Longleat is a stately home in southwest Wiltshire that is home to the Marquesses of Bath. Although it is officially known as Longleat, it is often called Longleat House to differentiate it from the safari park and from the estate that both share the same name.
Longleat was originally an Augustinian priory and it was sold for £53 after the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir John Thynn moved into Longleat in 1541 and it has remained in the same family for almost 500 years.
The house has changed with the times. It burnt down in 1567 and was rebuilt by 1580. Christopher Wren made modifications to the house in the 17th century and in the 18th century and Capability Brown was employed to landscape the gardens.
In 1949, Longleat became the first stately home in Britain to open to the public on a commercial basis and several other tourist attractions have opened on the estate including Longleat Safari and Adventure Park, the first drive-through safari park outside Africa (which opened in 1966), the world’s longest hedge maze and a large Center Parcs holiday village.
In 1574 Longleat was visited by Queen Elizabeth I and more recently, in 2005, it hosted the Red Bull Air Race. It has also appeared in several episodes of Doctor Who.
What to see at Longleat House
Although the house remains home to the Thynn family (including the Marquess and Marchioness of Bath), a large portion of the house is open to the public. The areas open to the public include the Elizabethan Great Hall, which includes the minstrels’ gallery; the ante-library; the Red Library with many of the house’s 40,000 books; the Breakfast Room; the Lower Dining Room; the Bathroom; the State Dining Room; the Saloon; the State Drawing Room; the Robes Corridor; the Chinese Bedroom; the Music Room, which includes a barrel organ; the Prince of Wales Bedroom, which includes a painting of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales; the Grand Staircase and the Banqueting Suite.
The house contains many rare books and manuscripts, fine French furniture and an art collection that includes Flemish tapestries. The Fallen Madonna is the most well-known piece of art on display at Longleat. The painting, also known as The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies, was a prop in the BBC 1 television series ʼAllo ʼAllo! (1982–1992).
The Longleat hedge maze is the world’s longest. The 2.7km- (1.69 mile)-long maze is made up of 16,000 English yew trees and it contains six raised footbridges. Most visitors take anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes to find their way out of the maze.
Visiting Longleat House
Longleat House is on the Longleat estate which is around 6.5km (4 miles) from Warminster. There is no public transport to the estate so virtually everyone who visits drives here. However, it is possible to arrive by taxi from Warminster.
Although the entry fee is relatively pricey (and there is an additional charge for a tour of the house), the day ticket also gives you entry to the safari park and it is very easy to spend a full day at Longleat. On a pound-per-hour basis, a day ticket to Longleat works out better value than entry to cheaper houses that don’t take as long to see.
It is also possible to buy a two-day ticket that gives you access to the house, gardens and the safari park for two consecutive days and an annual ticket is also available.
Although Longleat is associated with neither English Heritage nor the National Trust, it is part of the HHA (the Historic Houses Association) and HHA members are able to visit the house and gardens free of charge during the main season (February to October). HHA members do not get free entry to the house during November and December.
All visits to Longleat House are by guided tour, which is an additional charge on top of your entry to the Longleat Safari Park. Most people take the cheaper general house tour, which takes around one hour with tours running every 15 minutes but there are also specialist tours that give you a more in-depth experience for a higher cost.
The Treasures of Longleat House VIP experience is a two-hour guided tour that takes a more in-depth look at Longleat. This tour has a greater focus on Longleat’s most significant artworks and it allows you to go behind the ropes in selected rooms and the small group size (there is a maximum of six people per experience) gives you a much more intimate experience than the standard tour. This tour only runs a couple of times per week and it is common for tours to book out up to six weeks in advance. The tour costs £85, although this does include entry to the rest of the Longleat complex including the safari park.
The Longleat Library VIP experience is a two-hour guided tour with a focus on Longleat’s four libraries: Ante Library, the Green Library, the Old Library and the Red Library. These libraries comprise one of Europe’s most significant private libraries and the tour gives you access to areas off-limits to visitors on the standard Longleat tour. Like the Treasures of Longleat VIP experience, it only runs twice a week and it is a much more intimate experience than the standard tour with a maximum of six people per tour. The tour costs £150, although this does include entry to the rest of the Longleat complex including the safari park.
Most parts of Longleat are wheelchair accessible and there is a wheelchair-accessible lift to all floors of the house. However, only two wheelchair users are allowed on any floor of the house at any one time. The wheelchair entrance is at the rear of the house. The hedge maze is not wheelchair accessible.
Pushchairs are not able to be taken inside the house. There is a pushchair park at the rear of the house where they can be left while you visit the house.
The proximity of the Longleat Safari and Adventure Park to the manor house means that this is possibly England’s most child-friendly stately home. This makes it a great attraction for the entire family. You can get your dose of culture by visiting the big house and then your kids get to see the animals, play in the Adventure Castle, ride the miniature railway and get lost in the maze. It’s a great day out for the whole family.
Longleat is a large self-contained complex that includes several places to eat and drink. Visitors to the house can eat at the Cellar Café in the old vaults below the house, which serves light meals including jacket potatoes, sandwiches and cream tea, as well as The Orangery in the house’s 19th-century conservatory.
Visitors with a day ticket also have access to the Watering Hole Cafe in the African Village at the drive-through safari park as well as the Chameleon Tree Restaurant and the Pizza Piazza in the Main Square.
There are also a couple of gift shops at the house plus additional gift shops elsewhere in the complex.
Guided tours last around an hour and a visit to Longleat is a full-day excursion if you combine it with a visit to the safari park.