The castles of England are some of the most vivid icons of an era long gone. From their images of daring sword fights, dramatic sieges, and tales of romance and intrigue, castles inspire imagination in anyone who has ever read of King Arthur or Robin Hood, or delved into Shakespeare’s plays. By visiting castles, anyone can connect with these stories, by learning about the histories of those who once dwelt there, and the events that once took place within the imposing stone walls. From the crumbling ruins of a Norman structure to the elegant ramparts one might recognize from a beloved film or television show, England’s collection of castles is sure to leave its visitors in awe.
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Since its origins in the early 14th century, Alnwick Castle has had a varied history as a military outpost, a film set, a teaching college, and a shelter for evacuees. Its history is rich with stories, and it is one of the largest castles in England to be still inhabited. Visitors may recognize the tall walls and wide courtyards from the Harry Potter movies, or as the site of several episodes of Downton Abbey. Located in the heart of the Northumberland countryside, Alnwick Castle is easy to reach by bus, train, or car. The castle grounds and museums are open daily from the beginning of April through the end of October.
Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ, Phone: +44-16-65-51-11-00
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With its noble towers in a variety of styles stretching up from the hills of the forest beneath it, Belvoir Castle, which in French translates directly to “beautiful view,” certainly lives up to its name. For centuries, the castle has been the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland, and has been partially destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Inside Belvoir, visitors can explore extravagantly furnished rooms and admire the paintings, sculptures, and other pieces of art that have been commissioned and hand-selected by the Rutland family. The castle and its exquisite gardens are open to the public only on selected days throughout the summer season. Its hours and calendar of events can be found on its website.
Grantham NG32 1PE, UK, Phone: +44-14-76-87-10-01
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Warwick Castle is a medieval castle built in the 11th century. For centuries, it served as a stronghold, but today Warwick Castle is the perfect destination for a day out with the family. From an exploration of the castle itself with its grand interiors and stone ramparts, to the sculpted gardens, fountains, and topiaries of its exterior, Warwick is the very picture of a classic medieval castle. But Warwick also offers activities for families of all ages, including interactive riddles in the Princess Tower, rallying troops with the Kingmaker, and literally getting lost in time with the Horrible Histories Maze. Warwick offers something for everyone, from history buffs to young fans of Disney princesses.
Warwick CV34 4QU, UK, Phone: +44-87-12-65-20-00
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Just a single look at Bamburgh Castle, situated high on a rocky hill on the shore of Northumberland, is enough to understand why it is sometimes referred to as “the King of Castles”. Once home to the kings of Northumbria, Bamburgh Castle, with its wide stone walls and imposing location, is even believed to be the real-life inspiration behind the legendary Sir Lancelot’s fictional home. Visitors to Bamburgh can explore its rooms and view displayed items like armor, weapons, art, and furniture, or explore the grounds and the breathtaking views from the coastal cliffs. More Things to Do in New England
Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh, Northumberland NE69 7DF, Phone: +44-16-68-21-45-15
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Bodiam Castle is sometimes called the “perfect English castle,” and with its stone towers and square battlements reflected in the mirror-like waters of the moat that surrounds it, it’s not difficult to understand why. The castle’s exterior appearance is so iconic that it has been featured on travel guides and emblazoned on merchandise for decades. The true genius of Bodiam Castle certainly lies in its appearance – from the forced perspective of its windows, which grow smaller in size the higher they are in height, and the reflective trickery of the moat, the castle is designed to look bigger and more intimidating than it actually is. Fortunately for visitors, that’s the main trick up its sleeve – this feat of medieval architecture is just as fun to explore as it is to look at.
Bodiam, Robertsbridge TN32 5UA, UK, Phone: +44-15-80-83-01-96
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Carisbrooke Castle is a romantic structure that tells the history of the Isle of Wight. The castle is home to a museum that holds almost 30,000 items connected with the history of the Isle of Wight, as well as a king’s prison, an Elizabethan artillery, and a beautiful Edwardian garden. On the Norman Keep and Wall Walk, visitors can climb the ancient stone steps to the round, moss-covered tower, where they can enjoy views of the entire island from the castle’s keep. Down by the castle well, guests can watch the resident castle donkeys demonstrate how they draw water from the well with a 16th-century wheel.
Carisbrooke Castle Museum, Castle Hill, Newport, Isle of Wight PO30 1XY, Phone: +44-19-83-52-31-12
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Carlisle Castle is located in the north of England, close to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. The grey and red sandstone structure dates back to the 12th century, and is famous for being the location where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, from 1567. The castle was used to house many prisoners over the years, and visitors to the castle are invited to explore the castle’s keep and inspect some beautiful carvings in the walls made by some of these prisoners. Carlisle Castle also is home to Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, which tells the stories of the soldiers of Cumbria’s County Infantry Regiment.
Castle Way, Carlisle CA3 8UR, UK, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
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Castle Drogo is one of the newest castles in England, at barely a century old. Its medieval appearance was in fact finished in 1930, and the differences between it and some of the older castles of the same architectural style are explored within the castle and its exhibits. Inside, Castle Drogo is part museum, part art exhibit, as it tells the story of its history through unique art installations in its rooms. The castle also hosts temporary exhibits on a seasonal schedule, and is surrounded by miles of woods and pathways for guests to explore. Below the castle is the Teign Gorge, through which runs the River Teign and which contains many paths and trails through its wilderness.
Unnamed Road, Exeter, Drewsteignton, Exeter EX6 6PB, United Kingdom
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The construction of Colchester Castle was ordered by King William I in the year 1076. The foundations of the castle are built upon the ruins of a Roman temple, and the castle itself was built in the same style as the White Tower in London. At Colchester Castle, visitors can access the museum, where they will find artifacts depicting over 2,000 years of human history in the region. The collections at Colchester range from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Roman Empire and also include items and pieces from outside Britain.
Colchester Castle Museum, Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ, Phone: +44-12-06-28-29-39
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Set against the iconic white cliffs of Dover, the imposing Dover Castle is known as the Key to England because of its integral location on the coast, where it has guarded England against invaders for centuries. Dover Castle is the largest castle in England, and visitors exploring the expansive castle will find rooms furnished in the style of their former inhabitants or the tunnels that delve deep into the white cliffs and were once used in wartime at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation. Outside, patrons will find breathtaking views of the sea and the cliffs from Dover Castle’s grounds.
Castle Hill, Dover CT16 1HU, Phone: +44-13-04-21-10-67
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The town of Craster, near to the border of Scotland, serves as a starting point for those wishing to visit the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. A scenic, 1.5-mile walk along the coast of Northumberland will lead them to the towering remains of what was once a magnificent castle. Dunstanburgh is located on a hill overlooking the sea, and the remnants of its gatehouse, as well as the tall, stout Lilburn Tower, are still standing and open for exploration. There is no admission fee to Dunstanburgh Castle, and it is accessible only by walking, but the peaceful location makes it the perfect spot for a picnic or a peaceful outing with a dramatic and unique view.
Craster, Northumberland NE66 3TT, Phone: +44-16-65-57-62-31
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Durham Castle has served a variety of purposes over the long centuries. The oldest parts of the castle date back to 1072, when William the Conqueror commissioned its expansion from an old Saxon fort. Since then, the iconic building has been used as a palace, a fortress and, currently, as a college and residence hall for Durham University. Due to its current use as a home for students, Durham Castle is open to visitors by reservation only. An experienced tour guide will bring guests through the gatehouse and show them around the grounds and rooms of Durham Castle while detailing some of its exciting history.
Durham Castle, Palace Green, Durham DH1 3RW, Phone: +44-19-13-34-29-32
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Tall and picturesque against the reflection in its vast moat with almost 500 acres of green parkland surrounding it, Leeds Castle is known as one of the loveliest castles in the world. This Norman palace, once used by King Henry VIII, is every bit the iconic castle pictured in storybooks. Visitors can tour the staterooms, furnished in the style of the Tudors and the medieval queens who once called it home, and see artifacts from these time periods, including weapons, armor, clothing, and even a collection of historical dog collars. Outside the castle, guests will love the twisting green hedge maze, the expansive gardens and walking paths, or boating out on the moat.
Maidstone ME17 1PL, UK, +44 1622 765400
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Lewes Castle stands on a tall mound of chalk blocks and towers above the town of Lewes like a patient guardian. The castle was built in the 11th century, and since 1850 has been used by the Sussex Archeological Society. The Barbican House that adjoins Lewes Castle is the home of the Museum of Sussex Archeology, and admission to Lewes Castle will also allow guests to visit this museum. Inside, patrons will find collections of artifacts dating back to the Stone Age and a short film that will tell the history of Lewes throughout the centuries.
169 High St, Lewes BN7 1YE, UK, +44 1273 486290
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At Lincoln Castle, visitors can walk the high stone curtain walls that circle the castle for a stunning 360-degree view, explore a Victorian prison, and even see an original Magna Carta, the document signed in 1215 that defined the power of kings and changed history. Guests can also visit the site of an ancient church, found 3 meters below the ground and containing several skeletons, including one in a stone sarcophagus that had been undisturbed for a millennium. Lincoln Castle’s towers, dungeons, and grounds will offer guests the opportunity to learn about the castle and the people who have occupied it. The castle also offers audio guides for guests to tour the building at their own pace.
Castle Hill, Lincoln LN1 3AA, UK, Phone: +44-15-22-55-45-59
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At Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island, visitors can explore walking paths, view the castle atop its craggy hill, and even look for seals from the coast of the North Sea. The castle itself was built in the 16th century and has often been used over the years as a quiet holiday home for English nobility due to its stunning and remote location in the northeast of England. Before visiting Lindisfarne, visitors should check the conditions of the Holy Island causeway, a bridge which is sometimes unsafe to use due to rising water levels. Not far from Lindisfarne is Castle Point, where the arching stone of the disused Castle Point Lime Kilns makes for some great exploring and spectacular views.
Holy Island TD15 2SH, UK, Phone: +44-12-89-38-92-44
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Ludlow Castle’s history dates all the way back to the 11th century and was built on high ground to resist attack by invaders from across the nearby Welsh border. The castle was abandoned in the late 17th century, and today it stands as an outdoor ruin, no less imposing for its state of partial disrepair. Guests can explore the castle grounds, gatehouse, towers, and rooms for a small entrance fee, and even spend an afternoon browsing its shops, which sell a variety of artistic wares from rugs and photography to art, toys, and antiques.
Castle Square, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1AY, Phone: +44-15-84-87-33-55
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Nottingham is perhaps a place best known from the legendary Robin Hood stories, and indeed it lies nestled near the mythical Sherwood Forest. The entire region is steeped in legend, and Nottingham Castle is no exception. It features prominently in tales of the heroic outlaw, although its history and appeal span much further than these tales. Nottingham Castle is home to the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, wherein are housed a vast collection of historical paintings, jewelry, and household artifacts like silverware and pottery. Guests can also explore the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the castle, with several tours throughout the day to detail the dramatic history of the man-made caves.
Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Lenton Road, Nottingham, NG1 6EL, Phone: +44-11-58-76-14-00
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Located in Falmouth, Pendennis Castle began life as a stronghold for King Henry VIII. In the time since, the castle has served as a fortress or base for many wars, including both world wars in the 20th century. Guests of all ages will enjoy the castle’s discovery center, complete with hands-on activities to learn about the history of the castle. Exploration of the building and its grounds will also grant access to the high battlements of the wall as well as the underground tunnels used during the Victorian era and during World War II.
Castle Drive, Falmouth TR11 4LP, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
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With over 600 years of history to its name, Raby Castle is one of the best-preserved castles in England. Inside and out, guests can find examples of architecture and interior design that highlight and exemplify a number of different eras, including medieval, Georgian, Victorian, and Regency. The castle and its grounds contain a peaceful and picturesque walled garden, a 200-acre park, a fine collection of horse-drawn carriages, and a stunning array of art on display. A day at Raby Castle can also include a meal in the tearoom, and the castle hosts a wide variety of special events throughout the year for all ages.
Staindrop, Darlington DL2 3AH, UK, Phone: +44-18-33-66-02-02
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With its tall, square tower and its position high above the River Swale, Richmond Castle is an impressive sight for visitors to the quaint market town of Richmond. This ancient Norman structure is said to be the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur who, according to myth, lies beneath the castle in one of its underground caves. Richmond Castle offers an interactive and educational exhibit about the history of the castle and the region, and afterwards, guests can enjoy a walk in the Cockpit Garden, located just outside the castle’s walls.
Richmond Castle, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 4QW, Phone: +44-17-48-82-24-93
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Before Rochester Castle was built, it was the site of an old Roman fort, where it stood in defense of an important bridge along the London Road. The original architects of the castle built upon the remains of the Roman walls as a foundation for Rochester Castle’s own structure. In the year 1215, part of the castle was destroyed in a siege, and although it was rebuilt, the more modern round tower stands out in stark contrast against the older, square Norman towers of the castle. Guided tours of the castle and its grounds are available, as is an audio guide in several different languages.
Castle Hill, Rochester ME1 1SW, UK, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
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Totnes Castle looks almost as though its wide, round tower is the crown upon the head of the steep green hill where it stands. This ancient Saxon structure was constructed shortly after the Norman conquest, and has undergone much transformation since its original incarnation as an earth-and-timber fortress. Today, the circular stone hall is accessible by a steep hike up the large mound where it is located, which serves as a great place for anyone looking to picnic or explore. The view from the hill, and from the walls of Totnes’ shell keep, offers stunning views of the River Dart and the surrounding countryside.
Castle St, Totnes TQ9 5NU, UK, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
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Warkworth Castle was once home to the illustrious Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland. One of the most illustrious members of their family, “Harry Hotspur”, was immortalized by none other than William Shakespeare himself in the play Henry IV. Guests can climb the stairs of the impressive cross-shaped keep for some gorgeous views of the surrounding area, and explore the rooms, halls, and nooks and crannies of this old ruin. Imaginations will run wild in a place like this, with its crumbling stone walls and foundations of old towers. Points of interest are marked with placards and informational signs, but Warkworth Castle also offers an in-depth audio guide for those who wish to learn more about what they see.
Castle Terrace, Warkworth, Morpeth NE65 0UJ, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
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York Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror to fight the Vikings for control of York. Much of the castle has been destroyed over the years since its time as the center of government for Northern England, but the largest remaining part is Clifford’s Tower, which is most famous for the mass suicide of 150 members of the Jewish community, who were besieged there in the year 1160. In the years since, the tower has been used as everything from a jail to a cattle shed. Clifford’s Tower is open daily to visitors from 10:00am until 6:00pm.
Tower St, York YO1 9SA, UK, Phone: +44-37-03-33-11-81
25 Best English Castles
- Alnwick, Photo: Courtesy of bnoragitt - Fotolia.com
- Belvoir, Photo: Courtesy of Alison Bowden - Fotolia.com
- Warwick, Photo: Courtesy of Gail Johnson - Fotolia.com
- Bamburgh, Photo: Courtesy of suzbah - Fotolia.com
- Bodiam, Photo: Courtesy of IRStone - Fotolia.com
- Carisbrooke, Photo: Courtesy of photoeverywhere - Fotolia.com
- Carlisle, Photo: Courtesy of stocksolutions - Fotolia.com
- Castle Drogo, Photo: Courtesy of Hans Sehringer - Fotolia.com
- Colchester, Photo: Courtesy of Brigida Soriano - Fotolia.com
- Dover, Photo: Courtesy of chrisdorney - Fotolia.com
- Dunstanburgh, Photo: Courtesy of thecoach1 - Fotolia.com
- Durham, Photo: Courtesy of vladipushistik - Fotolia.com
- Leeds, Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Mulligan - Fotolia.com
- Lewes, Photo: Courtesy of lemanieh - Fotolia.com
- Lincoln, Photo: Courtesy of Lucian Milasan - Fotolia.com
- Lindisfarne, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Conrad - Fotolia.com
- Ludlow, Photo: Courtesy of Deatonphotos - Fotolia.com
- Nottingham, Photo: Courtesy of Lucian Milasan - Fotolia.com
- Pendennis, Photo: Courtesy of NiKs - Fotolia.com
- Raby, Photo: Courtesy of Jason Bennee - Fotolia.com
- Richmond, Photo: Courtesy of elenahell - Fotolia.com
- Rochester, Photo: Courtesy of fasphotographic - Fotolia.com
- Totnes, Photo: Courtesy of david hughes - Fotolia.com
- Warkworth, Photo: Courtesy of nyiragongo - Fotolia.com
- York, Photo: Courtesy of WH CHOW - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of samott - Fotolia.com