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England Castles Tour Itinerary review

I am planning a 7/8 day tour of some of England's castles in various locations for me and my husband in the month of September. We plan to fly into Heathrow from the US, taxi into London and rent a car after three days to continue. Any advice, critique, suggestions, etc. to the following itinerary would be appreciated:
Day 1 - London/Check into hotel
Day 2 - Explore Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace
Day 3 - Explore Tower of London and Buckingham Palace
Day 4 - Rent car; leave heading toward Hampton Court - stay 2 nights in Hildenborough
Day 5 - Explore Arundel Castle and Dover Castle
Day 6 - Leave Hildenborough to explore Leeds Castle and Rochester Castle, then head north to Warwickshire
to stay 2 nights
Day 7 - Explore Warick Castle, Kenilworth Castle and Whitefriar's Monastery
Day 8 - Return home

Posted by
13354 posts

Day 2 - Explore Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace

I don't think you have time for both of these. Windsor is some distance outside of London (it's closer to Heathrow airport) and doesn't open until 10:00 AM. I've 'done' the Castle twice and it took a good chunk of a day to do properly...or if you are very interested in castles, anyway. St George's Chapel alone is worth some quality time.

Last entrance at Kensington is at 15:00 (closes at 16:00) so I think it would be a bit of a push to get through the Castle, back to London and into Kensington in 5 hours. Of the two - and I've done Kensington as well - Windsor is by far the more interesting. We made a day it and enjoyed some time looking about the town as well.

Posted by
389 posts

Emma I was going to suggest ditching the Midlands and sticking to the South East! I think Rochester to Warwick in presumably late afternoon early evening will be a slog to get around the M25. Certainly don't try this on a Friday evening.

I'm also red flagging that you are planning to hire a car in central London and drive to Hampton Court. I would consider perhaps taking a train/tube out to Heathrow, renting your car there and then visiting Windsor Castle spend the night in Windsor. Do Hampton Court the next day and then continue on round to Arundle etc. There are other castles in th vicinity you could include such as Hever Castle, Penshurst Place and Whitstable Castle.

Posted by
2926 posts

I'm wondering whether your interest in castles centers on any particular century, or on the modern-day status of the castle (e.g., is it a ruin or does family still live in it, is it run by a theme park type of company, has it had major renovation(s) that change the architectural style). Clarifying these kinds of attributes might help you to identify which castles you most want to visit. There are so many to choose from, and with only 7/8 days for your entire trip you'd be lucky to see a dozen.

Posted by
5486 posts

You are going to struggle to see much of your itinerary.

Day 2 - you don’t have time for both places.

Why Hildenborough?

Day 5 is 6 hours or more in the car, assuming no traffic delays, which will leave you little time to explore any castles.

Day 6 - 4+ hours driving and in rush hour, could be 5-6 hours.

Posted by
13354 posts

Another note on Kensington? It's not a castle. Buckingham isn't either and isn't even particularly old, in the big picture. Hampton Court has its virtues due to its age but again, it wasn't built as nor is it classified as a castle. Doesn't matter a bit if you're wanting to get a look at some notable palaces/manor homes but if castles are your focus, you might want to take at least the first two off your list?

Posted by
3142 posts

It seems to me that most of your choices would be more quickly reached by train.

Edited: I totally agree that Dover castle is a must-see if you like castles.

Posted by
13 posts

I suppose we generalized using 'castle tour.' We basically want to visit several places and include notable castles. Our must-sees are: Windsor Castle
Tower of London
Hampton Court
Arundel Castle
Leeds Castle
Warwick Castle.
So, the remaining sites were hopefuls to be added to our itinerary. We chose Hidenborough because it's located between Arundel Castle and Dover Castle.
Thanks for the help!

Posted by
5333 posts

Warwick Castle will take minimum of half a day to see and if you stay for the shows, it will be almost a full day.
We planned to visit Arundel Castle, since one of my ancestors was from there, but the traffic in that part of England is slow. Not sure you will be able to do both Arundel and Dover Castles.

Posted by
842 posts

I think it's possible to do more of that itinerary by train, and avoid driving out of London itself. (I've been to all of them by train, but not all on the same trip). What time do you arrive in London? You could possibly do Kensington or Buckingham that day (can you even tour Buckingham at that time of year?). Hampton Court is a very easy day trip from London.

You could take the train to Rochester, see that castle and town (half a day is enough, the train from London to Rochester is less than an hour), then on to Dover (less than an hour and a half). See that castle and spend the night. Next day rent a car and drive to Leeds Castle and Arundel, spend the night around there. Then drive to Warwick. That might free up some time to include other castles. Bodiam is one that's been on my list for years but hard to get to by public transportation but in the general area you'll be in with a car.

Here are my England photos (which include a lot of castles):

Posted by
13 posts

With so many helpful responses, it looks like we will add taking the train to some of the sites and look at staying further southeast so we can include Dover Castle. We had not considered taking the train. I'm sure taking the train may be helpful and save some money and stress compared to driving. Thanks for the information on traffic and for sharing the awesome photos. We'll rework the itinerary and share it again.

Posted by
2904 posts

I would do your trip as follows.
You have a full agenda of things to see, so this will be a rather agressive itinerary.

Day 1. I am assuming you will be on a flight arriving very early morning into Heathrow. It will take a while to get checked through.
Take a taxi to Windsor. The cost is about 22 pounds.
If the castle is not open yet, walk around the very small town, maybe get a coffee in one of the cafes.
Windsor Castle has luggage storage in the cloakroom.
Tour the castle, including St George's Chapel where Prince Harry got married.

Taxi to Hampton Court. It's along the river not far from Windsor.
Taxi cost: about 22 pounds.
Hampton Court has storage lockers for bags.
Tour Hampton Court.

When you are finished, walk across the bridge to the railway station.
Use your Oyster card to travel into London.
This will bring you into Waterloo Station.
Exit, go to your hotel.

Many hotels are not ready for you early in the day, so there would be no point in getting to them before late afternoon or early evening anyhow.
This will be a busy day for you, but you need to get these 2 done.

Posted by
2904 posts

Day 2: Be at the Tower of London when it opens to avoid crowds.
Then use the rest of this day to London stuff, such as Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace, if you wish.

Day 3: Day trip to Hever Castle.
Check out the information on Hever Castle's web pages.
They have detailed instructions as to how to go there on a day trip from London.

From their website:
"By Rail:
Trains run from London Victoria and London Bridge (via Oxted or East Croydon) to Edenbridge Town Station, and then take a taxi for three miles to the castle. Relyon Taxis are near the station, telephone 01732 863800. We suggest that you book a taxi in advance.

Hever Station (next on line, unmanned and no taxis) is a one-mile rural walk to the castle. At this time of year the paths are rather muddy so we’d recommend you bring a torch and wellies! (Map of walk from station to castle). As you leave the platform you will also see another map on your left. This will guide you to Hever Castle, but you simply need to look out for red and white wooden posts. There are no regular bus services to Hever Castle."

Then back to London. Spend the night in London.

Day 4: Train to Rochester, see castle.
Train from there to Dover, see castle.
Train from Dover to Ashford, train change here, onward to Hollingbourne, which is walking distance to Leeds Castle.
See castle. Train back to London.

Trains are much faster than you could manage in a car.
And for the packed list you have, you will need "fast" transportation.

Trains don't get lost. People in cars do. And that wastes time.

Posted by
2904 posts

Here I will comment, that both Leeds and Hever castles have lodging for you, if you should want that.
Certainly if you decide to travel by car that would come in handy.

We like to travel by train in England.
We like to enjoy the great rail system they have there.
Such a change from the U.S. where we have a pitiful rail system comparatively speaking.
Where the rail system does not go in England, there is usually a bus (coach) to connect small towns.

Day 5: A day in London, to see the things you haven't already seen.

Day 6: Check out of your hotel, head for Victoria Station, for train to Arundel.
For purposes of doing a lot of day trips, choosing a hotel near Victoria Station in London would be smart.

Train to Arundel Castle.
From their website:
"There are regular trains throughout the day to Arundel station
(approximately 10 minutes walk to castle) from London Victoria"

Then train to Reading, onward to Oxford, onward to Warwick.
This should give you enough time to see Warwick Castle.
Check into a hotel in Warwick.
It's a charming town with lots of Tudor buildings, good cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Day 7: Train from Warwick to Royal Leamington Spa, change trains, north to Kenilworth Castle.
Whitefriar's Monastery would have to be a taxi ride from the castle to there.
Train from Coventry to Oxford, then possibly spend the night there.
Lovely town, lots of pubs and good restaurants.

Day 8: Bus from Oxford bus (coach) station to Heathrow airport bus (coach) station.
There is no train that goes directly from Oxford to Heathrow.
But there are buses,
and they are inexpensive.
(You want to avoid going back into London only to then have to take the train out again to Heathrow.)

You're done.

My two cents: You would never be able to get to all the places you are planning quickly by car in the time you have.
But the trains are very fast, and make it possible to achieve your itinerary.

If you had two weeks to see these things I would say you could do it in a car.
But you have a need for speed in your travels, and once the trains clear London, they move like lightning.

Posted by
2904 posts

You are welcome!

Our train expert, Nigel, is lurking around here somewhere. If he has any improvements on my suggested train routes, I am sure he will share them with you. I am just a tourist/traveler. Nigel is the expert.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
1221 posts

Just a couple suggestions. I like Rebecca's suggestion of Windsor first. In fact, I would consider staying the night there to help with jet lag. Then take the train to London the next day. In September Buckingham Palace should be open. I loved that tour, but be sure to book your tickets online as early as they open up the booking. Kensington is small. Be sure to see what the special exhibit will be when you are there. I saw one on Princess Margaret and Diana's actual dresses and really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed because the special exhibit at Buckingham had been the Queen's clothes through the years. My least favorite was Dover Castle, but only because it has been mainly a defense fortress, not necessarily a royal home. So, you might enjoy more than I. I, too, recommend Hever, but I am a huge Tudor fan. It was fun taking the train from Victoria and walking the public paths to Hever and I met many friendly sheep along the way. I really enjoyed Warwick because of the Madame Toussaud exhibit on family entertaining around the Edwardian era. Check to see if they still highlight that. The dungeons were fun, too.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks for the additional information @Laurie Beth! We are reworking the itinerary to include utilizing the rail system and buses. My husband likes the idea of not having to worry about driving. We are also considering adding Hever Castle as well.
I'm so glad I posted to this forum because all of the replies have be very helpful.

Posted by
1221 posts

If you are interested in staying the first night in Windsor, let me know and I can PM you a B & B suggestion.

Posted by
328 posts

I love castles, and have been to most of them in the South East.
Arundel and Dover - I don't think this is a good combination - it's well over 2 hours drive between them, and that depends on good traffic. My personal view is that Dover deserves a full day , but it is within an hour of Rochester, Leeds or Bodiam castles.

I would combine Arundel with Portchester castle- (the latter being one of my favourites, so I'm biased) - the two are about 30 miles apart - you could even add the Tudor fortifications around Portsmouth Harbour (Southsea castle, then the defensive walls and the "Round" and "Square" Towers).

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks @TimW. We have rearranged the itinerary to use one day to visit Dover since it's so far. So far, we have combined Arundel and Hever castle. So many interesting choices. Maybe we'll have to plan a return 'castle' visit.

Posted by
13 posts

However, with so many castles in the south east, is it worth the effort to stay in the south instead of being centrally located in London (near Victoria)? One concern would be travel since we may have nixed the idea of renting a car. Is it easy to get around in the south using public transportation? I know it would require a little more research to determine the station names and locations in relation to accommodations.

Posted by
27480 posts

There are lots of trains and plenty of train stations in the Southeast. Although some go east/west, most originate in one of the London stations and radiate down from London like spokes in a wheel.

With a bit of planning it can be done. Just be careful about places that are relatively close but have stations on nearby or parallel lines. You may find that you have to go quite a long way before the two lines meet and you can backtrack. That can be both wasted money and wasted time.

The old London Connections map can make a bit of sense of it but not all stations are listed. For nearby London with accurate physical connections try (the 5 years out of date so some train operator names have changed by the stations and lines haven't moved)

Up to date (December 2018), and with the correct company names, and easy to read, with all stations in the region on the map and with an index, but not geographically accurate - but great for planning - is

Posted by
1311 posts

If it would work in your itinerary, I suggest you stay overnight at Leeds castle. It is a nice stay and at a very reasonable cost.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks for the tip on staying overnight at Leeds Castle @Bob. It appears the overnight stay includes entrance to the castle and grounds. Score!!

Posted by
13 posts

We finally decided on a do-able itinerary making use of the trains in England. Please feel free to comment.
We plan to book our rooms and train tickets early and hopefully we can get the times needed to make this all happen. We are hoping there is enough flexibility and I'm sure I will need to contact the castles for accommodation information ahead of time.
Planning an early arrival flight and allowing ample time to finish at the airport on Day 1:
Day 1: Take bus to Windsor Castle & Hampton Court; From Hampton Court, travel to our hotel in London;
Day 2: Take bus to Tower of London and later to Kensington Palace, by bus return to hotel
Day 3: Check out of hotel in London; catch train to Arundel Castle, tour Arundel and leave for Hever Castle, tour and stay the night at Hever
Day 4: Head to Dover Castle by train; tour Dover and leave for Leeds Castle, tour and stay the night at Leeds
Day 5: Head to Rochester Castle by train; tour Rochester Castle and return to Leeds for the night
Day 6: Head to Warwick Castle via train; tour Warwick Castle and check into hotel in Warwick
Day 7: Take bus to Kenilworth Castle; tour Kenilworth Castle; return to Warwick and spend the rest of the day in Warwick, Coventry area and return to hotel
Day 8: Take train to Heathrow from Warwick

Posted by
389 posts

I'm confused by you revised Day 1 - is this your arrival day into Heathrow? And you want to go to Windsor Castle AND Hampton Court with your luggage in tow??? I'm not aware of any bus that goes between these two sites.
I see you are following Rebecca's suggestion for Day 1. This looks brutal to me. And I'd be impressed if you can get a taxi between Windsor and Hampton Court for £22

Posted by
13 posts

Hi @ryanandgill. We plan to carry a backpack as Rick Steves suggests as much of what we normally pack for trips is unnecessary. Yes, we are following Rebecca's suggestion for Day 1, except for the taxi. There is a coach that runs between Windsor Castle and Hampton Court - that we plan to use. We plan to return to Victoria Station from Hampton Court via train. Hopefully it won't be too brutal.

Posted by
3142 posts

If you are like most of us after a night of getting little sleep on the plane, seeing two castles on your arrival day will be nothing but a blur that you won't remember. If your hotel is in central London, you should drop your (minimal-good for you!) luggage at your hotel and then go to Kensington Palace. I agree with Laurie Beth's assessment of Dover castle as a defensive castle, which is why I like it. Defense was the original reason to build a castle.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi @cala! We may not make it to two places on the first day. We will see how we feel and go from there. Thanks!

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks @emma! Based on the information shared today, we will likely add an additional day for London. We will also take into account that the morning and afternoon rush hour traffic will affect our travel time. Adding two days seems the logical thing to do.