Top 10 Castles in England and Wales

It’s fair to say that we do ‘old’ rather well in the UK. From towering cathedrals to prehistoric time pieces, the country is littered with monuments to a bygone era. Our eventful and rather violent history is also showcased by an impressive array of castles.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of some incredible keeps in no particular order, that should be part of any short break holiday itinerary. This is a subject that we’re rather fond of here at Cottages to Rent. So be sure to check our blog for updates. Also check out our post on staying at a castle in the UK. Anyway, let’s begin!

Dover Castle

Occupying a commanding position on Dover’s white cliffs, this medieval masterpiece has guarded our shores for hundreds of years. It was founded in the 11th century and is one of the UK’s most well-preserved castles. Its centrepiece is the Great Tower which was built by Henry II. Other standout features include a Roman lighthouse, an Anglo-Saxon church and an elaborate network of tunnels that were laid out during WW2. The castle’s imposing ramparts are thought to have originated from an Iron Age hill fort.

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle is another 11th century gem that was developed over the course of a few centuries. What began as a fairly basic fortress built around a Norman tower, eventually became a formidable fortification thanks largely to King John who enlarged and strengthened the original building. Water defences were created by damming local streams and a buttressed outer bailey added.

The Duke of Lancaster later converted the castle into a palace-fortress. A collection of Tudor buildings were then built by the Earl of Leicester in the 16th century. The castle was the subject of a six-month siege during the English Civil War – probably why it was later slighted by Parliamentary forces. Despite lying in ruins, the ingenuity that went into its construction is still very much in evidence.

Caernarfon Castle, Wales

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is thought to be one of the finest medieval fortresses in the world. Set on the banks of the River Seiont in North-West Wales, this magnificent building evolved from an 11th century motte-and-bailey castle.

The stone structure was built at the behest of Edward I along with the walls that still enclose the town. Of Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring of Castles’, Caernarfon’s is the most impressive.

Together with those at Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech, it forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, nothing remains of the interior buildings but the curtain walls remain largely intact, incorporating twelve imposing polygonal towers and two mighty gatehouses. The Eagle Tower, with its three turrets and 18-feet thick walls, is a particular highlight.

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle is better known for revelry and merriment than conflict and siege. This isn’t to say that it hasn’t been through the wars though. It was built in the 17th century on a site previously occupied by a keep constructed by William Peveril – one of William the Conqueror’s knights. The original castle had fallen into disrepair by the time Sir Charles Cavendish acquired it in 1614. But together with famed architect Robert Smythson, Sir Charles set about creating a residence fit for nobility.

Although slighted like Kenilworth Castle following the English Civil War, work eventually resumed and was completed by 1676. Today, Bolsover Castle is Grade I-listed and boasts a series of exquisitely-decorated state rooms, an ornate fountain garden and a mock Norman keep known as the Little Castle.

Bodiam Castle

As with many of the best castles in Sussex, the 14th Century Bodiam Castle was built to defend against French invasion during the Hundred Years War. It comprises a quadrangular lay out with each corner marked by a drum tower and is surrounded on all sides by a moat. Although much of the interior lies in ruin, the square battlements remain untouched for the most part. Considered by many to be the perfect English castle, this majestic well preserved Grade I fortress is a Scheduled Monument.

Tintagel Castle

Said to be birthplace of King Arthur, Tintagel Castle is Cornwall’s most famous keep. Its precipitous location on the headland of the Tintagel Island peninsula is a sight to behold, even if little is left of the original 13th century fortress.

A recently-built footbridge that replaced an earlier 15th/16th century bridge, leads to the skeletal remains of the castle which comprises the upper and lower wards, the great hall and a medieval walled garden. A treasure-trove of artefacts has also been unearthed at the site over the years including Carthaginian dishes and a 1500 year old slate complete with Latin inscriptions.

Conwy Castle, Wales

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle was constructed by Edward I and is another astonishing fortress from medieval times.

Like Edward’s other formidable keeps at Beaumaris, Harlech and Caernarfon, Conwy is well preserved, comprising high curtain walls as well as eight dramatic towers.

Incredibly, the castle was built in just four years from 1283 to 1287. Unlike some of the others mentioned here, much of the interior remains unspoilt including the most complete set of royal apartments in Wales. A few of the spiral staircases have been restored thus allowing visitors to walk a complete circuit around the impressive battlements.

Goodrich Castle

Set on the River Wye, Goodrich Castle is strategically positioned between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye. The ‘noblest ruin in Herefordshire’, as William Wordsworth described it, sits on a high outcrop and affords some superb views of the picturesque surroundings.

Of its three remaining towers, the enormous south east tower is the most impressive. The quadrangular configuration actually encloses an earlier square keep that still features the original Norman windows and buttresses. On the south and east sides is a large dry moat and an asymmetrical gatehouse that’s reached by an exposed causeway.

Windsor Castle

Is there a more famous palace-fortress in the United Kingdom? Windsor Castle is of course a royal residence and is the largest inhabited castle in the world. The original motte-and-bailey building was constructed in the 11th century soon after the Norman invasion of England. Henry III built a royal palace on the site some two hundred years later that was later extended by Edward III.

After the English Civil War, where it was used as a military headquarters for the Parliamentarians, Windsor Castle was extensively rebuilt by Charles II with the aid of architect Hugh May.

The interior boasts an expansive collection of grand state rooms and apartments that showcase a variety of lavish Baroque, Rococo and Gothic styles. The actual castle occupies 13 acres and is essentially a Georgian and Victorian structure with neo-Gothic features, that’s heavily based on a medieval construction.

Warwick Castle, England

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle has a very, very long history – so long in fact that the actual site dates back to William the Conqueror. The original wooden fort, built in 1068, was redeveloped a few hundred years later to become a fully-fledged motte-and-bailey castle.

Further upgrades were made during the late to mid 14th century including the addition of two towers, a barbican and a gatehouse. The towers still dominate the fortress and are vaulted in stone on every storey.

The gatehouse also features murder holes, two drawbridges and a portcullis. Behind the immense walls are a collection of lavish state rooms as well as the medieval Great Hall – the largest and most impressive space in the castle, complete with authentic 19th century armour and weaponry.

The world’s largest fully-functional trebuchet is also to be found on the riverbank below the castle. Made from oak, it stands at almost 60 feet and was built using drawings from the Danish Living History Museum. Quite understandably, this incredible castle is a Grade I listed building.

Evolution of the Castle

Castles Infographic

Dale Shelabarger

Dale is the owner and founder of Cottages to Rent which he launched back in 2005. As well as promoting holiday cottages, Dale blogs regularly about top UK holiday destinations, visitor attractions and places of historical interest.