The Best Castles to Visit in the United Kingdom

The 10 Best Castles to Visit in the UK

I still remember the first time I saw the Tower of London. I was awed by the site of a medieval building that still towered over much of modern London, and as a child, I quickly came to love the myths, history, and legends embedded in the UK’s best castles. 

From then on, I was hooked, and ever since, I’ve taken every opportunity to explore my home country’s heritage through its castles. In Edinburgh, the battlements of Edinburgh Castle still dominate the Scottish capital, while in Northern Ireland and Wales, imposing fortresses tell stories of blood conquests and rebellions. 

With so many famous castles in the UK, you might not know where to begin. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of the absolute best castles to visit for you. Stick to these fun and fascinating recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible time exploring the UK’s history!

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The 10 Best Castles to Visit in the UK

1. The Tower of London

The Best Castles in the UK: Tower of London

Looming large over the banks of the River Thames, the Tower of London is one of the most iconic castles to visit in the UK. Founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror, the Norman king ordered the construction of a mighty fortress to lord over his newly conquered kingdom. 

The original White Tower still stands today, but successive monarchs have added layer upon layer of ramparts and fortifications through the centuries, resulting in an impressive walled castle that still guards the royal family’s Crown Jewels to this day. 

The Tower of London is steeped in bloody and brutal history. Take a guided “Yeoman Warder Tour” with the famous Beefeaters who guard the gates, learn about the Ravens, see the armory, and hear the harrowing tale of the Princes in the Tower. 


2. Warwick Castle

Best Castles to Visit in the UK: Warwick Castle

One of the most instantly recognizable UK castles, Warwick Castle is a postcard of medieval England. Overlooking the historic town of Warwick on the banks of the River Avon, it was originally founded as a wooden motte and bailey castle in 1068. 

The vast bastions, ramparts, and stone towers that you see today were added during the ferocious Barons’ Rebellions of the 12th and 13th centuries, while many more defensives were upgraded when England was under constant threat during the later Hundred Years’ War with France. 

In the 17th century, large parts of the walls and facade were turned into a lavish country home for the Earls of Warwick, creating a uniquely contrasting picture of war and peace through the ages. 

Warwick Castle is now one of the best-preserved medieval sites in England, but in more recent times, the Earl of Warwick sold their ancestral seat of power to a theme park company. They’ve added less-than-accurate jousting tournaments, medieval reenactments, and even a medieval glamping site, but it’s all part of the fun for kids and families!


3. Caernarfon Castle

Must Visit Castles in the UK: Caernarfon Castle

There are more castles in Wales than anywhere else in Europe, and that’s thanks to the endless attempts by medieval English kings to conquer their neighbors. Caernarfon Castle, with medieval walls designed to emulate the grand fortifications of Constantinople, is by far the most impressive, and you’ll find it overlooking the Menai Strait in northwest Wales. 

Caernarfon Castle was one of the most expensive and technologically advanced castles of its day because King Edward I intended it to be a big statement to the rebellious Welsh princes who refused to submit to English rule. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Caernarfon Castle still holds huge significance today, and it’s here where the Prince of Wales (the next in line to the British throne) is always invested in a grand ceremony. 


4. Edinburgh Castle

The Best Castles in the UK: Edinburgh Castle

When you’re in Scotland, you’ll find one of the best castles in the UK in Edinburgh. The Scottish capital has long been dominated by Edinburgh Castle, which sits on a volcanic outcrop that towers above the city.

Take a stroll along the Royal Mile, and at the western end of this historic medieval thoroughfare, you’ll find the imposing gates to Edinburgh Castle. Castlehill has been fortified since the Iron Age. Even today, the castle is home to active units of the British military, and you can learn more at the National War Museum inside. 

Edinburgh Castle hosts the annual Royal Military Tattoo every August. It’s home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, and after touring the ramparts and towers, you can even enjoy an afternoon tea in the tea house.  


5. Bamburgh Castle

Best Castles to Visit in the UK: Bamburgh Castle

Thousands of years of British history are etched into the stone battlements of Bamburgh Castle, which has long guarded the Northumbrian coast. Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans have all fought fierce battles to control this strategic fortification in northeastern England, and today, it’s one of the best castles to visit in the UK.

You’ll be struck by the isolation when you first visit Bamburgh Castle. Located atop volcanic rocks, from the windswept ramparts, you’ll have sweeping views across an undeveloped coastline and over the sea toward the Farne Islands. 


6. Dover Castle

Must Visit Castles in the UK: Dover Castle

Overlooking the English Channel, Dover Castle is one of the largest and most intact medieval castles in England. The port town of Dover has long been the gateway between England and France, and you can still see the crumbling remnants of a Roman Pharos, or lighthouse, within the castle grounds.

While Dover has been fortified for thousands of years, the medieval castle you see today was largely constructed by King Henry II in the 12th century. He built the Great Tower – a stone keep that was intended as much to be a statement of power to the French as it was a fortress. 

Dover Castle continued to evolve in later centuries, with gun batteries and forts added during the Napoleonic Wars and air raid shelters and command tunnels dug out during World War II. 


7. Tintagel Castle

The Best Castles in the UK: Tintagel Castle

The northern coast of Cornwall is a rocky and rugged place, and the mist-strewn cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel hide as many legends as they do history. This is the mythical land of King Arthur, the great savior of the ancient Britons, and within the crumbling ruins of Tintagel Castle, it’s difficult to know where myths meet reality. 

Tintagel Castle is inextricably linked to the stories of King Arthur, with medieval writers presuming that this was where the mythical figure was conceived. King Arthur probably never existed, but Tintagel Castle was the seat of power of the last independent Cornish kings, and the strategic coastal location had been occupied for thousands of years.

Drawn by tales of Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere in the 13th century, Richard, the 1st Earl of Cornwall, decided to build a modern castle on the ruins. The remains of this castle are what you see today, once you’ve crossed the windswept footbridge separating the eroding island-fortress from the mainland.


8. Leeds Castle

Best Castles to Visit in the UK: Leeds Castle

Not to be confused with the Yorkshire city of the same name, you’ll find Leeds Castle in southern England, where tales of royal intrigue await. One of the most picturesque castles in the UK, you’ll love how Leeds Castle was built on the islands of the River Len. 

Cross the natural moat by walking over the stone bridge, and inside, you’ll find a history dating back to the 9th century AD. Leeds Castle fell into royal hands in the 13th century, and King Edward I spent much time here when he wasn’t battling with the Welsh and the Scots. 

King Henry VIII would later present the castle to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and during the English Civil War, it would be used as a prison. In the 20th century, Leeds Castle became a hospital during World War II and was then used as a venue for peace talks between Egypt and Israel in the 1970s.


9. Carrickfergus Castle

Must Visit Castles in the UK: Carrickfergus Castle

Cross over the Irish Sea, and you’ll find that just as they did in England and Wales, the conquering Normans made a habit of constructing impressive castles in Northern Ireland, too. You’ll find one of the best castles in the UK on the shores of Belfast Lough, where Carrickfergus Castle has seen more than its fair share of sieges and battles in this turbulent part of the country. 

Dating back to 1177, Carrickfergus Castle controlled the gateway to Belfast for centuries, and the cast of characters that have played a role in the castle’s legend include the likes of Robert the Bruce and King John.

Take a day trip from Belfast, or call in while driving the Causeway Coastal Route, and you can discover how Carrickfergus Castle has shaped Northern Ireland’s history through the centuries.  


10. Dunvegan Castle

The Best Castles in the UK: Dunvegan Castle

Beautifully remote and romantically placed on the shores of the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is one of the most incredible castles in the UK and a must-visit when you’re exploring Scotland. Part of the sprawling MacLeod Estate (and the traditional seat of power of the MacLeod Clan), the castle is perched atop a craggy outcrop above Loch Dunvegan.

The oldest parts of Dunvegan Castle date back to at least the 13th century, but in the Victorian era, much of the crumbling masonry was replaced with a more romanticized style of Baronial architecture that was popular at the time. Even if you’re not into history, you’ll love the scenic beauty of this outstanding UK castle!

There you have it! The best castles in the UK. What are your favorite UK castles to visit? 


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Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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