This year, because of how life has changed, I have had more staycations than ever, and I’ve learned how to discover and appreciate my own “back yard”. Located only a 40 minute drive from my home, this summer I explored Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Often referred to as the “Anne Boleyn Castle”, visiting the Tudor mansion at Hever is a fantastic history lesson and a great way to immerse yourself in the Tudor era.
Hever Castle makes a great day trip from London, and a lovely escape in the countryside. Its gardens are a pleasure to walk through and the grounds are large enough for social distancing.[ez-toc]
Directions to Hever Castle
Hever Castle is located 30 miles south-east from London and is easily accessible both by private and public transport.
By car from central London, it takes around an hour and a half to reach Hever Castle, depending on the traffic. As you get out of the city and enter the countryside, the drive is very pleasant on small roads passing picturesque villages.
Parking at Hever Castle is free of charge.
The easiest way to get to Hever Castle from London is by train. There are several trains each hour leaving London Bridge towards Uckfield, stopping at Hever. The fastest journey time is approximately one hour. An off peak day return ticket, purchased in advance, costs £13.40.
The castle is located about one mile away from the train station. You can walk half way, then take the TW8 bus towards Edenbridge until Hever Church, or make the entire journey by foot. In total, it’s a 20 minute walk from Hever station to the Castle.
Tickets to Hever Castle
The entry ticket to Hever Castle can be booked online directly on the castle’s website, by clicking here. Due to the most recent regulations, you must book a time slot for your visit. An adult ticket for the gardens and grounds costs £15.55, with a £3.25 supplement for the castle.
Who was Anne Boleyn?
Hever Castle is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, but if you are not very familiar with English history, you might wonder who she was. Anne Boleyn was King Henry VIII’s second wife, executed for treason by beheading, in the Tower of London. She was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I and a key figure in the start of the English Reformation, when the Church of England broke away from the Vatican’s authority.
She lived on an off at Hever Castle in Kent, firstly during her childhood, and later as an adult, before and during her marriage with Henry VIII. The castle, built in the 13th century, has been in the Boleyn family for 77 years. After Anne father’s death, Henry VIII took over its possession and gifted it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as a divorce settlement. Yes, Henry VIII was quite the lady’s man.
The “Anne Bolyen Castle”>
When you get the first glimpses of Hever Castle you can’t stop wondering if it’s real, because it looks so much like it’s out of a fairy tale, or an animated movie. It’s not a big castle, but it’s quite tall, with compact towers, and a wooden door suspended from massive chains over the moat. On the outside, the vegetation has taken over the façade of the castle, decorating it in beautiful shades of green. Inside, a small courtyard leads to the main entrance.
Hever Castle is a wonderful example of Tudor architecture, extremely well preserved by the extensive renovations conducted by the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor (the creator of the luxury hotel chain Waldorf Astoria), at the beginning of the 20th century.
My visit inside Hever Castle took around one and a half hours. I highly recommend picking up the audio guide to immerse yourself in the history of the castle. The visit starts downstairs, with the modern study and library where William Waldorf Astor liked to entertain his guests. With decorated wood panel walls, tapestried couches, retro armchairs, a piano and a hidden drinks cabinet, I could only imagine what a party would have looked like here, at the beginning of the 1910s.
Stepping from one room to another is like jumping back and forth though the centuries. Next to the newly restored drawing room is the dining hall, where Henry VIII would have had dinner and was entertained after a successful hunting spree, when visiting Hever Castle to court Anne Boleyn. Whilst many of the original décor elements in this room don’t exist anymore and the furniture has been restored in the late 20th century, there is one item here that belonged to Henry VIII himself. Because he was so afraid of being assassinated, he brought his personal locksmith to Hever Castle to install a special lock for his bedchamber. This original gilt lock now hangs on one of the dining hall doors. If you are interested in learning more about the Kings and Queens of England, you must visit Windsor Castle as well, which exhibits the original armour garniture of Henry VIII for the field and tilt. Windsor is also where Henry VIII is buried, in St George’s Chapel.
Back to Hever Castle, upstairs the story of Anne Boleyn comes to life. The oldest part of the castle is the ceiling in King Henry VIII’s bedchamber, dating from approximately 1462. The portraits in the Queen’s chamber make one of the most impressive collections that tell the story of the Tudors, and displays the portraits of five of Henry VIII wives. The mannequins in these rooms bring history to life, making it easier to imagine how life at Hever Castle used to be in the 16th century.
Who Owns Hever Castle Now
Hever Castle has had various owners, among which are the Waldegrave family and the Waldorf Astor family. The last sale of the castle and its collection was in 1983, when the Astor family sold it to the Broadland Properties Limited. Today, Hever Castle is owned by the Guthrie family.
The Gardens at Hever Castle
The gardens at Hever Castle are some of the beautiful I have ever seen in England. They are so attentively landscaped and full of colours during every season, stretching over 125 acres of land. I’ve spent a couple of hours just enjoying the different hidden corners, the woodland, the gorgeous rose garden or the Italian corner. Strolling along the alleys in the late afternoon captures sweet aromas of delicate jasmine, the flower symbol of love and beauty.
I visited Hever Castle in summer, and I couldn’t get enough of the colours. There are always peaceful corners where you can enjoy some quiet time alone. In autumn, the experience is different, with warmer shades of reds, orange and yellows.
Summer and autumn are always great seasons to enjoy the flower meadows, which decorate the ground in a rainbow coloured carpet.
Hever Castle also features a stunning yew maze, which is an attraction in itself for both adults and children. Built in the Edwardian era, the hedges are eight feet tall. The approximate half a mile of pathways inside take around 45 minutes to complete. Unfortunately, when I visited the yew maze was closed due to the pandemic, so I didn’t get to experience it.
Another fun maze is the water one, where most of the visitors who attempt to reach its centre, get wet. It’s a fun activity, especially on a hot day. The best time to experience the water maze is at 10:30, when it opens. Later, the waiting times in the queue can be over one hour.
The Grounds at Hever Castle
Besides the gardens, the ticket to Hever Castle allows you to explore the entire grounds, including the woods and the lake. You can spend the entire day here. There were many people with picnic baskets who were just enjoying a day out with nature.
Hever lake stretches over 38 acres and makes a lovely walk for bird lovers. In summer you can rent a rowing boat or a kayak, and explore the grounds from the water in your own pace.
For the little ones, the castle organises different events such as archery lessons or shield painting.
Where to Eat at Hever Castle
You are probably going to spend the entire day at Hever Castle, so it’s good to know that there are a few places to eat in the grounds.
The Moat Restaurant serves sandwiches and cakes, together with coffee and tea, just next to the castle. You can either sit inside or take your food and eat it on the grass nearby.
The Guthrie Pavilion Restaurant is open for lunch with hot food, serving classics such as fish butties, chicken burgers or mac and cheese.
In the grounds of Hever Castle there is also a pizza van and a few ice cream kiosks. You can enjoy a prosecco at the newly opened Loggia bar which overlooks the Italian Gardens.
For a unique experience, if you are visiting during the weekend, prebook the afternoon tea in the Tudor Suite Dining Room and Sitting Room.
You are always welcome to bring your own picnic and enjoy the grounds of the castle.
Stay at the Hever Castle Hotel
William Waldorf Astor has not only renovated the castle to bring it back to its Tudor roots, he has also built an entire new wing which now hosts 28 luxury bedrooms which can be booked for overnight stays.
I would love to be able to tell what it’s like to stay in a castle, but unfortunately the price doesn’t fit my budget. However, from what I saw in the movie I watched at the end of my visit to Hever Castle, the experience must be one of a kind, with four poster beds and roll top bathtubs.
Not only will you feel like a queen (or a king) by staying overnight at Hever Castle, you will also have unlimited access to the private grounds after hours, when all the visitors have left. And that’s pretty cool.
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