The 10 Best Historic Houses in the UK

If you're something of a history buff, we have a selection of exciting historic houses tours on offer that can take you behind the doors of some of the UK's most story-filled homes and castles. To help get you on your way, we've rounded up 10 of our favourite spots!

1) Crathes Castle 

Standing against a backdrop of rolling hills Crathes Castle is every inch the classic Scottish tower house. Inside there is a labyrinth of cultural history, from family portraits and fine antique furniture to painted ceilings. Of additional interest is the 1½ acre walled garden, which incorporates herbaceous borders and many unusual plants, providing a wonderful display. On the estate there are seven marked trails that lead through the mixed woodlands, along the Coy Burn and past the millpond. Visit as part of our new Historic Houses of Aberdeenshire holiday. 

2) Forde Abbey

Home to a rich and varied history spanning 900 years as well as the stunning Mortlake tapestries, woven from the internationally famous Raphael cartoons (now housed in the V&A), Forde Abbey is well worth a visit. Walk in the actual footsteps of the monks and explore the exquisite interior, which featured in a recent Hollywood adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd. The highest powered fountain in the country is a highlight for many who tour its award-winning gardens, which also boast topiary-lined vistas, colourful herbaceous borders and a giant-sized labyrinth in the arboretum. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Dorset trip. 

3) Castle Drogo

A building that has undergone extensive renovation and has now been restored to its former glory, Castle Drogo towers over the River Teign Gorge. It was constructed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the millionaire Julius Drewe and combines the grandeur of a medieval fortress with the comforts of the 20th century. Here, you'll uncover Drewe’s dream of a family home and his life of achievements, as well as the family’s tragic loss. Outside is a splendid formal garden and a magnificent rhododendron collection along with herbaceous borders and a rose garden. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Devon & Cornwall trip.

4) Penrhyn Castle

Built by Thomas Hopper between 1820 and 1845 for the wealthy Pennant family, who made their fortune from Jamaican sugar and Welsh slate, Penrhyn Castle is set in Wales. The castle is crammed with fascinating items including an outstanding collection of paintings and a one-tonne slate bed made for Queen Victoria. The kitchen and other servants' rooms, including scullery, larders and chef's sitting room, have all been restored to reveal the preparations for the banquet for the Prince of Wales' visit in 1894. The stable block houses an industrial railway museum, a model railway museum and a superb dolls' museum displaying a large collection of 19th & 20th-century dolls. Visit on our Historic Houses of North Wales tour

5) Drum Castle and Gardens

The sweep of 700 years of history is stamped into Drum’s stalwart battlements, medieval square tower and sprawling extensions. The Royal Forest and Tower of Drum were given to the Irvine family by Robert the Bruce in 1323. Later a Jacobean mansion house was added, and in the Victorian era the lower hall was converted to a library. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Aberdeenshire tour. 

6) Floors Castle

Home of the Duke & Duchess of Roxburghe, Floors Castle is situated on a natural terrace overlooking the River Tweed and facing the Cheviot Hills. In 1721, William Adam was commissioned by the 1st Duke to make additions to the eastern end of an existing tower-house to create a plain, but symmetrical, Georgian country house. The 6th Duke invited the leading architect in Edinburgh, William Playfair, to remodel the castle between 1837 and 1847. He drew his inspiration for Floors from the highly ornamented picturesque style of Heriot's Hospital in Edinburgh. The result is a romantic fairytale castle with its roofscape of turrets, pinnacles and cupolas. In the park can be seen a holly tree marking the spot where King James II of Scotland was killed in 1460, when his own cannon exploded while laying siege to Roxburghe Castle. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of the Scottish Borders trip here. 

7) Lanhydrock

A magnificent 17th century house surrounded by 19th century formal terraced gardens awaits. When Thomas Charles refashioned Lanhydrock after a fire in 1881 he wanted to create 'an unpretentious family home'. While his idea of everyday comfort might be different from our own, there is no doubting the family is at the very heart of this house. There's a whole suite of rooms dedicated to the children, family photographs throughout and the morning room which was used by the children as a performance space for annual plays and theatricals. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Devon & Cornwall holiday. 

8) Traquair Hosue

This is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland. 27 Scottish and English monarchs have visited Traquair, including Mary Queen of Scots, and William the Lion held court here in 1209. The well-known Bear Gates were closed in 1745, not to be reopened until the Stuarts should ascend to the throne. Everywhere in the house are portraits, old prints and maps, all of which refer to the building's history. There is also a micro-brewery, which produces a tasty Traquair Ale. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of the Scottish Borders holiday. 


9) Athelhampton House

One of England’s finest Tudor Manors, Athelhamton House is well worth a trip. The Great Hall, built in 1485, remains largely unchanged with a mainly original hammer-beam roof, carved stonework, stained glass and other details. The house survives due to its complex ownership through the years, having appeared in the Domesday Book as Pidele. It has passed through many hands and has been rebuilt and restored at various times, with Thomas Hardy’s father employed during one of the periods of work on the house. The many changes in ownership and fortune is also said to have led to Athelhampton being considered one of the most haunted houses in England, with various ghostly apparitions reported. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Dorset holiday. 

10) Kingston Lacy

The house features grand, beautifully detailed carvings, intimate family souvenirs and strange curiosities, such as an ‘I owe you’ note from a king. There is a fine collection of paintings including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel, while the Egyptian Room holds the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK. The extensive gardens include a restored Edwardian Japanese Garden and a terrace with urns and vases overlooking a vast lawn. There is also a Victorian fernery, a cedar walk, a lime avenue and a sunken garden which was made in 1906. Visit as part of our Historic Houses of Dorset holiday. 

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The 10 Best Historic Houses in the UK was published on 22 June 2020