Picture a castle in England, and most people envision a medieval stone structure with a moat. While some are towering structures of immense beauty, others are merely a box of stone. Traditionally, castles served as defenses from the enemy. But royalty and nobility also resided in castles as well as opulent palaces.
There is something magical and romantic about castles and fortresses, and maybe that comes from fairy tales during childhood. When I think of the United Kingdom, I can’t help but think of the castles and the history built up in those stone walls. If only those walls could talk. What stories would they tell?
The rainy weather in England is the castle’s worst enemy. Many of these structures have succumbed to the damaging effects of the wind and rain. While some castles have remained abandoned, others have undergone refurbishment, and restoration is ongoing.
However, restoring is very expensive, and upkeep is costly. As a result, many castles in England have opened their doors to the public to pay maintenance costs. How lucky for us that we have the opportunity to peer inside these stone walls.
If you are visiting England, there are some things you MUST do. Those include having a pint at the pub, cream teas, and eating fish and chips in a newspaper.
Add to this list a visit to a castle or two because photos online don’t do a castle justice. You have to live it to experience it. Here is a list of castles in the United Kingdom, eight of which I have visited myself.
Visiting Castles In England
Britain is blessed with numerous stronghold fortresses, with some standing the test of time. Should you visit any, there are some things you should know. Some castles are stately British homes.
Should they be lived in, you might want to inquire about how much of the castle is viewable. I once paid a hefty entrance fee only to be disappointed that I could only see a few rooms.
Castles are old and lack many modern amenities. Some castles require climbing steep and narrow stairs, and most don’t have elevators. If you have mobility issues, ask about accessibility.
Some medieval castles are under restoration at the time of your visit. Repairs and restoration may affect areas of viewing. If you want to see a specific part of the castle, check to see if it’s open to the public.
When exploring the country for castles to visit, some, like Bodiam Castle, is not on a transit route. Be prepared to rent a car or choose a fortress near a train station or bus route.
Castle estates widely vary in size. Some, like Windsor Castle, require a few hours to tour both the castle and grounds. Others, like Warwick Castle, take an entire day to enjoy. So, plan your day accordingly and arrive early to visit a large castle.
Outside of England, there are some spectacular castles in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales too.
- Castle Hill, Windsor, Berkshire
Windsor Castle is probably the most famous castle in Britain because the Royal family owns it. The original Windsor Castle was constructed in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Today, the King spends some of his time there, so what better reason to visit?
You can say you went to London to visit the King! While there, check to see if the flag is flying from the round tower. If it is, the King is in residence at the same time as your visit. How cool is that?
Not only is Windsor Castle renowned for being the oldest, but it’s also the largest occupied castle in the world. In 1992, Windsor Castle suffered a devastating fire, and while most of the artifacts survived, the restoration cost £36.5 million. As a result, Buckingham Palace opened to the public to pay for the cost of repair.
The impressive castle has stood the test of time and has been home to 39 monarchs. Allow at least three hours for your visit to see both the castle and the grounds.
Be sure to see the display of the Duke/Duchess of Sussex’s wedding attire as well as photos from their wedding. The Royal Wedding Exhibition is at Windsor Castle for a special event.
While touring the apartments and stateroom, check out the magnificent artwork on the walls. These include masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Holbein, and Leonardo da Vinci. Visitors can also view displays of protective armor, exquisite porcelain, silverware, and hand-carved period furniture.
Changing of the Guard
At certain times, visitors gather to watch the changing of the guard, an age-old display of British pageantry. The military ceremony allows for the handover of duties from one guard to another. Before your visit, check the schedule of times and dates to see this.
Within the grounds of Windsor Castle is St. George’s Chapel, a 14th-century Gothic architecture. This chapel seats approximately 800 and has hosted many royal weddings. These include
King Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Harry to Meagan Markle, Princess Eugine of York to Jack Brooksbank, Prince Phillips and Autumn Kelly, and Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones, to name a few.
- Location: Broomfield, Maidstone
Leeds Castle, a romantic castle, is the loveliest castle in England. Built in the River Len’s valley near Kent, this majestic structure straddles a hill surrounded by a lake. Isn’t this what we expect of a castle? A moat and a drawbridge?
The entrance fee is expensive but well worth the price considering the ticket is good for a year. Come back during special events such as the flower festival in September, the firework spectacular on Nov. 4th, or the Christmas market in November and December.
The stroll up to the castle is beautiful, with plenty of swans and geese wading in the streams of water. If you are a non-walker, a train is available to take you to the castle’s entrance.
The grounds are meticulous, and I especially loved the English country gardens with their blooms of wildflowers.
As I approached the castle, I couldn’t help but admire its beauty and its picture-perfect setting. Inside, Olive, Lady Baillie, the last private owner of the residence, has restored much of the castle. Since Lady Baillie’s passing in 1974, the Leeds Castle Foundation upkeeps the property.
Outside, you can get some fantastic views of the castle by walking around the lake. The vast outdoor area contains a hedge maze, a bird of prey center with a falconry show, a children’s playground, and ferry rides on the water.
Expect to spend a whole day here as there is much to see. Try to make the most in the summer months by bringing a picnic and enjoying it on the lovely grounds.
- Location: Warwick, Warwickshire
Warwick Castle is geared towards families with its interactive activities, jousting events, and horrible history maze.
Merlin Entertainments operates the property, which is open year-round. If you plan to visit, it will occupy an entire day. Why not pack a picnic if the weather is favorable and enjoy it on the lovely grounds?
Should you plan to visit more than one attraction owned by Merlin Entertainments, consider purchasing one of their three annual passes.
Warwick Castle’s many attractions include dark dungeons, smelly stables (with wax horses), stately rooms, and ghostly towers. Some of the places have old wax figures dressed in period costumes created by the Tussauds group.
These look incredibly real with glassy eyes and natural eyelashes. I had to touch one to confirm it wasn’t a live person. I wasn’t the only person to do so.
Included in your ticket are visits to the 17th-century Great Hall and a chance to explore the luxuriously decorated staterooms. Warwick Castle also boasts an immense collection of medieval armor and siege weapons.
Outside, the grounds encompass 64 acres of lush green space along the River Avon. If you wander along the river, you can see a lovely weir. The castle stables had a wax horse that smelled like a horse (this is the smelly part), and it even swished its tail.
While some are not fond of the wax figures, I thought they were well done and added appeal to my castle visit.
- Location: Robertsbridge, East Sussex
While Bodiam Castle is a fascinating medieval castle, it does not have quite the impact as other castles, given that the interior is in utter ruins. Thankfully, the outer structure still stands and is being maintained by the National Trust.
Constructed in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, the castle is a basic square shape with no keep. With thin walls and small windows, many believe Dalyngrigge built the castle for entertainment purposes. Today, its initial purpose is a hotly debated subject.
Bodiam is a stylish castle that has adorned many chocolate boxes and tourist magazines and is displayed across the web. Its impressive structure lives on in featured movies, including Robin Hood, Dr. Who, Monty Python, and the Holy Grail.
Approaching the castle, I was in awe of its presence. Its grand setting is hypnotic in a good way. For many, it’s the quintessential castle with a fairytale moat. However, the outside was not a representation of what you’ll discover on the inside.
The castle’s interior shell seems small and made me realize the grand exterior is the result of forced perspective. While the debate on whether the castle is a fortress or not, historians can agree it’s still an impressive medieval structure.
Tower of London
- Location: St. Katharine’s & Wapping, London
No visit to London is complete without a visit to the Tower of London, close to London’s famous Thames crossing, Tower Bridge. While the Tower of London is very crowded most days, there is lots to see so you can choose the less-traveled route to avoid the crowds.
Plan to spend a good 3 to 4 hours here, maybe longer if it’s crowded. You have an option to do a self-guided tour or tour with the Yeoman Warders. Their tours are very informative and engaging, with a sarcastic British sense of humor.
A visit to the Tower includes the central keep known as the White Tower, Bloody Tower, Beauchamp Tower, and Wakefield Tower.
The historic Towers house a vast collection of guns, armor, and torture devices. Reading the descriptions, I found the torture apparatus’ quite gruesome.
Of course, the Tower of London is notably the home of an impressive collection of crown jewels. The Tower has protected the Crown Jewels, part of the Royal Collection, for over 400 years. Do note that the gems you view are REAL and still in use during royal ceremonies.
Located in the Waterloo Block, the diamonds and semi-precious stones are magnificent and mind-blowing. The Crown Jewels are the busiest place in the Tower, so it’s best to start there to avoid a long wait later in the day.
The Royal Zoo
In the early beginnings of the Tower’s history, it once housed a menagerie of wild and exotic animals. These gifts to the royal family included lions, elephants, and a polar bear.
To commemorate these animals, the Tower commissioned artist Kenda Haste to create 13 wire sculptures in 2010. These galvanized life-sized wire animals are now on display at the Tower. See how many you can spot during your visit.
The Tower guardians are the Jubilee, Erin, Harris, Merlina, Poppy, Gripp, and Rocky. These are the famous ravens of the Tower of London. During the day, they roam freely on the grounds and respond only to the Ravenmaster.
If you are lucky enough to spot one, you will be surprised by its immense size. Do not approach one or feed one. Their beaks could give you a nasty bite.
- Location: Hailsham, East Sussex
Herstmonceux Castle is one of the oldest note-worthy brick buildings still standing in England today. Dating from the 15th century, today the castle is used by the Bader International Study Centre of Queen’s University, Canada.
Although the interior is rarely open due to educational use, visitors can explore the gardens and walk the nature trail.
An impressive estate, the gardens comprise 550 acres of picturesque Sussex countryside. The gardens are home to numerous deer, lizards, peacocks, and Canadian Geese.
For many years, the castle was in disrepair, and some felt it was beyond saving. Luckily, it was purchased in 1993 by Drs. Alfred and Isabel Bader, who donated it to Queen’s University. After some restoration, the study center welcomed its first students the following year.
If you are looking for an inexpensive castle to visit, this is it at just GBP6. You can see the interior for an extra GBP3, but it is open for only one hour. Check the schedule for time and day.
- Location: Hever, Edenbridge
Located in picturesque Kent, Hever Castle is renowned for its ties to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. The castle was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home when her father inherited it in 1505.
Over the years, the castle fell into despair until William Waldorf Astor purchased it. This wealthy business invested time and a great deal of money to restore the castle to its former glory.
This castle itself is relatively small, but its paneled rooms are richly decorated with exquisite tapestries, beautiful furniture, and lovely antiques. In the Book of Hours Room, two prayer books inscribed by Anne Boleyn are on display.
New to the castle is the Hidden Hever Tour, available to adults only and limited to a group of 15. On this tour, you will see the secret rooms of William Astor hidden behind panel doors.
Until William Astor purchased the castle, it had a small, unimposing garden. But today, it has the most spectacular grounds you could ever imagine, with numerous fountains, a yew maze, and a beautiful flower garden.
A 35-acre lake adds to the charm of the property. It took two years as well as 800 men to build. Hever Castle has its own rose, the Hever Rose launched by Dame Judi Dench in 2011.
Hever Castle Mazes
Within its extensive grounds, visitors can test their wits in not one but two puzzle mazes. The ever-popular yew maze is 100 years old and situated next to the castle’s forecourt.
The hedge is now eight feet high and so dense (I guess it would be after 100 years) that you cannot see through it, making the maze that much more challenging.
The second maze is a water maze, which would be great to visit in the summer. The maze consists of concentric stepping stones over water. When stood on, hidden jets spray water up between the rocks soaking the maze-goers.
The aim is to reach the stone cave in the center without getting wet. I’m game for the challenge. How about you?
- Location: Arundel, West Sussex
Sitting high on a hill in West Sussex is the magnificent medieval Arundel Castle. Throughout history, the Sussex castle has gone through many changes, including the interior that now has a gothic look.
Plan on spending a whole day at the castle to appreciate everything it has to offer. If you arrive early, take a stroll through the lovely gardens and visit the Fitzalan Chapel.
The Earl’s Garden is a marvel for all gardeners, and the kitchen garden is a delight to every budding chef.
Approaching the castle, its impressive structure is captivating. I felt small in comparison to this imposing structure. It made me realize what a great stronghold this was in medieval times.
There is a selection of entrance tickets to purchase, depending on what you want to see. I’d recommend the gold plus tickets that include the upper bedrooms. They are well worth the extra few pounds.
The Baron’s Hall is magnificent and richly decorated with oversized period paintings. Many of the rooms give you that wow factor and make you wish you lived in medieval times (or maybe not!).
The castle keep was impressive, and the views from there were superb. I’d go back again just for those views of the entire area and down into the courtyard. Getting to the keep was a little tricky and required climbing steep and tiny stairs.
The stairs only had room for one, so often, it meant backing up and allowing someone going the opposite way to pass. Arundel Castle is a must-visit if you’re in the south of England. As the British would say, it was a “brilliant day out.”
- Location: Sudeley, Gloucestershire
Located in the Cotswolds, Sudeley Castle Estate may not be as well-known as the other British castles, but it’s still a gem. Its claim to fame is being the only private home in England where a monarch is buried.
Home to Lady Ashcombe and her family, visitors can tour parts of the family’s home and see an exhibit featuring some of Katherine Parr’s belonging.
But, it’s outside that the Sudeley estate shines. The ten contrasting gardens were carefully designed with incredible detail. From the Knot Garden to the Queens’ Garden, each exudes beauty with roses, yew trees, and other flora.
On the garden grounds, the St. Mary’s Church provides a tranquil resting spot for Katherine Parr’s remains.
- Location: Berkeley, Gloucestershire
Berkeley Castle dates back to the 11th century and sits in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, in the heart of the Cotswolds. When in the area, it’s worthwhile seeing the picturesque town of Painswick, known as the Queen of the Cotswolds.
Berkeley Castle celebrates 860 years of history and is best known as the scene of the brutal murder of Edward II in 1327. The fortress is an irregular shape measuring 140 yards in circumference.
Touring the rooms, the kitchen, dining room, drawing rooms, and chapel look much the same as they did centuries ago.
Numerous state apartments contain extensive collections of antiques, tapestries, and rare paintings. Some of the Berkeley silverware is viewable in the Great Hall and the dining room.
Outside, terraced gardens surround the castle with flower borders, a lily pond, a butterfly house, and sweeping lawns. The present owner of the castle has a great interest in horticulture. As a result, he has brought exotic species of plants from Indonesia and Japan.
As beautiful as the gardens are, arguably, the Gothic castle is the center of attention for every visitor. All will remember its dark history. How can you not be in awe of the beautiful medieval interiors with lavish antiques and priceless artworks?
While I no longer reside in England, I always make time to see some castles when I travel home. Something is captivating about peering inside the ancient castle walls and learning their history.
It’s hard to pick which castles in England to visit, but each one has a story to tell and a rich history to explore. If you prefer to see a less-visited attraction, consider a trip to the Sudeley Castle estate.
It’s the only privately owned estate where a British monarch is buried. There are so many fantastic places to see, and no matter which one you choose, you will not be disappointed with your choice.
Happy travels ~ Karen