Overlooking the River Arun in West Sussex, Arundel Castle and Gardens is a magnificent medieval structure, built for defense. The original design was a motte and double bailey castle. If you’re looking for a road trip, Arundel makes a wonder place to visit in south England.
The estate has been the home of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 400 years and its ancestors for almost 1,000 years. Since the 11th century, it has served as a home, and today, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk still reside in the castle.
It has welcomed many notable guests, with Queen Victoria being the most prestigious.
The castle in Arundel is a place I visited often since it’s a stone’s throw from where I lived in West Sussex. During my first visit in the 1980s, I was disappointed because many of the rooms were not accessible to the public.
While the gardens and grounds are stunning, I wanted to see the stone walls and imagine life during medieval times.
After all, who doesn’t want to relive the pomp and pageantry of what’s it’s like to have noble blood? It’s not every day you can peer into the life and home of a wealthy Lord or Duke. However, many years have passed since my first visit, and much has changed.
Fast forward forty years and many rooms have been lovingly restored to their former glory. Today. visitors can tour a large area of the fortress dependent upon the type of ticket purchased. Today, it’s a must-see when visiting Sussex.
Some of the rooms are still undergoing restorations, so they will probably be available to see shortly. With time, has evolved into one of England’s most impressive homes.
Approaching The Castle
Walking the path to the castle, visitors are wowed by such an impressive structure. Looking up at the towering fortress, undoubtedly this magnificent castle would have been almost impregnable by the enemies in times of war.
Even though I had visited it before, Arundel Castle and Gardens still took my breath away with its beauty and towering presence. I imagined that building this behemoth was difficult during times when modern machinery did not exist.
oozes so much fairytale charm, like a drawing from a child’s bedtime story where everyone lives happily ever after. While it wasn’t the quintessential structure like Leeds with a surrounding moat, it still wowed me with its dominating facade.
During my visit, the rose garden was in bloom and made for such a picturesque setting. I arrived a little too early to gain access to the castle, so I passed the time by wandering the fragrant grounds.
The Fitzalan Chapel is located inside the end of a church built on the castle grounds. It is part of the church of St Nicholas. It is unique because the church is divided into two worships; one part Catholic and the other Anglican. A first for a church, I think?
Founded in 1380 by the 4th Earl of Arundel, the chapel still serves as a burial place for the Dukes of Norfolk. Although the chapel is small, it has many sculpted tombs and monuments. The chapel itself is an excellent example of Gothic architecture with its stunningly carved wooden roof and choir stalls.
Allocate enough time to appreciate the intricately marble-carved stone tombs and the beautiful stained glass windows. Even though the space is small, there’s a lot to see and read inside the stone walls.
Arundel Castle Gardens
Whether you’re a gardener or want-to-be gardener, the grounds at Arundel will blow you away. The gardens cover 40 magnificent acres, consisting of a vinery, an organic kitchen garden, a cut flower garden the Earl’s garden, and glasshouses.
Adjacent to the chapel, a white garden features snow-white lilies, Cosmos, and Iceberg roses.
The Collector Earls Garden is a new addition to the garden. This formal garden with its domed pergolas and jetted fountains was my favorite place on the castle grounds. Even though I’m not a gardener, I can appreciate the amount of work and attention to detail in this stunning landscape.
This area was created in honor of Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel. Its design was selected to represent a garden from the London residence of Arundel House.
Even though the Collector Earl’s garden was quite formal and reminiscent of Elizabethian times, other areas are very organic and allow wildflowers to flourish.
The Stumpery garden is a classic example of an informal plot. The twisted and organic elements of tree stumps mix beautifully with tones of greenery. By allowing weeds and plants to self-seed, the quirky garden contrasts greatly with the more formal areas between the castle and the Arundel Cathedral.
The tropical glasshouses are a delight for the viewer too. It’s fascinating to see the different types of peppers, bananas, passion fruit, and grapes hanging from the vines. Home cooking couldn’t be any better with freshly picked ingredients from your own garden.
While many come to see the imposing castle, they are pleasantly surprised by what they find in the stunning gardens. Since the walled garden provides protection from the elements, you’ll find some rare plantings within the walls.
Martin Duncan, the head gardener oversees a team of more than a dozen people to maintain the castle gardens. Each year, Mr. Duncan and his team plant over 100,000 bulbs creating a sea of tulips below the towering castle.
The Norman Keep
For many, the Norman Keep is the most impressive part of the castle (from the 11th century). Remarkably, it’s in excellent shape given its age. To reach the Norman Keep, you through the 1070 Gatehouse passed the fantastic Portcullis.
The Portcullis is a heavy English oak-grilled door that protected the main entrance during times of attack. With the assistance of guide slots in the stonework, guards lowered the counterweights and a winding mechanism to close off the castle’s entrance.
The 131 steps to the top of the keep are not for the faint of heart, and I assisted my mother (who was in her late 70s).
While the first steps are relatively wide, they narrow significantly towards the top. In some cases, only half a foot could fit on a stair tread. Thankfully, I have tiny feet so that I could navigate the stairs like a mountain goat.
At the top of the 30-foot tall keep, the stunning views of Arundel’s surrounding town, the River Arun, and the rolling hills of the West Sussex countryside came into view. Equally impressive are the views of the castle wards or inner courtyard, which is closed to the public.
To one side the Barbican provides access to the lower ward nearest the castle apartments. n the other side, the 14th-century Bevis Tower, once called the Beaumont Tower leads to the upper ward. These areas are reserved for the Duke of Norfolk’s family.
Arundel Castle’s Keep is such a magical place that I almost didn’t want to leave. However, with so much more to see, I needed to continue my adventure.
Inside Arundel Castle
I must start by saying the castle staff was accommodating and full of knowledge when I had questions. Arundel Castle is the impressive home of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
The castle is immaculate and an art lover’s paradise with its rare collection of paintings by renowned artists, including Van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Canaletto. Everything inside the castle is on a grander scale and finely preserved.
At 113 feet long and 35 feet wide, this one room is larger than some people’s entire homes. Entering the room, I stood in awe of its enormous size. The heightened ceiling is crafted from chestnut oak in a Gothic style, typical for its time.
The antiques are pretty impressive, especially in the Great Hall, also known as the Baron’s Hall. I spent some time in the Baron’s Hall, trying to capture everything it had to offer mentally.
One of the things that stood out to me was the enormous stone fireplaces that towered over me. Imagine a fireplace so big that you can stand inside of it.
Flanking the fireplaces and continuing down the walls were a series of beautiful portraits and delicate tapestries.
There was so much to enjoy from floor to ceiling, including the painted window depicting the signing of the Magna Carta.
Two of the pieces that fascinated me were an ornate sleigh that seemed too beautiful to use and an old Chinese single-person litter adorned in black velvet. Litters are wheelless vehicles, used for centuries to transport people.
Walking through the Baron’s Hall, it’s fantastic to know the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk still use the room today. Closing my eyes, I could imagine the grand parties hosted in this magnificent space.
Another equally impressive room in the castle is the beautiful 122-foot-long two-story library. Dark mahogany paneling lined the library walls, while the carvings are the best you will see anywhere.
Chinese lanterns adorn this stunning space that holds over 10,000 books, some rare and first editions.
For me, it’s a library I could see in a Harry Potter movie. The library is a massive favorite with visitors with its simple rich jewel tone colors that make you feel at home. I wanted to grab a book and curl up in one of the red velvet chairs for some quiet reading.
Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel was an avid collector. During his time in the castle, he gathered an esteemed group of paintings, marble sculptures, and books. Some of those books, rare and original are housed in the library today.
The Private Chapel
Constructed between 1890 and 1903, with inspiration from Salisbury, one of Britain’s best cathedrals, visitors can’t tour the private chapel. However, you can enjoy views from the walkway above. The private chapel is closed to the public because it is used exclusively by the family for special occasions such as christenings and mass.
The Private Chapel was used daily for family and household morning and evening prayers in the early years of the 20th Century and Mass was celebrated here on Sundays and feast days until c.1960 when the shortage of priests compelled regular Mass here to cease.
The private chapel has amazing early English Gothic architecture. The stained glass is superb and mimics those at Canterbury Cathedral. Purbeck marble was extensively used in the construction of the chapel, giving it a monarchical feel.
Queen Victoria’s Bedroom
As you tour the castle rooms, you will realize Arundel is not just a stately home and a magnificent castle. It’s also a museum of incredible tapestries, oil paintings, and intricate antiques.
Victoria’s bedroom, for instance, is the epitome of royalty with its gold accents and luxurious fabric choices. While the Queen stayed at Arundel a mere three days in 1846, her bedroom and certain castle rooms were extensively refurbished so they weren’t drafty or unappealing.
When you need a break, stop by the café and enjoy a meal in a medieval dining room. I sampled the smoked mackerel salad, which was reasonable in price and tasted great.
The Grand Staircase
For many, the castle’s library and Norman Keep are favorites among those visiting the castle estate. However, a few other areas captivated me; firstly, the Grand Staircase, and secondly, the Drawing Room.
The Grand Staircase leads from the main level to the additional bedrooms only accessible with my Gold Plus ticket. The grand staircase is a visual splendor with a collection of paintings on one wall and a colossal 18th-century tapestry on the other.
It was hard not to ogle at the intricately carved stone railings and decorative moldings paired with ancestral portraits. Equally stunning are the beautiful stone ceiling and beautiful ceiling bosses.
The Drawing Room
Although lavish in style, the Drawing Room felt homey and a great gathering spot for the family.
The Drawing Room’s centerpiece is a larger-than-life carved chimneypiece depicting the Coat of Arms of Henry Fitzalan-Howard. The ceiling cornices display additional Coats of Arms.
Like every other room in the castle, the family decorated it with ornate furnishings and luxurious fabrics. Since wedding family photos adorn the ornate furniture, it’s obvious, that the family still actively uses the room. There were even photos of the Queen and Prince Phillip and also one of the Pope.
The castle’s pricing requires you to decide in advance how much of the castle you want to see. For 2023, the Gold Plus ticket (GBP 25), includes the gardens, castle, and bedrooms.
Alternatively, a ticket for the castle and gardens has a reduced rate of GBP 23. If you prefer to see only Arundel Castle gardens, the estate charges GBP 13.
The recommended time to see all of Arundel Castle and Gardens is 4 hours. During my visit, I savored the trip slowly and spent a good 5-1/2 hours seeing both the castle and the gardens. But honestly, I could have spent all day there.
It’s important to note, that Arundel Castle and Garden’s opening days are every day except Mondays, and opening times vary. While the gardens open at 10 am, the castle itself welcomes guests two hours later. The last admission is 4 pm and the castle and gardens close at 5 pm.
Over the years, the Sussex Castle has served as a backdrop to many film productions. These include Dr. Who, the 1994 film “The Madness of King George” and the 2009 movie “The Young Victoria.”
If you’re searching for a fantastic day trip and want to take in some history, be sure to spend a day visiting Arundel Castle. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.
Throughout the year, the estate holds festivals and events, with the tulip festival, being a gardener’s favorite. The jousting event also provides great fun for families.
Beyond this magnificent home, travelers can find some amazing ruins worth visiting too. Bodiam in is a great example.
A 20-minute drive to the west, guests can view a stunning collection of mosaic floors at Fishbourne Roman Palace ruins. Once a magnificent Roman Palace with 100 rooms, you’ll learn its history, see its marvelous infloor heating system, and admire its mosaics.