Home of the Marquess of Bath, Longleat House is one of southern England's most famous private estates, and possibly the most ambitiously, even eccentrically, commercialized, as evidenced by the presence of a drive-through safari park (open since 1966) with giraffes, zebras, monkeys, rhinos, and lions. The house, considered to be one of the finest remaining examples of High Elizabethan, was largely completed in 1580 for more than £8,000, an astronomical sum at the time.
It contains outstanding tapestries, paintings, porcelain, furniture, and one of the largest private collections of books in England (more than 40,000 volumes housed in seven libraries). Notable period features include the Victorian kitchens, an Elizabethan minstrels' gallery, painted ceilings, and the great hall with massive wooden beams. An eccentric touch is added by the present marquess's occasionally raunchy murals—described as "keyhole glimpses into my psyche" that range from philosophical subjects to depictions of the Kama Sutra (open by guided tour only). In addition to 900 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown and the safari park, the property has a butterfly garden, a miniature railway, an extensive (and fairly fiendish) hedge maze, and an "adventure castle," all of which make it extremely popular, particularly in summer and during school vacations. You can easily spend a whole day here. Visit the house in the morning, when tours are more relaxed, and the safari park in the afternoon. A safari bus service is available (£4) for those arriving without their own transport.
Off A362, Warminster, BA12 7NW, England