For many of us, living in a castle is just a fairy-tale dream – an idea made popular by the films we watch and histories we read. But centuries ago, Britain’s largest and most beautiful castles were inhabited by kings, queens, and lords living out history as we know it. While very few of them are lived in today, they still give us the opportunity to step back in time and experience what life was like hundreds – if not thousands – of years ago.
From pristine castles sitting proudly atop Britain’s dramatic countryside to dishevelled forts along some of the UK’s best beaches, there’s an abundance of history to explore right on our doorstep. These are some of the best castles in the UK you can visit right now.
It’s amazing to think that Windsor Castle, which was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, is still lived in today. The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, who still spends her off-duty weekends on the grounds.
Being able to walk in the footsteps of the current monarchy is enough to get most people visiting, but that isn’t the only attraction. The historic state apartments, priceless treasures, and St. George’s Chapel – where most royal weddings take place – make for a great day out.
How to get there: Windsor & Eton Central is only a few minutes’ walk from the castle, with regular services running to and from several London stations.
Sitting proudly at the centre of Scotland’s capital is Edinburgh Castle, a world-famous fortress with a complex history. While Castle Rock – the volcanic formation on which it stands – has been occupied since at least the Iron Age, the castle itself was only inhabited by royals between the 12th and 17th centuries. Yet it still dominates Edinburgh’s skyline as the city’s most iconic landmark, making it a stunning castle to see both up close and from afar.
Inside you’ll find the Scottish Crown Jewels, the mysterious-sounding Stone of Destiny, and the National War Museum of Scotland. If you time your visit right, you might even hear the sound of the famous One o’Clock Gun.
How to get there: It’s just a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station.
While some castles are perfect for taking a step back in history, others are just a great family day out. Warwick Castle is the latter, with a knight school, Horrible Histories maze, birds of prey display, and castle dungeon for the kids to explore.
But it’s not all fun and games. The grounds themselves are stunning, with gardens, towers, and historic rooms that give you a sense of the castle’s grandiose history. If you want to make a weekend of it, be our guest; glamping tents, lodges, and suites are all available to make you feel like kings and queens of the castle.
How to get there: The castle is just a 15-minute walk from Warwick train station. If you’re travelling from Leamington Spa train station, you can hop on a 20-minute train or 30-minute bus.
In the heart of the Welsh capital sits Cardiff Castle, one of the country’s most famous heritage attractions with an extraordinary long history. It’s thought that the first fort was built by the Romans around 50 AD. Since then it’s been occupied by dynasties such as the Normans and Victorians, even playing a vital role in World War 2.
The grounds are what you’d expect from a castle which has seen occupants come and go, with lavish Victorian apartments, the iconic Norman keep, and wartime shelters all housed within the Roman walls.
How to get there: Cardiff Castle is just a ten-minute walk from Cardiff Central Station.
There’s a reason why Alnwick Castle is dubbed the Windsor of the North: it’s the second-largest inhabited castle in the UK and has a history that spans over 700 years. The castle itself was home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family for most of that time, but it also has a special place in the lives of TV and film fans across the globe.
While its inhabitants – the Percys – have certainly never partaken in a game of quidditch, Harry Potter and friends did while filming several movies here. Other films and shows have been shot here, too, including Downton Abbey, so see if you can spot where your favourite scenes took place.
How to get there: It’s just a 12-minute walk from Alnwick train station. You can also take a 30-minute bus from Alnmouth train station.
If you’re searching for your dream fairy-tale home, you’ll want a viewing at Dunrobin Castle. Scotland’s most northerly great house looks like it’s been picked straight out of a Disney film, with French chateâu-inspired pointy spires and long, looming windows.
It was built over 700 years ago, but you’ll be more inspired by the dramatic architecture than the history. The castle is surrounded by a lusciously green garden and overlooks the Moray Firth. Head down to the beach on a good day and you might even spot a dolphin or two.
How to get there: It’s a few minutes’ walk away from Dunrobin Castle train station, which itself is a two-hour journey from Inverness.
Most castles owe themselves to medieval history, but Tintagel has a much more legendary story. It’s said to be the birthplace of King Arthur, and historians believe that was the main reason behind its construction. Set along Cornwall’s north coast, the dramatic castle is split between the mainland and an island, with a bridge connecting the two.
The steps are steep and the drops sheer, so it’s a challenging site to visit. But when you do, you’ll be enamoured with Tintagel, and appreciate why this romantic setting on the Cornish coastline has inspired so many legends.
How to get there: To get a train to Tintagel Castle from Bodmin Parkway, take the 75 bus to Wadebridge bus station, followed by the 584 bus to Camelford, and then the 595 bus to the Tintagel Visitor Centre.
If you’re planning a trip to one of the best castles in the UK, don’t forget to book an Advance ticket via our website or our Train Tickets app for zero booking fees. You can also find information on how to get cheaper train tickets via our special offers page. If you need more information, you can contact us here.
The UK is bursting with fun activities. Whether you’re visiting one of the best theme parks in the UK or the best waterparks in the UK, there are always ways to travel by train. CrossCountry has services running up and down the country to ensure you can get to the places you need to be.