When most people think of England they probably think of tea, lots and lots of rain and bright red double-decker buses. But what they don’t know is, England is a treasure chest of history with beautiful sights to see. However, some of the island’s finest sights to behold are a little off the beaten path. Save yourself from a totally run-of-the-mill trip to the UK by visiting some of the best castles in England.
1. Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle is one of the most famous castles in England. Built in the 14th century by a British soldier who married and worked his way to wealth, Bodiam Castle is a beautiful historic relic and one of the best castles in the UK.
The iconic quadrangular castle, with its crowd of imposing stone towers and battlements all emerging from a misty moat, has been widely photographed for decades. In contrast to the near-perfect, stately castle exterior, sections of the castle’s interior have unfortunately fallen into ruin. Instead of roaming a dilapidated interior, visitors may delight in exploring the castle’s battlements, grand courtyards and towers. To know Bodiam Castle is to love it.
2. Bamburgh Castle
Located high atop a rocky plateau overlooking the Northumberland coastline is Bamburgh Castle. This impressive castle spans over nine acres of land and is one of the largest inhabited castles in all of England.
Archaeological evidence suggests that people lived on and around the site where the castle stands today from as early as 10,000 BC. But this iconic Northumberland castle is a relatively recent structure built by a famous industrialist during the Victorian era.
Today, Bamburgh Castle remains the ancestral home to the Armstrong family and has 14 public rooms and over 2,000 artifacts including armor, weapons, porcelain, furniture and artwork. The castle grounds include an 18th century whinstone windmill, a 12th century keep, an artifacts museum, the King’s Hall, a medieval kitchen and a constable’s tower.
After exploring the castle grounds, be sure to visit the archaeological dig to get your hands dirty and see what you can find. Its design combined with its coastal views easily make Bamburgh one of the best castles to visit in England.
3. Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle is a medieval castle attraction developed from an original built in 1068. Located in the country town of Warwickshire on a sandstone bluff at a bend of the River Avon, the original wooden castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. Later refortified during the Hundred Years War, the castle was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century. In 1978 it was purchased by the Tussauds Group.
Explore the castle, be entertained by stories and watch actors bring history to life right before your eyes!
4. Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle is a 16th century Tudor fort which rises from a high outcrop of basalt rock and stands proudly on Holy Island.
From a former fort to the holiday home of a wealthy Edwardian bachelor seeking a quiet retreat from London, Lindisfarne has undergone many changes over the centuries.
It all began in 634 AD when Oswald, King of Northumbria, granted the island to the church and a monastic community became established on the site. Viking raids led to its abandonment in the late eighth century but it was later re-founded. The community prospered until the Wars of Scottish Independence, during which their estates were devastated, although the monastery itself was fortified to avoid any significant damage during attack.
Between 1902 and 1903 the Elizabethan fort was transformed into a mock castle, adapting the garrison quarters into a house, and the Tudor cellars into a cozy suite of living rooms. The renovations both served to save the place from ruin and to transform the old fort into a stylish country residence.
The castle’s interior still features original 16th century vaulted passages, but other features like the wood paneled rooms, latched doors, decorative brick flooring and molded roof beams were designed to further mimic the 16th century style.
Holy Island is only accessible from the mainland at low tide by means of a causeway. Visit the Gertrude Jekyll garden as well as the castle. The island’s priory, historic church, and the lovely coastal nature reserve and beaches also make fine sights to see.
5. Raby Castle
Built in the 14th century by the Nevills and home to the Barnard family since 1626, Raby Castle consists of a number of medieval towers, turrets and walls, some of which date back to the 11th century.
When approaching the castle its various towers and turrets appear and disappear amongst the trees in the 200 acres of surrounding parkland. The castle’s impressive exterior is complemented by ornamental lakes and herds of passing deer. The Gatehouse, with its stone figures standing on the battlements overlooking the now dry castle moat, is also a spectacular sight.
Raby Castle is a sumptuous family home with many medieval, regency and Victorian interiors. In fact, the Entrance Hall’s elegant Gothic vaulted ceilings and have been described as ‘one of the boldest conceptions of its age and the first truly dramatic interior of the Gothic revival’. The Octagon Drawing Room remains almost entirely unchanged from the 1840s. It displays lavish textiles of gold silk and crimson silk while keeping most of the original room’s paintwork, moldings and gilding.
The Small Drawing Room houses a fine collection of sporting paintings under a beautiful plaster ceiling and the Blue Bedroom shows a typical bedroom complete with domed canopy bed and bell calls for servants designed for important castle visitors in the 19th century.
The sparse furnishing in the Servant’s Room was also typical and was often reserved for the castle’s head housekeeper. Visit the medieval kitchen still furnished with original antique utensils, and view the Dining Room that also serves as a kind of picture gallery.
When you complete the castle tour, take a turn outdoors and enjoy a stroll, spot wildlife in the deer park or relax in the walled gardens. With so much to offer, the list of castles in England isn’t complete without mentioning Raby Castle.
6. Bolsover Castle
Bolsover Castle is a 17th century castle in Bolsover, Derbyshire. With spectacular views over Derbyshire, this fairy-tale castle was designed to impress. Wander the lavish rooms of the Little Castle, explore the romantic ruined terrace range and delight in the views from the wall walk.
Brilliantly preserved and beautifully restored, the labyrinth of sumptuous castle rooms will wow you with richly colored wall art, carved marble fireplaces and stunning painted ceilings. The castle’s exterior includes medieval-style turrets and towers.
The Fountain Garden was designed around the statue of Venus emerging from her bath. It included a secluded chamber for intimate banquets set into the garden wall. The original windows have been re-glazed and new hand-carved doors have been added to this room that is now open to the public.
Wander the gardens and enjoy the 5,000 plants, flowers and fruit trees in bloom.
The circular walls in the newly restored wall walk go right around the garden and allow for panoramic views over the Bolsover Castle grounds and the Vale of Scarsdale. With stunning countryside views and a perfect view of the fountain garden down below, the wall walk is the perfect place to take photos.
Visit the indoor Riding School as well. Watch the Cavalier Horsemanship displays on weekends in April through to September. Bolsover Castle is definitely one of the most beautiful castles in England and deserving of a visit.
7. Tower of London
The Tower of London is renowned as one of the most famous English castles and one of England’s most iconic structures. A secure fortress, royal palace and infamous prison, the Tower of London actually comprises multiple towers, 12 of which can be explored by the public.
The Tower of London is an imposing fortress with many layers of history, and their various tours offer something for everyone. If you like shiny things and are enchanted with the history of the monarch, don’t miss the famous Crown Jewels exhibition. See the Imperial State Crown – which is still worn by the queen for each State Opening of Parliament – and the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross. Take a tour with the tower guards (Yeoman Warders) and be captivated with tales of the tower’s bloody past. Or if a spooky, outdoor tour sounds like fun, take the Tower Twilight Tour for gruesome sights, spooky stories and unique after hours access to the UK’s most visited historic attraction.
Take in world famous sights such as Traitors’ Gate, the Scaffold Site and the Bloody Tower, and be appalled and amazed by tales of prisoners and past residents, of royal gossip and of the secrets kept within these ancient walls.
Lastly, don’t forget to visit the White Tower, an iconic symbol of London’s heritage and an 11th century fortress palace. When it comes to the top castles in England, the Tower of London is hard to beat.
For more suggestions on things to do in London check out this article.
8. Dover Castle
Designated a military headquarters during the First World War, Dover Castle is home to about 2,000 years of history. This iconic English fortress housed an underground hospital for injured soldiers and a number of secret tunnels which proved important for escape and for maintaining the element of surprise in battle.
Climb the Great Tower, immerse yourself in medieval interiors and journey through the underground hospital as special effects and real film footage bring a rescue operation to life. During the summer watch gun drills on weekends or descend at your own pace into the eerie, winding secret medieval tunnels and discover the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country, the Roman Pharos. Bask in the beauty of the old Anglo-Saxon church next door, St Mary in Castro.
Be transported to a world of intrigue and royal ambition as you experience the vibrant color and rich furnishings of one of medieval England’s most important castles.
9. Windsor Castle
There are a number of castles in England many haven’t heard of yet, but this isn’t one of them. Covering about 5 hectares of land is the impressive and historic Windsor Castle. The biggest castle in England, Windsor Castle is the oldest occupied castle in the world, and it is located at Windsor within the English county of Berkshire.
Originally built in the 11th century, the castle is steeped in royal history and boasts many antique furnishings. It has been used by the reigning British monarch for centuries and is currently the preferred weekend residence of Queen Elizabeth II.
Windsor Castle has been the family home for British kings and queens for more than a thousand years, making it the longest-occupied palace in Europe. The castle remains a working castle today; the Queen opts to spend weekends here and also undertakes certain formal duties such as hosting state visits from foreign heads of state.
Catch the traditional military parade and Changing of the Guards, or visit St George’s Chapel, an old Gothic masterpiece and the final resting place of 10 monarchs.
Amble through the 3-mile paved avenue of trees that is the Long Walk and examine the world’s largest and most intricate dollhouse – Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Even if you never liked playing with dolls as a kid, this tiny collection of specially commissioned pieces is sure to wow with its details and its true-to-life representation of life in the 1920s. A favorite of the Queen and of tourists, Windsors continually ranks as one of the most popular castles in England.
10. St Michael’s Mount
500 metres from the mainland in Mount’s Bay is a small tidal island called St Michael’s Mount. Accessible on foot via a cobblestone causeway that resurfaces when the tide is low, small boats are available for charter to transport you to the island as well.
Majestic and beautiful, the centuries old castle, which has pride of place on the small island, is believed to have been made by a grumpy giant.
During the castle’s long history that began in the 12th century, St Michael’s Mount has been a priory, a fortress, an important place for pilgrims then finally became a private home to the St Aubyn family in 1659, and continues to be their home to this day.
In 1954 the St Aubyn family went into partnership with the National Trust allowing for the castle and its grounds to be opened to the public. Pass through the heavy medieval doors and cast your eyes upon the traveling chest of Colonel St Aubyn, take a tour of the armory, Gothic drawing room and a 14th-century church. Walk through ancient doorways and centuries old corridors as you trace the island’s religious roots and history of siege and conflict. Then enjoy the castle’s exotic sub-tropical gardens as you discover historic facts from times gone by. Kids may especially enjoy learning about and identifying places spoken about in the island’s legends and myths, and they’ll get a kick out of become cluefinders in the gardens.
Enjoy the castle floodlights during the summertime that make the castle appear as if it is floating in mid air over a calm sea.
Visit the island’s gift shops to pick up souvenirs or restaurants to grab a bite to eat. And while you’re at it, have a chat with any of the 30 or so villagers that live on the island. Often overlooked, it really is one of the best English castles.
11. Leeds Castle
Rising majestically from the still waters of its moat and surrounded by 500 acres of parkland and gardens is Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle is without a doubt one of the most beautiful venues in Kent, and home to one of the best castle hotels in England.
Considered one of the most romantic castles in England, this historic site has been a Norman stronghold, the private property of six of England’s medieval queens, a palace used by Henry VIII, a Georgian mansion and an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous.
Today, Leeds Castle is one of the best castles to see in England. Often called ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World’, Leeds Castle is perfect for a fun day out or a romantic getaway.
Discover the parkland wildlife, wander around the castle and find your way through the castle maze. Once you’ve gotten to the maze’s center, escape through a grotto, complete with mythical beasts created from shells, minerals and wood. Visit the Bird of Prey Center to view a variety of birds and learn about them, then watch the Falconry display of the birds in flight. When it comes to beautiful castles in England, Leeds pretty much takes the cake.
12. Arundel Castle
Rooted in more than a millennium of history, Arundel Castle is a stunning attraction and the focal point of Arundel. This treasured site is nestled amongst 40 acres of beautiful gardens and lawns and perched on a hill overlooking the River Arun.
One of the best castles to visit in England, Arundel Castle is home to priceless works of art, antique china and furniture, interesting sculptures and carvings as well as pieces of armor all laid out in the castle rooms. Founded in 1067 by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, the castle now serves as the ancestral seat and family home of the 18th Duke of Norfolk.
Book a guided tour or enjoy a free-flow visit; take in the castle’s carefully preserved rooms and bask in Arundel Castle’s dazzling walled gardens. See the castle’s functional Organic Kitchen Garden and stop to smell the roses in the sweetly-scented Rose Garden. Interesting for visitors of all ages, everyone agrees Arundel is one of the top castles in England.
13. Highcliffe Castle
Highcliffe Castle is arguably the most important surviving house built with a view toward the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture. Built between 1831 and 1836, Highcliffe Castle remained a family home until the 1950s. Despite two devastating fires in the 1960s which destroyed the castle’s rich interiors and renovations to the castle’s exterior in the 1990s, the castle remains a spectacular sight to behold and one of the best castles in England.
Knowledgeable tour guides bring the castle’s history to life as they tell tales of the castle’s former residents and show off unrestored, untouched castle rooms. Fill up on tea and cakes at the Castle Kitchen Tearooms, then take a stroll along the castle grounds or head to Highcliffe Beach and lounge on the sandy shore set against tree-lined cliffs. Steeped in significant history, it’s hard to argue against Highcliffe being one of the best castles in the UK.
14. Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle has enjoyed a long and interesting history. Records reveal that the castle was built during the 12th and 13th centuries, succeeded by a red brick Tudor house which then became a glamorous upscale party hub in the early 20th century. Highclere Castle was transformed into a hospital during World War I before once again returning to a private residence. Today, Highclere Castle is open to the public for walk-in visits for a portion of the year.
Highclere Castle serves as the filming location for the popular series Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey, PBS’s hit period drama, has turned its setting into a television icon and increased its popularity.
No visit to this famous English castle would be complete without a garden and parkland tour. Highclere Castle has several beautiful gardens that boast colorful, unique floral arrangements. You’re in for a lovely experience when you spend an afternoon at Highclere Castle.
15. Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle enters history at the turn of the 12th century when land in Framlingham, Suffolk was granted to Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk. Surrounded by parkland and estates, the castle, since its establishment in the 12th century, has had a long and immensely intriguing history.
Once at the center of a vast network of power and influence, Framlingham Castle was home to the Earls of Norfolk for quite some time before serving as a private royal dwelling used to host lavish parties. Unfortunately, the castle later fell into disrepair and was used as a prison, before being purchased to become a workhouse for the poor.
This fearsome fortress eventually became central to a succession crisis of epic proportions, which saw the crowning of England’s first official queen.
Explore the castle interior, discover more of Framlingham’s stories of siege and royal upset in the castle exhibition, walk the ramparts of the castle to enjoy its breathtaking views of the countryside and sample some Tudor-inspired delights in the castle’s café. Even a short visit is guaranteed to move Framlingham to the top of your list of the best castles in the UK.
Vamp up your trip to the UK by visiting some of the best castles in England. Unleash your inner historian and adventurer as you learn ancient secrets and take in breathtaking views of stunning old castles.