The Tower of London is one of the most famous castles in England. It was built by William the Conqueror, partly to protect London from foreign invaders, and partly as a statement of power for his royal dynasty.
Anyone who has spent any length of time in or around London will be well aware that there are not just one or two but many castles near London. Some are ancient, and others have been preserved for modern day tourists ; some have stood idle and empty since medieval days while others were never finished ; some are still private residences belonging to aristocratic families while others serve as museums and tourist attractions . Indeed, castles are dotted all over the area that was once the royal hunting ground of Middlesex.
Castles in the London area date back to Saxon times, though they were not called castles at that time: they were called fortified manor houses, or motte-and-bailey constructions (a ‘motte’ was a mound on which a castle or tower would be built, and a ‘bailey’ was an adjacent fortified courtyard). The Tower of London stands in one of these old baileys; indeed, it is thought to have been the site of some of the earliest settlement in London.
We will feature three of the most famous castles in the London area: they are the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is a very famous castle indeed, and alongside Dover Castle it is one of the most important historic buildings in England. This mighty fortress was once home to kings and queens, and it has been the site of many historic events as well as being a royal residence. The Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 on a rocky outcrop by the River Thames. The Tower is famous for such historical events as the imprisonment of the Princes in the Tower, and the execution of Anne Boleyn. It is also notable for its displays of armour and weapons, including a collection of some 300 swords and scabbards.
The Tower is one of the three official residences of Her Majesty The Queen. She spends most of her time at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral Castle but she still has rooms at The Tower that are used occasionally by her or members of her family.
The Tower of London is open to the public all year round and it is acknowledged as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. It attracts around 3 million visitors annually, with its Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) being one of its most famous features. Visitors to the Tower are free to wander along it’s ramparts and through many parts of the ancient building, although they cannot enter certain areas such as The Wakefield Tower or The Chapel Royal.
Windsor Castle is one of England’s greatest medieval castles, built near Windsor by William the Conqueror to protect London from attacks by invaders overland from Europe. The castle was largely extended by Henry II in the late 12th century and remained a favourite royal residence until Queen Victoria left it in 1837. The castle has been the residence of British monarchs since William the Conqueror was crowned here in 1066. It has been the scene of historic events throughout its long history, including the imprisonment of King John after his quarrel with Pope Gregory in 1213, and the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. The castle is also known for its superb collection of paintings, and for its magnificent state dining room where Britain’s future kings and queens have been crowned during ceremonies which date back to 1066.
Windsor is home to the Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. It is also home to other members of the Royal Family as well as being a favourite residence of Prince Andrew, The Duke of York and his daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. Windsor Castle is open all year round with one exception: from January 1 until April 1 it closes each evening at 5pm.
Most visitors do not enter the castle itself but are allowed to wander freely around the surrounding royal parkland, including within its walls and around the legendary ’round tower’ which stands by itself in the parkland.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is one of the most important historic houses in England, second only to Windsor Castle in importance. It was built by Cardinal Wolsey to serve as a royal residence for Henry VIII and it was Wolsey’s failure in building this palace (as well as his failure to secure the Pope’s approval for Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon) that led to his downfall. The building was extended by later monarchs, including Charles I and George II, and its final appearance is that which we see today. Hampton Court Palace has been home to some of the most famous figures from English history, including Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Anne Boleyn and Queen Victoria. Today it attracts around 1 million visitors each year.
Hampton Court Palace is one of the three official residences of Her Majesty The Queen, along with Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle. Every June the Queen holds a garden party at Hampton Court. She also spends some of her weekends at Hampton Court, as does Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh.
The palace is open to the public all year round and it is Britain’s most popular historic house. It attracts more than 1 million visitors each year (more than twice as many as Windsor Castle), with its Great Hall being one of its most famous features. There are guided tours in English daily, and there are also audio guides available in 12 different languages on request, including Spanish, Italian, German, French and Mandarin Chinese.
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