Ireland and Britain have a wealth of castles between them. While a great deal are in ruins, many more have been restored and renovated over hundreds of years to become major tourist attractions, historical landmarks and hotels. Here we have picked our 7 favorite castles in Britain, although there are many more we would have liked to include.
1. Windsor Castle
Aside from its wonderful architecture, Windsor Castle is notable for its long association with the British royal family. This castle was originally designed to protect Norman dominance around the outskirts of London and to oversee a strategically important part of the River Thames. Henry III built a luxurious royal palace within Windsor Castle during the middle of the 13th century. Following a period of neglect in the 18th century, it was renovated and rebuilt in its current state. The royal family took refuge in Windsor Castle during the Second World War. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction that welcomes thousands of visitors each year.
2. Caernarfon Castle
While Wales is blessed with a wealth of castles for such a small country, Caernarfon is the gem demanding to be seen. It exudes a strength and majesty that is often missing from many castles and that is no accident. Caernarfon Castle was built to mirror the walls of Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. Despite Caernarfon Castle’s external appearance of being mostly complete, the interior buildings no longer survive and many of the building plans were never finished. The town and castle were sacked in 1294 when Madog ap Llywelyn led a rebellion against the English. Caernarfon was recaptured the following year. Since 1986, Caernarfon has been part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
3. Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle was built following the Norman conquest, and renovated and remodeled a number of times. It is the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. The castle is used as a stand in for the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, which has led to an increase in public interest with Alnwick. Its appearance in the films has helped shape the public imagination regarding what castles should look like. Adjacent to the castle, The Alnwick Garden is a formal garden set around a cascading fountain. It cost £42 million and belongs to a charitable trust. Alnwick Castle receives more than 800,000 visitors per year.
4. Stirling Castle
Stirling Caste is one of the most important and largest castles in Scotland. The castle sits atop a hill and is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a formidable defensive position. Stirling Castle is a great symbol of Scottish independence and a source of national pride. The castle’s long, turbulent history is associated with great figures from Scotland’s past such as William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.
5. Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle is a country house in the Jacobethan style. The sprawling 1,000-acre estate is in Hampshire, England. It is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon and is most famous as the main filming location for the British television period drama Downton Abbey. The writer of the show, Julian Fellowes, had Highclere Castle in mind as he wrote Downton Abbey. He often commented he wanted a house which spectacularly testified to the confidence and soaring optimism of the Edwardian period. A dramatic increase in the number of paying visitors, thanks to Downton Abbey, has allowed them to begin major repairs both on Highclere’s turrets and its interior. The family now lives in Highclere during the winter months, but returns to their cottage in the summer, when the castle is open to the public.
6. Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. Over its 950 years of history, Warwick Castle has been owned by 36 different individuals, plus four periods as crown property under seven different monarchs. Eleven of the 36 owners were under 20 when they inherited, including a girl aged two and a boy aged three. At least three owners died in battle, two were executed and one murdered, so it is fair to say it has quite a bit of history and many stories to tell.
7. Edinburgh Castle
From its position atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh. There has been a royal castle here since at least the 12th century. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged several times. Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most-visited, paid tourist attraction with over 1.3 million visitors in 2011. As the backdrop to the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it has become a recognizable symbol of Edinburgh and of Scotland.