The most impressive castles in England

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.11.2022

Historic attractions abound in our green and pleasant land. There are ornate stately homes, gothic cathedrals and chocolate-box villages at every turn, but among the most impressive examples of heritage are the slew of majestic castles in England.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to England, your essential guide for visiting England.

1. For Harry Potter fans: Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, is undoubtedly one of the finest medieval castles in England. It’s owned by the Percys, the Dukes of Northumberland, who have presided over the estate since 1309. More recently, however, the castle found fame as Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter movies.

Take a scenic, coastal tour into the Kingdom of Northumbria and explore the medieval market town of Alnwick's stunning castle and gardens.

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Alnwick Castle was used in Harry Potter movies © Gail Johnson/Shutterstock

2. One of the best castles in England — Bamburgh Castle

Another Northumbrian gem, Bamburgh Castle, can be found in the little village of the same name. It’s most formidable when seen from the beach, where acres of sky, sea and dunes lead up to the castle’s dramatic setting atop a rocky basalt crag. This impressive medieval castle first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, but was heavily reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

Discover the Ancient warrior kings of Northumberland, visit Bamburgh Castle, and explore Ad Gefrin, England’s first whiskey distillery on this private guided tour.

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Bamburgh Castle as seen from the beach © Dave Head/Shutterstock

3. Leeds Castle — a true fairy tale palace

Its reflection shimmering in a lake, the enormous Leeds Castle, Kent, resembles a fairy-tale palace. First built around 1119 AD, it has had a chequered history and is now run as a commercial concern, with a range of paying attractions on the castle grounds including hot-air ballooning, Segway tours and jousting. The name is misleading: you’ll find it in the High Weald of Kent.

Enjoy a full day discovering the treasures of Kent, including visits to romantic Leeds Castle, historic Canterbury Cathedral and the dramatic White Cliffs of Dover.

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A misty Leeds Castle - majestic castle in England you should visit © JuliaST/Shutterstock

4. The deeply historical Dover Castle

No historical stone goes unturned at Dover Castle, an astonishingly imposing defensive complex that has protected the English coast for more than two thousand years. In 1068 William the Conqueror built over the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort here; a century later, Henry II constructed the handsome Great Tower. The castle grounds also include a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church and a network of secret wartime tunnels.

Join a day trip from London to Kent and take a tour of Dover Castle, the country's largest castle.

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Dover Castle overlooking the English Channel © IVAN VIEITO GARCIA/Shutterstock

5. For a picturesque English Castle — Bodiam Castle

One of the country’s most picturesque castles, Bodiam castle is a classically stout square block with rounded corner turrets, battlements and a wide moat. When it was built in 1385, it was state-of-the-art military architecture, but fell into neglect until restoration in the last century. The extremely steep spiral staircases will test all but the strongest of thighs.

Travelling around England, check out our list of the best things to do in England.

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Bodiam Castle, UK

Bodiam Castle in East Sussex © Jaroslav Sekeres/Shutterstock

6. Windsor Castle — the oldest castle in England

The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, towering above the town of Windsor in the Berkshire countryside just outside London, Windsor Castle is still important as a ceremonial residence of the Queen. The castle itself is an imposing sight, while inside you can explore the State Apartments and artwork from the Royal Collection.

Discover the royal castle of Windsor, the mysterious standing stone circle of Stonehenge, and the historic university city of Oxford on a full-day tour from London.

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Windsor Castle, UK

The imposing Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's residences © sloukam/Shutterstock

7. The commanding Warkworth Castle

Ruined but well preserved, Warkworth Castle has Norman origins, although the main building was constructed using sandstone during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Take in the view from the north of the hamlet of Warkworth, from where the grey stone terraces of the long main street slope up towards the commanding remains of the Castle.


Warkworth Castle has commanding views © Craig Duncanson/Shutterstock

8. Hever Castle — the home of Anne Boleyn

The moated Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and where Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, lived after their divorce. Bought by American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903, it has been assiduously restored in mock Tudor style yet it retains an intimate feel. Outside you can explore Waldorf Astor’s beautiful Italian Garden including a splashy water maze.

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Hever Castle – once home to Anne Boleyn © Lilly Trott/Shutterstock

9. Tintagel Castle — the birthplace of King Arthur

Myth and legend surround the desolate ruins of Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Sited on an islet along a wild and rugged stretch of Cornwall’s coast, the remains of the buildings have nearly all but decayed since it was deserted in the seventeenth century.

Explore Tintagel with our tailor-made 12-day hiking tour to Northern Cornwall.

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Tintagel Castle © Valery Egorov/Shutterstock

The view at Tintagel - ruins of the magical castle in England © Valery Egorov/Shutterstock

10. Warwick Castle — a Norman castle in England

This whopping castle standing over the River Avon is well worth visiting. Historians think the first fortress was constructed here by the Saxons, but the most significant expansions were made by the Normans and later in the nineteenth century. Save time to explore the extensive grounds, too.

Explore Shakespeare’s birthplace and enjoy some time to explore Stratford-Upon-Avon. Have an extended visit of Warwick Castle and be part of a British medieval experience.

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Warwick Castle, overlooking the River Avon © David Steele/Shutterstock

11. Lancaster Castle — historical site turned modern-day prison

From the dungeons to the ornate courtrooms, Lancaster Castle is a historical tour-de-force. Defences have been sited high above the river here since Roman times, and the building served as a working prison right up until 2011. Engaging guided tours bring the castle’s history to life.

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Lancaster Castle — one of the best castles in England © Steve Allen/Shutterstock

12. Carlisle Castle, Cumbria's mightiest castle

Cumbria’s mightiest castle dominates the county capital Carlisle, were it has stood for over nine hundred years. Among its claims to fame is that it was where Elizabeth I held Mary Queen of Scots captive in 1568. Climb the battlements for great views over the town.

If you are planning to visit Cumbria in winter read our guide about best winter walking in the Lake District.

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Carlisle Castle - medieval castle in Lake District © stocksolutions/Shutterstock

13. The forbidding Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire

Intact and forbidding, Lincoln Castle’s walls incorporate bits and pieces from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, with a wall walkway offering great views over town. Recently the former debtors’ prison has been revamped to exhibit several rare documents, most notably one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta.

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Lincoln Castle - where you can see a rare copy of the Magna Carta © Peter R Foster IDMA/Shutterstock

14. Highclere Castle of "Downton Abbey"

Tucked away in the northern reaches of Hampshire, 20 miles north of Winchester, Highclere Castle will be very familiar to fans of hit period drama, Downton Abbey, which is filmed here. Home to Lord Carnarvon and his family, the house is approached via a long drive that winds through a stunning 5,000-acre estate, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by Capability Brown.

Explore Downton village and Downton Abbey and relive aristocratic life of a century ago.

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Highclere Castle – otherwise known as Downtown Abbey © Alice-D/Shutterstock

15. Corfe Castle for a beautiful hill top castle

The romantic castle ruins crowning the hill behind the village of Corfe Castle are perhaps the most evocative in England. The family seat of Sir John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I, this Royalist stronghold withstood a Cromwellian siege for six weeks, gallantly defended by Lady Bankes.

One of her own men, Colonel Pitman, eventually betrayed the castle to the Roundheads, after which it was reduced to its present gap-toothed state by gunpowder. Apparently the victorious Roundheads were so impressed by Lady Bankes’ courage that they allowed her to take the keys to the castle with her.

Dorset is one of the most picturesque places in England. Find more beautiful English landscapes in our guide to the most beautiful places in England.

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Corfe Castle – site of a dramatic battle in the English Civil War © Kevin Standage/Shutterstock

16. Arundel Castle: home of the Barons Hall

Despite its medieval appearance, much of what you see of Arundel Castle is comparatively new, the result of a series of lavish reconstructions from 1718 onwards, after the original Norman structure was badly damaged during the Civil War.

Inside the main castle, highlights include the impressive Barons Hall and the library, which has paintings by Gainsborough, Holbein and Van Dyck. On the edge of the castle grounds, the fourteenth-century Fitzalan Chapel houses tombs of past dukes of Norfolk. Nearby, the Collector Earl’s Garden is a playfully theatrical take on a Jacobean garden, with exotic planting, and pavilions, obelisks and urns made from green oak rather than stone.

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Arundel Castle in Arundel City, West Sussex, England © AdobeStock

Arundel Castle in Arundel City, West Sussex, England © AdobeStock

17. Framlingham Castle — one of the best castles in England

The crenellations of Framlingham Castle cut a classic shape at the top of Church Street. The castle dates from the twelfth century, and was built by the Bigod dynasty later becoming the seat of the dukes of Norfolk. It’s little more than a shell inside, but the stone curtain wall, with its thirteen towers, has survived almost intact, a splendid example of medieval military architecture, many of them topped by elegant Tudor brick chimney stacks.

You can get good views of the castle from the outside by following the footpaths that lead around the moat and down to and around the lake or “mere” below, where you can see across the valley to Framlingham College.

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Medieval Castle of Framlingham, England © AdobeStock

Medieval Castle of Framlingham, England © AdobeStock

18. The home of royalty — Highcliffe Castle

Highcliffe Castle was built in 1831-1836 and is the epitome of Lord Stuart de Rothesay's imagination. In the years since it was built, kings and queens, princes and princesses have stayed here.

In the early 1950s it was briefly an orphanage, after which the building was used as a seminary to train students for the priesthood. Just before the students left, tragedy struck: a fire engulfed the Great Hall. An even more devastating fire broke out the following year. For two decades the castle stood in ruins, exposed to the weather and vandals.

Today the castle has been restored thanks to government funding and is open to the public. It now hosts weddings, fairs, exhibitions and plays throughout the year. The Highcliffe Castle is a treasure in the heart of the community and a popular tourist attraction.

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Highcliffe castle in Dorset © Shutterstock

Highcliffe castle in Dorset © Shutterstock

For more travel inspiration check out our guide about the best road trips in the UK.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to England without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

Ready for a trip to England? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to England or The Rough Guide to Great Britain. If you travel further in England, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in England. For inspiration use the England itineraries from The Rough Guide to England and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

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Top image © D K Grove/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.11.2022

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