Britain's Finest Stately Homes

By Richard Moss
shows an aerial shot of Chatsworth House and surrounding gardens

Photo: Chatsworth and its gardens is one of the most popular stately homes in the UK. Photo © Chatsworth Estate.

Topping the list of the nation's favourite stately homes, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire has got it all. The beautiful gardens with their cascading waterfalls, the stunning topiary and flower beds, a landscaped deer park that is open to the public and one the most finely appointed country houses in the UK.

The house itself is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and boasts magnificent ceilings of gilded stucco, grand staircases, historic halls, bedrooms and the chance to have a poke round the fine library.

Magnificent gardens and a landscaped park also offer an unrivalled opportunity to savour the delights of the vision of eighteenth century landscaper, Capability Brown.

With the estate also boasting a thriving farm shop, craft centre and a year round series of shows and events, it's easy to see why Chatsworth is the nation's favourite stately home.

shows a picture of Erddig Country House

Photo: Erddig offers visitors the chance to see what life was like 'upstairs and downstairs'. Photo © NTPL/Rupert Truman

At Erdigg in North Wales you will find a stately home with a difference; a visit to this fascinating mansion gives a valuable insight into the relationship between the family, the house and their servants.

Visitors can explore what life was like 'downstairs' through a range of beautifully restored outbuildings including the kitchen, laundry, bake house, stables, sawmill, smithy and joiner's shop.

Inside the house the 'upstairs' side of life is revealed through splendid staterooms that retain most of their original 18th and 19th-century grandeur - whilst the gardens have been lovingly restored to their 18th century state.

Together it makes for a fascinating insight into the workings of an eighteenth century mansion.

Photo: as well as being a fine stately home, Castle Howard has one of the busiest programmes of public activities in the UK. Picture © Castle Howard.

For one of the most public-friendly historic houses in the UK, you can do no better than make a visit to Castle Howard in Yorkshire. This majestic 18th century pile is a beacon for inclusivity with a variety of activities that take in yearly archaeological digs where the public are encouraged to get involved and a range of children's activities.

The house itself is a magnificent example of 17th century design and was built by the 'man behind Marlborough', Sir John Vanburgh.

Venturing inside, visitors are treated to an impressive collection that features stunning bronzes, porcelain and murals. The painting collection is not bad either - including works by Holbein, Rubens and Canaletto.

It all makes for a fascinating day, regardless of whether you're inside taking in the art or outside digging around in the grounds.

Shows a photo of a large red brick palace with a Union Flag flying from its roof

Photo: you can get to the very heart of the Tudor and Stuart Monarchies at Hampton Court. Picture © Crown copyright and Historic Royal Palaces

Moving further south to one of the Tudor Monarchy's most famous residences, the former abode of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace on the River Thames is perhaps one of the most renowned Royal Palaces in the UK.

It's certainly remains a perennial favourite with a public thirsty to find out more about Royal history - and eager to get lost in the world famous maze.

Inside the palace 500 years of history are revealed in a dizzying journey that takes in magnificent State Apartments of Henry VIII and William III, the Anne Boleyn gatehouse, the astrological clock and many other wonders of the Rennaissance.

Leaving aside the sumptuous gardens and the maze, the care put into the interpretation and the efforts of the costumed interpreters mean it is easy to spend a whole day appreciating the vast history and splendour of this remarkable palace.

shows an aerial shot of Blenheim Palace and grounds

Photo: vast, majestic and tremendously grand, Blenheim Palace was the particularly fitting birthplace of Winston Churchill. Courtesy Blenheim Palace.

Sumptuous Royal palaces aside, if you're looking for the quintessentially English stately home you can do no better than visit Blenheim Palace.

Built for the Duke of Marlborough after a string of historic victories in the 1700's, Blenheim Palace later became the family seat of the Churchills and the birthplace of that most famous and 'greatest' Britain, Sir Winston Churchill.

Away from the weight of historical personality, the house itself retains a magnificent aura of power and authority and boasts one of the finest 'aspects' in England.

Once inside this stunningly appointed mansion, visitors are treated to room upon room crammed full of artefacts. Paintings by Reynolds and Van Dyck compete with relics from the Battle of Blenheim, marble sculptures of queens past and present and spectacular stuccoed ceilings and walls.

shows an exterior shot of the Royal Pavillion, Brighton

Photo: if ever the character of an entire city could be summed up in one building, it's Brighton's Royal Pavilion.

A different kind of opulence can be discovered in Brighton, where under the auspices of the Prince Regent, George IV, a wondrous pleasure palace by the sea was constructed.

The Royal Pavillion is a sight for sore eyes - Indian on the outside, Chinese on the inside and suffused with a history that is both raffish and decadent.

It offers visitors an extraordinary glimpse into the heart of Royal Regency England as the banqueting and music rooms are adorned with gilded dragons, fine wall papers and imitation bamboo staircases. Even the kitchen boasts pillars carved into palm trees.

It's a heady experience that mixes and matches Asian exoticism with a quintessentially English eccentricity.

exterior of The Queen's Gallery. Photographer: Antonia Reeve, The Royal Collection © 2002 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Photo: exterior of The Queen's Gallery. Photographer: Antonia Reeve, The Royal Collection © 2002 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

A little more sombre but no less impressive, the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen's official residence in Scotland, nestles at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile to offer another tantalising glimpse into the life of the Royals.

Home to the Queen's Gallery and dripping in nearly a thousand years of Royal History, the Palace is perhaps best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, and as the setting for many of the dramatic episodes in her turbulent reign.

Visitors can experience the State Apartments with their plasterwork and tapestries and marvel at the scores of portraits in the Great Gallery.

After all that, you can take the winding staircase to what is popularly known as the 'most famous room in Scotland' - the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots.

shows an exterior shot of Manderston Country House

Photo: if you fancy a peek into the luxurious world of high Edwardian country society, Manderston is the place for you. Picture courtesy © Manderston.

Staying north of the border, the Edwardian mansion of Manderston represents the swansong of Edwardian mansion building in Scotland.

Looking out across beautifully preserved Edwardian gardens the inside of the house is a stunning representation of a time when money was no object.

Magnificent staterooms, the only silver-staircase in the world and access to extensive 'downstairs' domestic quarters offer a complete look at life inside an Edwardian Country House.

shows a picture of Knole Country House

Photo: Knole is a classic Elizabethan mansion Picture © NTPL/Rupert Truman.

Moving back into the heyday of the Elizabethan mansion, Knole in Kent is set in a magnificent Deer Park and is one of the great treasure houses of England.

Since the 1st Earl of Dorset embellished it in 1603, Knole's classic Elizabethan design has remained largely unaltered and therein lies its appeal. It remains one the best ways to explore the look and feel of the Elizabethan era.

Thirteen staterooms contain an impressive collection of paintings from Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds and the unmistakable Tudor interiors make this one of our most authentic Elizabethan country houses.

shows an exteriror shot of Hardwick Hall

Photo: Hardwick Hall was built by Elizabeth Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick. Her initials are carved into the roof of the property. Photo: A F Kersting / NTPL

Neatly bookending this top ten of stately homes we head back to Derbyshire and another Elizabethan mansion, Hardwick Hall.

Built by the same family who constructed Chatsworth, Hardwick was constructed in the 1590's by Bess of Hardwick one of the Elizabethan era's richest lady's.

Today the house remains as a magnificent statement of the wealth and authority of its builder, who having already established one country mansion chose to live out her days in her own Elizabethan palace.

Visitors to Hardwick will find this Elizabethan beacon looking out across the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, whilst inside is a treasure trove of 16th-century furniture, tapestries and needlework.

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