The UK’s heritage castles are among its most popular attractions. Poking around well-preserved palaces and ruined remains of former fortresses is like traveling back to a fairytale time of kings, feudal lords and knights. Any visitor with a passing interest in history will enjoy touring these formidable structures that have stood the test of time. While there are hundreds of stately and disheveled castles strewn throughout the British Isles, the following are among the grandest and most unique. Check out these 11 most amazing castles in the UK.
1. Leeds Castle, Kent
Magnificent Leeds Castle is associated with Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. Dating back to 1119, Leeds Castle features a story-book design with its classic moat and towers. Tourists have been able to tour this well-preserved structure and its enchanting grounds since the 1970s. Today, the castle grounds offer falconry displays, a hedge maze, a Knight’s Realm playground and a golf course.
2. Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Constructed during the 11th century, Windsor Castle is the largest and longest occupied castle in the world. This illustrious palace is synonymous with the British royal family and has been since the time of Henry I. It’s an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, and according to reports, it’s her favorite weekend retreat. It’s often used for ceremonial and official State occasions. Situated on thirteen acres, various tours allow you to see the State Apartments, St. George’s Chapel and Queen Mary’s dolls’ house. If you don’t catch the changing of the guards ceremony at Buckingham Palace, you can also see it here.
3. Stirling Castle, Scotland
Stirling Castle is an imposing and regal structure atop a hill in the Scottish city of Stirling. Surrounded by three cliffs, this historically and architecturally significant structure illustrates the romance of those early ages when castles dominated the landscapes of the British Isles. Many of Scotland’s royals, including Mary Queen of Scots, have been crowned at this grand castle. With tapestries, palace vaults, the great kitchen and more to explore, all ages will enjoy a visit to this proud symbol of Scottish independence.
4. Caernarfon Castle, Wales
Caernarfon Castle is a mighty motte-and-bailey castle that dates to 11th century Wales. A World Heritage Site, Caernarfon Castle’s grounds were used by the Romans for their early fortications in the area. It’s one of the Iron Ring of castles built by Edward I to secure English rule over Wales. With imposing walls, striped stonework and unique polygonal towers, it is one of the most amazing castles in the UK. Climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the Eagle tower for a panoramic view.
5. Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
Located on a scenic bend of the River Avon, Warwick Castle is another fine example of a medieval castle. The original fortress was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, but was later rebuilt out of stone during the 12th century. This centuries-old castle has been restored and repackaged into a medieval theme park, with jousters, jesters, knights and princesses entertaining visitors with living history performances. The world’s largest trebouchet, a creepy dungeon and a fun birds of prey show make it fun and educational for young and old.
6. Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Tintagel Castle may be in a decrepit state now, but the ruins are among the most famous in England for their association with King Arthur. The site has been a popular UK tourist destination since the 19th century. The wind and wave-swept peninsula where the ruins are located complement the rocky structure. While there are castle ruins strewn throughout the UK, these are by far the isles’ most celebrated because of their connection to Arthurian legends.
7. Tower of London
The notorious Tower of London is possibly the most famous castle in the world. No visit to London is complete until you’ve seen this historic landmark. Home to the Crown Jewels, the Tower is known for housing illustrious prisoners like Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Anne Boleyn. The Tower’s earliest construction dates to 1078. Catch a tour with a colorful Yeoman Warden to learn more about the ravens, the White Tower and the bloody history of the place.
8. Arundel Castle, West Sussex
Established on Christmas Day in the year 1067, Arundel Castle is located in West Sussex, England. Although it sustained damages during the English Civil War, it has been restored and is now one of most graceful castles in the UK. Arundel has been in the family of the Duke of Norfolk for more than 400 years and continues as the home of the family even today. The gardens are particularly pleasant to explore.
9. Conwy Castle, Wales
Constructed by Edward I, Conwy Castle is another World Heritage Site known for its illustrious 13th century architecture. Located in North Wales, the castle contains a wonderfully preserved suite of private chambers. The castle overlooks a bend of the Conwy River. While the structure is an imposing site on the landscape, it is also incredibly picturesque with its layout and grand towers. The medieval walled city of Conwy and its commanding castle are well worth a visit.
10. Dover Castle, Kent
As the largest of England’s castles, this strategic fortress was considered the “Key to England”. Located on the famed White Cliffs of Dover, the castle was constructed by Henry II during the 12th century. Earlier fortifications have been built on the site as evidenced by one of the Roman lighthouses that can still be seen here. From its Great Tower to its WWII-era tunnels (this is where the Dunkirk mission was planned), the castle is one of the most-visited medieval forts in England. While visiting the impressive chambers and halls, you may just bump into costumed actors portraying kings, jesters and other historical characters.
11. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, this castle is well worth a visit. However, if you are a fan, you’ll love seeing some of the interior and exterior sets of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll also recognize the Quidditch pitch. In the non-fiction world, this castle has been the home of the Duke of Northumberland’s family for 700 years. Fire-eating jesters, noble knights, medieval artisans, master falconers and even the occasional dragon are on hand to make this one of the most amazing castles in the UK.