The coast of Britain is literally littered with countless castles.
Some of these wonderful fortifications are better preserved than others but all are equally fascinating and collectively tell the story of the long, often dark and rich history of these isles. Having visited just some of them, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites.
Dover Castle in Kent has to top the list. This incredible fortress is referred to as the key to England because of the importance of its defensive position and is the country’s largest castle.
The castle dates back to medieval times but there are layers of history to uncover at Dover, so you’ll find a wealth of things to see and do here. As well as the keep; which is Norman and resembles the Tower of London’s White Tower (in fact it is often used in filming as the White Tower) there are numerous other buildings to visit, which were expanded greatly under the rule of Henry II. There is also a network of medieval underground tunnels, as well as WWII tunnels, which include a hospital. From here you can step out and view the port of Dover and it was from this vantage point that the evacuation of Dunkirk was overseen. A Roman fort and a church also feature on the site.
Dover Castle is so vast and fascinating, it is possible one visit may not be enough.
Situated in Warwickshire, this impressive medieval fortress was built on the site of one of William the Conqueror’s Norman castles dating back to 1068. Sitting on the River Avon, it came to be the seat of the Earls of Warwick, one of which was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the Kingmaker during the long running Wars of the Roses.
Now owned by the Tussauds Group, there are endless activities for all the family at enjoy at Warwick, you even have the option of spending the night in the Tower Suits if you really want to make a trip of it.
Step into the castle’s great hall, its turrets and battlements, find your way out of the new Horrible Histories maze with the kids, take a tour of the dungeons if you dare, with actors bringing the castle’s darkest history back to life before your eyes. There are daily shows held at Warwick too, such as the fabulous birds of prey display and colourful jousting tournaments.
A trip to Warwick Castle promises to be one that the whole family will love.
The childhood home of King Henry VIII’s second queen Anne Bolelyn, Hever Castle and gardens is another of Kent’s treasures. Anne spent her youth at the family seat before her education in France and her subsequent doomed marriage to the monarch, which ended in May 1536, when on the orders of the king Anne was beheaded. After the death of Anne’s father Thomas, the castle became the property of the king, who bestowed it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of the settlement following the annulment of their short-lived marriage.
As well as the beautiful castle itself there are the wonderful gardens to visit, ornamental ponds, mazes, miniature model houses to view, boating, jousting, shield painting, archery, a military museum, adventure playground, and a Japanese teahouse to discover. You can stay overnight too at Hever Castle’s suits because once again, a day may not be sufficient to take in all that it has to offer.
This Kent castle is unusual in that it is set low in the ground hidden from view of passing ships, rather than the more familiar towering structures of most fortresses that dominate the UK’s coastline.
Built on the orders of Henry III, Deal was constructed in the form of the Tudor rose, and this is apparent form a bird’s eye view of this coastal fort.
You can walk around the castle at your leisure and may wish to employ the use one of the audio guides to take you through the darkened passages, storerooms and officers’ quarters.
Deal is an ideal spot for those with less time to visit the larger fortresses on the Kent coast but it is no less fascinating.
Situated in Kenilworth in Warwickshire this fortification is another gem of English history. With its beginnings from Norman to Tudor days, Kenilworth has plenty to please. Learn about the six-month siege of Kenilworth back in 1266, which is said to be the longest in England’s history. Marvel at the keep, the great hall and Elizabethan gardens, or take a spot of lunch in the stable tearooms.
Located on the stunning Cornish coast, Tintagel is the place where myth meets history. This medieval structure, perched on the cliff’s edge and erected by Ricard Earl of Cornwall during the thirteenth century, it has long been associated with the legend of king Arthur but the Romans were also thought to have had a settlement at the site.
Once you have navigated the numerous steps up the Cliffside to reach the fortress you’ll be amazed by the stunning views initially. Once you’ve enjoyed these, you can wonder through the substantial ruins of this castle, discover the dark ages and learn how it came to be linked to Arthur and his gallant knights.
Once you’ve toured the ruins, take a trip down to the incredibly beautiful beach below to round off your trip.
Built by the Peverel family in the twelfth century, medieval Bolsover castle in Derbyshire is another of England’s fascinating castles.
Visit the Little Castle on the site, which was the lavish retreat of poet and playboy Sir William Cavendish, where he entertained King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, or visit what remains of his terrace with its incredible views, the stunning fountain garden, or walk the wall, or you may prefer to take a canter across the wonderful indoor riding school. Top it all off with a visit to the lovely tearooms.
Hampshire’s medieval Portchester Castle is situated at the town’s Harbour and was built on the site of a Roman fort. It was one of many built along this coast in an attempt to combat pirate raids.
Take in the site’s rich history with the free audio tour, as well as informative exhibitions. In August there is a grand knight’s tournament for all the family to enjoy.
For over 1000 years this castle has been central to the defence of the Isle of White. The structure has been a Saxon fortress and a Norman castle. It underwent remodelling during Elizabeth I’s reign and Charles I was held captive here during the English Civil War, prior to his eventual execution. The suggestion of Roman occupation of the site is of further interest but has yet to be proved. An Anglo Saxon fort was likely situated here to prevent pirate raids of the island.
Play bowls at Portchester on the green used by Charles I, dress the kids up in Norman attire in the gatehouse and introduce them to the castle’s resident donkeys, or pay a visit to the museum and chapel.
A trip to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales would not be complete without a visit to Middleham Castle. The childhood home of Richard III, Middleham is roofless but otherwise it is well preserved. As well as the castle there are lovely gardens and exhibitions to enjoy, family activities and books to complete, picnic areas and play areas.
Tower of London
Well, we could hardly leave out this utter gem in the heart of the capital. Listed as an historical royal palace, The Tower of London is drenched in history, much of it dark and terrifying. This great Norman edifice on the banks of the Thames would have been a foreboding site when it was first constructed by William the Conqueror and indeed remains so. Although Londoner’s have taken it to their hearts this would not have originally been the case, as it was a visual reminder that they had been conquered and a symbol of the power of the new ruler.
There is no end of things to see at the tower. Learn about its dark history, the famous and infamous prisoners held within its thick walls, take a look at Traitors Gate and imagine Anne Bolelyn entering it by boat to her imprisonment and eventual execution within the grounds. At its heart, step into the White Tower and view the contents of the royal armoury, visit the Crown Jewels, discover why the ravens leaving would be considered a disaster, the history of the royal mint, take a look at the replicas of the torture instruments once used there, the graffiti scrawled into the walls by prisoners and no visit is complete without a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining yeomen warder tour, which is the only way to take in a tour of the small chapel on site, housing the remains of queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Thomas More and others who were beheaded at the tower on the orders of Henry VIII.
There is just so much to see and do here that we recommend you start your day early, as it does get very busy, such is its popularity.