Large pointy turrets stretch to the sky. Giant wooden drawbridges latched over a dark moat. In the center, a tall stone keep, where royalty gaze upon the countryside from the towers. With thousands of castles across the UK, visiting at least one of these historical landmarks deserves to be on your bucket list.
Here are a few interesting tips on visiting the UK’s best attraction…castles! Plus, a list of some of our favorite bucket list worthy UK castles.
More Castles Per Square Mile
Full of royal tragedy, the UK’s most famous castle is arguably the Tower of London. Though we completely agree it’s a must-see attraction, there’s more to the UK than just London.
Castles litter the UK’s countryside, and no place is it more evident than in Wales. With 427 castles, this tiny country on the west side of the UK is often called “the land of castles” for good reason.
Overlooking the River Wye, on the southern border of Wales and England, Chepstow Castle was the first Welsh castle. Constructed in 1067 by William FitzOsbern, it was one of many castles built by the Normans to take possession of Wales.
A few of our personal favorite Welsh castles include Raglan and Caerphilly Castles in the south, near Cardiff. In the north, closer to Liverpool, Conway Castle is a must.
UK Castles - What to Expect
Built in various time periods, castles can have very different features. For instance, large block towers are common of Norman castles, i.e., built between 1066 and 1071. Great Halls and large kitchens are common of castles built during the Tudor period, think Henry VIII.
The oldest castles were built around the 11th century, but few of their original features have stood the test of time. Over the centuries natural decay, sieges, and war destroyed most castles throughout the UK.
Today, you’ll find castles in various stages of ruin. Despite the decay, many of these castles are still worth visiting.
Restored and Kept Castles
Not all castles are in ruins. Some castles, like Leeds Castle in Kent, were constantly owned and maintained. Owners typically transformed these castles to their liking, getting rid of their old period features. Think of it like remodeling a home and getting rid of popcorn ceilings.
Also, organizations like the National Trust, English Heritage, and even private companies have restored some castles to their former glory.
Restored castles can be pricey to visit because admission usually includes so much more than just entrance to the castle. It’s similar to visiting an attraction. Often restored castles have beautiful, extensive gardens with hedge mazes and sometimes quirky grottoes.
In the summer, some castles even have jousting tournaments, outdoor plays, and other special events. Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England has one of our favorite castle toys, a fireball throwing trebuchet.
Seeing both a restored castle and a castle ruin will give you completely different, but worthwhile, experiences.
Stay in a UK Castle Hotel
Did you know you can also stay in a castle?
On our most recent trip back to the UK we stayed in Hever Castle in Kent, just an hour from London. Our room included admission to the castle and grounds. We had access to the grounds even after everything shut for the day. Though, the accommodation was gorgeous, it was not in the actual castle, like our previous stay at Thornbury Castle.
In the west country, not far from Bristol, Thornbury Castle is as authentic as it gets. Spiraling stone staircases, heavy wooden doors, four poster beds, and it is even the former honeymoon spot of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. It’s a bucket-list worthy experience for sure.
Walled Cities of the UK
In addition to castles, the UK also has dozens of walled cities. Some of these fortified cities only have fragmented remains, usually a gate or two. However, cities like York and Northern Ireland’s Londonderry are largely intact. You can look down on the city from above as you walk the historic walls.
UK's Best Castles to Visit
Are you ready to start your own castle adventure? Here are a few of our favorite castles in the UK.
- Windsor Castle, England – It doesn’t get more royal than Windsor. Check the flag on the tower to see if the Queen is in.
- Leeds Castle, England – One of the prettiest estates in the country. Makes a great day trip, only an hour from London.
- Warwick Castle, England – Medieval Times set in a real castle. Don’t miss the jousting or the flame wielding trebuchet.
- Raglan Castle, Wales – This once great castle now sits in ruins after a mortar battery siege by Parliamentary forces in 1646.
- Edinburgh Castle, Scotland – Perched high on Castle Rock, it looks over the city. Catch the Edinburgh Tattoo in August for a one-of-a-kind show, in a one-of-a-kind setting.
- Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – Sitting pretty in Loch Duich with Scotland’s dramatic mountain scenery as its backdrop.
- Dunlance Castle, Northern Ireland – Location, location, location. The castle may be a ruin, but it lends to the atmosphere. Will forever live in our memories as the castle upon the cliff’s edge.
If you’re interested in learning more about the castles in the UK, we picked up the book
- Castles, Palaces & Stately Homes: The Illustrated Guide to the Architectural, Cultural and Historical Heritage of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by Charles Phillips.
Not only does it make a great coffee table book, but it is also a great historical guide to the castles across the UK. We used this book to find most of the castles we’ve visited over the years.