From imposing strongholds to fairy-tale fortresses, the United Kingdom is home to hundreds of historic castles. Perhaps you’re heading to the Scottish Highlands this August Holiday, or the whitewashed coasts of Wales? Wherever you plan to visit, there are a whole host of charming castles waiting to be explored.
Here’s our pick of the best.
St Michael’s Mount, England
Some three miles east of Penzance is St Michael’s Mount: a small tidal island in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall.
Dating back to the twelfth century, this enchanting island is a medley of ancient lookouts and historic buildings. Amble across the sleepy harbour and make your way up to the castle entrance. Wander century-old corridors, explore labyrinthine rooms and unravel the history of the St Aubyn family. Scramble to the top of the castle and take in views across Cornwall’s spectacular coastline. Look to the east and you will see the soft sands of the Lizard Peninsula; to the west sits the Neolithic sites of the Penwith Peninsula.
Beyond the castle walls you will find wild gardens and colourful plants. There is also a quaint village that is home to a small community of islanders.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Sat atop a picturesque island at the point where three sea lochs meet – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Long Alsh – Eilean Donan is arguably Scotland’s most photographed castle. Nestled effortlessly into the sleepy village of Dornie, this magical castle dates back to the 13th century. Once the stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies, the fortress played a significant role in the Jacobite risings.
But it’s not just Eilean Donan’s history which attracts visitors; this awe-inspiring setting has been used as the backdrop for countless blockbusters including The World is Not Enough and The Wicker Man. Visitors can explore the Billeting Room and see artefacts from the Macrae family, as well as cannonballs fired during the Royal bombardment of 1719.
Travel a short distance away from the castle and you will find the Brochs of Glenelg, the Lochalsh Woodland Garden at Balmacara, and the Falls of Glomach: one of the highest waterfalls in Britain.
Fancy exploring the Scottish Highlands in style? Take a look at our seven-day Scottish highlands road trip and make the most of this beautiful country. If you’re not heading that far north, why not explore all the other castles Scotland has to offer.
Conwy Castle, Wales
Cling to Caernarfonshire’s coastline and you will soon find the dark stone fortress of Conwy Castle. Gritty and robust, this gigantic grey sandstone castle is backed by Snowdonia’s dramatic peaks. The castle was constructed by Edward I in 1283 as one of the key ‘Iron Ring’ outposts, and was utilised by both Richard II and Henry VIII.
For sensational views across Conwy’s diverse landscape, climb up to the castle’s battlements. Here you can expect panoramic views across the River Conwy and Snowdonia – so it’s certainly worth taking a camera with you! Look down and you will see the shell of the Great Hall: a series of low, broad arches and the remains of decorated supports. From the soaring castle walls to the eight round towers, Conwy Castle is the very definition of grandiose.
Blackrock Castle, Ireland
If you plan on visiting Ireland over the August Bank Holiday, head to Blackrock Castle. This 16th-century fortification is a short drive from Cork city and commands stunning views across the River Lee. The castle was built in 1582, after the citizens of Cork appealed to Queen Elizabeth I to build a fort as defence against potential invaders. The watch tower – which still stands today – was used as a sentinel to safely guide shipping to and from the port.
While the castle’s exterior is built in Gothic Revival style, its interior has been converted. Inside the castle walls, visitors will find an interactive astronomy exhibition and an award-winning planetarium: both of which are perfect for young explorers. Send an encrypted message using the Pan Galactic Station, or take a tour of the castle dungeons. There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained.
Castle Ward, Northern Ireland
Head to Castle Ward and amble through a 820-acre walled demesne which dates back to the 18th century. Built in Gothic and Classical styles, this inimitable castle leads onto vast woodland, verdant parkland and landscaped gardens, offering spectacular views over Strangford Lough.
So beautiful are these historic grounds that the site was used as a shooting location in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Guests are offered the chance to visit the filming locations for Winterfell, the Whispering Wood and Robb Stark’s Camp. A replica of Winterfell’s Archery Range has been recreated in Castle Ward’s courtyard, where the scene for the pilot episode was filmed. Tour the movie set, dress up in costume and shoot medieval arrows from where ‘Jon Snow’, ‘Rob Stark’, and ‘Bran’ once stood.
Half an hour’s walk away, you will find another building featured in Game of Thrones: Audley’s Castle. This three-storey tower house featured in the first season of the TV series as the filming location for the arrival of ‘King Robert Baratheon’ and his retinue at Winterfell.
There is plenty for children, too. Young explorers can visit horses and pigs in the farmyard, scramble up and down on pedal tractors, and climb outdoor equipment at the adventure play area.