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12 historic castles in Sussex you need to visit

Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex
Hertsmonceux Castle, one of two moated castles in East Sussex

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If you’re fascinated by history, you’ll love visiting the castles in Sussex. Thanks to its location on England’s south coast, Sussex is full of amazing castles dating back to the Norman invasion of 1066.

Bodiam Castle, Arundel Castle and Herstmonceux Castle, are well preserved Sussex castles and may offer guided tours. Others, like Hastings Castle and Bramber Castle, aren’t in such good condition, but still have a rich history that makes their impressive remains worth a visit.

I made it my mission this summer to visit the two castles in Sussex that I hadn’t yet been to; Camber Castle and Pevensey Castle.

Now that I’ve visited them all I’ve compiled a list of 12 historic castles in Sussex for you to add to your Sussex itinerary. They include several English Heritage and National Trust properties. If you’re a National Trust member or English Heritage member, you can gain free admission to some of these Sussex castles.

This list of Sussex castles is in alphabetical order starting in East Sussex and then West Sussex. Scroll to the end of the post for a map to help plan your visit. Our first castle is my favourite and one which I visit most as it’s the nearest to me.

Castles in East Sussex

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Bodiam, a fairytale castle in East Sussex near Robertsbridge

The well-preserved walls and towers of Bodiam Castle make it one of the best-known Sussex castles. Built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, this Grade 1 listed historic building attracts visitors with its fairytale looks. The romantic ruins with picturesque moat sit in beautiful countryside surroundings.

The castle’s walls are crumbling a little in places, and much of the interior is now in ruins, but there’s still a lot to see when you visit Bodiam Castle.

Learn about the castle’s history on a free guided tour. Climb the spiral staircase for stunning views over the River Rother valley from the towers, and explore the depths of the well room.

The tea room and cafe serve refreshments, and the castle hosts regular events like medieval fairs and archery days. Because Bodiam Castle is under the care of the National Trust, members enjoy free admission and parking.

Five minutes walk from the castle is the Kent and East Sussex Steam Railway. Book a steam train journey through the East Sussex countryside to Northiam or Tenterden. It’s a lovely thing to do and will make your day at Bodiam extra special.

Scotney Castle is just 12 miles north of Bodiam. It sits just over the Sussex border in Kent so although it’s not strictly a Sussex castle this National Trust property is also well worth a visit.

Read our in-depth guide to visiting Bodiam Castle.

Postcode: TN32 5UA

Car Parking: Free for NT members, £4 for non-members.

Dogs: Dogs on a short lead are welcome in the castle grounds and the Castle View cafe.

Camber Castle

Camber Castle near Rye, East Sussex
Camber Castle near Rye in East Sussex

Once known as Winchelsea Castle, Camber Castle lies around 2 miles east of the town Winchelsea. This 16th century stone castle was built, on the orders of Henry VIII, and sat on the south coast. It was used as an artillery fort to defend the nearby port of Rye.

However, over time the coastline began to silt up and Camber Castle’s location was eventually so far inland that it was no longer an effective defence against sea-borne attack. During the English Civil War, much of the castle was dismantled to prevent Royalist troops from taking advantage of its position.

Camber Castle interior, Rye, East Sussex
Inside Camber castle looking through the gate

Visitors are rarely allowed inside Camber Castle because much of the castle’s interior lies in ruins, however, guided tours are occasionally available on Saturdays. You can generally only view the castle from outside but if you look through the gates you can see most of the interior.

It’s still a fascinating site to visit, and a visit to Camber Castle is ideal to combine with visiting nearby Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and don’t miss the beautiful town of Rye.

This Sussex castle is under the care of English Heritage and Sussex Wildlife Trust, and members of either organisation can gain free entry to the site. Car parking is available in Rye, but the last mile of your journey to Camber Castle will involve a walk through fields with livestock.

Postcode: TN36 4JS

Car Parking: You’ll need to park Harbour Road, Rye and walk or cycle to the castle because there’s no vehicular access. It’s a pleasant walk and will take about 20 minutes depending on fitness levels. Stick to the footpaths to avoid getting stuck in fields of sheep surrounded by waterways. Don’t ask me how I know…

Dogs: Assistance dogs only.

Hastings Castle

Sitting high on West Hill, Hastings Castle is one of the oldest castles in East Sussex

Hastings Castle is possibly the most famous medieval castle in Sussex. Built under the orders of William the Conqueror, the castle has a clifftop location on the West Hill that overlooks Hastings Old Town and the Roman ‘Saxon Shore’.

Hastings Castle was the first Norman motte and bailey castle built in England, shortly before the Norman conquest of 1066. It’s one of the oldest castles in East Sussex. The original castle had a wooden tower that was rebuilt in stone at the end of the 11th century. However, this stone castle fell into ruin following the French attacks on Hastings in 1337 and 1339.

Today, only half of William’s original Norman castle is still standing. The chapel was partly re-constructed in the 1820s, and you can also explore the dungeons and see the staircases within the castle walls. The impressive views over Hastings and the South Coast make Hastings Castle worth the trip as well.

The easiest way to reach Hastings Castle is to take the West Hill Lift, a funicular that transports passengers between the seafront and clifftop.

There’s a small charge to explore the ruins of Hastings Castle and watch The 1066 Story video about Hastings Castle’s 1000 years of history. You can also buy a combination ticket covering Hastings Aquarium and the Smugglers’ Adventure which kids will love.

Postcode: TN34 3AR

Car Parking: Paid parking is available nearby.

Dogs must be kept on a lead.

Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex

Grade II listed Herstmonceux Castle was built in the 15th century near the village of Herstmonceux in East Sussex.

Guided tours inside the castle are not currently available, as the castle is home to an international study centre, but there’s still plenty to see on a visit to Herstmonceux Castle.

This moated castle is one of the oldest red brick buildings in England and is surrounded by over 300 acres of beautiful gardens, including formal gardens, wildflower meadows and woodland.

Herstmonceux Castle has eight gardens, each with its own individual style. The Elizabethan Garden is the largest and most elaborate formal garden. The Shady Garden offers refuge from the heat of the summer months and the Apothecary Garden is scented by a multitude of culinary and medicinal herbs. There’s even a secret folly with a gorgeous cottage-style garden to discover.

When you’ve finished exploring the grounds of this very beautiful castle, be sure to call into Chestnuts Tea Room. They serve delicious pastries, sandwiches and sweet treats.

You can book tickets on the Herstmonceux Castle website and also find out what will be in bloom during your visit.

Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre
Herstmonceux Observatory

Next door to Herstmonceux Castle is the Observatory Science Centre which is a popular place for children and school visits. Explore the hands on science exhibits amid the domes and telescopes of the observatory.

Read more in our guide to to Hersmonceux Castle.

Discounted tickets are available if you plan to visit both Herstmonceux castle and the observatory.

Postcode: BN27 1RN

Car Parking: Free parking is available on-site.

Dogs are welcome within the grounds and must be kept on a lead.

Lewes Castle

Lewes Castle Museum was one of the first castles built by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was originally known as Bray Castle and sits near to the River Ouse.

Unusually, it is one of only two motte and bailey castles in England with two mottes or mounds (the other is Lincoln Castle).

The original wooden fortifications at Lewes Castle were replaced by stone walls in the early 12th century. The towers and the impressive barbican gate were added in the 14th century. This barbican is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples in England.

This historic castle lies just off the High Street in the town of Lewes, around 10 miles from Brighton. Climbing the steps to the top of the Keep, the castle’s second motte, will reward you with great views over the surrounding South Downs countryside. The castle grounds and gardens are the perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day.

Tickets for Lewes Castle are available from the website.

Postcode: BN7 1YE

Car Parking: Plenty of parking options available nearby.

Dogs: Assistance dogs only.

Pevensey Castle

The gateway to Pevensey Castle, East Sussex

Pevensey Bay is famous for being the landing place of William the Conqueror and his army in 1066. However, the history of Pevensey Castle stretches back far beyond that.

Today, you can still see the remains of the wall built around the Roman fort where William the Conqueror’s army first took temporary shelter. Once the Normans had gained victory, that original structure was soon replaced by a magnificent medieval castle, the remains of which you can see today at Pevensey.

Since then, Pevensey Castle has changed hands several times, even acting as a state prison in the 15th century, and by 1573, the castle had been totally ruined. However, during the second World War, the castle once again became a defensive post and even acted as barracks for troops.

As well as exploring the Roman ruins, you can also tour Pevensey Castle’s interior, descend into the dungeon and visit a new museum filled with fascinating artefacts from the site.

The castle is a short drive from Battle Abbey and the 1066 battlefield, so it’s a great addition to your East Sussex day trip itinerary.

Pevensey Castle is an English Heritage site, so members enjoy free entry to the castle.

Postcode: BN24 5LE

Car Parking: Paid parking is available near the castle, or there is free on-street parking in Pevensey.

Dogs: Dogs on a lead are welcome at the castle.

Rye Castle Museum and Ypres Tower

Rye Castle Museum

No trip to the gorgeous Cinque Ports town of Rye would be complete without a visit to Rye Castle Museum and Ypres Tower. We pronounce it locally as Wipers Tower – a play on words. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Rye!

Rye Castle was built in the 13th century under the orders of Henry III. It became known as Ypres Tower after one of its owners, Jean Ypres. Since then, the castle has been a prison, a court hall and a mortuary. It suffered some damage during World War II.

Today, Ypres Tower is a popular tourist attraction and serves as the town’s museum. Within Rye Castle Museum Ypres Tower, you’ll find some fascinating interactive displays that tell the story of the town’s history. You can also climb the tower’s spiral staircase and look out over a recreated medieval herb garden.

A short walk away, in Rye Castle Museum East Street, you’ll find many local artefacts. There’s also a fascinating display showing how the coastline has changed over the last thousand years. It used to be much closer to the town.

There is a small admission fee to visit Rye Castle Museum Ypres Tower. Admission is free at RCM (Rye Castle Museum) East Street. However, donations are welcome.

Read more about the best things to do in Rye

Postcode: TN31 7HE

Car Parking: Free and paid parking is available near the castle.

Dogs: Service dogs only within the museum.

Castles in West Sussex

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle in West Sussex

With nearly 1000 years of history, Arundel Castle is a must-see when you visit West Sussex. The original motte and bailey castle was built in 1068. The oldest parts of the stone castle date back to the 12th century.

Arundel castle has played a role in some of the key points in English history, including the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, when the castle was severely damaged during two sieges.

All of this history can be seen in a fascinating display of artworks, fine furniture, tapestries and more, including some items from the personal collection of Mary Queen of Scots. You can even see a bedroom where Queen Victoria slept during her visit to Arundel Castle in 1846, complete with its specially commissioned furniture.

The magnificent Gothic architecture you see today at Arundel Castle is the result of a comprehensive renovation during the late 1800s.

There are several beautiful gardens to explore, including award-winning tropical gardens and the quirky Stumpery. The White Garden offers a peaceful spot for contemplation, while the Rose Garden is a fragrant delight.

The rose garden at Arundel Castle, West Sussex
The rose garden at Arundel castle

Events are run throughout the year at Arundel Castle, including International Medieval Jousting, specialist plant fairs and Shakespeare performances in the gardens. When you’ve finished exploring the castle grounds, a range of food, drinks and ice creams is available from the restaurant, coffee shop and Tea Terrace.

Postcode: BN18 9AB

Car Parking: Paid parking is available near the castle entrance, Sat Nav BN18 9PA.

Dogs: Only registered assistance dogs are permitted.

Amberley Castle

Amberley Castle in West Sussex
Amberley Castle, West Sussex

If you love the idea of spending the night in a castle, you’ll adore Amberley Castle. Unlike any of the other Sussex castles on this list, Amberley Castle is now a hotel where you can sleep surrounded by 900 years of history. Check rates and availability.for this Relais and Chateau hotel.

In fact, the current castle was originally a timber-framed hunting lodge built at the start of the 12th century as the home of a bishop. Over the following 400 years, the lodge was transformed into a stone manor house, fortified with crenelations, battlements and an imposing portcullis.

The castle saw battle during the English Civil War, and at the end of which it was seized by Parliament before being returned to its owners when the monarchy was restored.

Amberley Castle became a private residence in the 19th century, and was turned into a luxurious hotel in 1989. The castle has 12 acres of grounds to explore, including stunning formal gardens filled with topiary, rose-covered arches and koi carp pools.

>>> Check rates and availability at Amberley Castle hotel

Afternoon tea at Amberley Castle

You can also visit Amberley Castle for afternoon tea. Tuck into dainty finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream and a delicious array of pastries and cakes. And for the ultimate treat, why not spoil yourself with a glass of champagne or English sparkling wine? It’s a beautiful spot for a special treat.

Postcode: BN18 9LT

Car Parking: Parking is available on-site

Dogs: Guide dogs and accredited assistance dogs are welcome throughout the hotel

Read more about Amberley one of the prettiest villages in Sussex.

Bramber Castle

Bramber Village with the remains of Bramber Castle in the background

The remains of Bramber Castle sit high above the River Adur and the South Downs. It was built soon after the Battle of Hastings of 1066 as the Sussex home of the de Braose family.

Climbing to the top of the castle’s motte gives you a stunning view over the South Downs, which it was built to defend. The views are actually better than the castle itself of which very little remains.

Subsidence caused the castle’s eventual demise, and its stonework was used to build roads and buildings in the local area. Today, little is left of the castle except a small part of one of the castle walls, standing 14m tall as an imposing reminder of the crucial defensive role it once played.

Bramber Castle is now under the care of English Heritage, and entry to the site is free of charge. It’s a good spot for a picnic and walks along the nearby River Adur.

Postcode: BN44 3EW

Car Parking: Free for English Heritage members, £2 for non-members.

Dogs: Dogs on leads are welcome.

Cowdray Castle

Cowdray Castle is a ruined castle located within the grounds of the Cowdray estate, home to the Cowdray family.

Originally built between 1273 and 1284, Cowdray Castle was one of the most important early Tudor houses in England, hosting visits from both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Guy Fawkes briefly worked as a footman at Cowdray, and during the

English Civil War, the house was seized by Parliamentary forces. You can still see marks on the house’s courtyard walls that are thought to date from this era.

A devastating fire destroyed most of the house in 1793, along with all but a few pieces of the furniture and artwork within. Afterwards, the house fell into ruin, and only the Kitchen Tower remains of this Grade 1 listed house.

The Cowdray Heritage Ruins are currently closed for general visits, but occasional Heritage Events and guided tours are available. You can find details of upcoming events at Cowdray on the Cowdray Castle website.

Postcode: GU29 0AQ

Car Parking: Parking is available in Midhurst, a short walk from the estate.

Dogs: Only registered assistance dogs are permitted.

Knepp Castle

Like Bramber Castle, Knepp Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest by William de Braose, one of William the Conqueror’s most powerful supporters. That makes it one of the oldest castles in West Sussex and, just as with Bramber, little of Knepp Castle is still standing.

The fortified hunting lodge was a retreat from Bramber Castle, standing within a 1000-acre deer park and surrounded by deep defensive ditches. During the 13th century, King John stayed at ‘Cnappe’ several times and used oak wood from the deer park in the defensive towers built to protect Dover Castle.

However, Parliamentarian forces destroyed the castle during the Civil War to prevent it from being seized by the Royalists. Today, only a lone ruined tower remains of Old Knepp Castle, which you can visit at the Knepp Castle Estate. The area around the castle is now Knepp Wildland, England’s first large-scale rewilding project.

Postcode: RH13 8LQ

Car Parking: Park on the highway or at New Barn Farm

Dogs: Well-behaved dogs on a lead are welcome on the Knepp Wildland.

So, that’s our pick of the best castles in Sussex to visit while travelling around southern England. In fact, they’re the only castles in Sussex! Have you visited any of these beautiful castles? Which is your favourite?

Map of Castles in Sussex

I’ve put together this handy map of Sussex castles below. You’ll notice that some of the castles are close together like Rye and Camber castles or Amberley and Arundel so you may wish to visit both on the same day.

Click the image to take you to Google maps.

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