As you may be aware, we love a bit of history here at Kids and Compass. Luckily, living in the UK, there’s plenty to discover. The UK has some incredible castles and Arundel Castle is now one of our favourites.
We recently visited Arundel Castle which turned out to be a real surprise. I remember visiting Arundel itself as a small child but I don’t think I went into the castle. We’ve been to Windsor Castle, which is very similar to Arundel from the outside, in fact, Arundel often doubles for Windsor Castle in film and on TV. However, Arundel has a much less formal feel to it than Windsor, and so we feel that it makes a better day out for young families.
Read on to see what there is to see at Arundel Castle, and tips to help you plan your visit!
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What to see at Arundel Castle
You need a good few hours, or most of the day to look around Arundel Castle properly. There are several different ticket types available; as this was our first visit we went for the full price tickets which allow access to all areas of the castle and its grounds. More information about tickets can be found at the end of the post under “Know before you go.”
Arundel Castle History
Arundel Castle is one of the longest inhabited homes in the UK. Its history stretches back almost a thousand years; the keep was built in 1068 on top of an artificial mound and it has been extended and restored through the centuries.
Arundel Castle has been home to some very influential families; not least the Dukes of Norfolk, to whom the castle still belongs today. At a few points in history the castle has been owned by the Crown but it’s always been given back to the family after a short time. So the Norfolks can trace their time in the castle all the way back to 1138. That’s some history.
The Norfolks have been a prominent family for many years with heavy involvement in Royal circles, and they still hold important ceremonial positions today. Back in Tudor times, the Norfolks had their fingers in pretty much every political pie you can think of. Two of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives – Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard who were both beheaded – were nieces to the third Duke of Norfolk, who only escaped the same grisly end himself when Henry VIII died on the day of the execution. Can you imagine Norfolk’s face when he found out? The fourth Duke was not so fortunate and lost his head on the scaffold for planning to marry Mary Queen of Scots. I imagine Arundel Castle has been the site of many a plot which changed the course of England’s history.
Arundel Castle is rare in that it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got a medieval keep, where Empress Matilda once stayed. It’s got enormous turrets with arrow-slit windows and battlements along the top of its walls. Inside, there are beautiful rooms filled with treasures hoarded over the years, and it feels more like a stately home than a castle. Everyone will find something of interest here, whether it’s glittering golden treasures, lion pelts (the boy was fascinated by these), the amazing architecture or the fabulous collection of art.
Much of the castle has been heavily restored over the years following heavy damage during the Civil War. The restorations were finished by 1900 and the Norfolk family still live in it today, in a private part of the castle. Large parts of the castle are open to the public, including some of the bedrooms which are still used today.
Inside Arundel Castle
So, when you arrive the entrance to the castle is just off to the right. Up the stairs you’ll find a restaurant opposite where hot meals are served and a cafe to your right for sandwiches and snacks.
If you turn left you’ll find the ticketed entrance to the main rooms and the keep. The main rooms in the castle open at midday so if you’re here before then head to the gardens and grounds while you’re waiting.
Arundel Castle Keep
The Keep is the oldest part of Arundel Castle. It dates back to medieval times and has a very different atmosphere to the rest of the Castle; it feels like a proper fortress with arrow slit windows, battlements and stark stone walls.
Inside the Keep you can walk along part of the walls and then up to the top of the round tower. The tower steps are possibly the narrowest and steepest steps I’ve ever climbed so the husband and I took it in turns to go up – our kids were far too small to manage the steps. From the top of the tower you can get great views all the way down to the coast in one direction, and over the South Downs in the other.
There’s also a nice little display by the keep just as you’re leaving the castle to walk towards the tower. Covering several rooms, the display shows you a few nuggets from Arundel Castle’s history and it’s especially good for kids. There’s dressing up clothes for children and some kid-friendly information. You can walk through the apartments built for the Empress Matilda when she visited in the castle’s early days and see a scene set out from the Civil War when the Norfolks sided with the Crown.
You can sometimes find costumed actors here but there weren’t any characters for our visit. There are several waxwork displays which make effective discussion points for introducing kids to history. They’re bespoke to the castle – Carcassonne’s Torture Museum should take note – if you want atmospheric mannequins, then this is how you do it!
Inside Arundel Castle
Once you’ve visited the keep then head into the main rooms of the castle. This has a feel of a grand stately home and it’s much less castle-like. There’s so much to see here and you may not be able to take it all in if you’re making sure your kids aren’t trying to wreck everything in sight, so take as much time as your kids allow you!
Standouts of the interior of the castle include the amazing chapel and the Baron’s Hall next door with its gorgeous stained glass windows, enormous fireplaces and lions pelt rugs. I could barely drag the husband out of the armoury which has a saddle some 500 years old on display, not to mention more swords than you can, er, shake a stick at.
The wonderful library is one of the best rooms in Arundel Castle. It’s decorated in a warm crimson and while it’s peppered with precious artefacts, it has a very homely feel. Personally, I could easily imagine drawing the curtains to close off an area of the library and curling up with a book on one of the chairs. It’s not often that you feel like that in such a grand building!
If you’ve gone for the whole hog with your tickets then you’ll be able to access the castle bedrooms, which are still in use. We weren’t able to linger long in the bedrooms as by now the kids were wanting to go back outside so we had to rush through a bit. One bedroom that everyone can see is where Queen Victoria stayed – luckily she gave 2 years’ notice and the castle was spruced up for her visit.
Stop off at the Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel Castle grounds on the way to the formal gardens. This is where members of the Norfolk family and some of the previous Dukes are buried. Inside you can see incredible tombs, especially that of the 7th Earl of Arundel. During his lifetime an effigy of him as a corpse was sculpted to remind him of his mortality, despite his great wealth. Now this sculpture decorates his tomb, underneath the sculpture of him in life.
The stained glass windows in the chapel tell the story of the building so ask one of the helpful staff to explain it to you. Entry to the Fitzalan Chapel is included in garden tickets.
Arundel Castle Gardens
Now, the castle itself is fantastic but Arundel Castle gardens and grounds are worth a visit in themselves. We visited just as the spring tulip display was finishing – it must have been spectacular in full bloom but we got the idea. If you want to see the tulips in full bloom then April is the best time to go. The gardens are overlooked by the imposing Arundel cathedral, which isn’t part of the castle site.
The formal gardens are split into areas, a bit like the ones at Hidcote, near us in the Cotswolds. Parts of the garden reminded me of the water gardens at the Alhambra in Spain; delicate fountains trickle gently, waterfalls tumble into pools, and everything is beautifully manicured. It was enough to keep our small kids captivated, which is certainly saying something.
Take a close look at the pillars, mini pavilions and buildings in the formal gardens – they might look as if they’re carved from stone but in fact they’re all wooden.
All the areas of the garden are gorgeous but my favourite part was the Stumpery, where ferns and other plants grow over huge tree stumps. I’ve never seen anything similar and the kids could let their imaginations run wild here; imagining all sorts of fairies and dinosaurs living in the foliage.
Make sure you don’t miss Oberon’s Palace; this building just in front of the cathedral is decked out like King Triton’s palace inside, with walls encrusted in shells. Oberon’s Palace also has a special fountain – a crown seems to float in mid air, spinning on top of the water. The kids are sure to love this!
Outside of the formal gardens there are plenty of other parts of the grounds to see. Walk along the dry moat past the bottom of the keep, and explore the rose garden (we were to early to see any roses).
Know before you go
Arundel Castle tickets
Arundel Castle is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from April until October (dates may vary slightly each year). The grounds, chapel and keep are open from 10am. The main state rooms open at 12pm.
You can buy Arundel Castle tickets from the official website. There are lots of different options depending on what you want to see – having seen the lot, I’d say it’s all worth a look. You could give the castle bedrooms a miss but don’t skip the rest!
Events at Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle often puts on special events, usually around school holidays in spring and summer. Other than the tulip festival, this year there are planned jousting tournaments, living history days, family friendly exhibits and more. There’s also the annual Arundel Festival which is held at the castle. Check the website to see what’s on for your visit.
How to get to Arundel Castle
Arundel is an easy day trip from London. Trains run from London Victoria to Arundel a couple of times an hour. Direct trains take about an hour and a half. On some routes you might need to change trains and the journey should take a couple of hours at most.
If you drive to Arundel then you can park in Mill Road car park at the foot of the castle. I’d advise arriving as close to opening time as possible as the car park fills up quickly. Sat nav postcode is BN18 9PA.
I had a look at bus routes from nearby cities Brighton and Chichester but honestly they look like a right faff so I’d stick with train and car!
Arundel hotels and places to stay
In the centre of Arundel, families can stay at Portreeves which is a self catering apartment in the town centre. The apartment has everything you need and there is children’s play equipment in the garden. Click here to get more information and to book.
The Old Chapel is a highly rated stay in Arundel. It’s a stone’s throw from Arundel Castle and can sleep 4 people in two bedrooms. Click here to see if it’s available for your stay.
Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa is a 15 minute drive from Arundel but it looks perfect for a short break! There building and grounds are beautiful, and the rooms are stunning, some with four-poster beds. Check prices and availability here.
More things to do in the Arundel area
If you’ve got more time, then look around Arundel; it’s a pretty town with some nice cafes and quirky independent shops. The architecture is very typically Sussex; a bit of a mix but with lots of red brick and tiles covering upper stories. There are a few other things to do if you’d like to extend your stay.
The museum is located just over the road from the entrance to Arundel Castle. Inside you’ll find more information about the history of the area, going all the way back to Neolithic times. You can easily drop in after your visit to the castle.
You can see the enormous cathedral from the castle gardens. It’s a Catholic cathedral and holds the relics of the 1st Earl of Arundel, St Philip Howard, who was canonised.
Arundel Wetland Centre
Just along the road from Arundel Castle, Arundel Wetland centre is a peaceful place to walk about and enjoy finding local wildlife. It’s owned by the WWT, a charity which saved wetlands; and while we haven’t been to the one at Arundel, we have been to Slimbridge and it’s a good day out for families. At Arundel you can take boat rides and enjoy seeing many species of birds and other animals who live in wetlands.
Just down the road from Arundel, right on the coast, is Littlehampton which has a beach split in two by the river Arun. Both East Beach and West Beach are sandy, which is more unusual along the Sussex Coast as many beaches are pebbles. You could easily visit Littlehampton after seeing Arundel Castle and let the kids tear about on the beach for a bit.
Brighton is a great town full of quirky shops, traditional British piers and seaside entertainment, and its famous pebble beach. The standout for me is the Royal Pavilion – this has to be one of England’s quirkiest buildings. It’s worth at least a day to explore.
South Downs National Park and South Downs Way
Arundel is on the edge of the South Downs National Park. The South Downs Way stretches over 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne. There’s lovely walking in the area and plenty more activities to enjoy. See the website for more information.
Weald and Downland Museum
Not too far away from Arundel, between Chichester and Midhurst, the Weald and Downland Museum is an open-air exhibit of traditional buildings found in the area. The buildings have been rescued from demolition and moved from their original locations. There’s a huge amount to learn about life in England from Tudor to Victorian times.
Have you been to Arundel Castle? What’s your favourite UK castle?