Leeds Castle: The Loveliest Castle In The World
Leeds Castle is billed as the loveliest castle in the world and having seen many impressive castles in England in my time including Framlingham Castle in Suffolk where I grew up, I just had to see it for myself when we took a UK staycation in Kent.
I have always been interested in castles and their history. They have survived many hundreds of years, and have seen a thing or two in their time. Although Leeds Castle hasn’t seen as much military action as some of its neighbouring castles, it still has a rich and interesting history and is one of the best places to visit in Kent.
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Leeds Castle History
After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the French brought with them their French castle building expertise. The Manor of Esledes was built in 1086 on the site of the current castle by the half brother of William the Conqueror.
The first record of a stone castle on the site dates back to 1119, although there is not much left of this original building.
The oldest surviving part of the castle is the Norman Cellar. This is currently where you enter the castle.
Through the centuries the castle has been owned as a private property by several Kings and Queens of England. The most famous owner was King Henry VIII who used the castle with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The castle has been modified greatly by its owners but much of what you can see today is thanks to significant refurbishments made by King Henry VIII as well as the Jacobean Manor House built by Sir Richard Smythe in the 17th century.
Today, Leeds Castle is one of the most visited historic buildings in the UK.
Where is Leeds Castle?
You might wonder why it is necessary to explain where Leeds Castle is but a conversation I had with a friend prompted me to realise that some people might think Leeds Castle is in Leeds.
The castle is in Leeds in Kent, not in the more well-known Leeds in West Yorkshire. Who knew there were two Leeds in the UK?
How to get to Leeds Castle
Address: Leeds Castle, Broomfield Road, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1PL
It is about 25 miles from London to Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle lies just off Junction 8 of the M20 near Maidstone. The brown signs are easy to follow and the entrance is clearly marked. There is a very large car park in the grounds. Just be aware that if you arrive later in the day, you may have a bit of a walk before you even reach the main entrance.
If you are coming to Leeds Castle from London by train, take the Southeastern train from London Victoria to Bearsted station. The journey should take about one hour.
You will be able to hop on a shuttle bus at the station which runs from April to September and takes about 5 minutes. Note that Hollingbourne station is much closer, but there is no shuttle bus available.
Leeds Castle is a great option if you are looking for a day trip from London by train.
If you are looking to take a tour, here are a few options.
Leeds Castle opening times
The castle is open every day except for Christmas Day. Government guidelines may have affected opening times so please check on their website before your visit in case there are changes to the standard opening times.
April to September
Grounds and Gardens: 10am – 6pm
Castle: 10am – 4pm
October to March
Grounds and Gardens: 10am – 5pm
Castle: 10am – 4pm (currently closed)
Leeds Castle tickets
Leeds castle prices for adults are £28.00, children (4-15) are £19.50 (Under 4 are FREE). There are also family tickets available for £90.00.
You need to book your tickets in advance and book a time slot.
They have an amazing offer on at the moment whereby you pay the Leeds Castle entry fee for the day and can return as many times as you like for the next 15 months using the same ticket.
Given that you need to book a time slot, you might want to turn up a little early to give you time to reach the ticket office from the car park. Also allow a little time for queueing to get your wrist bands.
What is there to do at Leeds Castle?
You can visit the castle and grounds in half a day but you might find that you are rushing if you want to see everything. There is so much to do that you can spend a whole day at Leeds Castle.
Leeds Castle tour
Although there is plenty to keep you occupied outside of the castle, visiting the state rooms inside the castle is a must. Just in case you thought this might not be interesting for small kids, we can confirm it is a lot of fun for them with the special challenges (see below).
It is also educational and great if the kids are just learning about English kings and queens.
There are a few tour options available for your visit.
- Private guided tour – visit the castle outside of the normal opening hours on a private guided tour which lasts about one hour. This is subject to availability and must be booked in advance.
- Self-guided tour – take a wander around the castle at your leisure. There are information points along the way. This is included in the price of your ticket but a time slot must be booked.
- Audio tour – £3.25 or £3.00 if you pre-book. Audio guides are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian and Russian.
During Covid times there will be restrictions on the number of visitors allowed, especially inside the castle. If you have missed out on booking a time slot to visit the inside of the castle, try speaking to one of the warders at the entrance to the castle and see if they have any spaces left.
The tour is self-guided. To make it more interesting for the kids, there is a Hidden Henry game. In each of the rooms you need to spot the tiny figures of King Henry VIII. If you look very closely next to the painting of King Henry VIII below, you will see one of them. There are 25 to find. We won’t spoil it by giving away any more locations. Some of them are quite tricky to find.
Leeds Castle Gardens
The grounds and gardens at Leeds Castle are huge and very impressive. You will find lots to do in the 500 acres. There are several distinct areas in the gardens, including the Princess Alexandra Garden which you will walk through on your first approach to the castle, a Mediterranean garden and a former kitchen garden.
Leeds Castle maze
The castle maze is a fun thing to do and is normally quite a challenge, but during Covid times there are signs showing the way to ensure people follow a one way route. There is an underground grotto at the center with mythical beasts which then leads you out of the maze.
We visited at Halloween so they had hidden some creepy characters around the maze.
This is something that our kids really wanted to try. It is located just next to the maze and the play area so we were walking past it anyway. We didn’t have to queue long for it. Anyone aged 3+ can have a go and it costs £4.00 per person.
Children’s play areas
The playground at Leeds Castle is perhaps one of the most impressive playgrounds we have seen. The kids are begging us to take them back JUST for the playground!
Knights’ Stronghold – this is a huge wooden fortress modelled on Leeds Castle for kids aged 6 – 14 with ziplines. Our boys loved this and it was VERY hard to tear them away from it.
Squires’ Courtyard – designed for kids aged 6 and under. It is a smaller wooden play fortress with zip lines and sand pits.
Leeds Castle falconry centre is located next to the maze and is home to Hawks, Vultures, Falcons and Owls among other bird varieties and has regular falconry displays.
Go Ape Leeds Castle
Although Go Ape is not run by the castle, it is located in the grounds. If you have time left in your day and really want to give it a go, it’s for children 1m and over.
There is quite a lot of walking involved to get around the castle grounds. If you feel like taking a break, you can hop on Elsie the Castle Train, take a punt around the moat or catch the Black Swan Ferry Boat across the Great Water.
You can also hire Segway from £23 per person for 25 minutes.
Leeds Castle events
There is so much more to see than just the castle and grounds. Between the castle, the grounds and gardens and seasonal events, you can easily spend a whole day visiting. You can check on their website before booking your tickets to see if there is something special happening.
They usually put extra events on in the school holidays. Here are some of the most popular events held throughout the year.
Leeds Castle at Christmas
Christmas is a particularly lovely place to visit at Christmas. There is usually a fabulous Christmas market as well as other festive events for the whole family. It’s also a great place to see Santa.
There are some lovely Halloween events at the castle, especially over the October half term. keep an eye on their site closer to the time to see what they have on.
Leeds Castle concert
Held in July, watch an open air concert performed by the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra
During the summer there are usually jousting tournaments. More details will appear on their website nearer the time.
There is usually a firework spectacular at New Year
There are plenty of dining options available at the castle from a sit-down restaurant to cafés and food kiosks. You can even treat yourself to Afternoon Tea at the castle which is served in one of the beautiful state rooms.
There are also three main sets of toilets that are evenly spaced through the grounds and another smaller facility just after you cross over the drawbridge into the castle.
During Covid times there are hand sanitiser stations all over the grounds.
Leeds Castle accommodation
Always fancied staying at a castle? If so, you’ll be pleased to know you can stay at Leeds Castle.
As well as the holiday cottages in the grounds, there are bed & breakfast options and you can also try out the glamping tents in the summer months. See here for more details on Leeds Castle glamping.
Weir Cottage – 1 bedroom cottage
The Oast – 2 bedroom cottage
Keeper’s House – 5 bedroom holiday home
Battel Hall – 5 bedroom holiday home
Guard’s House – 3 bedroom cottage
Knight’s Cottage – 3 bedroom cottage
Bed & Breakfast
Stable Courtyard – various rooms sleeping from 1 – 4 people
Other Kent Castles to visit
There are 30 castles in Kent and most of them are in a fabulous state of repair. Some of the ones that we recommend if you are looking for more castles to visit are:
- Hever Castle
- Bodium Castle
- Dover Castle
So – is Leeds Castle the loveliest castle in the world? I can’t decide but we really enjoyed our day there and will go back for another visit to try some of the things we missed.