Castles are some of the most fascinating and evocative sites in Europe. These ancient, imposing fortresses conjure images of knights and damsels, jousting and boundless luxury, as well as darker images like sieges, battles and executions. Even today, we are still fascinated by these massive structures, be they in ruins or grand stately homes and museums. We are motivated to explore them, no matter whether they are on our doorsteps or we are visiting from far away. Who doesn’t love a good castle?
England has hundreds of impressive castles from various eras and styles scattered across the nation (and many more are found in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales – in fact, Wales is the most castle-dense nation in Europe!). Impossible to visit or mention them all, we’ve chosen a few of our favourite dramatic castles in England to feature below.
Bamburgh Castle is truly one of the most dramatic castles in England. Its bulk presides over the Northumberland coastline as it has done for 1,400 years. It’s one of the largest still-inhabited castles in the country and is open to visitors throughout the year. Bamburgh sits atop a rocky plateau that juts out of a volcanic outcrop overlooking the sea. The Normans built the castle in the 11th century. This tower still forms the core of the castle today.
Similar to Tintagel Castle below, Bamburgh has Arthurian connections. Medieval writer Thomas Malory names Bamburgh as the mythical home of Sir Lancelot.
For visitors today, Bamburgh Castle is a good alternative to Alnwick Castle, just 27 km/17 miles south, which can be quite popular.
The magnificent Bamburgh Castle features on many of our trips. Visit it on:
This impressive red-stone fortress is over 900 years old. Carlisle Castle may have endured more sieges than any other place in England. It was also the last English fortress to undergo a siege, during the Jacobite Rising in the 1700s.
Located near Hadrian’s Wall, this site has long been one of defence. The Romans chose this part of England to build their iconic wall separating Roman Britain from the north. Hadrian’s Wall is home to dozens of milecastles, forts and turrets (small lookout towers), though all are in ruin now.
Built in 1093, Carlisle Castle sits on the foundations of a Roman fort, Luguvalium. Chosen for its defensive purposes, the site retained its earlier Roman purpose too – to secure the border to the north against invasion.
Visit Carlisle Castle and Hadrian’s Wall on small group hiking tour.
Castle Bolton is a squat 14th century stronghold in a quiet corner of Yorkshire, between the River Ure and Grinton Moor. Though “slighted” (deliberately ruined) during the English Civil War, much of Castle Bolton survives.
This stout, impressive structure is still in the hands of the Scope family. They have owned it since 1378 when Richard, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton, started construction on this quadrangular castle.
The infamous Mary, Queen of Scots, was a prisoner at Bolton for six months. Legend has it that Mary escaped and made her way towards the nearby town of Leyburn, but she lost her shawl on the way. Nearby cliffs, ‘The Shawl’, remember this story in their name, and offer excellent views.
Visit the castle on our guided cycling tour coast to coast across northern England.
Richmond Castle is generally considered England’s best-preserved early Norman castle. Unlike many other properties here, it wasn’t regularly renovated and modernised with each passing era.
Tucked into a bend of the River Swale, the castle sits at the heart of the charming market town of Richmond. At one point, a military barracks was installed in the courtyard, and the military used the castle during WWI. However, Richmond Castle has been a romantic ruin for the last five centuries, inspiring J.M.W. Turner and others to paint it.
Hike Wainwright’s iconic Coast to Coast hiking trail and visit Richmond Castle.
Superbly preserved, Warkworth is one of the great dramatic castles of England. The castle dominates the skyline of the quaint village of the same name. Set on a hilltop overlooking the River Croquet and the surrounding estuary, Warkworth Castle is a mighty fortress once home to the powerful Duke of Northumberland. Though its founding is uncertain, the castle has been in the hands of the Percy family since the Middle Ages. Now a picturesque ruin, Warkworth’s stunning silhouette captured the attention of renowned painter J.M.W. Turner. He painted the castle ruins in 1799, and it appeared in several scenes in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2.
Visit Warkworth Castle on our self guided cycling trips.
Once an impressive stately manor, today, Kenilworth Castle is one of the most dramatic castles in England. It is a remarkable ruin made of beautiful red sandstone. In 1266, Kenilworth suffered a six-month siege, considered among the longest in English history.
The castle was a Lancastrian base in the Wars of the Roses and the place that saw the removal of King Edward II. It was also host to one of the most lavish royal receptions: Queen Elizabeth I’s visit. Kenilworth’s owner, Robert, Earl of Leicester, was desperate to impress the queen in the hope of matrimony. Her stay in 1575 lasted for 19 days and involved a massive entourage of 31 barons and 400+ staff. The Earl spared no expense, extending and renovating the castle, constructing the famed Elizabethan gardens, and putting on a massive show. The celebrations included banquets, fireworks, hunts, and balls, nearly bankrupting the Earl. Ultimately, it was all for nought as she did not marry him. However, the Earl left behind some mighty ruins for future generations to explore.
One of the most dramatic castles in England, Arundel Castle is a historic home nestled amongst beautiful gardens. Located near the south coast of England, down from London, the castle is well worth a visit. Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, built Arundel Castle in the 11th century. For over 850 years, it has served as the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, making it a remarkable symbol of England’s medieval past.
Arundel also boasts several royal connections. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk was the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both wives of the infamous Henry VIII. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert also visited the castle in 1846.
Today, Arundel Castle captivates visitors with its impressive architecture and dramatic beauty. Perched on a hill, it offers stunning views of the Arun River and the surrounding countryside.
Visit Arundel Caste on our Highlights of Southern England adventure.
Bodiam Castle is probably one of the most famous castles in England. It is a picture-perfect fairytale castle with dramatic towers rising from a lake. With giant towers and imposing battlements, great portcullis and stunning spiral staircases, the castle seems like the stuff of legends.
Sir Edward Dallingridge built Bodiam in around 1385 at the behest of King Richard II. At a time of war between England and the French, the castle stood to intimidate and impress. It was besieged during the Wars of the Roses and sold during the English Civil War. Today, the castle is an impressive ruin. However, there is no evidence of why Bodiam was abandoned, or even quite when, except that it was between the 15th and 17th centuries.
For visitors to the stunning south coast of Dorset, discover the beautiful ruins of Corfe Castle. The castle sits atop a steep hill overlooking a quaint village of the same name. Perched between two chalk hills, William the Conqueror constructed Corfe from local limestone.
The castle has changed hands many times since its construction following the Norman Invasion in 1066. There was likely an earlier fortification on the site before this. Throughout its history, Corfe has served as both a residence and a military garrison. Lady Bankes famously defended Corfe Castle during the English Civil War. The location near the Jurassic Coast is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the area has some great coastal hikes.
Highclere Castle is perhaps one of the most beloved English landmarks. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show, most will recognise Highclere Castle after it starred as the titular house in Downton Abbey. Completed in the 17th century, the Earls of Carnarvon own, and often inhabit, Highclere. Downton Abbey has greatly impacted the uptick in visitors to Highclere Castle and in educating viewers on the lives of people 100 years ago.
Highclere Castle sits amidst a vast park designed by Capability Brown on the expansive estate. The 5th Earl was a friend of the infamous archaeologist Howard Carter. He accompanied Carter on the famous Egypt excavation that discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. There are still Egyptian artefacts to enjoy viewing in the castle today.
St Michael’s Mount looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. A small tidal island, St Michael’s Mount rises up dramatically from Mount’s Bay in Cornwall, culminating in a fortified castle and medieval monastery. Find out more about this dramatic castle here.
St Michael’s Mount bears striking similarities to Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France. Not only is the name the same, but both are monasteries with fortifications atop conical tidal islands reached by man-made causeways. The French island is larger than its English counterpart, almost three times its size. Back in Cornwall, visitors can reach St Michael’s Mount by boat at high tide or by foot at low tide over the causeway.
Tintagel is a household name and is famous for its Arthurian connection. Debated amongst historians and scholars, popular myth states that Tintagel is the place of King Arthur’s conception, or perhaps birth. Discover the history and legends of Tintagel Castle here.
Little remains of the 13th century castle clinging to the rugged Cornwall peninsula, but it remains one of the most dramatic castles in England. Built on two rocky spires, two narrow bridges connect the castle sections today. Besides the wild ruin, there is a medieval walled garden, a quiet beach, and a breathtaking section of the South West Coast Path. Discover some of the best walks on the national trail here.
Visit both St Michael’s Mount and Tintagel Castle on our walking tour along the breathtaking coast of Cornwall.
Sudeley Castle is a romantic castle set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills. Today it remains the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds – Katherine Parr, the final wife of King Henry VIII. Upon the king’s death in 1547, Katherine resided at Sudeley Castle until her death the following year.
Ralph Boteler, a Member of the King’s Household under Henry V and Henry VI, built Sudeley Castle in 1442. Since then, many generations have improved upon and renovated the castle. The estate is quite large – some 1,200 acres – and comprises several gardens, pathways, and even a section of the Cotswolds Way.
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