They’re the things of fairy tales – where princesses live in secluded tower rooms and prisoners are kept in dungeons; where giants and ogres frighten away anyone who tries to cross the moat and enter the sacred realm of fantasy.
For most of us, castles are just places in our imagination, fueled by childhood stories of those who lived in and fought for these incredible structures. But take a trip to Europe and you’ll find that castles are indeed very real, especially throughout beautiful England, where the castles are among the country’s top tourist attractions.
The beauty of visiting a castle is just about everyone – regardless of age – finds them fascinating. While adults may love peering at antiques and other treasures inside England’s castles, kids will enjoy the cannons, secret tunnels, and other cool things that you’ll find in many castles. That makes castle sightseeing an ideal pursuit for the traveler to Great Britain.
Choosing an Itinerary
What castles you see on your trip will – of course – depend on which parts of England you’re intent on exploring. England is small enough, however, that you can plan your itinerary specifically around the castles you wish to visit and, with ample time, you’ll be able to see each and every one of them.
You might even find a pre-arranged tour that includes visits to certain castles and other historic homes. These are usually geared towards adults as they are very narrowly- focused and often include entrance to homes where you’ll find priceless antiques and other things little ones might be tempted to touch but shouldn’t. So, if you’re traveling sans kids, something like this may be perfect for you.
If you have your children with you, it’s better just to make a stop at an occasional castle that peaks your interest, either for its architecture or perhaps its rich history.
England’s Most Famous Castles
Most people begin their tour of England with an arrival at London’s Heathrow or Gatwick Airports and proceed to enjoy all of the attractions in the city. Certainly, there’s a wealth of things to do and see here, but if you want to make castles your focus, you’ll need to travel out into the countryside. Thanks to England’s excellent rail system, these countryside castles are just a stone’s throw away from the capital city.
Kent County – If you don’t wish to travel far from London, Kent is a good place to visit and is home to several excellent castles.
- Leeds Castle – Having recently undergone a massive renovation, Leeds Castle is magnificent! Also known as Lady’s Castle – because many queens once lived here – the castle stands on two islands formed by a river and is surrounded by breathtaking parkland and rare black swans. Tours are conducted several times each week from April to October.
- Rochester Castle – Proclaimed one of the best-preserved castles in England, this Roman castle was rebuilt in 1077 by the same architect who built the Tower of London. Open year round with varying hours according to season.
- Dover Castle – Norman in design, this castle was put to use during World War II when its tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and a command post during the Dunkirk evacuation and Normandy invasion.
Northumberland County – Much further from London, near the Scottish border, Northumberland County is home to many castles. Check out these fine structures.
- Alnwick Castle – Home to the Dukes of Northumberland, this castle was originally Norman in design but was built-over during the 18th century. Much of it is now done in Italian Renaissance. Tours are available during peak tourist months.
- Dunstanburgh Castle – Known for its uniquely-shaped ruins, this castle is on a remote coastal site that provides an invigorating hike for the visitor. Open year round.
- Aydon – Built in 1296, this is a wonderful example of a fortified manor house. History notes that Scottish raids resulted in the owner turning his home into a castle less than 10 years after he built it.
East Sussex County – Also within an easy traveling distance from London, this county to the far south has a few excellent castles.
- Bodiam Castle – Upon looking at this magnificent 14th century castle, it’s hard to tell it’s just a shell. Often described as “romantic,” Bodiam Castle even has a moat. Much of the grounds were restored in the early 1900s.
- Lewes Castle – Climb to the top of the towers of this castle for an amazing view of East Sussex. Built beginning in 1066, it took more than 300 years to complete. You might even catch a wedding here.
Devon County – This county on the western peninsula of England is a pretty place to visit and home to one of the country’s finest castles.
- Powderham Castle – Built in the 14th century though altered somewhat in later years, this castle is stunning and suffered little damage during any civil or world wars. Guests can tour the interior, filled with elegant furnishings, or enjoy falconry exhibits on the pretty grounds of the castle.
Warwickshire County – Located in central England, this pretty county boasts a few castles, one in particular regarded as one of the best.
- Warwick Castle – Untouched by war, this 13th century castle is picture-perfect. Inside the Great Hall, visitors can enjoy an excellent collection of armor. Other rooms display paintings and antique furniture. You’ll even find some of Madame Tussaud’s famous wax figures here in Warwick Castle.
Cornwall County – At the far western tip of the country, Cornwall County is a place of awe-inspiring scenery and romance.
- Tintagel Castle – Set on a headland connected to the mainland by just a small sliver of land, the “modern” castle on this ancient site was built by the Earl of Cornwall in the early 13th century. Since there was no strategic reason for building this lovely castle here, it is believed that it was constructed merely for its inhabitants to enjoy the beauty of this remote coastal location. Some stories tie this castle to the legendary King Arthur, though experts say it’s unlikely.
Many additional castles are located throughout the country, too numerous to mention. When traveling from county to county, you’ll no doubt encounter local experts who are more than willing to tout the wonders of “their” castle and tell you grand stories of days gone by.
Take your time and explore these wonderful edifices and be sure to bring your camera. The castles, whether they’re fully intact or reduced to ruins, make for wonderful photographs!