Where to find the best castles in the UK
Whether they’re fairytale castles, blocky Norman fortresses, or crumbling ruins, castles are guaranteed to spark kids’ imaginations, and get them learning history too, if you’re lucky!
We are huge castle fans here (as regular readers will know!). There is a fantastic selection of castles in the UK, and while we’ve been to quite a few, there are hundreds that we haven’t made it to yet.
So I asked some top travel bloggers to recommend their favourite UK castles. They’ve come up with a diverse selection; there are some smaller, lesser known castles which are perfect for exploring with small kids, as well as the usual heavyweights.
Some castles are complete and still lived in while others are craggy ruins, which leave their history to your imagination.
One thing which the UK excels at is making its castles and other historical attractions family friendly. At many of these castles you can find a whole programme of events for kids including jousting tournaments, medieval re-enactment, treasure trails and more.
Kids are bound to love them; the only question is which will you visit first?
The best castles in England
Amberley Castle, West Sussex
Kathryn from Boutique Travel Blog
Motoring up the sweeping drive edged by immaculate lawns, over the stone bridge and under the raised portcullis, as white doves peep out from nocks in the castle walls — arriving at Amberley Castle is nothing if not impressive. Despite much of the original castle now in ruins the splendid entrance with original working portcullis and much of the outer walls still remains.
Originally built as a hunting lodge in 1103 by the Bishop of Chichester, over the next 400 years it was transformed into a fortified manor house with crenelations, battlements and towers added on. In 1643 it was ransacked by Oliver Cromwell when most of the damage we see today occurred. Some years later the manor house was built inside the castle walls.
Amberley was converted to a luxurious hotel in 1989 and I was lucky enough to get married here last year. Non-residents can visit for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. The food is superb and, when I visited with a friend who has Celiac Disease, we couldn’t have been more impressed with the splendid gluten-free afternoon tea they served.
Young and old alike will enjoy a wander around the beautiful garden. Look out for the ‘his and hers’ twin toilets in the old castle walls and the Oubliette (which translates as the forgotten place), a seemingly bottomless pit where political prisoners and the like were forgotten.
Arundel Castle, West Sussex
Arundel Castle is definitely one of the best castles in England, and it’s a fantastic castle for kids to explore. With 1000 years of history, it’s got a bit of everything; you can walk along Norman battlements and see the keep of the original building, learn how people fought in the castle during the Civil War, and the newer part of the castle is a fine stately home.
Arundel Castle has belonged to the same family, the Howards, for nearly all of its history. As Dukes of Norfolk, the Howards have played prominent roles in British history (Anne Boleyn was a Howard on her mother’s side, and her cousin Katherine was Henry VIII’s ill-fated fifth wife). I imagine that many a plot has been hatched within its walls!
I’d recommend visiting Arundel Castle in spring to see the annual tulip display but even if you miss this the gardens are worth the admission price alone. These gardens are full of dainty water features which, combined with fabulous carved wooden buildings and spectacular planting, make them some of the best gardens in England.
Arundel makes an easy day trip from London as trains run direct to Arundel from London Victoria station.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Suzanne Jones from Sussex Bloggers
Bodiam Castle nestles within gorgeous rural countryside near Robertsbridge, East Sussex. It’s one of the most beautiful, and most photographed, medievel English castles. Four castellated towers punctuated with arrow slits guard each corner and the castle sits within a large moat protected by a hefty drawbridge.
The castle was built between 1285 and 1388 by Sir Edward Dallingridge who descended from a family of local land owners. The castle had kitchens, cloisters, chapel, gun-room and servants quarters. But Dallingridge had enemies and anyone trying to get into the castle had to overcome a series of defences. After dodging flaming arrows fired from the castle’s towers attackers had to cross the moat, navigate a beefy drawbridge and, if they got to the portcullis, they’d be met by an ambush of boiling oil and water tipped from the gatehouse. Welcome to Bodiam.
Today there’s not much left inside the walls but you can climb the towers which lead up to the battlements for views of the courtyard below and the stunning Sussex countryside. The National Trust run kid’s activities during school holidays which include archery lessons, falconry walks and the chance to learn about medieval warfare. Young knights and knightesses can join Sir Edward’s army at the castle’s boot camp training sessions or learn about medieval crafts in the tented village. Ten minutes-walk away is Bodiam station where seasonal steam train journeys are run by Kent and East Sussex Railway.
Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
Suzy from Our Bucket List Lives
We love Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. It is run by English Heritage and it’s a really good castle to visit as there’s actually two castles!
There’s a 12th Century ruined medieval castle which is really fun to explore. The views from here are stunning. Then there’s an intact 17th Century castle that was built by the Cavendish family. This has lots of floors with many rooms that you can look in. Some of them still retain their original grandeur today. The grounds of this castle have one of the most stunning and intriguing water fountains that I’ve ever seen.
You can also walk the walls that surround this castle.For children there is a castle themed adventure playground which is located next to their onsite cafe. The castle plays host to many family friendly events throughout the year. You can watch a Cavendish horse display, take part in a castle attack, watch live outdoor theatre and many other fun themed events.
Bolton Castle, Yorkshire
Sarah and Justin from Travel Breathe Repeat
Bolton Castle is a must-see for any castle lover visiting the Yorkshire Dales. It’s a striking, very well-preserved medieval castle located in the heart of Wensleydale.
The castle is set on a beautiful estate with gardens, a falconry area, and a bee hive. We opted to buy a ticket to tour everything, although you can just buy a ticket for the gardens if preferred. The castle is pretty large, with rooms on several floors where you learn the history of the castle and the lord of the castle, Sir Richard le Scrope, Lord Chancellor of England to Richard II. The highlight was climbing to the top of the castle where you can look out over the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Bolton Castle is fun for adults and kids alike, and there are many activities for the latter including costumes, archery, and falconry displays. If you’re planning a trip to the Yorkshire Dales, we highly recommend putting Bolton Castle on your itinerary.
Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
Kelly from A Pair of Passports
Located on Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke Castle is the perfect castle to explore, whether you’re a couple on a romantic getaway or a family looking to get out for a day of fun. Carisbrooke Castle is a stunning display of well-maintained ruins, allowing visitors to learn more about royal life and explore the castle that remains. The castle was built in the 12th century and remained an active castle until 1944, when Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Beatrice, was living there as Governor of the Isle of Wight.
Our favorite thing to do while visiting Carisbrooke Castle is to walk the castle walls and admire the stunning views over Isle of Wight. If you have kids in tow, consider a visit to meet the donkeys that work the well (their daily exercise is extremely limited, don’t worry!), or head to the gatehouse to dress up as Norman soldiers.
Carisbrooke Castle is a fun day out for adults and children alike, and one of the best attractions on Isle of Wight. If you’re trying to make your way around as many UK castle as possible, you seriously can’t miss out on Carisbrooke!
Castle Rising, Norfolk
Fiona from London-Unattached
Castle Rising, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk, England is the castle of my childhood. I remember rolling down the grassy dry moat (something that is strictly prohibited today) and exploring the rooms inside the castle. You can still walk all round the earthworks of the dry moat though.
There’s a part of the castle which isn’t open to the public and my imagination ran riot as a kid – in my mind it was inhabited by evil, ancient crones who had been locked in there for safe keeping. Built around 1139 by William d’Albini for his new wife, the widow of Henry I, in the 14th century it became the home of Queen Isabella, the widow and alleged murderess of Edward II who lived there in what was at the time the height of luxury.
Although English Heritage are involved in the site, it is still a ‘family’ castle, owned and managed by Lord Howard of Rising. And, for me there’s a romance in that family history. It’s a place for kids to explore and stretch their imagination. There are regular medieval re-enactments at the castle but, there’s enough left of the great hall and Queen Isabella’s apartments to pique the interest of all the family.
Colchester Castle, Essex
Kylie at Between England and Iowa
Colchester is the the oldest recorded town in the UK, dating back to the Roman era! It is also home to Colchester Castle. Taking a tour of the underground vaults (and the roof!) of the castle is well worth the extra money, as the vaults date back more than 2000 years!
The main part castle is actually a lot newer (around 300 years old) and looks a lot different to how the original castle would have looked. The inside is now a museum, with artefacts discovered in the surrounding area and displays on what life would have been like in Britain through the years.
Children will have fun dressing up in various costumes and amour and there are several interactive areas. Castle Park is a great outdoor space to wander around, with some awesome play areas, a small boating lake (open during the summer) and squirrels that will love you forever if you take along a bag of peanuts!
Dover Castle, Kent
Lee and Stacey from One Trip at a Time
Dover Castle is sometimes referred to as the “Key to England” such has its role been in defending the country from its location overlooking the narrowest part of the English Channel on the coast of England. From the remains of the Roman Lighthouse from 50 AD to the Napoleonic tunnels dug into the white cliffs that served the country in WWII, there are almost two millennia of history to explore.
Highlights of any visit should include the 11th century St. Mary’s Church which abuts the lighthouse and the magnificent keep which is decorated in period décor and has thrones that kids can sit on in the King’s Hall and imagine being King or Queen of the castle. You can also climb to the roof of the keep for expansive views out into the channel.
Tunnels are a big attraction of Dover Castle; there are the medieval tunnels which covertly protected the most vulnerable side of the castle from attack. The Napoleonic tunnels are where Operation Dynamo, the operation to rescue Allied soldiers from Dunkirk in WWII was masterminded and the underground hospital which saw service in WWII. Taking a tour of these tunnels you can delight in the smells that would have emanated from them!
Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
The history of Framlingham Castle goes back to 1148 when the first castle was built on this site. That castle was destroyed by Henry II and then it was rebuilt. Later, in 1553, Mary Tudor, also known as Bloody Mary, was proclaimed Queen of England inside the walls of Framlingham Castle. During the Second World War, the British military used Framlingham Castle as part of its regional defense strategy against potential invasion. Inside the castle, they have exhibits where you can learn more about its history.
The highlight of your visit to Framlingham Castle will definitely be the wall walk. The walls are over 10 meters tall and give you specular views of the English countryside and the rest of the castle. If you have time, there are also some nice walking trails just outside the castle. Framlingham Castle is located in the town of Framlingham in Suffolk. It’s about 19 miles northeast of Ipswich.
Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex
Eric from Penguin and Pia
Built in the 15th century, Herstmonceux Castle is actually considered the oldest significant brick structure in the United Kingdom! The castle was originally built as a French-medieval inspired private estate.
Over the centuries, it changed royal owners many times, was partially demolished, played a small role in the Second World War, and was even home to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. That said, in all that time, it never saw a major battle!
Herstmonceux is located in the rural parts of Hailsham in East Sussex. You’ll find the castle approximately an hour south of London and 20 minutes north of Eastbourne. The closest train station would be Polegate – but you’ll need to grab a cab the rest of the drive in!
Once you arrive there is plenty to do. The castle runs tours daily and Chestnuts Tea Shop is perfect for enjoying a quintessential English tea experience. The castle grounds are full of walking trails through dense forests, unique sculptures, wildlife, and the beautifully manicured Elizabethan gardens. In the evenings, there are also great spots for catching amazing sunsets over the English countryside.
The grounds are also shared by The Observatory Science Centre. This centre features massive telescopes for astronomy purposes with open hours year round and science-based workshops for kids throughout the summer season.
Hever Castle, Kent
Cathy from Mummy Travels
There is something very special about visiting a castle which is still set up as life might have been hundreds of years ago – which makes Hever Castle in Kent a fascinating experience. You can watch Henry VIII process down to the jousting field with Anne Boleyn (who was born here), as well as see the knights joust. But there’s also a field of tents with storytellers, musicians and craftsmen, plus the food of the period and the chance to meet a knight and his mastiff.
Add a maze and a water maze for kids to discover, archery lessons, the chance to paint a shield and an activity trail through the castle, spotting original furniture such as the Queen’s own bed, and there’s no problem about filling the day – especially with gardens and the lake to explore too.
Although if your kids have their heart set on joining in knights and princess school, do sign them up early!
Highclere Castle, Berkshire
Chris from Explore Now Or Never
Highclere Castle—or Downton Abbey as it’s known to fans around the globe—is as fabulous in person as it is on TV! The dramatic fireplace in the center of the estate opens up all the way to the second storey. Just 90 minutes from London in the lovely English countryside, Highclere Castle makes a great weekend stay combined with a visit to the scenic Cotswolds, another hour to the north; or south to Stonehenge and Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Highclere Castle, currently home to the current (and 8th!) Earl and Countess of Carnavron, was built by the Carnarvon family in the 18th and 19th centuries to replace a red brick Tudor house on the site, and before that a cluster of buildings dating from 749 AD. As you may remember from Downton Abbey, the castle served as a hospital during World War I as well. Visiting with kids? Plan to linger to watch the cavorting sheep in the meadows!
You can either book your tickets in advance or if you find they’ve all been sold out as we did, plan to arrive just before they open to obtain a ticket for the day.
Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire
Karen from Smart Steps to Australia
I hopped on a plane and moved to Australia four years ago with my family, but my true home will always be Lincoln; the city where I grew up.
Visiting Lincoln Castle was a big part of my childhood. It’s a fantastic tourist attraction for kids and adults. The Castle is at the top of Steep Hill – and believe me when I say it deserves its name. If travelling with little ones and you have a buggy (or if you aren’t very mobile), make sure you park at the top of the hill, somewhere close to the Castle. If you have energetic older kids, park in town and enjoy the walk (climb) up the hill as it is a really pretty historic walk with lots of unique shops.
The Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 on a site occupied since Roman times, and is the home of one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (there is even a pub of that name right at the top of the hill if you want a cool drink after your walk before you explore the Castle).
There is plenty to explore in the castle grounds and the views across the city and of Lincoln Cathedral are just stunning. The Castle also runs a programme of events, and it is the perfect place to watch an outdoor Shakespeare performance or live music event.
Lowther Castle, Penrith, Lake District
Karen from Mini Travellers
Lowther Castle near Penrith in the Lake District is described on its website as “A sight of dramatic beauty and splendour” a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. The castle sits within 130 acres of hidden gardens, enchanting woodland and breath-taking views.
Lowther Castle was closed to the public for over 70 years, before becoming subject to one of Europe’s largest renovation projects in 2011. The Cafe, Shop, Gardens & Gallery are open every day from 10am to 5pm in the summer and between 10am to 4pm in the winter.
We were there with the kids because there is a huge a new playground which has been constructed at the far end of the gardens called #thelostcastle . The adventure playground is reason to visit on its own and the kids can spend hours exploring it but we also loved all the winding paths, rope swings and space to run around too.
Tower of London, London
I had to mention this castle and palace! It has some of the most fascinating and bloody history of any castle in the UK. The Tower of London was begun in the 1070s by William the Conqueror, and through the ages it has been added to and used as a luxurious palace and royal home as well as a prison. Some of its famous prisoners include Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey, Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes. The Tower’s history is also full of tragic tales, like the Princes in the Tower; the young sons of Edward IV who disappeared without trace while staying here – murdered, without a doubt.
At the Tower of London today you’re able to look around much of the castle. Explore inside the White Tower, one of the finest Norman castles in England, which is full of armour and battle displays. Elsewhere walk the walls; see some of the quarters where prisoners were kept; and reflect at the memorial site to those who were executed on Tower Green. The Tower of London is also home to the Crown Jewels which are most people’s highlight of their visit to the Tower (although arrive early as the queue can be huge). You must also keep an eye out for the Tower’s ravens!
Older kids will love the gruesome stories and history, and there’s plenty of activities put on for younger ones, especially during school holidays. You can download family trails to follow and there are lots of hands on activities in the armoury in the White Tower. Click here to book your tickets to the Tower of London.
Teresa from Brogan Abroad
Warwick Castle is located in the town of the same name in Warwickshire, and it’s one of the oldest castles in England. Originally built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, it has been extended and modified over the centuries to its current state.
Visiting Warwick Castle is ideal for families. Not only can you join one of the history team tours and learn all about the castle and those who lived within their grounds, you also get to be involved in interactive daily activities and shows. These include witnessing the largest working siege machine in action, which can launch a projectile over 150 metres! Or you can enjoy the spectacular bird of prey display with some powerful creatures such as vultures and eagles. And you can even witness a jousting competition as the famous Wars of the Roses unfold in front of your eyes!
All in all, Warwick Castle is a fabulous day out, particularly for kids. But why just stop at a day out? Make it a weekend and stay at the castle itself!
Warkworth Castle, Northumberland
Stuart from Go Eat Do
Warkworth Castle is in Northumberland, England’s most northerly county. During the Middle Ages armies from England and Scotland would frequently march through the area, explaining why Warkworth is one of several fortresses that dot the region’s rugged landscape. Henry, the Earl of Northumberland and son of King David I of Scotland, established a motte and bailey fortress in the mid-12th century. In 1327 a Scottish army besieged the castle.
The castle is now managed by English Heritage and the ruins represent a great day out for families. The summertime programme of events includes falconry demonstrations, activity sessions for children and battles featuring knights in armour. Reenactors pull on suits of armour and fight, entertaining onlookers while clanking and cracking each other. For photographers one of the most popular times of year to visit is springtime when daffodils bloom beneath the castle walls.
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Windsor Castle is one of the best castles near London to visit, and makes a great day trip from the capital. It’s also one of the most famous castles in England, as it’s the Queen’s official residence. You’ll know if she’s there when you visit if you see the flags flying!
Highlights of a visit to Windsor include the State Rooms which are, as you’d expect, magnificent. Gilded and sumptuously furnished, they’re some of the most impressive rooms I’ve ever been in. The State Rooms have been carefully restored following the fire of 1992 in which they were almost completely destroyed – you wouldn’t have a clue now. St George’s Chapel is also a must-see at Windsor Castle. It’s the resting place of many members of the Royal Family and is also where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently married.
Families will have the best time on Saturdays and during the school holidays when there are special kids’ activities, but if you’re visiting at other times then download some activity trails or play online games while you’re there.
Best Castles in Northern Ireland
Belfast Castle, County Antrim
Belfast Castle sits in the picturesque surroundings of Cave Hill Country Park, in Northern Belfast. Although Belfast had had a castle in the city centre from Norman times onwards, in around 1700 the castle was destroyed in a fire. The current castle was not built until 1870, and stayed in the hands of the Shaftesbury family until they passed it to the city in 1934.
While the castle itself is more of a wedding and events venue than a palace that you can look around, the parkland around the castle is worth a visit. Kids will love the Adventure Playground which has got sandpits for little ones and more advanced equipment for older kids. Parents can wear the whole family out by following one of the many trails through Cave Hill Country Park, and if you’re up for a challenge, then try one of the orienteering courses. Once you’ve exhausted yourselves, stop in at the Castle Tavern for tea and cakes.
If you’d like to know more about the area then there’s a visitor centre where you can learn about the natural history of the park. Find out more about Belfast Castle here.
Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim
Carrickfergus Castle guards the shores of Belfast Lough, in a town of the same name. Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best preserved Norman castles in Northern Ireland. This imposing castle dates from 1177 when it was built by Norman John de Courcy. The castle was strategically important and was besieged by the English, French, Irish and the Scots and was used right up until 1928. Carrickfergus Castle has been added to over the years but has been restored to its Norman glory with Victorian additions removed. It’s now designated as a building of historical importance.
Carrickfergus Castle is a great place for kids to explore – they can walk the walls, climb over the cannons and discover all the creepy features of a medieval castle. There are lots of hands-on games and dressing up for the kids to busy themselves with. See if they can find the dungeons and murder holes, and take a look around the chapel. There’s a tour included with the entrance fee so if you want to learn more about the castle and its history, it’s worth taking.
Castle Ward, County Down
Thais from World Trip Diaries
We visited Castle Ward because my husband and I are Game of Thrones fans. Well, how could we miss the chance of seeing Winterfell and the Twin Towers?
To make it more fun for the kids, we scheduled an archery tour and a self-guided tour of the filming locations.
Well, the kids absolutely LOVED the private archery class – and we took it all dressed up in vests, cloaks, and swords (foam swords). But they also loved walking around still dressed up through the filming locations while people bowed as they passed us. It was great fun, even for them, who have never seen an episode of the series.
It’s between 1 and 2 hours south of Belfast (Northern Ireland), in County Down, with the gardens, a fortified tower house and more – all open to the public. The Old Castle Ward, near the lake, is there – built around 1590 – and pretty neat. It was home for the Ward family since 1570 but after many family troubles, it’s now a National Trust property.
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Elaine and Dave from Show Them The Globe
The ruins of the medieval Dunluce Castle are perched on the edge of jutting coastal cliffs on Northern Ireland’s stunning Causeway Coastal Route. The castle was built in the 1500’s and dramatic stories surround its history with local tales of dark spirits inhabiting the castle and the kitchens tumbling into the sea on a stormy night in 1639.
Dunluce Castle is a popular stop on the Causeway Coast and, after crossing a drawbridge, visitors explore its cliff side ruins with cobbled streets and merchants houses and enjoy the spectacular views the castle once commanded. Mermaid’s Cave, the beautiful cavern underneath the castle, and the drawbridge entrance are guaranteed to set children’s imaginations on fire while the long drop under the ancient toilets will bring endless questions and giggles.
A visit to Dunluce Castle is often combined with stops at the nearby Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, both of which are perfect for families who love exploring the outdoors.
Best Castles in Scotland
Ardvreck Castle, Sutherland
Gemma from Two Scots Abroad
Scotland sure is not short of royal buildings and ruins but one of the most striking shells can be found on the very popular North Coast 500 road trip route. Ardvreck Castle sits stark against green grass and Loch Assynt in Sutherland. Once home to two clans, the MacLeods and the Mackenzies (at separate times, they were not friendly neighbours!) the 15th century, three-story ruin is renowned in the Highlands of Scotland. Close by is Calda House which was an upgraded version of Ardvreck by the Mackenzies so you get two ruins for the price of one (admission is free).
Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye
Bret Love and Mary Gabbett from Green Global Travel
Armadale Castle, which is located on the southeastern coast of Scotland’s Isle of Skye, is unique in that the ruins of the castle are not necessarily the main attraction here. In fact, it’s not a proper castle at all, but a baronial style mock-castle built in 1815 for show, rather than strategic defense.
The mansion house at Armadale was the former home of the MacDonalds. Clan Donald was one of the seven original Scottish Highland clans collectively known as Siol Alpin due to their ancestral ties to Alpin, the ancient Gaelic King who ruled over western Scotland and northeastern Ireland. They ultimately became the most powerful clan in the Inner Hebrides, with their chiefs serving as Lord of the Isles and ruling the region for centuries.
Armadale Castle was abandoned by the MacDonalds around 100 years ago and gradually fell into ruin. But the property is now home to the Clan Donald Centre, where you’ll find the award-winning Museum of the Isles as well as an extensive genealogical research library of Scottish history. It’s a perfect place to learn more about the clans of the Scottish Highlands, with historians on hand who can help you track your own Scottish heritage.
The Castle also has an array of self-catered lodging options, historic gardens to wander, over 5 miles of scenic woodland trails to explore, and family-friendly events ranging from arts & crafts to live music.
Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh
Kirstin from The Tinberry Travels
Did you know Edinburgh has two castles? Most people only know Edinburgh Castle slap bang in the city centre but if you venture further out you will come across a wonderful (and much quieter) historical spot surrounded by greenery.
Craigmillar Castle is located in the southeast of Edinburgh and dates back to the 1300s but through a turbulent history has had so many changes over the centuries you’ll find pieces of architecture from every era. While it looks small from the outside, it’s a maze of never-ending corridors, secret rooms and staircase after staircase up to new levels of the building. This is a fantastic place for anyone with a passion for exploring nooks and crannies as well as grand halls and dungeons.
If you’re taking little ones then the castle also provides a treasure hunt sheet so you can try and find all the quirks in the brickwork and unique features of the grounds. Another big draw is the fantastic views of the city. When you finally reach the roof level you can look out over the leafier side of the city all the way to Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and right across the Old Town.
Maraya from Stuff Mums Like
Doune Castle is a 14th Century Castle located in Doune, Scotland. It’s a 1-hour car ride from Edinburgh and is famous for its appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Gail. More recently, it was the set of Winterfell in the Game of Thrones pilot episode, and it features as Castle Leoch in Outlander. Original Monty Python member Terry Jones even narrates the audio tour!
Doune Castle boasts one of the best preserved great halls in the UK, so it’s great for history buffs. The castle is full of secret rooms, towers and hidey holes the kids will love. It sits between the Ardoch Burn and the River Tieth and there are lovely walks and picnic spots around the castle.
It’s a smaller castle than some of the others so it’s great for younger children to explore. It’s also never too busy. Opening hours vary depending on the season. Visit the website for more information.
Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Kate from Love, From Scotland
Scotland might have over 2000 castles, but Dunnottar Castle must be the most dramatic and foreboding – and the star of thousands of Instagram photos. Perched high on a promontory of 160 ft high sea cliffs just to the south of Stonehaven near Aberdeen the castle is only accessible from a tiny strip of land – making Dunnottar one of the most impressively located castles in the world.
Once home to Saint Ninian in the 5th Century, Dunnottar Castle has a long romantic history, once hiding the crown jewels of Scotland (The Honours) from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army. The best views of the castle are from the cliffside path walk, which takes you 3 miles along the cliff edge from Stonehaven.
In summer there is a land train which will take you there and back again – great for kids! The castle is privately owned by the Dunecht Estates and controlled by Clan Keith. Entry to the castle is £7 for adults and £3 for children.
Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh
James from This Travel Guide
One of Scotland’s most iconic buildings, and most visited attractions, Eilean Donan Castle deserves a place on every Scotland travel itinerary. Founded in the 13th Century, the castle has been a prominent part of Scottish history for almost a millennium. During that time it has been a stronghold for the Mackenzie Clan, a regular feature during the Jacobite rebellions, and in modern Scottish history a setting in several feature films like Highlander, The World Is Not Enough, and Made of Honour.
Inside the castle you’ll find plenty of guides and information. The guides have been designed with both adults and kids in mind, and include interesting and funny stories to keep the kids entertained.
Eilean Donan Castle is situated near the picturesque village of Dornie in Northern Scotland which is near the Isle of Skye. As Skye is another popular destination for visitors to Scotland, most people combine a trip to Skye and Eilean Donan Castle.
Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire
Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland
Fyvie Castle sits in the heart of Aberdeenshire, a region of Scotland known as ‘castle country’ as there are over 300 in the area from ruinous structures to the famous Scottish summer residence of the Royal Family at Balmoral.
Fyvie Castle is among the best, boasting 800 years of history and a very grand appearance. The stronghold has been added to over the centuries and today it is a charming building that looks every bit like a Scottish fairy-tale castle complete with five towers. Originally it started out as a royal castle around 1200 and Scottish kings would stay on their travels around the country including Robert the Bruce. Fyvie later became a family home until it was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1984. Since then the castle and grounds have been open to the public with an opportunity to explore the historic and lavish interior.
Today you can spend a good part of the day touring the castle and extensive gardens, with a children’s quiz available to keep younger ones busy and some ghoulish tales to keep older kids entertained. Regular outdoor family events also take place including guided wildlife walks with local rangers and an onsite cafe provides a range of baking and lunch options.
Inverness Castle, Inverness
Stefan and Sebastien from Nomadic Boys
We visited Inverness earlier this year as our base to see the highlands, Loch Ness and the other beautiful scenery around this part of Scotland. One of our favourite memories was dressing up in kilts and parading around Inverness Castle.
Inverness Castle is located in the heart of the city. It’s on a hill on a limestone cliff, so has view of the River Ness, and the city surrounding it. It was initially built in the 1057 by King Malcolm III to defend the city, after Macbeth’s castle at Crown Hill was destroyed. Over the Middle Ages it changed hands a lot, but in the late 1700s was blown up by government forces. It was rebuilt in 1836 by architect William Burn as the new Sheriff’s court and prison. Today it is where the Inverness Sheriff Court is based, and only the castle grounds and the north tower are open to the public.
Interesting fact, an illustration of the castle is featured on the £50 Scottish notes since 2005.
We rented our kilts from Chisholms, located across the road from the castle, who also offer sizes for children.
Stirling Castle, Stirling
Jenny from Monkey and Mouse
There are a LOT of castles in Scotland, but one of the best for children is Stirling Castle. The castle is large enough to spend an entire day exploring, checking out the kitchens, admiring the view to the hills and walking the walls pretending to be on the look out for attackers!
There’s a children’s corridor with several rooms of activities for kids, including dressing up, exploring the medieval music, paints and more. Then head upstairs to the Queen’s chambers where you’ll find actors talk to you about the life of the Queen as a child and the workings of the castle.
When the kids are ready to run about, take them to the far end of the castle by the munitions buildings, plenty of space to run about and climb. The cafe has great local food options for when you get hungry, or you can picnic in one of the gardens or courtyards.
Urquhart Castle, Inverness
Kaylie from Happiness Travels Here
You’ll find Urquhart Castle in the Scottish Highlands on the banks of Scotland’s most famous lake, Loch Ness.
Urquhart castle is great for families, the last occupants already blew it up so you don’t need to worry about your kids destroying anything!
Positioned on a small peninsula with sweeping views up and down Loch Ness, the site has been occupied for over 1000 years. Such a strategic position has brought about numerous conflicts as the castle, once Scotland’s largest, went back and forth between English and Scottish occupants. The final residents preferring to blow up the castle rather than see it go into Jacobite hands.
Join one of the free guided tours and learn more details about the history. Our guide Andrew welcomed our children, aged 4 and 6, and kept them involved in the tour with quirky details and engaging stories of battle and defeat.
The castle can be reached by car, bus or boat from Fort Augustus or Inverness. The boat trip is quite long, so I recommend arriving by car and taking the time to visit the nearby Loch Ness discovery centre where you can learn more about the myth, fact and legend of the Loch Ness monster through a series of audio-visual displays.
Best Castles in Wales
Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd
Nicky from Go Live Young
A huge fortress, Caernarfon Castle located in the town of Caernarfon, is surely one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles. Built by Edward I, from 1283, it occupies an impressive position along the River Seiont, the site of a previous motte and bailey castle. In 1969, the investiture of the current Price of Wales, HRH Prince Charles took place here. While visiting this formidable fortress, don’t miss the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum which is located in one of the castle’s towers.
There is plenty to keep kids occupied at Caernarfon Castle. Wander the impressive castle walls, climb the many towers for outstanding views across Caernarfon, and visit the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum based at the castle. There is a children’s activity sheet provided which involves finding small plaques all around the castle. This kept our three boys fully entertained throughout our visit, and saw them running from one part of the castle to another!
Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly
David from Travel With Little One
I have to admit to a little hometown bias in recommending Caerphilly Castle as one of the best in the UK. But this vast fortress in a small Welsh town seven miles (11 km) north of the capital Cardiff is outstanding, one of the most impressive in the country.
It’s also one of the most beautiful, surrounded by a network of three lakes that gave it extra protection. Caerphilly was built by a Norman lord, Gilbert de Clare, in the late 13th century to repel local Welsh rebels, and saw occasional action through the centuries before decaying into a romantic ruin. it was only fully restored by the mid 20th century.
Caerphilly is a fantastic castle for kids. There are several towers you can climb, up narrow spiral stone staircases. The Great Hall is one of the best-preserved in the UK, and is often used for banquets. There is a leaning tower that famously out-leans that of Pisa. And there’s a great collection of medieval siege weapons you can explore, which are occasionally fired across the lake.
Above all, it’s a brilliant spark for the imagination, a setting for so many myths, legends and, best of all, stories the kids can make up for themselves.
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff
Cath from Passports and Adventures
Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic mansion located in the heart of the city. A popular tourist attraction, it is one of the best castles in the UK. Dating back to the 11th century, it belonged to the Marquess of Bute and was handed to the city upon the death of the Fourth Marquess.
There are many different areas of Cardiff Castle that can be enjoyed, even with kids. The Norman Keep, the oldest part of the castle, has some great views across the city, but just be careful on the stairs with little ones. The castle apartments are beautifully decorated with stained-glass windows, ornate ceilings and walls.
But by far, one of the big surprises of Cardiff Castle lies within the battlement walls. The walls of Cardiff Castle acted as air-raid shelters during World War 2 and could hold up to 1800 people at a time. You still see evidence of the war through the posters on the walls, bunk beds and cubby holes where food and supplies were stored. And you might even hear a siren going off during your walk through them.
Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire
Thais from World Trip Diaries
Of the many castles we visited in the UK, Carew Castle, in Wales, was our family favorite.
It’s a small castle (still a castle, though) in ruins, but because it’s small, we’ve managed to enjoy our whole visit.
Overlooking the Carew Inlet, it was an important defensive site in olden times. Though it changed hands quite a lot of times through the years, it now belongs to the Carew family, but Pembrokeshire National Park Trust now leases it.
One of my kids’ favorite features was the bat hotel. If you’re not a bat, you can’t enter it, but there’s a sign there explaining all there is to know about the hotel – for the bats. And, if you looked close enough, you could see some shadows here and there.
Then, there was a hall with a few medieval times board games that my kids enjoyed learning and trying to play. My youngest loved taking a photo mounting a fake horse all dressed up as battle horses in medieval times would.
And, as in many other castles in the UK, they offer an Eye Spy game for kids!
Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire
Tracey from PackThePJs
Kidwelly Castle is a favourite of ours, for several good reasons. Firstly, it’s a great castle ruin to look around – it looks like a ‘proper castle’ – and it’s self-guided with info boards in each area. We also like it because it is pet-friendly, so no one needs to stay outside to dog sit. The entrance fee is very reasonable too (£4 adult and £2.40 children under 16) and it’s both fun and educational. But the main reason we love it so much is that my children and husband’s surname is Kidwell, and he grew up just up the road. So, we like to think of it as part of the family estate!
The castle has a commanding presence over the Estuary and the river Gwendraeth, as would be expected. When built by the Normans in 1290 it was the height of defensive technology with concentric defensive walls. The castle comprises a square inner bailey defended by four round towers.
Definitely plan to visit for a good 90 mins; my children’s imaginations always run wild when they are there. Kidwelly Castle has a lovely gift shop and just down the road is a tea shop (we recommend the cakes).
That’s it for our list of travel bloggers’ favourite castles in the UK! Of course, it’s impossible to include every single castle in this list but I hope it’s given you some inspiration.
Did we miss your favourite UK castle out? Which castle is on your list to visit next? Let us know in the comments!