There’s something romantic about a castle. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place where castles were only in fairy tales, but I’ve always thought these medieval fortresses were magical. Since moving to the UK I’ve visited as many as I can, and it’s been amazing to see them in real life. If you feel the same way, today I bring you A Lady in London’s 11 picks for the best castles in England.
Castles in England
These castles span England from south to north, west to east and bring with them rich history of the queens, kings, and nobles who graced their presence, defended their walls, and added an aura of elevated humanity to them.
Each one has a unique story to tell, whether it’s a long-ago legend or a continuing plot line. I’ve been inspired by visits to all of them, and I hope I can share that inspiration with you.
1. Hever Castle
Over in Kent, Hever Castle is not only full of Anne Boleyn lore, but also home to some of the most beautiful castle gardens in England. This moated beauty was the childhood home of Henry VIII’s ill-fated queen consort (one of them, anyway) and also caught the attention of William Waldorf Astor, who purchased the pile in 1903.
Today anyone can visit Hever Castle and explore its historic rooms and expansive grounds. The gardens offer everything from topiary hedges to walled spaces with flower-filled urns and water features. Given its proximity to the capital, it also makes a great day trip from London.
2. Windsor Castle
Speaking of which, Windsor Castle is another easy day out from the Big Smoke. This is one of the best castles in England not least because it’s still the Queen’s residence. Its chapel is used for royal weddings and there’s always a bearskin hat or two patrolling the grounds.
Windsor Castle is beautiful both outside and in, and visiting the sumptuous State Apartments fills me with awe every time. Paintings by Holbein, Van Dyck, and Rubens, woodwork by Grinling Gibbons, and rich fabrics on the walls and furniture show the British monarchy at its finest.
3. Dunstanburgh Castle
On the emptier end of the spectrum, Dunstanburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast doesn’t have any furniture inside, let alone all of its outer walls intact. But this 14th-century ruin makes up for its sparseness with impressive views.
Dunstanburgh Castle sits above the shoreline and dominates the landscape. Its keep offers sweeping panoramas up and down the waterfront, which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are lots of sheep, too. Love.
4. Dover Castle
Dover Castle is another legendary seaside fortress. Sitting on England’s south coast, its position over the shortest sea crossing between Britain and Europe has made it a strategic fortification from medieval times to modern. The present structure was created in the 1180s around a Roman lighthouse and Anglo-Saxon church, meaning there’s no shortage of history here.
But it’s not all ancient and medieval. One of my favorite things about visiting Dover Castle is exploring the tunnels beneath it. The subterranean network was built during the Napoleonic Wars in the 18th century and used as an Allied command center in World War II. It’s not often a castle has such long-lasting relevance, but this one’s adaptability makes it one of the most fascinating castles in England.
5. Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle has a similar reputation for versatility that has allowed it to retain its relevance throughout its history. Converted from a Norman-style motte-and-bailey castle to a medieval fortress in the early 14th century, it has since undergone more changes and additions, including one in the 18th century that resulted in the appearance of Gothic fairy-tale touches.
Today the owners have ensured Alnwick Castle stays on the map by securing it as a filming location for everything from the Harry Potter movies to Downton Abbey. They’ve also put in a tree house restaurant and kept the fountains and gardens in perfect condition, making it a pleasure to visit.
6. Bamburgh Castle
Up the coast from Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle stays on the map partly because it’s impossible to miss. Looming over the coast, it sits on a rocky plateau dominating the views up and down the beach.
But Bamburgh Castle isn’t just an imposing exterior. Inside, the castle has an impressive King’s Hall with high ceilings and lots of timber beams. There’s also a billiard room and spaces that have a more modern feel that reflect the current owners’ tastes. With history dating back to ancient times and a Norman core, it’s not surprising this castle has so many layers to it.
7. Lindisfarne Castle
Not far from Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island is another stunner. It too sits atop a hill and can be seen for miles along Northumberland’s shores.
The castle is best known for its Arts and Crafts renovation by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century. Acclaimed garden designer Gertrude Jekyll left her mark on the grounds below the castle, which are bright with flower beds.
8. Warkworth Castle
Back near Alnwick, Warkworth Castle is another of my favorite castles in England. I discovered it on my great British road trip, and its beauty was so arresting I was compelled to pull over just to photograph it.
Warkworth Castle’s current structure is thought to date back to the early 13th century, and the fortress has played a role in everything from the medieval battles between England and Scotland to the Wars of the Roses.
9. Durham Castle
To the south of Warkworth Castle, Durham Castle is one of the most unique castles in England. It sits among university buildings right by Durham‘s famous cathedral (with which it forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site). It’s so much a part of the city that I almost missed it when I arrived on my first visit.
But Durham Castle is not to be missed. The building was originally commissioned by William the Conquerer in the 11th century for the Earls of Northumberland, but was actually used by the prince bishops of Durham. I loved exploring the Great Hall, which was once the largest of its kind in Britain, and Tunstall’s Chapel, which has 16th-century engraved misericords.
10. Warwick Castle
Southwest of Durham, Warwick Castle near Stratford-upon-Avon is another impressive fortress. Conceived in the 10th century and built up over the next few hundred years, it has impressive towers to climb, rose gardens to enjoy, historic mills to explore, and birds of prey to see.
The castle hosts a lot of events and exhibitions, from those that focus on the history of the fortress to those that reenact it. Some appeal to my taste more than others, but in any case it’s good to see the castle come to life.
11. Leeds Castle
Back down in Kent, Leeds Castle is another stunning moated number. I’ve visited twice on day trips from London, and it’s always a joy to see. With nearly 900 years of history, the castle has been everything from a royal residence of Henry VIII to an 18th-century Georgian extravaganza.
Today Leeds Castle is a visitor attraction with everything from historic state rooms to a yew maze shaped like a queen’s crown. There’s even a dog collar museum. But the castle itself is what attracts me, not least when I see its stunning form from across the water.
I hope you’ve found inspiration in this blog post and that you get a chance to visit some of these amazing castles in England. I’ve written about castles in Wales, too, and Scotland has more than enough for a future post. Visiting and writing about them will probably keep me busy for a lifetime, but given how magical they are I don’t think I’ll mind continuing the story.
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