Framlingham Castle is one of the best places to visit in Suffolk, and has become even more well-known since Ed Sheeran sang about it in “Castle on the Hill”.
Rising majestically from the Suffolk countryside, the walls of Framlingham Castle have witnessed centuries of English history. I visited during the summer of 2023 and really enjoyed my day out there. This guide to visiting Framlingham Castle provides everything you need to know to plan your visit to this unforgettable place.
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Where is Framlingham Castle, the “Castle on the Hill”?
Framlingham Castle is in the small town of Framlingham in Suffolk, England, surrounded by gently rolling countryside. It’s around 90 miles north east of London and 12 miles from the sea.
History of Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle has a fascinating history spanning over 900 years. Historians believe construction began around 1100 under Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, who established Framlingham as stronghold of the Bigod Earls.
The Bigods built up the formidable stone curtain walls, 13 towers, and mere that still characterise Framlingham today.
In 1213, King John was entertained at Framlingham by Roger Bigod II. But tensions grew between the Crown and the barons. In 1215, Roger Bigod was one of the 25 barons who forced King John to accept Magna Carta. The next year, John laid siege to the castle, which surrendered after two days.
The Bigods appear to have later regained control of Framlingham. By the late 13th century, it was in the hands of Roger Bigod V. Heavily in debt, Roger had to surrender Framlingham to King Edward I. From there, it passed through various aristocratic owners in the 14th century, including the Brotherton family; Thomas Brotherton was granted the title of Earl of Norfolk. After his death, his daughter Margaret Brotherton owned the castle for the next 17 years. Wealthy and powerful, she was the first woman to be made a duchess in her own right.
In the 15th century, Framlingham became the property of the powerful Howard family. The Howards transformed Framlingham, updating it with fashionable Tudor brickwork and ornamentation.
Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, was given Framlingham after the Howards fell out of favour. When she challenged Lady Jane Grey’s succession in 1553, Mary gathered troops at Framlingham before successfully taking the throne.
After Mary’s reign, the castle declined. In 1635, lawyer Robert Hitcham purchased Framlingham and arranged for Pembroke College, Cambridge to establish a workhouse on the grounds after his death. The workhouse operated until 1839.
In 1913, Pembroke College placed Framlingham into the guardianship of the Commissioner of Works. In the 20th century, the castle was used for defence during World War II before it passed to English Heritage, who care for the site today.
Ed Sheeran was brought up in Framlingham and still lives nearby. The “Castle on the Hill” from the song of the same name on his 2017 album ÷ (divide) is Framlingham Castle. It features right at the end of the video for the song.
Things to see at Framlingham Castle
If you visit Framlingham Castle today, you’ll enter through the impressive drawbridge and gatehouse. There are regular guided tours that start from just inside the gate and are included in your ticket.
When I visited Framlingham Castle we arrived just after a tour had started so we were able to run and catch the group up. It was well worth it; the guide was able to tell us all about the castle and its history, and pointed out architectural features that we would have missed on our own.
When you walk through the gatehouse, the wide expanse of the inner court opens up in front of you. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so big in here, and the 17th century workhouse was a surprise as well.
The inner court would once have been full of buildings, but most of these were cleared after Robert Hitcham’s death and the establishment of the workhouse.
The workhouse is on the site of the castle’s Great Hall. The oldest part of the workhouse (the Red House) is privately occupied, but the rest of it is open to the public and included in your ticket. The building’s medieval origins are clear as soon as you go inside; the thick walls are unmistakably ancient.
Stone from the original great hall was used to build the workhouse and you can still see carved stones which once decorated the medieval hall, including five stone heads on the outside.
Upstairs in the workhouse there’s a museum about the castle, which has some fun activities for kids. There’s also a small museum about Framlingham itself, along with a second hand bookshop.
The museum is where you can start your walk around the castle walls. You can walk all the way around; it’s a little narrow but it doesn’t feel dangerous. There are amazing views up here over the inner court, the picturesque town of Framlingham, across the rolling Suffolk countryside and over the Mere towards Framlingham College.
The wall walk also gives a great view of Framlingham Castle’s chimneys. The combination of the medieval stone walls and the ornate Tudor chimneys is really unusual. No two chimneys are the same!
Tips for your visit
It took me around 3 hours to see Framlingham Castle, including a guided tour, a visit to the two museums, something to eat in the cafe and a walk around the walls. We also walked around the castle from the outside to see the lower court and the mere.
The ground floor is wheelchair accessible and there’s a lift up to the museums on the first floor of the workhouse.
There are lots of special events during the summer months, including jousting, reenactments of sieges, and knights and princesses events. Keep an eye on the castle website for news about what’s on.
As well as the cafe, there are picnic tables in the inner court. There are lots of pubs and cafes in Framlingham, as well as a Co-op supermarket.
How to get to Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle is in the centre of Framlingham in Suffolk. The easiest way to get to Framlingham is to drive, and there’s a car park near the castle. The nearest train station is Saxmundham.
Tickets for Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle is run by English Heritage. Tickets cost £12.50 for adults and £7.50 for children. Family tickets cost £32.50 for two adults and up to three children and £20 for one adult with up to three children.
If you’re planning to visit a few English Heritage attractions and you live in the UK, then English Heritage membership could be a good investment. English Heritage members get in free to Framlingham Castle and hundreds of other sites, and there are regular offers on membership. We signed up for joint membership at the ticket office at the castle after our visit and got 20% off and a refund of our ticket price.
If you’re visiting from overseas, you can buy an English Heritage attractions pass.
I loved my visit to Framlingham Castle. It’s a truly magnificent building in a gorgeous setting and with a fascinating history. Framlingham and Suffolk as a whole is a really interesting area which I hadn’t visited before.
I hope you found this guide to visiting the “Castle on the Hill” useful and interesting! If there’s anything else you’d like to know about visiting Framlingham Castle, please let me know in the comments.