Castles In Kent

Beautiful castles, moated castles, ruins, and impressive cultural sights there are many in the county to visit, with lots of things to do and full of events. The county is rich with castles, whether it’s tunnels to explore, quests to enact, outdoor cinema, and concerts to enjoy – the Castles of Kent offer something for everyone. History, heritage, segway tours, falconry displays, fun and fascinating facts – these beautiful sights in the Garden of England are not to be missed.

By Sophie Bland

Dover Castle
Dover Castle is strategically positioned at the shortest crossing between England and Continental Europe, a 12th Century fortress that has been of great historic significance throughout British history. William the Conqueror decided to build a castle at Dover to increase defences after the Battle of Hastings, remodelled in the 1180s by King Henry II and other kings over the years. The castle significantly contributed to both World Wars and the Cold War. In World War I, the Navy controlled ships in and out of the harbour from the Castle’s signal station at the cliff edge. In the 18th Century, a network of tunnels was dug into the cliff face to use as barracks as there was a threat of an invasion from Napoleonic France. During World War II, these were brought back into service and were home to the command centre that evacuated British troops from Dunkirk; during Operation Dynamo. The tunnels were then extended to be used as an underground hospital and a headquarters for those organising the 1944 invasion of Europe.
During the Cold War, the tunnels were used as a secret location for the British government to organise and make preparations for life if Britain was attacked by nuclear weapons. Today at Dover Castle, there is lots to see and do with re-enactments, tunnel tours, children’s events, theatre productions, and even murder mystery events and an escape room. There are 80 acres of grounds featuring battlements, curtain walls, and other military items, 2 museums, plus an adventure playground and play area for children.


Hever Castle
Edenbridge, Sevenoaks
Hever Castle in Edenbridge, Sevenoaks, was originally a medieval defensive Castle with a gatehouse and a walled bailey built in 1270. In the 15th and 16th Centuries, it was home to one of the most powerful families in the country, the Boleyns. It was where Anne Boleyn grew up, Henry VIII’s second wife who was executed for treason. This event marked the start of the English Reformation. The Castle later passed to Anne of Cleves from 1557, the King’s fourth wife. While later years saw its decline, it was restored by William Waldorf Astor who also oversaw the construction of the gardens and the lake, all of which can be seen today. The Castle’s period rooms and collections are on show and visitors can also enjoy the gardens set in 125 acres, a maze, military museum, playground, miniature model houses, a boating lake, and a tea room. Regular events include archery, shield painting, and jousting, as well as outdoor theatre and themed shows.

Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle’s history dates back 900 years and visitors to the Gatehouse Exhibition can learn of its rich heritage, from early Norman life through 300 years of royal ownership to Henry VIII’s Tudor Palace and then into private hands. It was in 1925 when the Castle was acquired by the Anglo-American heiress the Hon. Olive Paget, then Mrs Wilson-Filmer, who was looking for a country retreat in Kent. She saw the Castle’s potential and had the style, imagination, and funds to carry out the necessary modifications. Today, the influence of Lady Baillie continues to bring the state rooms to life. Visit the many gardens, lakes, and the maze. See falconry displays, explore playgrounds, visit the fascinating underground grotto, and enjoy mini golf, putting on the moat, as well as hop on the train for a ride to the Castle. There are also Castle tours, the black swan ferry boat, regular events, and lots more.

Leeds Cas in Maidstone

Walmer Castle
Walmer Castle’s rich history dates back to Henry VIII who built it between 1539-40 in response to threats of invasion from Europe, and it was part of a nearly 3-mile coastal barrier that included Deal Castle and Sandown Castle. This English Heritage property, set in 8 acres, was under siege from the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil Wars in the 17th Century and by the mid-18th Century has become a well-equipped seaside retreat as well as a fort. Over time the Castle’s military use declined, and by 1750, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports had taken over the Castle as his official residence. The Castle continued to become the residence of famous names over the centuries, such as Prime Minister William Pitt, the Duke of Wellington, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The gardens themselves are worth a visit, including the Queen Mother’s Garden, the Kitchen Garden, and the Broadwalk, a revamped area of part of the Castle’s recent £2.3 million project to revive the gardens. There are also family trails and regular events.

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 Deal Castle
At Deal Castle, there is plenty to discover and learn during a visit to this historic site. Find out more about what’s behind bastion hideouts, tunnels, and their inhabitants. The castle is an artillery fort constructed by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540. It formed part of the King’s Device programme to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire. It has a rich history with it being under siege during the English Civil War in 1648 and was brought back into service to guard the coast against German forces in the Channel during World War II. There are also ghostly and twilight tours, children’s activities, and events, and a new graffiti lounge.

Tonbridge Castle
Explore the Tonbridge Castle Gatehouse and learn about its history, from 1066 with a recreation of medieval life. An opportunity to sit at the guard’s table and visit the armoury, as well as climb to the top of the tower for amazing views of Tonbridge. See and hear what it would have been like to be a Lord or Lady 700 years ago, by taking the audio tour (approximately 1 hour) and experiencing the interactive displays with life-size figures. A vivid recreation of the sights, sounds and excitement of the 13th Century castle life.

Tonbridge Castle

Upnor Castle
Upnor Castle is a fairly well preserved and rare example of an Elizabethan artillery fortress. Set on the banks of the River Medway, it was built in 1559 to defend the navy of Queen Elizabeth I and the nearby Chatham Dockyard. However, it failed in its mission to protect the English fleet when in 1667 the Dutch sailed past the fortress and attacked the dockyard where it destroyed and captured a large number of the Royal Navy ships anchored at Chatham.

Upnor Castle in Rochester

Westenhanger Castle
At Otterpool Park the castle dates back to 1343 and has a rich royal history. Henry VIII was known to hold parties there as well as hunt in the deer park that once surrounded it. Elizabeth I also took a shine to the place and a distinguished aristocrat associated with the British East India Company, was granted ownership of Westenhanger as a reward for his services to Good Queen Bess. Folkestone & Hythe District Council purchased the castle in 2019 as a stunning centerpiece to the new garden town Otterpool Park and a focal point for a new community overlooking long forgotten views, all of which will now be accessible to the public.

Westenhanger Castle in Hythe

Ruins & Remains

Castle ruins are also a fascinating insight into the county’s rich and varied heritage. Here’s our round up of the many in Kent.

 Eynsford Castle
Eynsford, Sevenoaks
Eynsford Castle was built by William de Eynsford I in the late 1080s. It is a rare survivor of an early Norman ‘enclosure castle’.  Its history includes a hotly disputed inheritance, which reached a climax in 1312 when one of the claimants broke in and vandalised it. Shortly after that, the castle was abandoned, and by the 18th Century, many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair, being used only as stables and kennels for hunting dogs. While the site was cleared in 1835 and left to ruin mainly, it was excavated after being taken into state control in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’80s, revealing what can be seen today.

Eynsford Castle in Dartford

Rochester Castle
See inside some of the best examples of Norman architecture in England, and Rochester Castle’s significance as a strategic fortification in the conflict between early medieval kings and nobility. It is also a living memory of the importance of Rochester’s guarding the River Medway as this impressive fortress has a mixed history and fortunes. It was built around 1127 by William of Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1215 it endured a siege by King John and was rebuilt under Henry III and Edward II, where it remained a viable fortress until the 16th Century. The interior of the keep has stood since the 17th Century as a vast, roofless space. An east-west spine wall divides the interior into two halves and contains the shaft of the keep’s well. The grounds are open to the public with English Heritage responsible for visitors to the Castle, however, it is run by Medway Council.

Rochester Castle

Canterbury Castle
Currently closed due to health and safety concerns. Exterior parts can be seen.
In 1066, not long after Canterbury submitted to William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, a Castle was built there with a motte and bailey structure in order to guard the route William had taken from Dover to London. This made Canterbury Castle one of the three original Royal Castles of Kent, along with Rochester Castle and Dover Castle which were built around the same time. Its motte is still currently visible as the mound in the Dane John Gardens, which originated from the French word ‘donjon’, meaning keep. The great stone keep was constructed between 1086-1120, however, once Henry II’s new Castle was built at Dover, Canterbury Castle began to decline and eventually became the county jail. In addition to the partly restored keep, a significant section of the town wall remains and its history goes back even further to medieval times. It was in 1928 that Canterbury City Council purchased the Castle and then went on to restore its ruins to their present condition, although it is now currently closed due health and safety concerns, though there is hope could reopen again in the future.

Ruins of Canterbury Castle

Sandown Castle
Originally constructed between 1539 and 1540 by Henry VIII, Sandown Castle also formed part of the King’s Device programme and was built to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as to defend the Downs anchorage off the English coast. The moated stone castle once covered 0.59 acres which consisted of a keep, 4 circular bastions, 39 upper level firing positions for artillery and 31 gunloops in the basement for handguns. In 1648-1649 after the original threat of invasion had come to an end, Sandown was then seized by pro-Royalist insurgents during the Second English Civil War and wasn’t regained by Parliamentary forces until several months of fighting had passed. The Castle remained in military use until 1863, however throughout the 19th Century it began to suffer badly due to the effects of coastal erosion and eventually most of the stonework had been destroyed from the War Office’s orders for demolition. Sandown’s remains were purchased by Deal town and formed part of the local sea defences, then in the late 1980s the masonry which was left was encased in concrete to create a sea wall. This means it is vulnerable to further erosion by the sea and although not much is left, Sandown’s remains are protected under UK law as a scheduled monument and the site of the former artillery fort can still be viewed today.

Sandown Castle in Deal

Sandgate Castle
Exterior only.
Sandgate Castle was the first of Henry VIII’s ‘Device Forts’ and guarded a beach that stood just 25 miles from the continent, making it a likely target in the event of an invasion, according to the website. Whilst it saw no action during Henry’s reign, it was occupied briefly by the Royalists during the Civil War and was regularly reactivated for coastal defence purposes, including in both world wars. It survived a request by the South Eastern Railway Company for a railway line between Hythe and Folkestone, and in 1928 the sea damaged a portion of its structure. Now in private ownership, the exterior can be seen from the beach.

Sandgate Castle in Sandgate

Queenborough Castle
Isle Of Sheppey
The Castle was first built by Edward III from 1361 ‘for the defence of the realm and for the refuge of the inhabitants of the island’, he named it in honour of Philippa, his queen, according to Historic England. Construction of the Castle continued until 1369, with final touches such as the outer gates, being finished between 1373 and 1375. Its aim was to defend ships travelling along the River Swale from French raiders, however shortly after it was completed an earthquake brought down several of the towers which were then rebuilt by King Richard II. In 1650, Parliament decided after the Civil War that it was in a poor state of repair and therefore demolished it. According to Castles and Fortifications of England and Wales, most of the stonework was then shipped to London and all that is visible now is a public park with some outlines of earthworks overlying the foundations which do still remain.

Thurnham Castle
Set in White Horse Wood Country Park, the medieval ruins of Thurnham Castle date back to the 12th Century. According to the fortress belonged to the de Say family, then the de Thurnhams. Stephen and Robert de Thurnham crusaded with Richard the Lionheart, however, they never returned. The castle was then left to decay.

St Leonard’s Tower
West Malling, Tonbridge
St Leonard’s Tower is an early and well-preserved example of a free-standing Norman keep, which takes its name from the chapel which once stood nearby and was thought to be part of a Castle. There is no internal access to this mystery structure.

St Leonard's Tower in Tonbridge

Houses & Gardens

Castles and country homes with gardens and houses full of heritage to explore, with events and attractions to keep everyone entertained.  

Chiddingstone Castle
Edenbridge, Sevenoaks
Chiddingstone Castle in West Kent has 400 years of history and collections of Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Jacobite, Stuart, and Buddhist objects. This historic house has Tudor origins, Victorian rooms and was remodelled in the 19th Century to resemble a medieval castle. It has a history of private ownership, being used by the military force during World War II and also as a school. In 1955 it was bought by a collector of art and antiques from around the world and those are now on show, as are parts of the castle including the Great Hall, library, and gardens set in 35 acres. Chiddingstone Castle is home to 5 collections, from Ancient Egypt to Japan and beyond, the lifetime’s work of one gifted collector. There are also a number of events throughout the year including a literary festival, visitors can also enjoy the grounds and the lake, where fishing is allowed. Also part of the Wheels of Time scheme for younger visitors.

Chiddingstone Castle in Edenbridge in Sevenoaks

 Lullingstone Castle
Eynsford, Sevenoaks
Lullingstone Castle overlooks a 15-acre lake, and the current Manor House and Gatehouse, both of which were built in 1497 and regularly visited by Henry VIII and Queen Anne. Home to the 20th generation of the same family to reside at the estate, it is also home to Tom Hart Dyke’s World Garden of Plants, which he hopes will preserve Lullingstone Castle for future generations. The garden is influenced by Tom’s 9-month kidnap ordeal in the Columbian jungle, during which he planned his world’s garden. Visitors can now see the world’s rarest Gum Tree, the Dog Pooh plant, trees and plants from around the world, with wacky sculptures to look out for, including Colin the Cobra and a silver tree made of wire. There is also a cactus house with warped mirrors where children can see how much smaller, wider, and taller they can be. Special events for all ages throughout the year and visitors can try the free plant hunter quiz, as well as a house quiz that allows you to unravel some of Lullingstone’s mysteries.

Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford in Sevenoaks 

Whitstable Castle & Gardens
First known as Tankerton Towers, originally the residence of the Pearson Family in the late 1790s, it is a Manor House estate with a rich and varied history.​ It hosts regular events throughout the year, with a play area and cafe.

Whitstable Castle

 See Kent, Know Kent

Picture Credit: © Hever Castle/Dover Castle – English Heritage/ Hever Castle/Leeds Castle Foundation/Walmer Castle – English Heritage/Deal Castle – English Heritage/Tonbridge Castle/Upnor Castle – English Heritage/Westenhanger Castle – Picture Credit: © Otterpool Park./Eynsford Castle – English Heritage/Rochester Castle – English Heritage/Canterbury Castle – Castle – Castle Castle – and John Miller/St Leonard’s Tower – English Heritage/Chiddingstone Castle – Alan Graham LRPS from Lullingstone Castle website/Whitstable Castle & Gardens.
We do our best to endeavour to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible from the information we have at the time of publication.  We are not liable for any changes that a company or event makes at the last minute, whether time changes or price amendments.
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