Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, is one of the best castles in the Cotswolds, a picturesque area of south-west England. Sudeley Castle’s history goes back a thousand years and it’s played a part in many famous stories, several of which involve murder, adultery, and the civil war. Today Sudeley Castle makes a great, educational day out, and it’s suitable for all the family. The pretty village of Winchcombe is also worth looking around so allow yourself a full day out to make the most of a trip to the area. Read on to find out about the best things to see and do at Sudeley Castle and Winchcombe.
This post contains compensated links. Please see our disclaimer for more information.
The best things to see at Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe
Sudeley Castle history
The area around Sudeley Castle has been inhabited since Roman times. The castle itself was originally built as a manor house in the 11th century, and it’s undergone a vast amount of development and reconstruction throughout the years, and has been destroyed more than once. Sudeley was made a Royal castle in 1469 and its ownership was passed along the royal line for many years.
Sudeley Castle played an influential part in the infamous War of the Roses. A woman called Eleanor Talbot lived in Sudeley Castle, and she is a forgotten queen of England. Eleanor allegedly married Edward IV in secret; but it didn’t last. Eleanor didn’t have any children so Edward left her for Elizabeth Woodville. After Edward died in 1483, his brother Richard used the allegations of this previous marriage to declare Edward’s two young sons (by Elizabeth) illegitimate. The princes were locked in the Tower of London and were never seen again, while Richard took the throne for himself.
Much later, Sudeley Castle was badly damaged during the Civil War and remained uninhabited for about 200 years. Eventually it was bought by the Dent family, and they poured their hearts and souls (as well as a lot of money) into restoring the castle. Emma Dent was especially keen to restore the castle and to help the people of Winchcombe modernise the town. She organised the first water pipes in Winchcombe and set up almshouses to help the poor.
Sudeley’s Tudor connection
Sudeley was a crown property in Tudor times, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed in the castle while Henry plotted the dissolution of the monasteries at Winchcombe Abbey.
Sudeley Castle’s best known inhabitant was Katherine Parr, the wife who “survived” Henry VIII. After Henry VIII’s death, Katherine married Thomas Seymour who had been given Sudeley Castle by his nephew, Edward VI. Princess Elizabeth came to stay with them, as did the doomed Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen. Katherine Parr died shortly after giving birth and is buried in the chapel in the gardens. As for Thomas Seymour, he was executed for treason.
So in total, four queens of England (and Eleanor, the secret fifth) stayed at Sudeley Castle at one time or another.
What to see at Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle has a huge amount to see.
There are two main parts of the castle that you can look inside; an exhibition which takes you through the castle’s history, and the private rooms used by Lady Ashcombe and her family. See if you can find all 20 treasures of Sudeley Castle; a mix of artworks and objects that are hundreds of years old, and some made by some very famous people.
Don’t miss out on the gardens either; walk through the romantic rose gardens where the queens did hundreds of years ago, and try to imagine the grandeur of the ruined parts of the castle.
Inside Sudeley Castle’s exhibitions
The exhibition halls tell the stories of the inhabitants of Sudeley Castle, past and present. You can find out more about Lady Ashcombe and her family who live here today. Kids will love the story of the family’s pet badger – look out for the video of the family playing with him on the lawn, it’s super cute. There’s also a collection of historic toys here, although sadly they can’t be played with!
The exhibitions continue to walk you through Sudeley history. They concentrate on Tudor history, from Henry VIII and his wives, especially Katherine Parr, and then to Elizabeth I. Some of the treasures here are remarkable; love letters between Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour and a piece of lace for Princess Elizabeth’s christening, made by Anne Boleyn. The exhibits also cover the Civil War and Emma Dent’s later restoration of the castle.
The displays and arrangement of the exhibits have been changed recently. There’s a lot of history to cover but the new arrangement of the halls makes it easier to digest, and it’s a big improvement on the old layout.
The staircase that you’ll use to exit this part of the castle is apparently haunted. I’ve never noticed anything there, but it’s said that the ghost of a Victorian housekeeper haunts the steps; chivvying housemaids upstairs and guarding them from any unwanted male attention with the help of her trusty feather duster. Keep an eye out for her!
Inside Sudeley Castle’s private rooms
Sudeley Castle is still lived in by its owner, Lady Ashcombe. Several of the more formal rooms are open to the public. These are used by the family and have some beautiful treasures inside, including tapestries, books and paintings hundreds of years old. The staff in this part of the castle are very knowledgable so do ask them about the castle history or about any object that catches your eye.
Downstairs there’s a library and morning room and upstairs you’re able to look around a couple of bedrooms. They’re lovely (although not as spectacular as the ones that you might see in other palaces and castles), but again it’s the objects and their history that are the most interesting parts of the visit.
The kids’ favourite part of these rooms will be Katherine Parr’s anterooms. The first is beautifully decorated with a view out to the chapel where Katherine is buried, but the second room contains her red velvet privy. Kids will enjoy learning about the strange occupation of the “groom of the stool” who would accompany the king or queen to the bathroom. Apparently it was one of the most prestigious roles for an aide, but you couldn’t have paid me enough to do it!
Sudeley Castle Gardens
The gardens around Sudeley are wonderful. You walk through a wilder part of the gardens and past the ruined Tithe Barn to reach the castle, but around the other side you’ll find more manicured gardens, including where the four queens would have walked by the chapel. There’s a secret window into the chapel where Katherine Parr would have listened to services without drawing attention to herself.
Many of the Tudor additions to Sudeley still lie in ruins surrounded by gardens. The ruins include a banqueting hall and some of Elizabeth I’s private rooms. The tall windows would have let in a lot of light and they were originally made with glass mixed with the gemstone beryl. The beryl would have given the light a pink ethereal glow. It must have been beautiful, and it’s such a shame that this part of the castle was destroyed. But the ruins do add a romantic feel to the Sudeley estate.
Take a look at the tower of the ruined section as you walk around it; you can see the holes made by cannon during the Civil War.
Past the chapel you’ll find more formal planted gardens which then lead you through the pheasantry where there’s a collection of rare birds, and follow the path back to the Tithe Barn and exit.
Things to do with kids at Sudeley Castle
When you arrive, pick up a kids’ trail at reception. Kids have to find objects scattered throughout the castle and grounds – use one of the site maps to help you. They can draw and colour in too. This will (hopefully!) help keep little ones focused and occupied as they go through the castle. Look out for the willow maze by the entrance to the adventure playground too.
Do not make the mistake of going to the adventure playground with kids before you look around the castle! You will not be able to tear the kids away from the new playground and it will all end in tears (theirs, and yours). The adventure playground has recently been updated and includes a fabulous castle and plenty of other equipment such as a zipline, swings and slides; it’s a great way to bribe smaller kids into good behaviour.
There’s a large grassy area for the children to run around in, picnic tables for lunch, and it’s set away from the main castle so the kids can be as noisy as they like without disturbing anyone else. It’s the perfect way to finish your visit to Sudeley Castle.
Nearby Winchcombe is a busy little town full of independent shops and cafes. If you’ve got time, take a look around Winchcombe too. You can park in town but I’d leave your car at the castle and walk up the road to the left, past the adventure playground, and you’ll soon arrive in Winchcombe by way of one of its prettiest streets.
There are some utterly gorgeous little terraces in Winchcombe, like the almshouses pictured above. These were built by Emma Dent, who restored Sudeley Castle, and they’re still used to house people of limited means today.
You can learn more about the town’s sometimes bloody history in the museum or just wander about looking in interesting little alleyways and at the honey coloured terraces. There are plenty of places to eat and drink here; take your pick!
Don’t miss the historic church which is covered in grotesques (not gargoyles). If you’re lucky you might be able to climb the church tower for a view of the area. Winchcombe also makes a good place to stay for a few days to explore the north Cotswolds.
More things to do near Sudeley Castle and Winchcombe
There are plenty of this to do in the north of the Cotswolds, especially for families with young children. Take a look at our round-up of the best things to do in the Cotswolds with kids here.
And while we haven’t visited it yet, the Gloucester Warwickshire Steam Railway runs between Cheltenham Racecourse and Broadway, stopping in Winchcombe along the way. Read more about the GWSR here. They occasionally have A Day Out With Thomas (the tank engine) for small kids – we’re keeping an eye out for this for next year.
We think that these are some of the best things to do in the area surrounding Winchcombe:
Broadway and Broadway Tower
Nearby Broadway is another pretty Cotswold town but it’s a got a different feel to Winchcombe. Broadway’s streets are much more open but just as beautiful. Here you can look through the independent shops and learn about the town’s history in the Broadway museums while the kids go crazy in the brilliant adventure playground. Make sure you try the Broadway Deli for lunch.
Broadway Tower overlooks the town from high up on Fish Hill. It’s worth making the trip here to get one of the best views in the Cotswolds – you can see 16 counties from up here! Other attractions at the tower include a nuclear bunker tour (ages 12+ only, closed in the winter) seeing the herd of deer who live in the adjacent field, and trying the delicious food at the cafe.
Snowshill is a much smaller village than either Winchcombe or Broadway and almost completely unspoiled. The main attraction in this tiny hamlet is Snowshill Manor which is a sort of museum, absolutely chock full of strange collectables. This was the lifetime’s work of Charles Wade who bought the manor house specifically for his collections. He lived in one of the little outbuildings. There’s lots of history as well as intriguing objects here, and the gardens are almost as interesting as the house itself.
Snowshill village is very small and very quaint and worth a quick peek. Look around the village green where you can see a red telephone box and have a drink or lunch in the Snowshill Arms pub.
And just up the road is Cotswold Lavender (pictured) which you absolutely must visit if you’re in the Cotswolds in July.
Know before you go
Tickets and entry to Sudeley Castle
The castle opens from 10am – 5pm (4pm from end of October onwards). Buy your tickets at the doo, or save 10% by booking your tickets online in advance, here.
Tickets cost £16.50 per adult, £7.50 per child (3+) and a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children is £43.
Sudeley Castle is open until mid-December, when it closes for the winter. Check the exact dates online as they do vary each year.
There’s also the Spectacle of Light which is on until 30th December and requires a separate ticket. Click here for more information.
Where to eat at Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle has a cafe by the visitors centre and another restaurant at the main building although this is sometimes closed for weddings or other functions. You can also bring a picnic as there are plenty of tables by the adventure playground and the willow maze.
Where to stay near Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle owns some holiday cottages which would make a great base for exploring the area from. The cottages are rated as 4* properties and have a lovely, homely feel to them. Some of the apartments have outside areas, and all have kitchens for self catering. Free parking and wifi is available.
You can click here to book the guest cottages, as well as taking a look at a few more options for staying in Winchcombe.
Disclaimer: I was given free entry to Sudeley Castle, but all opinions are my own.
Pin for later!