MY TOP TEN FAVOURITE CASTLES & PALACES IN THE UK – AND HOW TO FIND THEM!
Do you love castles as much as I do? Then read on to see if your favourite made it onto my top ten list.
As any of my avid readers will tell you, I absolutely adore castles! I grew up with the Disney classics like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. These stories would always feature the most dreamy royal palaces and castles. They would have beautifully patterned stonework, tall spires that reached up to the clouds, and sinister-looking gargoyles staring down at you from their perches. As a little girl, I would dream of living behind their tall, thick wooden gates someday, with my prince charming by my side – but I would insist on having wifi installed first!
I love how castles have stood the test of time. Whether they are perfectly intact, or a crumbling medieval structure that has endured months of bloody sieges and numerous civil wars, they never cease to amaze me. The fascinating history invariably linked to them always seems to make them even more like a fantasy. Some of my favourite tales include:
- King Edward II’s forced abdication while on his knees at Kenilworth Castle in 1326.
- The Princes’ disappearance from the Tower of London one night in 1483, now thought to have been murder most foul.
- Empress Matilda’s miraculous escape during a blizzard from Oxford Castle in 1142. Covered in only a white sheet, she brazenly walked past the army camped outside without being noticed, jumped on a horse and escaped. What a legend!
My love for castles grew when my husband Zac and I returned to the UK after living in Australia for several years. While the dull and miserable English weather made it a struggle to adjust to my new life, it did help me develop an interest in British history, especially the Monarchy. I would often read about the many well-known castles of the land and the stories of the people who lived in them. This really inspired me to explore some more of the places around the country where I grew up.
So read on to learn about some of my favourite castles from around the UK, as well as why they have made it onto my top ten list. To make planning your trip a little easier, I have also included how and where to find them. Seeking these structures out, even when driving, can be a bit of an epic quest in and of itself. For me though, my “epic quest” often consisted of me spending the day cursing myself for not learning to drive sooner. On the plus side, I now know how you can get to most of these castles on public transport! So don’t be put off if you’re not driving, trust me, these places wouldn’t have made my list if they weren’t worth the visit.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and make a purchase from my blog. While clicking these links won’t cost you anything, they will help me to keep The Travel Vine up and running! Click here to read my full disclosure policy. Thanks so much!
10. APPLEBY CASTLE
Despite being in the middle of the countryside, this castle has had a turbulent history due to being relatively close to the Scottish border. As a result, it has changed hands many times between the English and the Scots Kings throughout its history.
In the 1960s, the remnants of an old Roman Wall were found in the basement. Although it had already been established that a castle had stood here for over 900 years, seeing evidence of an even earlier settlement makes this place much more interesting.
I have really happy memories of the day my family and I visited Appleby Castle. The date was 29th December 2016, and we were on a short post-Christmas break. This was the final stop on our Settle to Carlisle Railway journey. After arriving in the cute little town of Appleby, we walked around fifteen minutes through the lovely village centre before making our way up a steep hill to reach the castle gates. It wasn’t so much the exterior of the building that impressed me, but the lovely cosy interior. All the rooms were decked out in traditional Christmas decorations that helped create a lovely festive atmosphere. It made us feel so welcome.
We had pre-booked an afternoon tea here, and let me tell you, it was incredible! I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the coldest days I have ever experienced. The relief of walking into the castle’s beautiful sitting room, with its roaring log fire and festive décor, made for a most welcome shelter from the harsh winter. We had the place to ourselves and spent the next few hours lounging on big plush couches, eating lots of mini dainty cakes and sandwiches. This really was such a special way to spend an afternoon. Perfection!
HOW TO GET HERE?
It’s just a 15-minute walk from Appleby Train Station. Head to Bridge Street, which converts into Boroughgate, then continue up to the top of the hill to reach the castle. Driving? From Manchester and the north, take the M6. From London and the south, follow the A1 and A1(M).
Appleby-in-Westmoreland, Cumbria, England, CA16 6XH | www.applebycastle.org
9. RUTHIN CASTLE
Sometimes after a challenging and stressful period, I like to get away for a couple of days to recharge. I’ve always thought that travel can be a balm for the soul, and that’s what my trip to Ruthin Castle did for me in spades. Surrounded by beautiful scenery in the Welsh countryside, this magnificent castle and hotel dates all the way back to 1277 when it was said to be owned by Dafydd, brother to Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd.
Living in Manchester at the time, I didn’t have a car, so getting there would prove a little difficult. But all the bus and train-hopping was totally worth it!
My room was spectacular and came with a huge king-size bed as well as a mini walk-in wardrobe. But the main reason I came was for the Halloween Medieval Banquet, which was absolutely fantastic and so much fun! My only regret was that nearly everyone else had arrived dressed up in medieval costumes. I really wished I had as well, as it would have made the night even more fun.
HOW TO GET HERE?
Make your way to Chester Train Station which is the closest station to the castle. From there, head across the road to Grosvenor Street and catch the X1 which is a direct bus from the station to Ruthin. However, this service only runs a few times a day, so plan your journey inline with this, otherwise you will have to get a couple of buses and it’s a real hassle. Trust me, I’ve done it! Once you arrive in Ruthin, the castle is only a five-minute walk from the Town Hall, where the bus drops you off. If you are driving, it takes around 35-minutes from Chester along the A483, then take the North Wales Expressway towards Wrexham and Mold.
Castle Street, Ruthin, LL15 2NU, North Wales, United Kingdom | www.ruthincastle.co.uk
8. SKIPTON CASTLE
The day my family and I visited Skipton Castle was the same day we found out I was pregnant with our little girl, so to be fair, even a trip to a bouncy castle would have made my top-ten list on this day. However, it just so happens that my nauseated belly and I were lucky enough to get to experience Skipton Castle instead.
We arrived just as the gates were opening and were some of the first ones inside. It was great to have the castle practically to myself for a while. Despite being quite cold, it was an incredibly sunny winter’s morning, which added to the feeling of this very special day.
Our journey starts at the impressive front entrance, with its imposing round twin towers which look very formidable as you approach. A good starting point to explore the castle would be from the beautiful central tree in the main courtyard. All the rooms have been lovingly restored, including the Great Hall on the first floor, whose exposed wooden beams and fireplace create a wonderful sense of grandeur. Just imagine the parties and banquets that would have taken place here throughout its history.
One of the highlights for me was making my way to the very top of the castle to take in the beautiful views of Skipton. Because it was such a clear and sunny day, I could see beyond the town itself and well into the countryside beyond. On the flip side, be sure to pay a visit to the most depressing dungeons you will ever see in your life! Seriously! After you make your way down the dark stone steps, with no windows or any light source, you’ll arrive where the prisoners were held. The cells themselves were very, very small, and I was starting to feel claustrophobic just from looking at them! I couldn’t imagine being locked up in one. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
HOW TO GET HERE?
Skipton Castle is easy to find. After alighting at the train station, it’s just a short 10-15 minute walk down Belmont Bridge, which then turns into Swadford Street. Then turn onto High Street and keep walking until you reach the castle. If driving from London and the south, take the A1 and then the Al(M) to Skipton, or if you are coming from Manchester and the north, follow the A56.
The Bailey, Skipton, BP23 1AW, England | www.skiptoncastle.co.uk
7. KENILWORTH CASTLE AND ELIZABETHAN GARDEN
I visited this wonderful castle one summer with two of my best friends. It was such a cracking day out that we decided to eat al fresco on the grounds. We headed into Leicester, the closest city, to pick up some provisions before heading over to the castle. Whilst eating our lunch on the front lawns, I remember thinking how lucky we were to have found such an idyllic spot for a picnic. I strongly recommend skipping the café and enjoying your lunch in the same way.
The castle itself is huge, despite now being a ruin. I strongly encourage you to hire an audio guide, as there aren’t that many signs to read while walking around, and it would be a shame to miss out on some of the stories from its glory days, as there is so much history here. Queen Elizabeth (I) stayed here during her reign in the 1500s when a magnificent festival was held in her honour. There’s also the story of poor King Edward (II), who was forced to abdicate his throne here in favour of his younger son as he was a terrible ruler. You can even visit the very same room at Kenilworth, where all this unfolded. The audio guide advised that the poor bugger was on his knees begging for his captors to reconsider!
My favourite part of the day was getting to walk around the restored Elizabethan Gardens. The combination of the well-manicured flower-shaped hedges with the brightly coloured seasonal flowers made meandering along the symmetrical walking paths a really pleasant experience. Several of the castle’s outer buildings within the grounds have been restored to look just like they would have done back in Tudor times, which was awesome! Even the house by the gardens looked incredible, with all of its original fixtures and fittings. Walking to the top of the castle ramparts and seeing a birds-eye view of these beautiful gardens, as well as the countryside beyond, is something not to be missed!
HOW TO GET HERE?
To get here via public transport, jump on a train from any of the major cities to Coventry or Leamington Spa. If you depart at Leamington Spa, head to the Crown Hotel, which is just a two-minute walk up High Street, then catch the number 11 bus towards Coventry and depart at Abbey Fields. It is then a ten-minute walk to the castle. From Coventry Train Station, take the number 11 bus from Rail Station Bridge at stop WR1, which takes 15-minutes and then approximately a 15-minute walk to the castle.
If you are driving here from London, take the M1, and from the north, travel via the M5 and M6.
Castle Green, Kenilworth, CV8 1NG, England | www.engligh-heritage.org.uk
6. ALNWICK CASTLE
My family and I visited this spectacular castle late one sunny afternoon. Despite it being quite a cold autumnal day, I was still really excited to have a look around. Unfortunately, we arrived less than an hour before the castle was due to close, so it didn’t leave us much time to explore. Therefore we decided to give the gardens a miss. Shame, as I’d heard they were super impressive.
The castle had a medieval look that wouldn’t look out of place deep in an enchanted forest, overgrown by nature and covered in moss. It had a portcullis at the entrance, with thick, high stone walls, lots of round towers and a huge outdoor courtyard. It was just like something out of a fairytale, and if you are a Harry Potter fan, you will definitely want to pay a visit to Alnwick Castle as some parts of the movies were filmed within the grounds.
As it got later in the day, I started to feel a bit light-headed, and I realised that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. At the time, I was only a week away from getting married, so I was trying to watch what I ate. I needed a quick, healthy snack to tide me over until dinner. Thankfully I found the castle café. I sat down and ordered two of the biggest scones with strawberry jam and a pot of fresh cream, and I ate every mouthful! Yes, just in case you were wondering – I still managed to fit into my wedding dress the following week!
HOW TO GET HERE?
The closest train station to the castle is Alnmouth. Once you depart from the train, you then have a long 90-minute walk ahead of you. If you are catching the train from Manchester or London, change at York for Alnmouth. Alternatively, it is much easier to get to the castle from the Newcastle Train Station. Take the X15 or X18 from Newcastle Haymarket Bus Station, around a 15-minute walk from the train station. The bus takes about 1 hour and 20-minutes to Alnwick Bus Station, then it’s just a 5-minute walk to the castle. We drove here, and if you can, I would highly recommend driving as it’s a bit of a pain on public transport. If driving from London, take the A1 and then A1(M). From Manchester, take the A1(M) and then the A1.
Alnwick, NE66 1NQ, England | www.alnwickcastle.com
5. CONWAY CASTLE
I absolutely adore this medieval castle. Its sheer magnificence completely dominates this little Welsh village. Perfectly positioned right on the banks of the River Conway, the beautiful rolling hills only help to add to its fairytale look.
Its colourful history dates back to the medieval era when the English King Edward (I) defeated and killed the last of the Welsh princes. Edward went on to build a string of castles across Northern Wales dubbed the ‘Ring of Steel,’ to try and subdue the Welsh from rebellion. Conwy Castle was part of this ring.
The day I visited Conwy, despite being well into spring, an icy blast of wind hit me as I stepped off the train! It was the middle of May, for goodness sake! Luckily the cold weather turned to sunshine within an hour, and I was treated to a beautiful sunny day. Phew!
Large parts of the castle are still intact, making it possible to wander around the old rooms, one of which even had the remnants of an old fireplace. I figured this might have once been the royal bed chambers. There were also some small poky rooms that forced me to use my imagination due to a lack of signage. This wasn’t all bad, as I had fun inventing my own reasons for the room’s use, such as the torture chambers or the castle jester’s quarters. There is also a beautiful old chapel with large stained-glass windows, which still displays some of its original stonework on the walls.
I highly recommend climbing the steps to the very top of the castle ramparts so that you can check out the stunning views of the Welsh countryside and beyond. I was lucky enough to have the sun make a very welcome appearance while I was up here, which made the water sparkle in the distance. It was such an incredible sight!
HOW TO GET HERE?
Getting to Conwy Castle by public transport is relatively easy. Manchester Picadilly station has regular direct trains to Conwy, which take approximately two hours. If you are coming from London, then you can either change at Birmingham International Train Station or continue up to Manchester and change here for the castle. Some trains may require you to change at Chester. Driving from London to Conwy in North Wales takes around 4.5 hours. Head north via the M40. It’s really easy from Manchester. Follow the M56 to Ellesmere Port, then take the North Wales Expressway or the A55, which takes you all the way to the castle.
Rose Hill Street, Conwy, LL32 8AY, Wales | Book tickets here >>>>> www.cadw.gov.wales
4. EDINBURGH CASTLE
Edinburgh Castle is one of those bucket list attractions that you shouldn’t leave the UK without visiting. Its formidable appearance perched atop a rock formation that watches over the city is the stuff of fairytales. Throughout its history, the castle has withstood many sieges from the Wars of Independence between England and Scotland, and its ownership has changed hands on several occasions.
It was a bitterly cold day during my trip to Edinburgh castle, but that didn’t sway the hordes of tourists who, just like me, were adamant in braving the elements to explore this iconic site. There’s so much to see and do once you are inside. You can walk amongst the battlements and ramparts where you can witness some incredible views across Edinburgh and beyond. You also have the opportunity to discover Scotland’s military history at the various museums within the complex, which I really enjoyed.
The wonderfully preserved Royal Palace apartments, as well as the magnificent Great Hall, were my favourite parts of the castle. It’s only fitting that every castle should have a spectacular entertaining space, and this one is very impressive. With its red-painted walls and swords on display, it was quite clear that it had been designed to both amaze and intimidate. You could tell that many important gatherings and ceremonies have taken place here over the years.
Don’t forget to check out the Honours of Scotland, which are the Crown Jewels of Scotland, as they are the oldest in Great Britain. I never got to see them, so don’t miss out like I did.
HOW TO GET HERE?
Catch the train to Edinburgh Waverley station, and the castle is within close proximity at the top of the Royal Mile. The train journey takes around 4.5 hours from King’s Cross Train Station in London, and just over three hours from Manchester. I’ve made the latter journey in November 2016 for my birthday. I jumped on the 6:15 AM service from Manchester Piccadilly to Edinburgh Waverley Station. It was pretty busy on the way there, but the journey home was absolutely packed. Take my advice and book yourself a seat for your trip well in advance. You will be glad you did, as the alternative is standing up all the way home, which some people had to.
Driving here takes a lot longer. From London it will take around 7.5 hours via the M1 and A1(M). From Manchester take the M6, with your journey taking approximately 4.5 hours. You don’t need a visa or passport to travel back and forth over the border between England and Scotland.
Castle Hill, Edinburgh, EH1 1NG, Scotland | Book tickets here >>>>> www.edinburghcastle.scot
3. WINDSOR CASTLE
If you are in London for more than a few days, please stick this incredible masterpiece on your bucket list. At nearly a thousand years old, it was built by William the Conqueror shortly after he invaded in 1066 and is surrounded by thick curtain walls that dominate the small but quaint town of Windsor. Inside the grounds, you can meander through the manicured gardens walking the same paths as previous Kings and Queens who once lived here, then head inside and wander the halls to marvel at the luxurious interiors. Is it any wonder that the Queen spends most of her weekends here? My favourite part was seeing the collection of royal dolls and toys, with the standout piece being Queen Marys Doll House. The furnishings and accessories were incredible, and it even had running water and real miniature books. So cool! [>>>>> Full Article Click Here <<<<<]
HOW TO GET HERE?
The good news is that getting to Windsor Castle is pretty painless. From London, all you need to do is catch the train from either London Waterloo or Paddington Stations, where you can get a direct train to Windsor Castle. You may need to disembark at Eton Central Station, but don’t worry, it’s only a short 10-minute walk from here. The journey takes just under an hour.
If you are driving from London, it will take approximately 40-minutes depending on traffic, via the A4 and M4.
Windsor SL4 1NJ | www.royal.uk
2. HAMPTON COURT PALACE
Both my mother and I are very interested in Tudor history, so we were curious to see more about the former home of one of the most famous Tudor Kings – Henry VIII. We caught the train from London’s Waterloo Station to Hampton Court, which takes around 30 minutes. The front half of the palace is built in a typical red-brick Tudor style, which was gifted to the King in the early 16th century from his then minister, Cardinal Wolsey. In the late 1600s, during the reign of joint rulers William III and Mary II, the back half of the palace was demolished as they intended to rebuild it in a baroque style. But Mary died halfway through construction, so the remodel was never completed thankfully, as destroying it would have been an absolute travesty!
Be sure to check out The Great Hall, still in its original condition with enormous luxury tapestries decorating the walls and a pretty vaulted ceiling, making it appear very grand. I loved walking around the older, drafty corridors on the Tudor side of the palace, which would lead you to the fantastic Tudor kitchens and Henry’s impressive wine cellars. While here, don’t miss the Chapel Royal. It’s beautiful and intimate with the most fantastic painted blue ceiling decorated with gold stars.
HOW TO GET HERE?
Please don’t make the same mistake I did and assume that because you have Google Maps, everything will be fine! Research your route on-line first, otherwise you may end up on the wrong side of London, completely lost in some dodgy area, like I did! If you are heading here via train from London, head to Waterloo Station and catch the train out to Hampton Court, which takes around 30 minutes. Driving? From the capital take the A4, which should take about 35-minutes depending on traffic. From Manchester, take the M6 and then M1.
Hampton Ct Way, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9AU, United Kingdom | www.hrp.org.uk
1. TOWER OF LONDON
When visiting London make sure this great fortress is top of your list! After William the Conqueror was crowned King in 1066, to exert his dominance, he built the Tower of London. Although the castle is a former royal residence, it is more well known as a notorious prison, and was still used as such until the mid-20th century for the notorious Cray Twins in the 1960s! Other famous inmates included Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, who was accused of treason and his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, who was subsequently beheaded here in the 16th century for having an affair.
There is also the famous story of the Princes in the Tower, allegedly murdered here by their uncle King Richard III after he seized the throne for himself in 1483. Don’t miss your chance to see the magnificent Crown Jewels, which are also kept here in the Jewel House. They are absolutely stunning. [>>>>> Full Article Click Here <<<<<]
HOW TO GET HERE?
If you’re staying close enough, the best way to get here is to walk, as this gives you the chance to stroll past so many world-famous landmarks that are located nearby. Another good option is the tube. It’s quick, efficient, and there’s a station right across the road from the castle called ‘Tower Hill.’
St Katharine’s & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB, United Kingdom | www.hrp.org.uk
So there you have it! That completes my top ten favourite castles in the United Kingdom. There are the obvious reasons why some of them have made my list, such as looking like they have come straight out of a fairytale, and the more personal reasons, like visiting Skipton Castle the day I found out I was pregnant with my little girl. Despite seeing a large number of castles over the last seven years, I have still barely scratched the surface of seeing all the ones I want to. Over time, I plan to make more trips back out to the UK to tick even more of these romantic structures off my bucket list, so ultimately, this post may well get updated.
What is your favourite British castle? Have you visited any of the castles on my list? Let me know in the comments section below.
Like what you read today? Then sign up for alerts when I post new content below. Why not subscribe so you will be notified when I post new content? Hit the subscribe button now!
Still looking for travel inspiration? Then check out my other blog posts from Great Britain and around the world by scrolling to the bottom of this post.