Embark on a journey of historical discovery as we explore 11 captivating Sussex Castles well-worth visiting.
Our guide showcases an assortment of impressive fortresses, from the imposing Arundel Castle to the romantic ruins of Cowdray Castle.
Each Sussex castle tells its own tail, providing fascinating glimpses into England’s storied past.
So let’s travel back in time and explore some of the most magnificent castles to visit in Sussex.
Table of Contents
East Sussex Castles
Bodiam Castle, nestled near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, is a captivating 14th-century fortification that beautifully marries military architecture and domestic comfort.
Erected by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge under a royal license of 1385, the castle had a dual purpose
As well as being a stalwart defender against French invasions during the Hundred Years’ War, it also served as an elegant, high-status dwelling.
The castle’s architectural allure is undeniable.
Its symmetric quadrangular design, coupled with rounded towers at each corner, creates an imposing silhouette against the backdrop of tranquil countryside.
Yet, its interior lacks the complex fortifications of its contemporaries, instead favoring residential spaces that exude medieval grandeur.
The preserved chambers, including a magnificent great hall, a serene chapel, and private apartments, invite explorers to step into the world of 14th-century nobility.
It’s hare to overlook the strategic brilliance of Bodiam Castle’s entrance – equipped with a wooden portcullis and gun ports, it’s a testament to the architectural advances of its time.
Despite scars from the English Civil War, the robust exterior and towers survive, whispering tales of its storied past.
One of the most impressive of all castles in Sussex, this majestic fortress offersa glimpse into the fascinating interplay of power and lifestyle in the Middle Ages.
Photo: English Heritage
Camber Castle, tucked away amidst the flat landscapes of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex, is a distinctive example of Tudor military architecture.
Commissioned by King Henry VIII in 1539, the castle was a part of the King’s Device programme intended to fortify England’s southern coast against potential French and Spanish invasions.
The castle’s concentric design sets it apart. At its heart is a round tower, a part of the original fortification, surrounded by four angular bastions linked by a circular wall.
This design was a novelty of the time, reflecting the changes in warfare, particularly the increasing use of artillery.
While the castle’s military function was short-lived due to shifting shoreline and silting of the Camber estuary, the structure remains remarkably intact.
Thus it provides a fascinating snapshot of 16th-century defensive architecture.
Visitors can explore the castle’s rooms and the outer walls, all offering splendid views over the surrounding nature reserve.
Additionally, the castle is set within a nature reserve, which means it can be combined with bird watching or a leisurely stroll.
Camber Castle presents a compelling journey into Tudor history, amidst a serene backdrop of natural beauty.
Hastings Castle, perched atop the cliffs of the quaint seaside town of Hastings in East Sussex, bears a foundational role in England’s history.
The castle was one of the first Norman encampments, commissioned by William the Conqueror himself around 1066, during the famous Battle of Hastings.
Originally a wooden fortress, it was later rebuilt using stone, transforming it into a formidable stronghold.
The castle’s layout was dictated by the landscape, resulting in an irregular plan, unlike the symmetrical layouts seen in most Norman castles.
Today, while in ruins, the castle still holds notable features. The remnants of the chapel, the East Gate, and the dungeons provide a window into its medieval past.
Of great historical significance, is the chapel’s apse – a mural dating back to the 13th century which clings to its walls. It’s one of the surviving few in all of England.
Stationed high on the town’s cliffs, the castle provides vistas that stretch across the town and the vast English Channel.
Such views from the castle lend a palpable understanding of its strategic import throughout history.
Hastings Castle represents a significant juncture in English history offering a vivid, first-hand comprehension of this transformative period.
Herstmonceux Castle, residing amidst the verdant East Sussex landscape, is a testament to the splendour of the 15th-century England.
The castle was commissioned by Sir Roger Fiennes, a high-ranking official in the court of King Henry VI.
The castle’s design deviates from the traditional defensive structure, embracing more of a luxurious manor house style
It’s built entirely out of red brick, a novel construction material in that era.
The characteristic Tudor architecture is evident in its turreted outline, reflecting a transition from medieval fortifications to grand country estates.
Despite major renovation in the 20th century, most of the castle’s original features have been preserved including the panelled interiors, fireplaces and courtyards.
The expansive castle grounds boast themed gardens, a woodland walk and even an observatory, all of which add to its allure.
The lush greenery contrasts beautifully with the castle’s rich red brickwork, offering an enchanting sight – a wonderful example of Tudor England engineering.
Lewes Castle, presiding over the town of Lewes in East Sussex, carries a legacy dating back to the 11th century.
Commissioned by William de Warenne, a close ally of William the Conqueror, it’s one of the earliest Norman castles in England.
The castle was initially a motte-and-bailey castle, but its wooden structure was eventually replaced with stone.
Unique among English castles, Lewes features two mottes – the Brack Mount and the Castle Mount, each offering splendid vistas over the town and the South Downs.
The shell keep on the Castle Mount and the Barbican gate are particularly noteworthy features.
The keep’s design is typical of Norman architecture, while the Barbican gate represents later architectural trends. These preserved elements, along with the collections in the associated museum, offer a deep dive into England’s medieval past.
Lewes Castle’s strategic location, atop a chalk hill, underlines its historic defensive role.
Today, it offers visitors a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape, a sight that’s as breathtaking now as it was strategically significant then.
A visit to Lewes Castle is not just an exploration of an ancient stronghold, but a journey through a thousand years of English history.
Pevensey Castle, situated in the quaint village of Pevensey in East Sussex, is a historical marvel spanning across the Roman, Norman, and Medieval periods.
The castle’s origins trace back to the late 3rd century as a Roman Saxon Shore fort.
Its strategic location near the coast made it a prime candidate for reuse during the Norman Conquest.
In fact, it served as William the Conqueror’s initial base. The Normans built a classic motte-and-bailey castle within the old Roman walls, making effective use of the existing fortifications.
Despite enduring multiple sieges throughout its history, Pevensey Castle’s Roman walls remain impressively intact, presenting an outstanding example of Roman military architecture.
The ruins of the Norman keep and bailey, although less complete, are significant for their historical context.
The castle’s history extends into the modern era as it was utilized during World War II, reinforcing its continuing strategic importance.
The remaining gun emplacements and pillboxes bear testament to this recent past.
A visit to Pevensey Castle, therefore, offers an exceptional journey across two millennia of English history.
Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower, stands as a stalwart figure in the historic town of Rye in East Sussex.
This 13th-century castle, originally built as a fortification against French attacks, now serves as a window into the region’s vibrant past.
The castle’s distinctive quadrangular layout, with corner turrets and thick stone walls, reflects the defensive architecture of its time. It was later used as a prison, adding another layer to its rich history.
Today, Rye Castle houses a museum that offers a journey through the town’s history, including its roles in trade, defence and smuggling.
The museum showcases a range of exhibits from medieval artefacts to displays on local writers, providing a multifaceted view of Rye’s heritage.
There are panoramic views from the battlements out over the medieval town below and surrounding countryside.
From here, its easy to appreciate the castle’s strategic significance and offers a prime example of why these fortifications were so important to a town’s defence.
Visiting Rye Castle thus provides not just an encounter with a medieval fortress, but a comprehensive exploration of Rye’s historical narrative.
West Sussex Castles
Arundel Castle, an architectural marvel located in the heart of West Sussex, is a riveting blend of England’s vibrant history and timeless grandeur.
It was established in the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, a comrade of William the Conqueror.
The castle has served as a formidable fortress and a home to the Dukes of Norfolk for generations.
Upon first glance, Arundel Castle captivates with its unique synthesis of Norman motte and bailey design, adorned with Victorian Gothic enhancements.
The lure of the castle continues within its walls, with stately chambers housing a treasury of art and antique tapestries, including pieces from esteemed artists like Van Dyck and Gainsborough.
A climb to the pinnacle of the ancient keep rewards the explorer with sweeping vistas of the stunning Sussex countryside.
But the allure of Arundel Castle doesn’t end within its stone confines. The Castle’s grounds boast lush Victorian-era gardens, showcasing the botanical beauty of the Collector Earl’s Garden.
Concluding your journey, the charming town of Arundel offers a warm embrace, complete with quaint cottages and delightful antique shops.
Arundel Castle, with its compelling history and alluring charm, stands as an irresistible beacon for those who are drawn to explore England’s multifaceted heritage.
Bramber Castle, situated in the idyllic village of Bramber, West Sussex, offers a glimpse into the Norman period of England.
Commissioned by William de Braose, a follower of William the Conqueror, this castle was built around 1070 as a part of the Norman conquest.
Bramber Castle’s design features the quintessential motte-and-bailey layout, with a wooden keep perched atop the motte, or earth mound.
Over time, the keep was replaced by a stone shell keep, signifying the architectural advancements of the era.
Today, Bramber Castle may be a ruin, but it still has plenty to offer.
The remnants of the gatehouse, sections of the high curtain walls and parts of the domestic buildings allow visitors to envisage the castle’s past grandeur.
Adding to its charm is the commanding view the castle offers over the River Adur and the surrounding countryside.
Beyond the castle, you’ll find St. Nicholas Church, the oldest Norman church in Sussex, within walking distance.
The village of Bramber itself brims with traditional English charm, perfect for a leisurely stroll after your castle visit.
Immerse yourself in the layers of history at Bramber Castle, a testament to the region’s past and a magnet for those drawn to England’s medieval legacy.
Cowdray Castle, nestled in the heart of Midhurst, West Sussex, harks back to the era of Tudor sophistication.
This early 16th-century edifice, the brainchild of Sir David Owen, a relative of Henry VII, still echoes tales of its splendid past.
Though referred to as a ‘castle’, Cowdray is more akin to an opulent manor house from the Tudor epoch, highlighting the era’s shift towards luxury over defensive prowess.
The original blueprint boasted of a grand hall, private apartments, and artistically adorned parlours, testifying to the comforts of the age.
Presently, what greets visitors are the poignant ruins, testament to a catastrophic fire in the 18th century.
The remnants, however, with their intricate carvings and towering windows, narrate a tale of architectural magnificence typical of the Tudor period.
Beyond its architectural remnants, Cowdray Castle is enveloped in a canvas of green, a landscape teeming with the vibrancy of nature.
The ruins, overlooking the emerald expanse, paint a captivating imagery of past grandeur nestled in the tranquility of the Sussex countryside.
Knepp Castle, located near Horsham in West Sussex, stands as a notable example of a motte-and-bailey castle – a type of castle prevalent following the Norman Conquest.
This Sussex castle was established by William de Braose, a powerful Norman baron, around 1120.
While the original structure was largely demolished in the 17th century, the castle’s motte, surrounded by a deep, water-filled moat, remains impressive.
On top of the motte stands a hexagonal tower, constructed in the 19th century in a Gothic revival style, lending a distinctive silhouette to the West Sussex landscape.
Although the tower isn’t open to the public, Knepp Castle and its grounds play a significant role in a wider context.
The estate is home to the Knepp Wildland Project – an exciting rewilding project in which traditional farming has given way to natural processes.
Thus, a visit to the Knepp Estate offers a fascinating example of how nature can reclaim and transform a landscape when allowed to do so.
Looking to stay in Sussex during your castle visits? Take a look at our range of Sussex cottages and holiday rentals.