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, 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 Centre 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 of Bath and Viscount Weymouth), 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 one of the more popular pieces 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 not any public transport available to the estate and virtually everyone who visits drives here. However, it is possible to arrive by taxi from Warminster.
Although the entry fee is relatively pricey, 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, the day ticket works out better value than entry to cheaper houses that don’t take as long to see.
There is a cheaper ticket that does not include the safari park although most visitors (particularly those with children) buy the day ticket. 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.
Although Longleat is not associated with 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.
Longleat is open on a self-tour basis so visitors can explore the house at their own pace. However, there are also a number of guided tours that let you see the house in greater detail. These include the general house tour as well as specialist tours including the Butler and Housekeepers Tour, the Rooftop Tour, the Scandalous History Tour and the Private Chattels Tour. For the most part, these tours run for around 45 minutes and have an additional charge on top of the Longleat entry fee.
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 it 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, although some of these are only accessible by visitors with a day ticket (and not to visitors with a house and gardens ticket). 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.
A visit to Longleat is a full-day excursion if you also include a visit to the safari park.