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Bamburgh Castle | ©Nick McCann/Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle | ©Nick McCann/Bamburgh Castle
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The Best Castles To Visit In England

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 9 February 2017
England is famous around the world for its castles, from Norman fortress keeps to luxurious palaces, and everything in between. The long and bloody history of this often invaded country is teeming with tales of battles and sieges, with castles erected, conquered, razed, and rebuilt too many times to count. Hundreds of castles still stand around the country, having become beloved attractions, drawing tourists from every corner of the globe. Let’s take a look at some of the oldest, most beautiful, and most important that England has to offer.

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

Dover Castle| ©Jake Keup f/Wikicommons
Dover Castle| ©Jake Keup f/Wikicommons


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.

Windsor, SL4 1NJ, +02 077 667 304

Windsor Castle, photo by Peter Packer| © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016/Royal Collection Trust
Windsor Castle, photo by Peter Packer| © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016/Royal Collection Trust


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.

Castle Street, Bolsover, S44 6PR, +03 703 331 181

Bolsover Castle| ©Adam J/Flickr
Bolsover Castle| ©Adam J/Flickr

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.

Castle Hill, Middleham DL8 4QG, +03 703 331 181

Midleham Castle| ©Ralph Gant/Flickr
Midleham Castle| ©Ralph Gant/Flickr

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.

London EC3N 4AB, +08 444 827 777

Image courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk
Image courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

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.

Warwick, CV34 4QU, +08 712 652 000

Warwick Castle | © Chris Collard/Geograph.com
Warwick Castle | © Chris Collard/Geograph.com

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.

Bamburgh, NE69 7DF, +01 668 214 515

Bamburgh Castle| © Nick McCann/Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle| © Nick McCann/Bamburgh Castle