Edinburgh Castle

Top 10 Castles to Visit Across the UK

Across the four nations, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to castle spotting. In fact, in the UK, it may be trickier not to stumble upon one of the grand fortifications, ruins or remains, that pepper the landscape.

Despite England taking a lot of the plaudits for being the home of King Arthur, knights and round tables, it’s actually Wales that – according to the National Geographic – is the country with more castles per square mile than any other in Europe, earning it the nickname ‘the land of castles’.

So, join us as we compile our list of the top 10 castles to visit in the UK…

Edinburgh Castle

1. Edinburgh Castle

Our castle hunt begins in Edinburgh – a magical and charming city in its own right, and one that is filled with historical sites.

The one that tops the bill, of course, is its titular castle, which sits on Castle Rock, looking moody, imposing and impregnable. As it dominates the skyline, you won’t be able to miss it, and the fortress is also home to the Honours of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny, and the National War Museum.

Having previously been a prison, military garrison and royal residence, this castle has plenty of stories to tell – and even has its very own gin, which it says is best enjoyed ‘on the rocks’…

Caernarfon Castle and harbour

2. Caernarfon Castle

Next stop Wales, where Caernarfon Castle reigns supreme and pips its local rivals to the post for grandeur. Part of a Welsh World Heritage Site collective of castles in the region, Caernarfon has stood strong since the Middle Ages.

The former fortress-palace is full of legends and sits alongside the River Seiont. A large structure, built for Edward I, it boasts a famous King’s Gate, eagle statues and multi-coloured masonry, which all makes for a dramatic sight.

Warwick Castle

3. Warwick Castle

When it comes to scenic settings, it’s tough to beat Warwick Castle’s riverside location, amid plenty of greenery. Its almost honey-coloured stone makes for a photogenic reflection in the water. But, beyond the aesthetic and impressive architecture, there’s also a rich history.

The site is believed to have begun life as a wooden fort that was built by William the Conqueror in 1068. You’ll find fantastic grounds to explore and, as well as the rooms, there’s also lots of entertainment – such as archery demonstrations, a dungeon tour, a Horrible Histories Maze, and a catapult replica.

Alnwick Castle

4. Alnwick Castle

In the heart of Northumberland, the stunning Alnwick Castle is best known around the world for being the setting for Hogwarts in several of the Harry Potter films.

Having also appeared in Downtown Abbey, it’s safe to say this structure doesn’t struggle to attract visitors. The second largest inhabited castle in the country, it’s been home to generations of the same family for over 700 years. The medieval building has a number of things to see and do, including tours, talks, trails, archery, Italian Renaissance-style state rooms, landscaped gardens by ‘Capability’ Brown, and even broomstick training.

Leeds Castle

5. Leeds Castle

Despite the name, Leeds Castle is not be found in West Yorkshire but in Kent. Close to Maidstone, this beloved fortress sits on islands in the middle of a lake, which is part of the River Len, and makes it a particularly memorable destination.

A rather spectacular sight, Kent’s famous castle is home to an annual fireworks event, regular exhibitions, an obstacle course, maze, sculptures, and more. With over 900 years of history under its belt, the stone structure has been a Norman stronghold, a Jacobean house, and belonged to royalty – including Henry VIII. Take a tour of the interior, stroll the various lovely gardens, hop on a segway, or head out onto the lake via a boat or ferry. There’s even a high-end restaurant.

Bamburgh Castle on Northumberland coast

6. Bamburgh Castle

Returning to the North East, Bamburgh Castle also makes our list of the best castles to visit. Unique due to its coastal location, this beachside castle offers sweeping views of the sand, sea and surrounding islands.

Discover treasures in the state rooms, stride around the regal King’s Hall and explore Anglo-Saxon history in the citadel. With 1,400 years of history to share, this castle will also spill secrets and stories from Victorian times and the War of the Roses, and is even rumoured to be the fictional site of Sir Lancelot’s castle.

Dunluce Castle

7. Dunluce Castle

In Northern Ireland, a castle you won’t want to miss is the ruined Dunluce, which stands guard on a basalt outcropping in County Antrim, overlooking the coast. Mossy and exposed to the elements, with views of the Atlantic, everything about the castle feels raw and wild.

Accessible by a bridge that connects it to the mainland, Dunluce has an air of mystery about it and was previously home to two feuding clans. Aside from the beautiful scenery, there are also exhibits to provide extra entertainment.

Tower Of London

8. Tower of London

Perhaps the most famous of all England’s castles, the Tower of London is over 900 years-old and is all the more impressive for blending seamlessly into one of the world’s megacities.

Best known for looking after the crown jewels – which you can view – and for once being a prison, the historic fortress sits on the River Thames and features on many a traveler’s bucket list. Must-dos include watching the Ceremony of the Keys, meeting the local ravens, and taking a tour.

Craigievar Castle

9. Craigievar Castle

We head back to Scotland to see a castle that truly stands out from the crowd. Highly distinctive, thanks to its pink hue, Craigievar Castle will be a favourite of budding photographers and Instagrammers alike.

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, the castle is surrounded by gardens and woodland that gives it a fairytale feel and, crucially, it is claimed to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. We can see why…

Offering views from up high on a hill, the castle began life in 1576, and houses a number of antiquities and artefacts, so it’s no slouch in the history department, either. The lack of artificial light also gives an authentic feel to the tours.

Footbridge over the river leading to Eilean Donan Castle

10. Eilean Donan Castle

Speaking of fairytale castles, Scotland boasts another must-see in Eilean Donan Castle. Stretching out from a long road into the surrounding lake, the structure looks spellbinding in all seasons – whether reflecting into the water during spring or summer, surrounded by moody skies and orange foliage in autumn, or when snow-covered in winter.

Located in the Highlands, it sits on a small tidal island where three sea lochs convene, and the castle also has history dating back to the 13th century.

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