Dubbed 'the loveliest castle in the world', Leeds Castle has everything to please. Set on a lake and surrounded by beautiful gardens, Leeds is one of the oldest castle in England, dating back to 857. It served as Saxon and Norman stronghold, then as a Royal residence from 1278 to the 17th century Civil War, and was a favourite with several Queens of England, as well as with Henry VIII.
The castle's romantic image is reinforced by its delightful interior, decorated with paintings and pieces of furniture from the last eight centuries.
Leeds Castle was first opened to the public when Lady Baillie, the last owner of the castle, died in 1974. It quickly developed as one of Britain's top tourist attraction, its proximity from London helping bring half a million visitors annually.
Lady Baillie introduced the first black swans to Britain in the 1930 and started collecting live birds in 1957. The aviary she created now counts over 100 (exotic) species, including parrots, parakeets, softbills and waders. The most unusual are probably the Toucans and von der Decken Hornbills.
In 1988, Leeds Castle opened a maze, made of 2,400 yews, leading to spiralling path up to a raised viewpoint, which commands great views on the park. There is also a grotto representing the underworld with mythical beasts made of shells, minerals and wood, and lightening up as the tunnel exit approaches.
Another side attraction is the Dog Collar Museum, with a collection of metallic collars from the 15th to 18h centuries used for hunting or simply as decoration.
Leeds Castle also caters for wedding receptions, conferences and meetings, and some rooms may not be open to tourists on these occasions.
Note that a virtual tour and an audio-visual history of the castle are available on the official website.
Opening Hours & Admission
Leeds Castle is open daily from 11am to 5pm from April to October, and 10:15am to 3pm the rest of the year. The grounds are open from 10am throughout the year.
Admission to the castle and park is £10.50 for adults, £9 for senior citizens and students, and £7 for children. Tickets to the park only cost £9/£8/£6.50.
How to get there
Leeds Castle is about halfway between London and Dover, along the M20 motorway, about 10km south-east of Maidstone.
National Express has one daily bus from London Victoria station to Leeds Castle (£11 return), leaving at 9am and returning at 3:45pm (about 1h40min each way).
The nearest train station is Maidstone, 1h away from London (£12.70), although you will need to catch a taxi from there to Leeds Castle.