The Best Castles in the South Downs National Park

The South Downs National Park is a stunning area of natural beauty located in the southeast of England, covering over 1,600 square kilometers of rolling hills, ancient woodlands, heathlands, and chalk cliffs. Designated as a national park in 2010, it spans across two counties, West Sussex and East Sussex, and is home to a diverse range of wildlife, habitats, and landscapes.

But next to all that natural beauty, you can also find historic castles and stately homes in the South Downs. The South Down castles are set in beautiful landscapes and are a joy to visit for families, culture, history, and nature lovers.  

These are the best castles and stately homes in the South Downs National Park.

Castles in the South Downs


Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle was originally constructed as a motte and bailey castle by Roger de Montgomery, who was the cousin of William de Conqueror. However, the castle was extensively rebuilt in the 1870s and 1890s by Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, resulting in its current Gothic appearance. Despite this, remnants of earlier structures, such as the Norman keep, medieval Gatehouse, and Barbican, can still be seen.

Arundel Castle is one of England’s most extensive castles and is accessible to visitors from April to October. Check the website for specific opening hours.

photo: Michael Coppins / CC BY-SA 4.0

Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle, situated in the village of Herstmonceux in East Sussex, is a 15th-century brick castle and one of the earliest and oldest of its kind in England. Only a few large brick buildings from that era have managed to withstand the test of time.

Sir Roger Fiennes constructed the castle, which is surrounded by 300 acres of woodland and gardens, including the magnificent Elizabethan garden, which is the largest and most prestigious. In addition, the estate boasts several other gardens, including a rose garden, a Shakespeare garden, and a wildflower meadow.

Like many other castles, Herstmonceux Castle deteriorated into ruins in the 18th century. However, it was converted back into a residence two centuries later by Colonel Claude Lowther.

Herstmonceux Castle is situated 28 miles from Brighton and is open to visitors from February to November to explore the castle grounds. As it currently serves as the international campus of Queen’s University, known as Bader College, access to the castle’s interior is restricted to guided tours. More information can be found on the website.

photo: Barbara van Cleve / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pevensey Castle

Pevensey Castle has a rich history dating back to the 4th century, when the Romans constructed one of the site’s last Roman Saxon Shore forts. Following the Norman Conquest of England, the castle became a Norman stronghold and served as a landing place for William the Conqueror’s army.

Although the castle was abandoned in the 16th century, it was reactivated during World War Two as an emergency stronghold. Machine gun posts were constructed within the castle to defend against potential German invasion.

Pevensey Castle is now owned by English Heritage and is open to visitors. Visitors can view the WWII gun posts, an exhibition featuring stories of sieges and royal prisoners, a recreated 1940s commander’s office, and a dungeon.

bramber castle ruin castles in south downs

Bramber Castle

Bramber castle is a ruined motte and bailey castle dating back to Norman times. The castle sits on a natural knoll that overlooks the River Adur. The location was chosen strategically to defend a gap in the South Downs.

The castle was built soon after the Norman invasion of England to protect William I’s new territories. For two centuries, the castle was the seat of the Braose family, though it was briefly confiscated by King John.

What remains of this Norman castle is a 14 meters high tower wall. You can enjoy splendid views of the Sussex countryside from the top of the motte.    

Stately Homes in the South Downs

stansted house castles stately homes south downs (1)
photo: Colin Smith / Stansted House / CC BY-SA 2.0

Stansted House

Stansted House is an Edwardian stately home located on a 1,800-acre parkland with woodland. The site is mentioned as early as 1086, when it was the place of a hunting lodge owned by the first Earl of Arundel.

In the 17th century, a new house was built for Richard Lumley, 1st Earl of Scarbrough. In 1776, the house was inherited by the Earl of Halifax, who also built the folly tower, now known as the Racton Monument. The house was destroyed by a fire in 1900, but it was rebuilt in the style of Christopher Wren.

Several monarchs visited Stansted House. In 1177, King Henry II visited Stansted, and in the next hundred years, King Richard I of England and King John of England also visited the estate. In Tudor times, King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I visited the house. In modern times, the house was visited by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1939 and Anne, Princess Royal, in 1962.

Currently, the house is open to visitors, where you can see the staterooms that are furnished from the time of the 10th Earl. Visitors can also wander through the Walled Gardens and the Arboretum. Visit the website for opening times.

photo: © Acabashi; Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0; Source: Wikimedia Commons

Parham House and Gardens

Parham House, an Elizabethan country manor, is surrounded by a 300-acre estate that features an ancient deer park. The Palmer family built the house in 1577, but in 1601, it was purchased by Sir Thomas Bishopp, 1st Baronet, and his family resided at Parham for more than 300 years.

In 1922, the Hon. Clive and Alicia Pearson bought the estate and commenced a restoration of the house, filling it with period furniture, paintings, and textiles, including items that originally belonged to the property.

Parham House and Gardens open their doors to visitors who can explore the house and its gardens, including the Walled Garden, orchard, Pleasure Grounds, and more. Please refer to the website for opening times.

Glynde Place

Overlooking the South Downs National Park, Glynde Place is an Elizabethan manor house that was erected in 1569. Throughout its existence, it has been owned by the Viscounts Hampden.

Glynde Place offers guided tours on selected days. The historic home serves as the backdrop for a range of concerts, exhibitions, and events, including the Love Supreme Jazz Festival. For further details, please consult the website.

photo: Firle Place, Firle, East Sussex by Derek Voller / CC BY-SA 2.0

Firle Place

Firle Place is situated in the heart of the South Downs National Park in East Sussex. This country manor house dates back to the Tudor period, although it was renovated in the Georgian era to resemble a French chateau. Despite the exterior changes, the interiors remain predominantly Tudor and feature a vast art collection that includes works by Gainsborough, Van Dyck, and Raphael and a magnificent collection of furniture and porcelain.

Firle Place is open to visitors who can explore both the house and its gardens. For further details, visit the website.


Petworth House

Located in West Sussex, Petworth House is a late 17th century Baroque country house built for Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset. Inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the Duke intended for the house to match the grandeur of European Palaces. Throughout its history, the house has been owned by many collectors, and as a result, it boasts a large art collection featuring works from renowned artists such as Titian, Van Dyck, Reynolds, and Flaxman.

During its “golden age,” the house was a popular destination for English romantic painters such as William Turner. The house is now a National Trust property and open to visitors.

photo: Paolo Oprandi / CC BY-SA 4.0

Newtimber Place

Newtimber Place is a moated country house in Sussex that was built by Richard Bellingham’s son, the Sherrif of Sussex, in 1567. The house features 18th-century Etruscan-style wall paintings in the hall. The grounds include the moat, which is fed by natural springs, and a Georgian dovecote.

Visitor information: the house can be visited through a guided tour. Visit the website for more information.

Amberley Castle Hotel

Next to beautiful castles and stately homes is the South Downs also home to grand country house hotels like Amberley Castle Hotel and The Goodwood House. And you can find beautiful gardens and nature estates like West Dean Gardens, Woolbeding Gardens, and Wiston House.

See also: Country House Hotels in South East England

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