10 Magical Castles you Need to Visit

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It is estimated that there are roughly 700 castles in the United Kingdom. How does one choose which castles to visit? Each one is different and special in its own way, built for defense, built for a King who always wanted the biggest and the best, one built just to woo a beautiful queen…with enormous grounds and gardens, some surrounded by water, some where you can spend the night, the list goes on and on. In a two-week road trip throughout England and Scotland, you can see quite a few. Here are ten of our favorites that will give you serious princess vibes and take you back in time.

1. Leeds Castle – Kent, England

Photo by Tara Turner

Leeds Castle is called “The Loveliest Castle in the World”, and for good reason. Surrounded by water, with a magnificent traditional gatehouse, it is as picturesque as castles come. Add in the swans and peacocks running around the grounds, the maze, and the amazing gardens, and the grounds make it even more special. In addition to visiting the castle, which was first built in 1119, you can stay overnight and glamp in one of their tents. Build your own fire, cook your dinner and cozy up in your four-poster bed. You’ll feel like a King! Maybe Leeds should be called “The Loveliest Place in the World”.

2. Eilean Donan Castle – Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

Photo by Grace Zhu on Unsplash

Driving through the Scottish Highlands, there are plenty of sights to see, but none quite as striking as this 1930s rebuild where three sea lochs meet. Various structures have existed on the island since the 13th century with the current castle having been completed during the summer of 1932. As aesthetically pleasing as Eilean Donan is (arguably one of the most Instagrammable castle in existence), the inside isn’t all that exciting to be perfectly honest so get your money’s worth by taking in the majestic scenery. 

3. Bodiam Castle – Bodiam, England

Bodiam has the quintessential structure that you remember from any fairytale or childhood story. As you walk around the moat and take it all in, you can almost imagine the princesses waving from the towers. Definitely put this one on your list, but again, don’t get your hopes up if going inside. While the outside remains pretty magical despite being 600 years old, the inside is in ruins. 

4. Walmer Castle – Deal, England

Photo by Tara Turner

Most of these castles were frequented by infamous royalty like Henry VIII, but Walmer Castle was home to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Among those who held this position were the Duke of Wellington and the Queen Mother. You know the boots we all use to stay dry while splashing around in the rain? Well, you can see the original pair here at Walmer. The dazzling gardens pictured above were beloved by the Queen Mother who spent much time here, even well into her later years. In fact, a great travel tip is to stop by their cafe during your visit for a cup of tea and a fresh pastry made with ingredients from the garden. We were fortunate to try the local rhubarb on our trip!

5. Dover Castle – Dover, England

Photo by Tara Turner

History buffs and cinephiles, this one is for you! This medieval castle dating back to the 11th century is called the “Key to England” due to its location and defensive historical significance. Dover came into the limelight recently in the film Dunkirk. It was the headquarters from which Operation Dynamo, the unbelievable rescue of over 330,000 troops was carried out. Not only can you see the castle itself, but you can tour these underground tunnels once paced by Churchill himself. Maybe most impressive of all, the grounds are still home to the oldest building in England, a Roman lighthouse dating all the way back to 46 AD. 

6. Kenilworth Castle – Kenilworth, England

Photo by Tara Turner

At first glance, Kenilworth may appear to be mostly ruined, but its rich and romantic history make it one of the most magical castles on our list. The original castle began as a Norman tower in the 1120s and was surrounded by water defenses which were made by damming local streams. It was held for many generations by various royals but became the pet project of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1563. A childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth I, it was widely believed that Robert was madly in love with the queen and spent his time and money modernizing and building out Kenilworth to woo her. In fact, an entire tower was created for her exclusive use and can be seen up close today. The grounds are charming, especially the gardens, and the staff are more than happy to recount the entire enchanted tale of Robert and Elizabeth.

7. Castle Howard – York, England

Photo by Tara Turner

First thing’s first. Technically speaking, Castle Howard isn’t a castle at all, but rather a private estate. That being said, with multiple fountains, a temple, mausoleum, pyramid, and obelisk, it is certainly as impressive and opulent as any castle we’ve ever seen. The inside, with each room decorated immaculately with marble, gold and priceless pieces of art is jaw-dropping as well.

8. Doune Castle – Doune, Scotland

Photo by Tara Turner

If this castle looks familiar, it’s for good reason. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones AND Outlander were all filmed here! Head to Scotland and you can explore Winterfell for yourself. Take the audio tour and hear from Terry Jones all about the past and present of this impressive medieval fortress. As a popular film location, they often have an exhibit highlighting a recent piece. In 2017 they gave visitors the opportunity to play dress up as their favorite Outlander character.

9. Tower of London – London, England

Photo by Tara Turner

Perhaps the darkest stronghold on this list, the Tower of London has both a horrifying and fascinating history. The royals filled parts of the castle with exotic animals like lions, alligators, and monkeys. There was even a polar which was chained in the River Thames! It is also where the infamous Anne Boleyn was imprisoned and executed. It’s very surreal that over the last 900 years the city of London has gradually been built up around this historic site.

10. Hampton Court Palace – East Molesey, England

Photo by Tara Turner

Less than 12 miles from the center of London, Hampton Court Palace is nothing short of magnificent. It was given to King Henry VIII in 1528 and almost immediately he set out to expand and renovate it to fit his court of 1000 persons. This project did make it enormous, so make sure you leave enough time to explore the kitchens, living quarters and exquisite gardens. Unlike other castles in the country, Hampton Court Palace can be easily reached from London by train or bus. 

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