If heading overseas isn’t on the cards this year, you can still have an adventure here in Blighty. And where better to start than with these castles in England? Each one is bursting with intriguing history. From defensive fortresses that protected our shores to pleasure palaces where kings and queens partied ’til dawn, these English castles are our pick of the best. They’re also super picturesque and will look fab on your Instagram grid. You’re welcome.
1. Dover Castle, Kent
Dover Castle is perched on top of the famous white cliffs and was once known as ‘the key to England’. Dating back to the Roman era, it’s played a massive role in multiple wars, and was even involved in the Evacuation of Dunkirk. While the famous Secret Wartime Tunnels are currently closed, you can still explore Henry II’s Medieval Great Tower. There are also lots of fun outdoor activities taking place throughout the ample grounds, including a Summer Quest Trail. You need to book a ticket to visit while social distancing measures are in place.
2. Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Windsor Castle is the biggest and oldest occupied castle in the world. It was built in the 11th Century, just after William the Conqueror invaded England. Over 900 years of British monarchs have called it home – Queen Liz often spends her weekends here. Unlike other historic castles in England, many of which are almost ruins, this one is lavishly decorated with gilded mirrors and precious artwork. The castle reopened to visitors on 23rd July, with a timed ticketing system in place to limit visitor numbers.
3. Highclere Castle, Berkshire
Probably one of the most famous castles in England, fans of Downton Abbey will instantly recognise Highclere Castle as the home of the Crawley family. Stroll through the 100 acre gardens – hand gel is placed by the gates, so you can clean up before and after moving through – and take a tour inside the castle (even if it is just to walk down that marvellous oak staircase). History buffs will enjoy the Egyptian Exhibition, which covers the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter.
4. Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
Bolsover Castle is most famous for the lavish parties held there by playboy artistocrat William Cavendish in the 17th century. King Charles I even popped in for a shindig back in 1634. Cavendish is responsible for the opulent interiors, which he commissioned from architect John Smythson. Flamboyant details include intricate murals and elaborately carved marble fireplaces. It’s fun to wander the halls and imagine yourself invited to one of the massive banquets which took place in the terrace range. Remember to book in advance – again, it’s all about keeping numbers down.
5. Middleham Castle, Yorkshire
It might be a ruin today, but during the 15th century Middleham Castle was the northern home of Richard III – the infamous ‘king in the car park’. It no longer has a roof, so visit on a sunny day if you want to wander in the grounds. Most of the old fortified castle walls remain, and there are some interesting things to see like an old horse mill and oven. While you’re there, step into the Middleham Jewel Exhibition. It tells the story of a late 15th-century gold pendant which was discovered in 1985 near the castle. A replica of the piece is on display here, but the real thing can be seen in The Yorkshire Museum.
6. St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall
When it comes to breathtaking castles in England, few can beat St Michael’s Mount. The castle sits at the top of a rocky island, next to a medieval church. You don’t need to take a boat trip – the island is accessible by a causeway, which only appears at low tide, adding to the magical experience. After exploring the castle, take a stroll through the terraced gardens which cling to the cliffside. For social distancing reasons, you’ll need to book a slot online to access the island. You’ll be given a time slot for your castle and garden visit, so don’t be late.
7. Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire
Want to hear a morbid fact about Sudely Castle? It’s the only private castle in England with a queen buried in its grounds. Katherine Parr was Henry VIII’s last wife, and she escaped both divorce and beheading by outliving the notoriously temperamental king. The castle and its 10 award-winning gardens are all open, with social distancing measures in place. We recommend taking a stroll down to The Ruins Garden. Set in the medieval banqueting hall, which was partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops, it has a deliberately untamed aesthetic.
8. Beeston Castle, Cheshire
Beeston Castle is perched right on the edge of a cliff, making it one of the most dramatic castles in England. Try to visit on a clear day – you’ll be able to see all the way to the Welsh Mountains and the Pennines. It’s no wonder people have been using it as a base for the past 4,000 years. While social distancing measures are in place, visitors can still wander inside the castle and enjoy the nearby woodland walks. Unfortunately you’ll have to make do with admiring the replica Bronze Age roundhouse from the outside.
9. Skipton Castle, North Yorkshire
One of the best-preserved Medieval castles in England, Skipton Castle has more than 900 years of history behind its walls. It was owned by the Clifford Lords who were involved in many famous British battles – including the War of the Roses, Agincourt and even Bannockburn. Held under siege for three years during the English Civil War, it was lovingly restored by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century. She also planted a yew tree in the courtyard which is still going strong at over 350 years old. She died without an heir, so the castle passed out of the family’s hands.
10. Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
If we asked you to draw a castle, you’d probably doodle something very similar to Bodiam Castle. With its rounded turrets, crenellations and moat, it’s one of the most iconic castles in England. It dates back to the 14th century, and during summer there are often medieval re-enactments and children’s activities in the grounds. Obviously this year is a bit different. National Trust hasn’t reopened the castle interior yet, but you can stroll around the grounds and snap pictures to your heart’s content.
11. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Anyone up for Quidditch? Head to Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle, which was used as a filming location for two Harry Potter films. Currently the castle grounds are open, you just need to pre-book a 10-minute entry slot in advance. Although you can’t go inside, you can still visit the famous Outer Bailey – this is where Harry and his pals learned to ride their broomsticks. You can also head up to the Gun Terrace on the Inner Bailey for a view across the countryside. The museum towers are also open, but you’ll need to wear a face mask inside.
Ready to visit some castles in England?
As Britain slowly starts to ease out of lockdown, more and more castles in England are opening their doors. While spontaneous days out are great, it’s best to do your research in advance. Make sure the castle you want to visit is open and see if you need to book a slot online. Most allow same day bookings, so you can still be a little bit last minute.
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