England is a country with a vivid and long history to tell – and not always a peaceful one. Its many fortified castles are a testament to this, built to repulse enemy attacks and keep the occupants within safe and comfortable during sieges that could last months on end. The English countryside is scattered with these beautiful old buildings, and the majority of them are open to exploring (for a price). The ravages of time have not always been kind to these castles, however, some of which were conceived and built over a millennium ago.
This list will show you some of the most beautiful and the most intact castles that this historic country has to offer. For those tourists chasing the most immersive experience possible, some of them will even allow you to sleep within the ancient walls! These castles all have their own individual attraction depending on your personal tastes, so they are arranged in no particular order.
1. Lindisfarne Castle
Perched on the aptly named Holy Island (A monastery was located here all the way back in AD 634!), this magnificent castle is only accessible from the mainland during low tide. The road leading to the tidal island is simply submerged for the rest of the day. While records of occupation stretching back to the 6th century, construction for the castle itself commenced in the year 1550. In 1901 it was significantly altered by Sir Edward Lutyens.
While relatively small for a castle, its fantastical location – perched atop a rocky spire, surrounded by the cold North Sea – is sure to impress. As is its rich and violent history. Way back in AD 793, the first-ever wave of Viking ships to reach the English shores terrorized and pillaged the defenseless monks at the old monastery. During the castle’s early years, tensions between the English and the Scottish ran high, and its location near the Scottish border made it an apt location to repel possible attacks. It was also briefly occupied by Jacobite rebels in the eighteenth century. An Adult ticket including a voluntary gift aid donation costs £9.90.
2. Warwick Castle
Warwick castle’s long lifespan reaches all the way back to 1068. It was originally a wooden fort, built by William the Conqueror just two years after his famous invasion of the country from Normandy in 1066. Its transformation into a stone castle took place in the 12th century.
The castle is in fantastic condition and has been refurbished in many ways by its current owners, who run it as a very successful family attraction. Many of the interior rooms have been restored to their former glory, and there is a cornucopia of events that take place throughout the year. You can even pay to stay in the 14th century Caesar’s tower! A day ticket to the castle and its grounds is £13, or £18 including the castle dungeons.
3. Ludlow Castle
One of the best-preserved medieval ruins in the country, Ludlow castle was originally built (like so many of the country’s surviving fortifications) as a Norman fort and then altered and improved multiple times over the years, eventually spending centuries as an official royal residence. The original castle was built sometime between 1066-1085 and it is one of the oldest stone castles in the country. Walking around the enormous grounds and gazing up at the sometimes crumbling walls is an awe-inspiring experience.
The nearby village of Ludlow is a perfect accompaniment to the castle, with excellent food, independent shopping, and a very traditional market. It is possible to book a stay at Castle House, a stately manor within the old walls. An adult day ticket to the castle is only £7.
4. Corfe Castle
Sitting on the isle of Purbeck – a peninsula in the ever-popular English county of Dorset is the wonderful Corfe castle. You can really sense the age of this one, the crumbling walls have been largely left as they would naturally stand, allowing you to get a real taste of the authentic history of occupation and warfare these old stones have seen.
The grand old building rears its head above gorgeous rolling countryside and towns and is a beautiful landmark for the many excellent walks in the surrounding area. Partly demolished by the Parliamentarians in 1646, a visit here will have your mind bubbling with vivid history. An Adult ticket including a voluntary gift aid donation costs £12.20.
5. Leeds Castle
Don’t confuse this excellent castle with the Yorkshire city of Leeds, you’ll find it in amongst the lovely countryside of Kent, hundreds of miles to the south. A castle has existed on this site since 1119, but the current building largely dates from the 19th century. A true classic – it sits completely surrounded by water, built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len. Having a lot of its construction completed in relatively recent history has meant that it is in excellent condition. It has been referred to as The loveliest castle in the world.
Unlike some of the ruins on this list, the interior rooms are sumptuously decorated and it has spent time as a Royal and as a private residence for some very illustrious names. Not only that, but within the castle estate, there are multiple excellent places for overnight stays. Most notably, the ‘Knight’s Glamping’ offers a small village of brightly striped tents based on a medieval design – but don’t worry, the conditions inside couldn’t be further from the dark ages. Admission for adults is a relatively steep £27, however, this does grant you free repeat visits for a whole year after.
6. Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle is a splendid building in its own right, however, it really starts to shine for tourists when they realize it is the real-life Hogwarts – the non-cgi scenes of the Harry Potter franchise’s iconic castle were filmed here. Family home up to this day, the monumental walls and spires are still in fantastic condition, surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns and filled with some of the most luxurious rooms and inner sanctums you could ever lay eyes upon.
The people who run the castle put on plenty of events, including of course many Harry Potter themed activities for the enthralled kids, including ‘broomstick training’. If you have a child who isn’t so much of a history buff, this might be a castle that manages to keep their interest. Adult tickets currently cost £18.50, or £30.25 including access to the fabulous gardens. Please note the castle is usually closed during winter.
7. Windsor Castle
Famous as the true home of Queen Elizabeth II, this is often where the monarch chooses to spend her time when she is not required at the more well known Buckingham Palace in central London. It’s the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. 39 different Kings and Queens have called this place home over the years – and it is no surprise, the castle is breathtakingly beautiful and absolutely huge. If the royal standard flies atop the spires, the Queen is currently in residence here!
With stunning architecture in utterly perfect condition, there are few better places to choose if you can only spare time to see one castle during your visit to England. The castle saw action during the English Civil War, as a military headquarters for the Parliamentarians. The royal family sheltered here during the Luftwaffe bombings of the second world war. Relatively easy to access from London, an adult day ticket costs £23.50.
8. St. Michael’s Mount
All the way down at the southerly tip of glorious Cornwall sits the noble St Michael’s Mount. In some ways an equivalent to northward Lindisfarne Castle, that rests at the polar opposite end of the country, this fairytale Esque castle sits on a tidal island of the same name. Accessible only at low tide via a man-made granite causeway, it is more officially twinned with the much larger Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France.
Don’t worry if you arrive at high-tide though, you can always hire a boat to give you safe passage to the mystical isle. A guided tour is an excellent way to get in touch with the winding history of the fortified settlement. There are also lovely gardens and a quaint fishing village surrounding the hilltop castle, and it’s worth paying the extra ticket price to have full access to the sights. An adult day ticket is £10.50, or £16 including the gardens.
9. Carlisle Castle
Sitting near the historically fascinating boundary line that is Hadrian’s Wall, the 900-year-old Carlisle castle is to be found in the beatific county of Cumbria. Given its location near the Scottish-English border, it has been the center of many wars and significant episodes of bloodshed in the two countries embattled history. The practical, imposing walls pay homage to this legacy – inside you won’t find cozy accommodation for pampered princes – this is a castle built to function in a real, desperate war.
Visit the turret that held captive Mary, Queen of Scots in 1568. View the exhibitions that expound on the rich history of the place. Mysterious stone carvings decorate the keep – originally considered to be prisoner’s graffiti, it is now thought likely to be the work of bored prison guards. The Warden’s apartments contain what used to be the bedroom lodgings of King Richard III. Adult tickets including a voluntary donation are just £8.30.
10. The Tower of London
One of the most iconic and well known of Britain’s many great fortifications, and still in excellent condition. Throughout its long and storied past, the castle has seen a variety of uses, from the gruesome to the bizarre. From medieval prison complete with a torture rack to the grand palace and royal residence to the home of the royal mint. Strangely, it was at one point home to a private zoo! It was considered one of the keys to holding power in the country and as a result, has been besieged many times.
Today, a visit to the tower typically includes a tour of the prison dungeons and their brutal history, a wander through the grand castle grounds, a look at the crown jewels of the British Monarchy, safely tucked away behind thick glass. The ever-popular Yeoman Warder tours will have a beefeater guide you around and explore the fascinating history in detail and are included for free in the admission price. Tickets for an Adult cost £24.70.
11. Lincoln Castle
Rising majestically up from the center of the ancient city of Lincoln is its 11th century Norman castle. It is home to the famous Magna Carta, the much-revered document limiting the power of Kings, often considered among the first steps to democracy in the country. The castle is in fantastic condition and incredibly easy to explore as part of a day out in Lincoln itself, which is a very beautiful, timeless city.
Walk the lofty medieval walls, see the grim Victorian prison building, and of course gaze upon the Magna Carta, one of the most influential documents ever written. Since 2010 the castle has been part of a massive £22 million restoration, and it was worth every penny. An adult day ticket costs £14, or a little cheaper when booked online in advance.
12. Bodiam Castle
Built-in 1385, allegedly to defend the area from French invasion during the Hundred Years War, although with its relatively thin walls it was mainly used as a display of power. As well as a great way to show off to visiting dignitaries, of course. A classic castle surrounded by a moat, complete with a wooden drawbridge. It has a near-perfect exterior aesthetic but the authentic, ruined interior gives you the best of both worlds.
In the surroundings you might find people in medieval costume selling crafts and other wares from little canvas tents – a great way to further immerse yourself in the feeling of having traveled backward in time. An Adult ticket including a voluntary gift aid donation costs £11.40.
13. Skipton Castle
Over 900 years old, Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire is considered one of the most complete and best-preserved in all of Great Britain. Upon visiting the near-perfect building you’ll be given a tour sheet that comprehensively covers the fascinating features and history of the awesome castle.
It doesn’t give itself away all too soon – splendid as the huge round turreted gatehouse is, the interior of the massive fortress is even more magnificent. Lofty walls surround you, and there are so many intact rooms and separate areas to explore, including the fantastic conduit court with its aged yew tree, and the beautiful Tudor wing. An adult ticket is only £8.70.
14. Arundel Castle
Established on Christmas day by Roger De Montgomery in 1067, the castle has been expanded, restored and remodeled extensively since its conception. Many of the original features do still survive thanks to these works. Sat commandingly atop the West Sussex hills, it is glorious to behold from lower in the valley, and the views from its walls and turrets are magnificent. The now Gothic house within was almost completely rebuilt around 1870-1890 is one of England’s finest displays of the architectural stylings of the era.
The majestic castle will keep your interest with a grand interior, in fantastic condition. It is one of the most picturesque and fairytale extant castles on the planet, complete with manicured gardens, stunning views over the surrounding countryside and luxurious interior courtyards. A ticket that gives you access to the house, bedrooms, keep and gardens is £23.
15. Caerhays Castle
One of the youngest castles on the list, it is in predictably excellent condition as a result. While there has been a manor on the site since the early middle ages (some features do remain), the present castle was built close to the original manor between 1807 and 1810. Guided castle tours into the stately interior take place in the warmer half of the year.
Caerhays is also esteemed for its award-winning gardens, boasting the largest collection of Magnolias in the country. You can even stay in one of the beautiful wings of the castle, or one of the many beautiful and unique properties on the surrounding estate. A combined day ticket for the castle and gardens is £15, and it is worth pre-booking or at least calling up before your visit to assure you are not disappointed
16. Dover Castle
The largest in all of the country, the 11th century Dover castle was historically considered The key to all of England because of its massive importance in defending the country from foreign invasion throughout the medieval period. Situated near the ever-popular resort town of the same name, it has tonnes to offer the keen holidaymakers.
The castle has had huge defensive importance for nine centuries now – all the way up to the second world war. There are secret tunnels buried deep into Dover’s famous white chalk cliffs – these medieval warrens hidden beneath the castle walls found new purpose in WW2 when they were adapted first as an air-raid shelter, then as a military base of command and underground hospital. The great tower up above houses a detailed recreation of a medieval king’s chamber, imitating a 12th-century royal palace. There really is tonnes to see and do here, with a story reaching back to Roman times, hugely important historic episodes littering the centuries since. Adult admission costs £23 including a small voluntary donation.
17. Amberley Castle
Last but not least on the list is the picturesque Amberley castle, in West Sussex. It started life as a 12th-century manor house and was fortified in 1377, subsequently used as a fortress by the bishops of Chichester. It is now owned and operated as a luxury castle hotel and restaurant.
Nestled in beautiful countryside, the sloping ivy-covered walls provide a majestic yet tranquil greeting to the 900-year-old site. You can visit in the daytime for afternoon tea, in the evening for fancy haute-cuisine, or stay overnight in one of the 19 luxurious bedrooms. It is certainly not a cheap way to spend your time, but it provides a wonderful mix of ancient majesty and modern refinement.