The history of the United Kingdom is one of the most fascinating in the world. Tales of legendary knights and bloody battles roam the grounds of every castle in every corner of the British Isles. So mysterious and epic are these stories that the historic castles of the UK remain immensely popular tourist attractions.
That’s why we’ve gathered information on 10 of the UK’s most majestic castles that are worth visiting when you get the chance. Discover all you need to know on ticket prices, accessibility, and history in the guide below.
1. Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the best known and most popular monuments in Britain. Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, it has been used as a royal residence, a prison, an armoury, and a zoo during its eventful past and is one of the most significant castles in British history. It is also the home of the Crown Jewels in London and, since 1988, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s so many activities to enjoy at the Tower of London, along with interactive touchscreen learning and comprehensive food and drink facilities. You might even get lucky and spot one of the 37 Yeoman Warders or “beefeaters” on your visit to the Tower of London. These royal guards even offer tours of the Tower and the church located inside – St. Peter ad Vincula. The Tower is just a short journey from the Tower Bridge as well as Big Ben and access via London’s public transport is exceptional. The only downsides are that you might need to allow up to 3 hours to view the entire thing, and there’s pretty much no parking around the area. To ensure your visit runs smoothly, we recommend booking Tower of London tickets in advance. Tickets are priced at £29.90 per adult and £14.90 for children.
2. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle, England’s biggest and the largest inhabited castle in the world, is a truly magnificent sight to behold. Located just West of London in the county of Berkshire, it has been a royal residence since the turn of the 12th century.
Inside Windsor Castle you’ll find countless sights and spectacles, including historic, handmade art and opulent designs. St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle is a perfect example of the architecture known as English Perpendicular Gothic, and the luxurious state apartments solidify the majestical aura of the place. Be careful when taking photos, though, as these are prohibited in certain areas of the palace.
Access via public transport is easy, and there’s a wide range of facilities on offer, including baby-care stations. What’s more, a multimedia guide on the history of the castle is included with the price of a ticket. Windsor Castle tickets come in at £28 per adult, £18 for a young person (ages 18-24), and £15.50 for a child (ages 5-17). Special discounts and concessions are available for people with disabilities.
3. Dover Castle
Dover Castle boasts a tremendous wealth of history and has long been regarded as one of the most significant monuments in Britain’s history. Built soon after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, this mighty fortress is known as the “Key to England” due to its proximity to Europe and its defensive excellence throughout numerous battles and sieges.
More recently, Dover Castle played a crucial role in the WW2 operations that saw thousands of allied troops evacuated from Dunkirk. The secret wartime tunnels still exist today, two of which are open to the public. Other important landmarks in the area include the Knights Templar Church, Western Heights, and St John’s Commandery.
Dover Castle parking is free for up to 200 cars and facilities include a restaurant, café, and tea room (although this is closed between December and March). Make sure to check opening times on the Dover Castle website, as they change weekly depending on weather conditions and the season. Dover Castle tickets are priced at £24 per adult, £14.40 for children aged 5-17 years, and £21.60 for concessions. Consider booking early to guarantee entry.
4. Balmoral Castle
The grand Balmoral estate has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since 1852, when Prince Albert purchased it for his wife Queen Victoria. Deemed too small for the royals, Prince Albert soon commissioned local architect William Smith to construct new cottages, servants’ chambers, and other buildings on the estate.
This led to the creation of the new and current Balmoral Castle near Ballater, with the old building being demolished. The manicured parklands and picturesque gardens complement the landscape beautifully, so it’s no wonder it was the favourite holiday home of both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
Balmoral Castle is a uniquely wonderful place to visit and boasts great accessibility by car and incredible self-catered properties available to rent. Adult entry prices are £15, children get in for £6, and a family ticket is £39.95. The castle is currently closed to the public following the death of Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral but will reopen again come springtime in 2023.
5. Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle, not to be confused with Castell Coch (another magnificent nearby landmark), is a medieval castle located in the town centre of the Welsh capital of Cardiff. Possibly commissioned by William the Conqueror in the 1000s and subsequently expanded over the following centuries, this monumental site has seen numerous additions to its structure over the years. The Victorian Gothic revival architecture is evident around the grounds, as are the medieval stone fortifications.
The castle has stood rigidly in Cardiff’s city centre for years, making it easily accessible by public transport and generally safe for wheelchair users and those with pushchairs (except for the Castle Apartments and the Norman Keep). It also has two cafés where visitors can relax after a trip around the castle walls, not to mention the Walston Castle steak restaurant, which is only a short distance away.
Cardiff Castle tickets cost £14.50 for an adult and £10 for a child aged 5-16 years. Children must be accompanied by an adult and there are discounts available for students and seniors.
6. Leeds Castle
Contrary to what the name suggests, Leeds Castle is located in Kent. Situated in a stunning watery landscape, the castle has been a favourite of royalty throughout Britain’s history. Today, the landmark offers a restaurant; luxury overnight stays in the castle, surrounding cottages or cosy ‘Knight’s Glamping’ tents; and a historical 9-hole, par 34, 2,843-yard golf course, which was built on the 500-acre Leeds Castle Estate in 1931. The ultimate staycation in Kent, it’s no wonder the castle is also a popular wedding destination with multiple packages and venues available.
The castle also offers an array of exciting adventure experiences for visitors, including three ‘Go Ape at Leeds Castle’ high ropes courses, Segway tours, falconry displays, multiple activities for children and the Leeds Castle maze. Unfortunately, the Dog Collar Museum is closed at present and Elsie the Castle Train is currently out of service.
Leeds Castle tickets grant free repeat visits in the 12 months following your visit but are initially relatively expensive. Adults enter for £32, children for £24, and students and seniors for £31.
7. Bodiam Castle
A picturesque and largely restored ruin, Bodiam Castle is located near Robertsbridge in East Sussex. Built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge to defend the area from the French, the castle’s surrounding moat and imposing walls make it one of the most beautiful medieval monuments in the UK.
The surrounding area is as rich as Bodiam Castle’s history. There’s wetland, grassland, and extraordinary archaeological features, as well as an abundance of wildlife. Non-locals will find pleasant accommodation nearby at Bodiam Castle Inn. Tickets to Bodiam Castle cost just £12.10 for adults, and £6.10 for kids.
8. Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle beach are two radiant scenes you must explore if you’re headed to the northeast of England. Once serving as the great capital of Bernicia, half of the Kingdom of Northumbria, this castle has stood over the fabulous Northumberland coastline for centuries. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is visible across the water and is sacred to the history of early Christianity in England.
Situated on top of a grassy hill, Harry Potter fans would almost be right in mistaking Bamburgh Castle for the film’s Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, however, shooting for this location actually took place at Alnwick Castle, located only 30 minutes away.
With delicious food in the Clock Tower Café and the Tack Room Takeaway, enjoy a wonderfully catered day out in Bamburgh, Northumberland (just remember to bring a contactless card). Unfortunately, not all areas of the castle are wheelchair accessible. Tickets cost £15.50 for adults and £7.65 for children aged between 5 and 16 years, while carers are granted access free of charge.
9. St Michael’s Mount
Located in Cornwall and situated on a tidal island, St Michael’s Mount is one of the most extraordinarily positioned castles you’ll ever see. It’s only accessible at low tide via a causeway linking the small island to the mainland, making it an ideal location for a fortress. This unconventional pathway means the castle is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible, however.
The history of the island is vast. It has seen priories and monasteries fall and be rebuilt and was fortified during the Second World War. The St Michael’s Mount castle stands atop the island and has been the private home of the St Aubyn family since 1659.
The impressive landmark in Cornwall boasts incredible natural beauty and amazing landscapes, making it a truly unique place to visit. The island hosts a café, restaurant and local shop for tourists. Tickets to St Michael’s Mount cost £14 per adult, £7 for children, and £35 for families (two adults and three children).
10. Conwy Castle
The partially ruined Conwy Castle stands as a picturesque reminder of the relentless turmoil of the UK’s past. Conwy Castle’s history is extensive, having been involved in numerous military battles since it was first built between 1283 and 1287. The castle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Inside, Conwy Castle is elegant and can be enjoyed at ground level. However, a lot of the interior is only accessible via steep, narrow staircases, so it’s not as welcoming for wheelchair users. Nevertheless, parking facilities at Conwy Castle are good, as are the public transport links around the town.
There’s also free Wi-Fi and toilets, but the site lacks any food and drink services. Adults are charged £11.10 for entry, while children aged 5-17, students and members of the armed forces are all admitted for £7.80. Seniors’ tickets are £10.60, and members are free.
Explore the history and mystery of the UK’s castles
With such a rich history and eventful pasts, the castles of Great Britain are truly remarkable monuments. The stories and legends that surround these places provide unforgettable experiences for visitors, as do the stunning settings these castles find themselves in.
So, whether you’re looking to brush up on your history or just enjoy a lovely day out, our list of the top 10 castles in the UK above is a great place to find yourself some unique and enjoyable experiences.