London Day Trips: Best Castles and Palaces

Warwick Castle. Photo by Frommers.com Community
By Stephen Brewer & Donald Olson

Excuse us while we drag out those wise and oft-quoted words from Samuel Johnson yet again: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." Well, they're true. But a trip to London can include more diverse sights and scenery than you ever thought possible, and we've tried to capture the better options in Best Day Trips from London. In a small country such as England, historic castles, picture-perfect villages, ancient cathedrals, and unforgettable landscapes are often no more than an hour away-close enough for you to easily visit as part of your London itinerary. Here are eight palatial escapes worth the detour.

Photo Caption: Warwick Castle. Photo by detype/Frommers.com Community
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Blenheim Palace. Photo by Frommers.com Community
An easy 20-minute bus ride from Oxford, this enormous baroque palace was the birthplace and boyhood home of Sir Winston Churchill. The sheer size of Blenheim is stupefying, and its storied history is the stuff of legend. The castle is open daily from 9am to 6pm. The standard admission for an adult, all-access ticket is £24.90.

Photo Caption: Blenheim Palace. Photo by Florence.
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The Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Photo by Frommers.com Community
The Royal Pavilion in Brighton is one of the most flamboyant royal residences you'll ever see. Designed for the fun-loving prince regent (later George IV), who lived here with his mistress until 1827, it's an extravagant fantasy of turrets, minarets, and Chinese motifs. The opening times for the castle are daily from 10:00 am to 5:15pm. The standard adult admissions ticket costs £12.30.

Photo Caption: The Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Photo by Doug Johnson/Frommers.com Community.
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Dover Castle. Photo by Jake Keup
The so-called "Key to England," Dover Castle has stood guard over the English Channel since Roman times. The sprawling fortification atop the famous White Cliffs has an ancient lighthouse, medieval tunnels, and even a secret underground compound. The hours are daily from 10am to 6pm. The standard adult ticket costs £18.30.

Photo Caption: Dover Castle. Photo by Jake Keup/Flickr.com.
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The West Front entrance at Hampton Court Palace Photo by Hollenbeck Productions
Henry VIII nabbed Hampton Court from its builder, Cardinal Wolsey, and turned it into a royal residence, which it remained until 1737. This enormous palace is glorious fun to explore, with rooms and kitchens dating back to Henry's Tudor times and separate suites designed by Christopher Wren for William and Mary in the early 18th century. The hours for the castle are from 10am to 6pm daily. The adult all inclusive ticket for the Spring/Summer/Fall is £19.80 online. The tickets for Winter is £17.10 online. 

Photo Caption: The West Front entrance at Hampton Court Palace.
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Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Photo by neiljs
This vision of crenellations and turrets, surrounded by a moat, fits anyone's notion of what a medieval castle should look like. The fact that Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII, grew up at Hever gives the place historical clout, and former tenant William Waldorf Astor, the American millionaire, added acres of luxurious gardens. The castle is open daily from 10:30 am to 6 pm. The standard adult ticket will cost £15.50 online.

Photo Caption: Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Photo by neiljs/Flickr.com.
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Knole boasts a courtyard for every day of the week. Photo by exfordy
Knole is officially a "house" rather than a "palace," but with 365 rooms and a courtyard for every day of the week, we think this 15th-century treasure qualifies as the latter. As you explore rooms filled with rare furnishings, textiles, and fine paintings, you'll see why Virginia Woolf, who set her novel Orlando here, described Knole as a "town rather than a house." The opening hours for different parts of the house may vary, however, free flow visits are from 12pm to 4pm. The standard adult admission ticket for the tower and showrooms is £10.30.


Photo Caption: Knole boasts a courtyard for every day of the week. Photo by exfordy/Flickr.com
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Warwick Castle. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Thousand-year-old Warwick Castle, easily accessible from Stratford-upon-Avon, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in England. It features lavishly furnished rooms peopled with historic figures created by the wax experts at Madame Tussauds, plus a real dungeon and lots of side attractions. The castle is open year round from 10 am to 5pm everyday except Christmas day. Standard adult admissions will cost £18.50 if you book the tickets at least 5 days ahead.

Photo Caption: Warwick Castle. Photo by shel003/Frommers.com Community.
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St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle Photo by Naomi Kraus
You've no doubt heard of Windsor Castle -- it's one of the queen's royal residences. Now about 900 years old, Windsor is the largest inhabited castle in the world and has its own Changing of the Guard ceremony. On a self-guided tour of the State Apartments, you can visit the intimate chambers of Charles II and the enormous Waterloo Chamber, built to commemorate the victory over Napoleon in 1815. The castle is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM. The standard admission ticket for an adult is £20.00.

Photo Caption: St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
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