We've all been to them. The National Trust and English Heritage boast a huge collection of them, as do a selection of landowners and landed gentry around the UK. But what actually defines a stately home, and how does it differ to a palace, castle or mansion?

What is a stately home?

A stately home is generally considered to be a large, old house that is often open to the visiting public.

The Collins Dictionary defines a stately home as 'a very large old house, especially one that people can pay to visit.'

Marriam-Webster has a similar definition: 'a large and impressive old home that has an interesting history and that can usually be visited by the public.'

The Cambridge Dictionary, meanwhile, focuses on the interiors, stating that a stately home is 'a large, old house that usually has beautiful furniture, decorations and gardens.' Find out which are the best stately home gardens to visit in the UK here.

A 'stately home' is usually a term associated with British architecture.

We rounded up the best stately homes in the UK here.

It isn't known exactly how many stately homes there are in the UK, most likely because of the slightly vague definition and the fact that nearly all are privately owned.

Find out what we picked in our round-up of the best stately homes in the UK.

Highclere Castle
Tim Alex / Unsplash

What is an English country house and estate?

An English country house is a large house or mansion located in the English countryside, usually set on an estate (or large body of land).

Historically, many of these country houses were second properties for wealthy homeowners who also owned a townhouse and would split their time between the two places.

They were also the residences of the landed gentry, with large numbers of indoor and outdoor staff employed to ensure the smooth running of the property. As a result, they provided significant employment for local communities.

Waddesdon Manor
Stephen Packwood / Unsplash

What's the difference between a stately home and a castle?

A stately home has nearly always been occupied by a family or used by someone as their residence. Castles, meanwhile, were predominantly built as strongholds to defend a community against invaders. As a result, their architecture tends to be focused on protection and strength, rather than beauty and decoration.

Find out what the difference between a palace and a castle is here.

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