In the words of the poet Robert Browning, “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there”. Winter may have its good points: Christmas, snow (possibly) and hot chocolate (lots of it), but I’m happy to wave it off on its merry way and embrace all things spring.
As stately homes around the country start opening their doors again and gardens begin to bloom, there’s no better time to visit. From the grandeur of Hampton Court Palace to the wonderful wildlife at Longleat, here are 15 stately homes to see this spring.
Built in the style of a 16th-century French château, this magnificent house is surrounded by rolling hills of English countryside. It was built in the late 1800s for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a place to display his impressive collection of art and entertain his guests, who included the Prince of Wales.
With so much to see at Waddesdon, you’ll be planning your next visit before you’ve left. Must dos include the expansive wine cellar – home to more than 10,000 bottles of wine – the elegant gardens and, of course, the grandiose house itself.
Home to a Tudor Hall, neo-classical mansion and over 1,000 acres of parkland, Tatton Park in Knutsford is one of the most complete historic estates in the country. It’s a great day out for the whole family: children will love meeting the animals on the farm, exploring the maze and tackling the woodland play trail. Grown-ups can immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the Tudor Old Hall, admire the craftsmanship of the Japanese Garden and appreciate the views in the deer park.
Finish off your day with afternoon tea in the cosy Gardener’s Cottage café with its pretty orchard and walled garden.
If you like old buildings brimming with history, this medieval castle with views across the South Downs and the River Arun will take you back to days of yore faster than you can say “catapult”. Construction started on the castle in 1068 and it’s been the family home of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 1,000 years.
Some points of interest to spot as you wander round are the Heraldic stained glass windows, rare paintings by Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Canaletto, and the fascinating collection of weaponry in the armoury.
You might already recognise this elegant Georgian manor, as Avington Park has featured in several film and TV productions. It’s easy to see why, as the gilded ballroom, ornately-decorated drawing room and sweeping gardens are simply beautiful.
For more aesthetic delights, head outside to take a romantic stroll by the lake and watch peacocks saunter past as you enjoy a picnic in the grounds. And who knows? If this romantic setting works its magic on you and your other half, you might be back to get married!
Overlooking the banks of the River Tweed on the Scottish borders, this historic house was once the home of Sir Walter Scott. The story of the home’s construction is fascinating, but we won’t spoil it for you. The library, as you might expect from a literary legend, is a thing of wonder. It’s Scott’s collection in its entirety and contains chapbooks he collected as a child, poems he composed for his first love, lecture notes, manuscripts and much, much more.
The gardens at Abbotsford are just as beautiful as the house. For Scott, his three walled gardens were the “perfect antidote to hours of desk-bound writing”. Today, the gardens are in keeping with Scott’s original vision and you can experience the same feeling of serenity. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to pick up a quill yourself?
If you’re planning a trip to London, hop on a train from Waterloo Station and spend the day at this grand royal palace in Richmond upon Thames. The palace is packed with awe-inspiring things to see such as King Henry VIII’s sumptuously decorated Great Hall, the enthralling Cumberland Art Gallery and the tempting Chocolate Kitchen.
Outside, the whole family will love navigating their way around the world-famous Hampton Court Maze or exploring the gardens. A stand-out feature is the Great Vine, planted by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1769. It’s now over 240 years old and the biggest grape vine in the world!
This fine Elizabethan house is jaw-droppingly beautiful. From the parlour room adorned with 17th-century needlework to the Jacobean Long Room with an assortment of antique furniture, there’s so much to marvel at. There are flowers from the garden in every room arranged in a ‘Parham-style’, bringing the house to life and scenting the rooms with freshly cut blooms.
Parham House hosts regular events throughout the year, such as the Spring Bulb Festival in May and open air theatre performances in September. There’s also a plant and garden shop, so if the outside spaces have left you feeling green-fingered, you can take home a little part of Parham.
If you’re looking for a fantastic day out, Woburn should definitely be on your radar. The abbey boasts one of the finest collections of art in the country with over 250 paintings by greats such as Canaletto, Rembrandt and Van Dyck. There are 22 rooms to discover, such as the intriguing Grotto dating from the 1630s and the Chinese room with its decorative furniture.
Little ones will adore the Children’s Garden with its array of textures, smells and sights and the shell-covered Folly is magical. There are plenty of opportunities for a picnic, but if you’re feeling peckish and have left your hamper at home, head to the Duchess’ Tea Room for some light refreshment.
This popular stately home is probably more famous for its sensational safari park: it covers 9,000 acres and is home to over 500 animals. Opened in 1966, it was the first ever safari park outside of Africa and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, so expect lots of special events throughout 2016.
While the safari park is unmissable, with its huge array of animals from lions to lemurs, Longleat House itself is not to be overlooked. It’s packed to the rafters with priceless antiques, ornate paintings and the rather gruesome blood-stained waistcoat worn by King Charles I at his execution in 1649.
Surrounded by 24 hectares of gardens, this Grade II listed country house is the much-loved country retreat of HM the Queen. The house was opened to the public in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977 and, although the house, museum and gardens close for the winter, the surrounding parkland is open all year round providing a great opportunity for stunning country walks, whatever the season.
Some must-sees at Sandringham include the museum, with its vintage royal motor vehicles, and the pretty Sandringham church.
With over 300 years of history, Blenheim Palace estate is full of fascinating things to see and do. Highlights include the interactive timeline showing Sir Winston Churchill’s connections to Blenheim, the mesmerising portrait gallery and informative guided tours.
Outside, the ornate Italian Garden and the Secret Garden are must-sees, as is the Roundel water feature on the south lawn. If you’ve got children in tow, board the miniature train to the pleasure gardens where you’ll find attractions including a butterfly house, lavender garden and an adventure playground which will keep them entertained for hours.
This atmospheric castle near John O’Groats was once the residence of the Queen Mother. Expect breathtaking views overlooking the Orkney Islands… It’s even said that on a clear day, the Old Man of Hoy can be seen in the distance.
You’ll find plenty for all the gang to enjoy at this charming castle: visit the animal centre, enjoy a fresh brew in the tea room and explore the castle’s copious rooms.
The gardens at Mount Stuart are impressive any time of the year, but in spring there’s an explosion of colour as daffodils, rhododendrons and tulips start to bloom. Take a comfy pair of shoes and a camera as you’ll want to explore every corner of these beautiful gardens.
The mansion itself has some of the most astounding neo-gothic architecture you’ll see anywhere in the world. Top tip: look up! The vaulted ceilings are adorned with themes of astrology and astronomy and the stained glass windows in the marble hall are out of this world.
Stuck for places to take your tribe this Easter? Well, Penshurst Palace is a winner, whatever the weather. Children will be in their element getting to grips with the adventure playground, woodland trail and Maize Maze. If the weather’s not so good, head indoors for arts and crafts in the Old Coach House or take a look around the Toy Museum.
The house, built in 1341, is a delight and has been owned and visited by many monarchs over the centuries, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. After you’ve taken a turn around the gardens, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch: there’s a restaurant, café and picnic area.
From the grand hall to the pretty walled garden, Holkham Hall is a jewel in the Norfolk countryside. Some main points of interest are the Statue Gallery with its collection of ancient Roman statues and the Green State Bedroom where you’ll find 17th-century tapestries.
There are many exciting events being held at Holkham throughout the year such as the parkrun, gardening workshops and chamber music concerts. See their events page for more details.
Please note: many of the homes in our top 15 close for the winter so be sure to check their website for opening dates and times.