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Top 10 castles in England

BY Alice Gawthrop

31st Jan 2023 My Britain

England is rich with castles dating back as far the early 11th century, and they come with both fascinating history and awe-inspiring legend.

Whether you’re picturing yourself at King Arthur’s round table or on the hunt for Richard II’s hidden treasure, let your imagination run wild! According to English Heritage visitors, these are the ten best castles in England to do just that.

Dover Castle

Dover Castle sitting on a hill on the coastline

Known as the “Key to England,” Dover Castle sits above the iconic White Cliffs of Dover and looks out over the English Channel.

It is known for its tunnels, which were created in the 19th century when Dover became a garrison town. More recently during the Second World War the tunnels were used variously as an air raid shelter, a military command centre and an underground hospital. Today, if you’re not too scared of getting lost down there, you can explore these tunnels for yourself.

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle and grounds

The site of the longest siege in Medieval English history and a base of Lancastrian operations during the War of the Roses, Kenilworth Castle occupies an important space on England’s historical map.

The castle also has a romantic past: Robert Dudley almost bankrupted himself upgrading the palace in an attempt to impress Queen Elizabeth I and convince her to marry him. He entertained her with pageants, bear baiting and lavish banquets, but in the end, there was no wedding.

Whether you’re a romantic or a military history buff, there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into with a trip to Kenilworth Castle.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

One of England’s most breathtaking castles, Tintagel Castle sits on the rugged Cornish coastline, steeped in Arthurian legend.

The castle sits half on the mainland and half on a headland that juts out to sea. It’s perfect escapism: cross the spectacular footbridge and be transported back to Medieval England as you wander through the dramatic ruins.

History and myth collide here, with legend suggesting that it is the site of King Arthur’s birth. Many historians dispute the connection to Arthur, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come and see the magic for yourself.

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle is a castle on top of a castle—the present-day building was built in the 17th century over the ruins of a 12th-century castle.

Now it is a striking Stuart mansion that conjures up a slice of aristocratic history. There are extravagant rooms and a beautiful garden to explore, and it is all brought to life by costumed storytellers.

Visit if you’re brave enough—in 2017, Bolsover Castle was voted the most haunted site by English Heritage staff!

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

This medieval fortress at Portchester Castle has been passed through many hands, from the Romans to the Normans to the English. During the Napoleonic Wars it was a prisoner of war camp for over 7,000 French poisoners.

One of its most memorable features is its 30-metre keep, most probably built in the late 11th century. You can climb to the top and admire views of the outer bailey with the church, and, beyond that, the Solent.

Warkworth Castle

Warkworth Castle in Scotland

Warkworth Castle is a ruined medieval castle. It's still possible to explore the floors and rooms in the cross-shaped keep, getting a taste of what life was like for its residents, the Percy family, including “Harry Hotspur”. No, that’s not a forgotten cartoon character from Looney Tunes. Also known as Sir Henry Percy, he was an English knight nicknamed “Hotspur” by Scots at the northern border for his speed and readiness to attack. 

From the castle walls, you can also enjoy spectacular views of both the sea and the River Coquet below.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

A formidable fortification built on the earthworks of an Iron Age fort, Dunstanburgh Castle stands apart on a remote headland in Northumberland. The castle was damaged during the Wars of the Roses before falling into disrepair and, for a time, becoming a base for piracy.

A trip to this castle is earned: you must walk along rugged coastline and across working farmland to reach it.

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

Journey a little further afield to the Isle of Wight and take ina visit to Carisbrooke Castle and you’ll be rewarded with this historic motte-and-bailey castle. It has a storied history, having been used as a prison for Charles I prior to his execution.

Today you can explore the Princess Beatrice Garden and St Nicholas’ Chapel, and if you really want to feel like a monarch of a bygone era, you can spend the night in a two-bedroom holiday cottage in the heart of the castle!

Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle

Nestled in the Yorkshire Dales, Middleham Castle was the childhood home of Richard III and the prison of his brother Edward IV.

The castle fell into disrepair during the 17th century and now takes the form of a roofless ruin—although most walls are still standing. A viewing platform offers breathtaking views of the Dales, and exploring these ruins will feel like stepping backwards in time.

Beeston Castle

Beeston Castle in Cheshire

Beeston Castle seems to balance precariously on a rocky crag above the Cheshire Plain, and you could be forgiven for thinking it might fall right off.

A balancing act surrounded by a 40-acre woodland park, Beeston Castle makes a great day out. Indiana Jones wouldn’t be out of place here—the deep castle well is rumoured to be the hiding place of Richard II’s lost treasure. If you fancy yourself a treasure hunter, don’t miss it!

 

Visit all of these castles with English Heritage - Exclusive membership offer!

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