Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.
The coastal county of Kent is the perfect place to come to if you are looking for a holiday full of activity and history. This county, famous as 'The Garden of England', is widely known for its abundance of traditional oast houses and hop farms set in glorious golden countryside as well as its spectacular chalky coastline gazing out across the English Channel to France.
This county however, is also home to some of the most magnificent castles and historic houses in the country, many of them owned by the National Trust. From fairytale castles to rose-clad half-timbered houses, you'll have a tough time deciding which National Trust places in Kent you want to tick off your list!
When is the best time to visit?
You will find pleasure in visiting whatever the season! The first buds of spring and the hazy blue skies of summer are the perfect time to visit gardens and parkland - all with an abundance of traditional and exotic blooms simply bursting out of every corner. Perfect for picnicking in meadows and long walks as the sun goes down, you will be witness to the best scenery that England has to offer.
As autumn descends and the russet and gold leaves make way for blankets of white snow, beautiful estates tempt you inside to discover the hidden secrets and intrigue of centuries gone by. Most have cafes or tea rooms where you can warm yourselves up with a steaming hot chocolate or a scrumptious cream tea, and many places offer special winter walks and festive Christmas fairs to cheer you into the Yuletide season.
Whenever you choose to visit, National Trust's places to visit throughout Kent will be waiting to welcome you.
National Trust houses, gardens and properties in Kent
Set in the valley of the River Bewl just south of Lamberhurst in Kent, this grand Victorian country mansion with its fairy tale moated castle sits prettily in nearly 800 acres of beautiful gardens, parkland and woodland. Majestic aged trees gaze down onto the impossibly romantic 14th century castle, whose romantic turret peeks out tempting you to visit and find out more about its fascinating history. It is overlooked by the main house, built by Edward Hussy III from the sandstone of the Old Castle.
Both the house and gardens were created together with the intention of looking over the castle and surrounding estate, which it does perfectly whatever the season. Today you can tour the house where you will discover a mountain of collected items and art that the family have collected over the years, including tapestries, portraits and furniture.
There is a lovely tea room where you can sample seasonal locally sourced food or a yummy cream tea with one of their famous scones of the month – sales figures for 2016 came in at over 36,000 scones! Alternatively, you can bring your own picnic to eat in the new woodland picnic area, and don’t forget the shop, where you can buy such lovely produce as Scotney Bitter and honey made from the estate’s own bees.
Dogs are welcome on short leads around the garden and estate. Leads can be loaned from the visitor centre reception if you have forgotten yours. There is limited parking. Toilets are available on site.
Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN8 8JN
This stunning example of Tudor architecture is one of Kent’s most beautiful and unusual historic houses. Half-timbered and dating back to the late 15th or early 16th century, it has been cared for by the National Trust since 1947. Once belonging to the actress Ellen Terry and containing her fascinating collection of private and theatrical items, it is thought to have been built as a result of the great fire of 1514 which destroyed most of the port of Smallhythe. The house is renowned for its abundance of white roses, which come into full bloom in summer – people driving by have been known to turn around and go back to admire its beauty and we can’t blame them!
The estate is also home to a traditional cottage garden, bursting with colour and wonderful produce, a 17th century thatched Barn Theatre and a quaint vintage tea room with a new gift corner where you can treat yourself to the books and preserves on offer, as well as produce from the gardens. The legacy of the actress is kept alive throughout the year with a programme of productions both in the theatre and garden; there is also an opportunity to find out about the fascinating history of the house whose links to an early LGBTQ community made it a hugely creative and radical place to be.
Dogs are allowed on leads in grounds. Parking is 50 yards from the house. There are toilets available on site.
Smallhythe, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 7NG
The charming medieval moated manor house of Ightham is situated just outside Sevenoaks. Described by the architectural writer John Newman as ‘the most complete small medieval manor house in the county’, it really is a brilliant example of traditional English architecture and one of our favourite National Trust properties. Built nearly 700 years ago, the house has been through many periods of change and has had a selection of high-profile owners including medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII as well as important Victorians.
The house is set in acres of stunning gardens and lakes, and has a pretty orchard, bursting with daffodils in the spring as well as water features dotted around. The house retains most of its original features with a quadrangle and chapel added in the 16th century, and really shows how houses would have looked in the middle ages.
There are over 70 rooms all looking inward towards the picturesque central courtyard which really takes you back in time. Visit the Great Hall, the Crypt and the interesting Grade I listed dog kennel, much grander than those you find today! The house is surrounded by a square moat which can be crossed by three bridges – they are not as grand as a drawbridge but do provide entry to different parts of the house. After taking a tour of the house, take an afternoon stroll in the pretty woodland. If you are lucky, you will be there when the plethora of bluebells shoots up in Scathes Wood.
There are also three estate walks, offering spectacular views across the Kent countryside. Winter garden tours are available from November to February and picnics are welcome near the walled car park and at the north end of the garden, beyond the North Lake. There is a refreshment kiosk in the walled car park, open at peak times as well as the Mote Café which has a great selection of home-cooked food and scrumptious cream teas. Finish off your day with a visit to the Old Coach House Shop which has a lovely selection of gifts and souvenirs to take home.
Dogs are not allowed in the house or gardens, but they are welcome on the outside patio area at the Mote Café where dog bowls are available. Parking is available (pay and display £2 – free to NT members). Bike racks are available, and toilets and baby changing facilities are available.
Mote Road, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0NT
Knole is a breath-taking Jacobean country house, set in a 1000-acre park in the district of Sevenoaks in Kent. One of England’s largest houses, it was originally an archbishop’s palace, passing through royal ownership and lastly to the Sackville family in 1603 who remain its current owners.
It sits in Kent’s last medieval deer park which you can walk around at your leisure, trying to spot the wild deer that still roam across the sweeping parkland. There are three fantastic trails around the grounds, of different length and difficulty. Explore the lawned courtyards and the beautiful elegant orangery and inside, admire the selection of art including Gainsborough, Reynolds and Van Dyck, as well as wonderful 17th century tapestries and furniture.
If you visit during 2018 you will be witness to the huge conservation project that is currently taking place at Knole with the Heritage Lottery Fund. It does mean however, that some of the showrooms will be closed so that specialist conservation work can take place, but they will reopen fully in 2019.
The Gatehouse Tower is a must – here you can drink in the spectacular views from the top of the spiral staircase, although access is via 77 steep, uneven steps, so not ideal for those who aren’t fully mobile. Here there are also two rooms where you can learn about the exciting life of former resident, Eddy Sackville-West.
There is an outdoor seating area in the park which is the perfect spot for a picnic and also the Brewhouse Café where you can tantalise your taste buds with a selection of hot and cold food, snacks and drinks. For a quick snack on the go, head to the Grab & Go food outlet which is situated in the Brewhouse Courtyard. For something a bit different, head to one of the Heritage workshops where you can learn such skills as assembling stained glass or mixing your own perfume. Do check the website for details of when these are taking place.
Dogs are welcome on leads but only in the park and courtyards. Parking is available (£4 – free to NT members). There is a cycle rack close to the car park and toilets are available on site.
Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0RP (Sat Nav TN13 1HU)
One of the most famous gardens in England, and known for its plethora of colourful plants bursting out of every corner, Sissinghurst Castle Garden is one of the National Trust’s true delights. This iconic estate is famous for its residents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, who fell in love with the house in the 1930s and went on to make a garden that attracts visitors from across the globe. Poetic and romantic, you will not fail to be inspired by the wonderful garden rooms, planned by Harold himself, and the beautiful mixture of plants in the gardens, orchestrated by Vita.
Once a prison back in the 18th century, it also became a home for the women’s land army during the war. Set in 450 acres of rolling Kent countryside, it is also home to a working farm where Sussex Cattle and Romney Sheep are reared. There are often interesting exhibitions, such as The Clangers and Bagpuss amongst others. The South Cottage, having been the residence of various writers over the years, is available to view, but limited tickets are available for this.
The tower can be climbed and boasts gorgeous views from the top though restoration is taking place in 2017 and the beginning of 2018 so do be aware. Picnics can be brought and enjoyed on the tables and benches in the veg garden and on various other parts of the estate.
Families should try the dragonfly trail which winds its way through vegetable gardens, woodlands and lakes – you can pick up a map at the entrance and try out the fun activities on offer along the way. There you can also find out about the conservation work which helps to protect the estate. Don’t leave without visiting the little white gazebo at the end of the moat in the orchard. Built by Harold’s sons as a memorial to their father, it was the place where the famous work ‘Portrait of a Marriage’ was written.
Dogs on leads are welcome in most of the estate, but not in the formal garden. There is parking available (£3 – free for NT members). Toilets and baby changing facilities are available.
Biddenden Road, near Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB
Whilst not a typical National Trust property, the White Cliffs are still part of the National Trust’s huge portfolio. Magnificent chalk cliffs that boast spectacular views across the Channel to France invite you to walk along their coastal path towards South Foreland Lighthouse, a wonder of Victorian engineering famous for early scientific inventions and ground-breaking experiments. Not only will you get a great vista of the cliffs, but you will also see the chalk grassland where you can experience many unusual plants and insects such as the pyramidal orchid and the chalkhill blue butterfly.
The cliffs are not only geographically important but were important from a military perspective as they were used as a defence in both World Wars. Home to deep tunnels hidden in the chalk, you can visit the Fan Bay Deep shelter to really get a feel of the history that has been made here; don a hard hat and head torch and follow the tour as you experience life in a WWII shelter.
There is a free walking map on arrival, including family-friendly routes which will show you the best ways to get around. There are several walks leading to viewpoints and the aforementioned lighthouse and Fan Bay shelter but bear in the mind the cliff path walk isn’t suitable for pushchairs – you can borrow a baby carrier from the visitor centre if you want to do that walk. Alternatively, there is a 350m pushchair friendly path to the viewing points from which you can watch the comings and goings of the world’s busiest passenger port in the distance.
There is a great visitor centre with coffee shop where you can sample a scrumptious slice of homemade cake or a cream tea while browsing amongst the lovely National Trust gifts and souvenirs on offer. For little ones whose feet have tired from all the walking, a fantastic woodland play area might also tempt them to stay a little longer without complaining!
Dogs are welcome. There is a big car park (£3.50 or free for NT members). There are toilets and baby-changing facilities at the visitor centre. There is also a microwave available to warm baby milk in the coffee shop.
Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, Dover, Kent, CT16 1HJ
Known most famously as the family home of Winston Churchill for over forty years, the country home of Chartwell is a true testament to the life of this great man. This is the place that inspired him almost up to his death – you can visit the rooms which have been left as they were when he was there, with his books, pictures and personal items, and really experience every detail of his life. Every winter, a new temporary exhibition is put on to explore Churchill further and to show the public more unseen items from his storage vault.
The wonderful gardens show his love of nature – you can see the lakes that he created, the kitchen garden and the Marycot, a brick playhouse he designed for one of his daughters, complete with little windows and furniture inside. There is also lots of woodland with looped trails for easy walks and natural play areas for children.
When you need a bite to eat, there is a large café with both indoor and outdoor seating. Try one of the seasonal desserts which uses fresh produce from the Chartwell kitchen garden so that you can take a taste of Chartwell away with you. Alternatively, you can have a picnic in the meadow or by the lake on the lower lawn, both beautifully romantic places to stop and reflect upon the past.
Dogs on short leads are welcomed within the gardens and estate, and water bowls are provided at the café. There is parking (£3 – free for NT members). Toilets are available on site.
Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS
Other National Trust properties that you might like to visit in Kent
Why not become a member of the National Trust so that you can visit these beautiful places, as well as others all over the country? You will get free entry to over 500 places, free parking at most NT car parks as well as newsletters and a magazine sent to you three times a year. Not only this, but you will help to protect these wonderful places for generations to come.
If we have inspired you to visit these wonderful places, why not take a peek at our selection of holiday cottages across Kent? Whichever houses, gardens and places of interest you decide to visit, we have a wide selection of places to stay nearby.
If you're looking to uncover more history during your holiday, check out our guide to the castles of Kent. You can also see what other delightful historic houses and gardens await over the border with our guide to National Trust places in Sussex.