edge of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Just a 40 minute drive south of Bath, Stourhead also makes a lovely stop on the drive between London and Cornwall. On this route, the A303 passes the house and Stonehenge within Wiltshire. The house and gardens are open all year round, and the National Trust runs several events throughout the year.

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Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Malborough, received the site following his victory at the Battle of Blenheim (1704). Built over two decades, Blenheim is an early example of the English Romantic movement. Built on land leased from the monarchy, annual rent on the site today remains a replica of the captured French standard. Blenheim was saved from ruin at the end of the 19th century by marriage between the 9th Duke and Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American socialite.

What Is So Special About Blenheim Palace?

Today, Blenheim Palace is a charming place to visit. Beautiful gardens surround England’s only non-royal, non-episcopal palace. Visitors can tour several fine rooms, offering a glimpse of life inside these gilded walls. Blenheim offers interactive and engaging tours to suit all visitors. Head outside to discover picturesque parkland designed by the renowned Capability Brown in the 1760s. Offering charming walks and excursions by horse-drawn carriage, take the time to enjoy Blenheim’s fine gardens.

Blenheim Palace hosts several events throughout the year. The event calendar includes concerts, festivals, and a Christmas market. Alongside the palace’s history, architecture and natural beauty, there is something for everyone at this iconic English stately home.

Blenheim Palace is located in the western Cotswolds. A 16 km/10 mile drive north of Oxford, this is the perfect day trip from either charming location.

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Sandringham Estate

Sandringham is a vast and breathtakingly beautiful country estate in Norfolk. Beloved by Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022), Sandringham is an unusual royal residence; it is personally owned by the monarch rather than the Crown. It has been in the ownership of the monarchy since the mid-1800s when Edward VII (1841 – 1910) bought it. However, the stately home itself is older. Sandringham is a 1770s replacement of an earlier building.

Visiting Sandringham

As a private home of the Royal Family, Sandringham is not open all year. During the summer, you can enjoy visits through eight ground floor rooms. These charming rooms offer a step back into the private life of the Edwardian monarchy. Step outside to enjoy 60 acres of gardens. The formal gardens here show signs of every monarch since the 1860s. The Royal Parkland comprises a winding network of woodland trails.

Sandringham sits in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty across north Norfolk. From here, you can visit beautiful beaches, explore the charming town of King’s Lynn, or go birdwatching in the nearby RSPB reserves.

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Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle has a fascinating history spanning over 1,000 years and is among the best stately homes in England. The castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The War of the Roses (1455-87) destroyed much of the early castle and was replaced around 1500. Now on its fourth version, Belvoir Castle has been home to the Manners (the Duchy of Rutland since 1703) for over 500 years.

The current Duke and Duchess reside in the castle, and it is open to the public throughout the year. Volunteer guides run regular tours of the castle, which are well worth taking the time to enjoy. These tours, full of information and rich in character, reveal the castle’s fascinating history. Outside, there are seemingly endless gardens to enjoy. Explore formal gardens, the Japanese Woodland, and a recently rediscovered landscape designed by Capability Brown in 1780.

Where Is Belvoir Castle?

Technically in the Midlands, not the south, Belvoir is a 32 km/20 mile drive east of Nottingham, a city with strong ties to legendary Robin Hood. With plenty to do to fill a day, Belvoir Castle is a worthwhile stop on journeys between the north and south of the country. Alternatively, visit for more history from the Peak District National Park.

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Castle Howard

Castle Howard is an impressive stately home on the southern tip of the North York Moors National Park. Building work on the current house began in 1699. However, construction took around a century, leading to today’s unusual design. A mix of 18th-century architectural styles, Castle Howard is not a castle; the name comes from an earlier castle that stood on the site.

A fire in 1940 destroyed much of the original house. An unlikely saviour arrived forty years later – the TV series Brideshead Revisited. Castle Howard reprised its role in the 2008 film. The house has starred in other TV series, including Death Comes to Pemberley (2013), Victoria (2016-19) and Bridgerton (began 2020).

How to Visit Castle Howard

Castle Howard has been in the Howard family since the late 1500s, and at least eight generations have occupied the house. Still in residence, visitors can enjoy exploring this grand masterpiece during the summer. The house’s interior still shows signs of its past. It is not full of the elegant furniture and art you might expect but it remains an interesting visit. Guides are located throughout to provide further information. Head outside to explore a stunning landscape of parkland, lakes, and gardens.

One of the best stately homes in England, Castle Howard is a 30 minute drive north of the ancient city of York, perfect for a day trip. It is also accessible by bus from York.

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Alnwick Castle

Dating to the Norman period, Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family since the early 1300s. Still home to the Duke & Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK. Built in the 11th century, the first Percy at Alnwick replaced the wooden castle with a stone fortification. Over the centuries, the castle was enlarged and improved. Perched in northeast England, Alnwick played a vital role in the wars between England and Scotland, and in the War of the Roses. In the mid-18th century, the Percys remodelled a ruined Alnwick Castle. They replaced the fortifications with a more whimsical palace design to match the time’s fashion.

Alnwick Castle Highlights

Today, Alnwick Castle is open to the public during the summer months. Visitors can explore the castle’s rich history, from its early origins to its more recent role as a filming location. Alnwick has starred in Harry Potter (2001-10), Downton Abbey (first aired 2010) and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Visitors can enjoy discovering more about filming alongside magnificent rooms and a museum. A full day of adventure, enjoy falconry, archery and much more around the grounds.

Sandwiched between Northumberland National Park and the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Alnwick is a lovely example of a northern fortification. A half-hour drive south of Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, Alnwick Castle is a must to complete this trifecta of English history.

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Meet the Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie

Born in the Scottish Highlands, I was lucky enough to spend my early childhood playing on beautiful, sweeping beaches and learning to ski (or, more often, fall over). My father’s job kept us on the move though, and I was soon just as at home amidst the rolling Wiltshire downs, the dramatic Yorkshire Dales and the expansive East Anglian coast. I’ve had almost 40 bedrooms to date across the UK, so I’m your gal if you need a good cafe recommendation (almost) anywhere in the country; if I haven’t been there yet, you can be sure it’s on my trip list…

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