Dover Castle, Kent
Almost as famous as the white cliffs it sits atop, Dover Castle is known as the ‘key to England’, and has been at the heart of national defence for almost 1,000 years. It’s the largest castle in the country, and equalled in its long-standing defensive role by only Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. It has been permanently garrisoned since William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings until 1958, resisting sieges and providing a key lookout across the English Channel. During the Second World War, the subterranean tunnels beneath the castle were converted into air raid shelters, a hospital, and a military command centre, from which the evacuation of Dunkirk was directed. Today, English Heritage own the castle, the tunnels, and the surrounding land, which are open to the public.
Castle Hill Road, Dover CT16 1HU, +01 304 211 067
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
The oldest and largest inhabited castle anywhere in the world, Windsor Castle is one of the official residences of the Queen, the latest in an almost 1,000-year-long line of monarchs who have called it home. Windsor is still the site of state visits from overseas heads of states, with the Queen spending a significant amount of her weekends here, as well as a month at Easter. The original castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century for strategic defence of the Norman powerhouse in London, with Henry III turning it into a luxurious home.
Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
Today, romantic Bolsover Castle is more of a stately Stuart house than castle (though its design mimics the embattled appearance of a fortress), with the Cavendish family having built a luxurious mansion in the early 17th century. A castle was first built on the site, however, in the 12th century by the Peverel family. The tower visible today is known as the ‘Little Castle’, and was completed around 1621. It was donated to the nation in 1945, and is owned and run by English Heritage. Sitting atop a hilltop in scenic Derbyshire, Bolsover Castle offers stunning views across the countryside.
Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire
The massive structure that is Middleham might be mostly ruins, but with most of its walls still intact (the roof is long gone) it’s not too difficult to get a sense of this once grand castle, formerly known as the ‘Windsor of the North’. In the 15th century, the palatial castle (at least compared with much of its contemporaries) was home to some of the nation’s most prominent lords, and was the childhood home of Richard III — an unpopular King cast in an infinite state of villainy by the hand of William Shakespeare. The scale of Middleham alone makes it a fascinating place to explore.
Tower of London
London’s famous castle was founded towards the end of the Norman conquest in 1066, and was to become one of the most important castles in English history, synonymous with its monarchy, as controlling the castle has always been deemed necessary to control the country. However, despite its role as a grand palace and official royal residence, over time the castle has come to be primarily associated with its function as a prison — hence the phrase, ‘sent to the Tower’. Prisoners were held here from 1100 until 1952, when notorious gangsters the Kray twins were incarcerated within its walls, while the last execution to be held here was of a German spy in 1941. There are many parts to the castle, having been modified, rebuilt, and expanded by a succession of rulers. Today the Crown Jewels are housed here, and are on show to the public, along with the tower, which has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
Another of the seeds planted by William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle was originally built as a wooden motte and bailey in 1068, before being replaced by stone around 200 years later. Warwick castle was recently named as one of the nation’s most-loved castles, as it has become a major tourist destination filled with attractions, courtesy of the Tussauds Group. Visitors are even able to stay overnight within the Medieval walls. The castle itself is truly magnificent and remarkably well preserved, and sits beside the River Avon in the heart of the city of Warwick.
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Sitting on a volcanic outcrop and natural throne on the Northumberland coast, Bamburgh Castle brings some seriously dramatic aesthetics. The site was once home to the kings of ancient Northumbria long before the Normans built a castle, with settlements having stood here since prehistoric times — making it an important archaeological site, as reflected by ongoing digs. Thanks to its close proximity to the Scottish border, Bamburgh castle has been an important English outpost throughout history, and the target of Scottish raids. Its magnificent appearance makes Bamburgh a popular location for filming.