Once upon a time, castles were built to defend the country from foreign invaders, these days they lower their drawbridges to welcome them in their millions – as tourists that is!
The country is full of these grand monuments from the past. So we thought we’d give you a guide, in no particular order, to some of the best castles to visit in the UK.
Tower of London
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress is more commonly known as the Tower of London. It is located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London and has held command of the city skyline for over a 1000 years. It’s also the home to the rather flashy Crown Jewels and attracts over two million visitors each year.
Located in the English county of Berkshire, Windsor Castle is known for its long association with the British Royal Family. Originally built in the 11th century, it is the longest occupied palace in Europe and currently an official residence of the Queen. There are plenty of exhibitions to wander around, private tours of the State Apartments available.
Recently voted a top UK Heritage Attraction and positioned on top of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s largest paid tourist attraction, generating over one million visitors a year. The castle offers some spectacular views across the whole of Edinburgh. It’s also the home of the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Leeds castle is in… Kent. Named after Led, who was Ethelbert IV’s chief minister (he must’ve been pretty important to get a castle named after himself), the castle has been a royal home for six of England’s medieval queens, one of Henry VIII’s favourite places to store one of his many wives, and the setting of an episode of Doctor Who. Often referred to as the most romantic castle in England, it’s now a popular place for tourists.
Over the last nine centuries York Castle, located in the city of York, has been a busy place. It has been used as a castle, a prison and law courts. These days, the ruinous keep of the medieval Norman structure is referred to as Clifford’s Tower. All that history means that the castle is a Grade I-listed building.
Immerse yourself in over 1,000 years of history! Warwick Castle is one of the top 10 most visited places in the UK. When you think of the amount of attractions that the UK has to offer, that’s quite an impressive feat. Built in 1068, the castle was home to the Earls of Warwick. It’s now owned by The Tussauds Group, who have turned it into a fun tourist attraction. Some of the main attractions include The Merlin Dragon Tower, where you can enjoy an interactive experience based on the popular TV show of the same name, or the terrifying Castle Dungeon that recreates some of England’s darkest and bloodiest times!
Standing tall above the White Cliffs, Dover Castle is over 900 years old. It has been described as the “Key to England” due to its defensive significance throughout history. The castle is a scheduled monument and a Grade I-listed building. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction, where you can explore the castle, the surrounding grounds and go on ghost hunts.
Built in 1127, Rochester Castle has a rich history of destruction and rebuilding. If you visit the castle, you’ll be able to see the magnificent rebuilt tower contrasting with the square towers of the original Norman castle. There’s a model in the castle chapel that shows how it once looked in the 14th century.
Occupied for over 700 years (and still lived in today) by the Northumberland family, Alnwick Castle is instantly recognisable to some muggles as Harry Potter’s school – it starred in the first two films as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You can buy tickets to look around the grounds or maybe even book it for your wedding!
Located in Northumberland, the first written reference of this castle goes all the way back to 547, which makes Bamburgh Castle very old indeed. Time Out recently called it one of the finest castles in the UK and it has a pretty cool website that is worth checking out before you take a trip there.
Constructed during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror, this castle is one of only two in the country that has two mottes (a steep stand of trees used to help defend castles). Previously used as a prison and law court, today it’s open to the public as a museum. If you’re visiting, make sure to walk around the Norman walls, which provide a breathtaking view of the castle complex.
Belvoir Castle is a stately home in the county of Leicestershire. It is still the family home of the Manners family and remains the seat of the Dukes of Rutland, most of whom are buried in the grounds of the mausoleum. The castle overlooks 16,000 acres of woodland and farmland. As well as tours of the castle, you can have a browse of the Duke and Duchess’ private art collection.
Built by Henry VIII and based in Cornwall, Pendennis Castle takes visitors on a historical journey from Tudor times right through to the first and second World Wars. Every day, the noon day gun is fired using one of four working guns (out of the 37 on display). There’s also a restored barracks with an exhibition to show you what the life of a soldier was truly like.
The home of Lord Barnard, this medieval castle has over 600 years of history. Set in the heart of Durham, the castle has a 200-acre deer park, beautiful walled gardens, a horse-drawn carriage collection, woodland play area, souvenir shop and tearooms. Now that sounds like a fun list of castle ‘stuff’ to us!
Based in East Sussex, Bodiam Castle is surrounded by a moat, which would help to keep attackers at bay in medieval times. If you visit now, you can still see the slit-style windows where soldiers would fire arrows during battle. There are marvellous castle grounds to walk around and if you’re looking for something a bit more daring than a stroll around the castle, then take one of their archery courses and see if you could match the soldiers of past days.
Situated in the north of Wales, UNESCO considers Conway Castle one of the finest examples of late 13th and early 14th century architecture in Europe. The site offers some amazing views from the battlements, which overlook the mountains and sea.
Staying in Wales with Caernarfon Castle, the medieval fortress was built by the Romans and used as a fort, which they named Segontium. Currently an UNESCO World Heritage site, the fortress is open to the public so they can see the wonderful design and surroundings of the castle.