Great British castles you need to explore
Tuesday, 14 December 2021
Towering feats of exquisite architecture, replete with history and intrigue, the British Isles is home to a variety of brilliant castles waiting to be explored. Whether you choose to wander amongst the carefully sculptured Tudor gardens on one of our cruise holidays in 2023, lurk about in the dungeons deep below or admire the grandeur and luxury of the plush furnishings inside, you’ll undoubtedly finish your day with a wealth of knowledge and a thirst to discover more about the fascinating past of the British Isles.
As both the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, it’s only right that any article about British castles starts with Windsor. A royal residence dating back to the late 11th-century, Windsor Castle is as large a part of the British Monarchy today as it was those hundreds of years ago. Originally built by William the Conqueror as a part of a defence ring around London, the Castle has been home to 20 kings and queens over the years and many royal figures have been laid to rest there.
If you choose to visit Windsor, it’s not just the Castle you can enjoy but the royal estate surrounding it, including St George’s Chapel (wedding location for Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles and more recently Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle), Home Park and Frogmore Estate.
Another of the most notable castles in Britain is Edinburgh Castle. Stood overlooking the Scottish capital from Castle Rock, there has been a castle here since the 12th century which was a royal residence until 1633. Castle Rock is actually a volcano, so not only can you say you’ve visited a castle if you come here but a volcano too. It’s also thought to be haunted by the Lone Piper, so best not to visit after dark!
Today, the castle is a popular tourist attraction with historic exhibitions and Scottish regalia including the Stone of Destiny and the Honours of Scotland. The Stone of Destiny is an ancient part of Scottish history and was used for centuries to inaugurate kings. The Honours of Scotland are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain, first worn in 1540 by Queen Mary of Guise.
If you’re looking for a stunning backdrop, look no further than Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Built from the 12-18th century, the castle has undergone many changes throughout the years, however, it has retained its original charm, making this a must-visit destination in a stunning part of Britain.
The seat of the MacLeod of MacLeod (the chief of Clan MacLeod), you can feel the history here when you visit. It’s not just the castle that offers an amazing experience, with seal trips and the Cuillin Mountains on offer here as well.
Situated in Cork in Ireland, Blarney Castle is a fantastic fortification with centuries of history waiting to be explored. The castle itself isn’t the most popular attraction here though, it’s actually the Blarney Stone which is built into its battlements. According to legend, those who kiss the stone are given ‘the gift of the gab’ meaning great eloquence and flattery. But if you do visit, remember you have to kiss it upside-down for the legend to come true.
When it comes to the castle, the original structure was built in 1210 and replaced in 1446 by the building that is now standing. There are extensive gardens surrounding the castle, including a poison garden, with a range of poisonous plants including wolfsbane, mandrake and ricin.
Another in the long list of British royal castles, Balmoral in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland is often cited as the favourite residence of the Queen. Despite its significance to today’s monarchy, it could almost be considered a new build compared to the other castles on this list, as the castle we know today was only started in 1853. It was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who started construction on the new castle to hold their growing family. In fact, Prince Albert himself had a hand in the design process.
Today, the Queen takes her summer vacations here and we can see why, with the amazing surrounding grounds including salmon fishing, hunting opportunities and a golf course. When it comes to depictions of royal life, Balmoral also features heavily and was one of the main settings of the most recent series of Netflix’s The Crown.
Although you may be expecting a Yorkshire gem, Leeds Castle is actually located in Kent and named after the local village of Leeds. A military post used to hold off Norman intruders crossing the Channel, a castle has been present on this site since 1119, although the present castle was mainly constructed during the 19th century. One of its most famous residents was Henry VIII, who used the castle as a dwelling for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
One of the most notable features of this castle is its extensive moat; crossed by a stone bridge it really does feel like something from a fairy-tale. However, it’s not a fairy-tale history for this castle as it was used as a prison during the English Civil War.
A firm part of British history and now a popular tourist attraction, it’s Warwick we look at next. Warwick Castle was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror originally in wood and rebuilt in stone during the 12th century. However, before that, this location was built on by the Anglo-Saxons in roughly 914 A.D. At the same time, Warwick School for boys was founded – what is thought to be the oldest boys’ school in the country.
Today, Warwick Castle is a popular tourist attraction and offers a great day out for those who want to explore its towering walls. Great for those who are looking for a multigenerational experience, Warwick Castle promises to ‘bring history to life’ for all of those who visit.
The list of British castles is extensive, and here we have only talked about a small selection of the incredible battlements to be found in Britain. For those who want to learn more about the British Isles, we offer our British Isles Discovery cruises where you can visit some of the castles mentioned in this article.
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