Britain’s famous castles
Britain is home to thousands of castles, whose original function to protect has long expired and given way to providing a source of beauty, and hundreds of years of history. See also “Royal palaces, castles and residences to visit in Britain”.
1. Hever Castle, Hever, near Edenbridge, Kent, south-east England
The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second, unfortunate wife, features costumed figures of Henry VIII and his six wives in the Long Gallery and the Council Chamber in the 13th century gatehouse contains collections of historic swords, armour, instruments of execution and torture.
The castle was also owned and restored in the early 20th century by William Waldorf Astor, the wealthy American who became a British nobleman. Web: hevercastle.co.uk
Getting there: The train journey to Hever takes less than an hour from either London Victoria station or London Bridge station.
2. Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent, south east England
Known as "the loveliest castle in the world", Leeds offers visitors 900 years of history within its walls, 500 acres of beautiful parkland, a yew maze, an underground grotto and an aviary with more than 100 species of birds. The Black Swan Ferry Boat takes visitors over the lake between the castle and its other attractions. Web: leeds-castle.com
Getting there: By train in around an hour from either London Victoria or London St Pancras International.
3. Warwick Castle, Warwick, west Midlands region of England
A thousand years of history awaits visitors at Warwick Castle, as they're invited to not just view the castle but experience it. In addition to the great halls, dastardly dungeons and tall turrets, witness jousting re-enactments, explore the Princess Tower, watch the trebuchet - a faithful replica of one of the most deadly weapons ever used - in action, and explore the extensive grounds. Web: warwick-castle.com
Getting there: The closest major city is Birmingham, a 40-minute drive away. You can reach Warwick train station from London in less than 90 minutes from London Marylebone.
4. Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland, north England
Home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick is one of the largest inhabited castles in England, often referred to as 'The Windsor of the north'. The castle has dominated the town since medieval times and you may recognise it from its recent starring role as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series of films. Web: alnwickcastle.com
Getting there: Alnwick is a 45-minute drive north of Newcastle or a two-hour drive south of Edinburgh.
5. Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire, north Scotland
A fine example of Scottish baronial architecture, Craigievar Castle in the north of Scotland, not far from the city of Aberdeen, resembles a fairytale castle. Its Great Tower, which dates back to 1626, is complemented by simple lower towers and elaborate turrets and cupolas.
The picturesque castle, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, is surrounded by extensive parkland and also features a Victorian kitchen garden and a Scottish glen garden. Web: nts.org.uk
Getting there: The castle is less than an hour's drive west of Aberdeen, which is a two-and a-half hour train journey from Edinburgh. The city also has an international airport, served by some European destinations.
6. Eilean Donan, Kyle of Lochalsh, north-west Scotland
The spectacular location and iconic architecture of Eilean Donan have made it one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands.
Strategically located on its own little island overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan's setting is truly breath-taking. Web: visitscotland.com
Getting there: The nearest train station is Duncraig, six miles away, which can be reached in just over two hours from Inverness, or the castle is a 90-minute drive from Inverness.
7. Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit, north-east Scotland
The magnificently situated Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness, remains an impressive stronghold despite its ruinous state. Once one of Scotland's largest castles, Urquhart's remains include a tower house that commands splendid views of the famous loch and Great Glen. Web: urquhart-castle.co.uk
Getting there: The nearest train station is Inverness, which is a three-and-a-half train journey from Edinburgh. There are onward bus journeys from Inverness station.
8. Powis Castle, Welshpool, Wales/England border
Powis Castle, originally built around 1200, perches high on a rock and began life as a medieval fortress. Remodelled and embellished more than 400 years ago, it reflects the changing needs and ambitions of the Herbert family - each generation adding to the magnificent collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture and tapestries. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk
Getting there: The closest major city is Birmingham, England, which is a one hour, 20 minute drive away or a 90-minute train journey. Welshpool is a two-and-a-half train journey from Cardiff.
9. Beaumaris Castle, Beaumaris, Anglesey, north Wales
Technically perfect and constructed according to an ingenious 'walls within walls' plan, Beaumaris Castle was the 13th century hi-tech equivalent of a spaceship landing unceremoniously on 21st century Anglesey.
Little sympathy was given to the local population of Llanfaes who lived where the castle was to be built; instead they were forcibly moved 12 miles (19km) away to Newborough to make way for Edward's new castle. Web: cadw.wales.gov.uk
Getting there: The nearest station is Holyhead; the train journey is under four hours from London, three hours from Birmingham and around two-and-a-half hours from Manchester.
10. Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly, south Wales
The largest castle in Wales is as much of a town icon as the cheese that also bears its name. The tower at Caerphilly Castle out-leans the Leaning Tower of Pisa and it's also a great backdrop for TV and film; it had a starring role in the popular BBC TV series Merlin. Web: cadw.wales.gov.uk
Getting there: Caerphilly is around a 20-minute drive or train journey north of Cardiff.
11. Conwy Castle, Llandudno, north Wales
Looming over the north coast of Wales, five miles from the seaside town of Llandudno, Conwy Castle is a medieval fortress personified.
Built by English monarch Edward I in the late 13th century it was one of his major circle of fortresses constructed to contain the Welsh. Its eight round towers and views from the battlements alone conjure up what life might have been like in medieval times. Web: conwy-castle.co.uk
Getting there: The castle is a ten-minute drive from Llandudno, which itself can be reached by train from Manchester in just over two hours, from London to Llandudno Junction in three hours and from Cardiff in four hours.
12. Castle Ward, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Built by Bernard and Anne Ward in the 18th century, Castle Ward remains a testament to their wildly different tastes. It is distinguished by the curious architectural style of its Great House; one side of the house is classical, the other is gothic, and the architectural division runs right through the interior. The 750 acres of grounds contain a tranquil lake bordered by palm trees, and the Strangford Lough Wildlife Centre. Web: nationaltrust.org.uk
Getting there: Castle Ward is less than an hour's drive south of Belfast.
13. Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
For sheer drama you can't beat Dunluce. Located on the edge of basalt outcropping in County Antrim, it is only accessible via a bridge connected to the mainland; the castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side.
Open year round visitors can explore the wishing well, mermaid's cave, and see views to the Skerries fishing town. Web: discovernorthernireland.com
Getting there: The castle can be reached in just over an hour's drive from Belfast.
Author: Visit Britain