Get ready for myths, legends, fairytales, knights and princesses aplenty as we uncover 25 legendary castles in England, Scotland and Wales which are really worth a visit, and perfect for an exciting family day out.
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Bursting with history and proud protectors of the realm from years gone by, discover hidden stories, secrets and more in some of the UK’s most impressive buildings.
Each of these castles in England and around the UK have a wealth of history behind them, providing plenty of educational tidbits to discover.
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Fairytale Castles in England
Windsor Castle, Windsor
Calling all royalty, official or otherwise! Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of The Queen, is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world – and well worth a nosy!
Visitors can discover 900 years of British history across 13 acres of beautiful grounds, and also explore the palace’s State Apartments, which have hosted royals like Charles II and George IV for over hundreds of years. These luxurious rooms are also a gallery for works from The Royal Collection of art.
On the free family audio tour you can meet your trusted guides Horace, a timeless tutor, and Tommy, his pupil. Along the way they will introduce you to their magical peers who also call the Castle home, including Gilbert the Grotesque, Tipu Tiger and Cyril the ‘Page of the Back Stairs’! This family tour is aimed at children between 7 to 11 years.
Top tip: The Changing of the Guard takes place on alternate days throughout the year – if you can catch it, it’s quite a sight!
Arundel Castle, West Sussex
Arundel Castle, situated in magnificent grounds overlooking the River Arun in West Sussex, was built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel. When visiting, you can enjoy the grandeur of the superbly preserved interior with its fascinating furniture, tapestries and rare paintings collection by renowned artists such as Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Canaletto. Then, when your little royals need to let off steam, you can explore the extensive grounds and formal gardens.
Arundel Castle also proudly offers a busy events calendar, bringing its history to life throughout the open season. From high octane battles of Normans and Crusaders, and a three-day Castle Siege, to more sedate classic car shows and open-air Shakespeare performances. The highlight of Arundel Castle’s events is the awe-inspiring jousting and Medieval Tournament Week, which showcases the skill, sportsmanship and flair of competitors from across the globe. The week-long event attracts large audiences from far and wide to enjoy the magnificent 15th century jousting action.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
You may recognise this castle from its various film appearances, including none other than everyone’s favourite, Harry Potter!
Alnwick Castle is a day out to fire the imagination, with legends of knights, dragons and wizardry to explore. From broomstick training in the same spot Harry had his first flying lesson in The Philosopher’s Stone, to the ultimate medieval test in Knight’s Quest, adventure definitely epitomises this castle.
You can take a free tour with the knowledgeable guides to transport you into Alnwick Castle’s tumultuous Norman past. The tour also includes some fantastic tales of the fascinating people whose presence has graced the castle over the last 900 years. It is sure to impress any history buff, as well as Potter fans young and old.
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Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
If you asked your child to picture a castle, it’s likely they wouldn’t come up with something far off Bodiam Castle. With striking symmetry, massive towers and a moat (complete with fish), it’s a great place for imaginative kids – and with a programme of kid’s events during the holidays, it’s great for a family day out.
Bodiam Castle is one of Britain’s most picturesque ancient monuments. Enjoy a glimpse of medieval splendour at this 14th century fortress with spiral staircases, battlements and the castle’s original wooden portcullis – everything a castle is meant to be!
There are colourful characters from the past wandering around in costume, which creates a real historical atmosphere, and families of all ages will enjoy exploring. Why not start with the brilliant Knight’s Peril Interactive Audio Adventure? You can also download an adventure map to follow too, which will take you around all the castle’s best kept secrets. The grounds surrounding the castle are a great place to spend a lazy summer afternoon. So pack up a picnic and bring a rug to sit on and enjoy the view.
Dover Castle, Kent
If you are in the area exploring Dover’s white cliffs, treat your family to a roam through centuries of history at Dover Castle, the gateway to the realm for over nine centuries.
Climb the Great Tower to experience the ultimate medieval palace, bursting with vibrant colours and flash furnishings fit for royalty, or navigate your way through the winding medieval tunnels burrowing beneath the castle. The adventure continues on the other side of the castle walls too, with more than 80 acres of open courtyards, hills and mounds to command and conquer. For grown-ups and bigger kids, don’t miss the immersive battle of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo or the sights and smells of the Underground Hospital.
From fairytale castle to underground lair, explore the castle and walk in the footsteps of famous film stars and directors. Over the years the castle has brought to life many big movies such as Avengers and Into The Woods.
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Castle Howard, York
Visit Castle Howard and have fun exploring 1,000 acres of parkland and gardens; jump on the land train to the Great Lake for boat trips and the adventure playground; run wild in the gardens; or discover more about the amazing history of the house and gardens with school holiday adventure trails and quiz sheets.
Let the friendly and knowledgeable guides share the stories of the house and family, while outside guided tours explore the landscape dotted with temples, lakes, statues and fountains. Family-friendly events take place most school and Bank Holidays. Other attractions include a choice of six shops (including plant centre and farm shop), as well as three cafes serving homemade food.
Highclere Castle, Berkshire
Any Downton Abbey fans will immediately recognise this castle and it is the source of many a visit to its Berkshire location. Highclere Castle is one of England’s most beautiful Victorian Castles, and has a great backdrop too with 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland surrounding it.
The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679, and the current Castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which in turn was built on the foundations of a medieval palace. Kids tend to like the idea of castles built on castles… and older kids can tap into the rich historical past (ideal for supporting school work). The gardens and woods can be explored only when Highclere Castle is open to the general public. Booking tickets in advance is highly advised due to the limited opening availability.
Lancaster Castle, Lancashire
Lancaster Castle is one of the UK’s most significant historic monuments. Its origins date back to Roman times and it has been a centre of justice, incarceration and penal reform for almost 1,000 years. So there’s much to see and learn!
The friendly tour guides will take you through tales of witchcraft, religious persecution, crime and punishment, rehabilitation and release throughout the ages. You may even get to stand in the dock, raise your left hand to be sworn in, and uncover the true meaning of being ‘sent down’. You can try out one of the medieval cells for size and marvel at one of Europe’s most extensive collections of heraldic shields.
While families are welcome, due to the use of the building by the court, it does mean that all access is by guided tour only – which might be too long for young children to remain interested.
Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
The vast medieval fortress of Kenilworth Castle is one of the largest historic visitor attractions in the West Midlands, and one of the most spectacular ruins of all castles in England. This is a brilliant day out for the whole family, set in vast grounds perfect for exploring with the castle as dramatic backdrop.
Kenilworth Castle has been at the centre of England’s affairs for over 900 years, from medieval fortress to Elizabethan palace. Today, you can marvel at the mighty Norman keep, explore the exhibition at the Gatehouse, climb the tower built to woo Queen Elizabeth, and imagine the majesty of the medieval monarch and early Tudor kings in the Great Hall!
You enter the castle from a long track which is where they used to have jousting tournaments – cue some galloping children upon their imaginary horses racing up and down the track. Once inside the grounds, there are many different parts of the castle to explore. The kids will no doubt be drawn towards the old Tudor stable block where they can pretend to be put in jail…it’s up to you how long you leave them there!
Powderham Castle, Devon
This picturesque castle stands proudly in Exeter, and has something for all ages to enjoy. Powderham Castle lies in a beautiful deer park on the banks of the River Exe.
The Castle was first opened to visitors in 1959, since then in excess of a million people have been through the doors. Very little of the Castle itself has changed since those early days, but there are now many more attractions in the grounds for visitors to enjoy.
Entertaining tours inside the Castle take you through secret doors – and even across a haunted landing! Outside there are acres to explore and children can earn themselves a Powderham medal on the nature trail, get stuck into arts and crafts in the Nature Nook, and even plant a seed to take home in the Potting Shed. There is always a treasure trail to follow and a prize for completing it!
Visit the Walled Garden Play Area & Pets Corner, get close to the deer on a deer park safari (available daily in the school holidays), or simply take time to relax and enjoy the stunning views. The Play Fort is a must for little explorers thanks to its suspension bridge, nets, slide and even a daring zip wire too.
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Leeds Castle, Kent
Don’t let the name fool you – you’ll find Leeds Castle in Kent! It’s a blend of learning and fun all rolled into one.
From Norman beginnings to Tudor times, everything is captured through artefacts, clothing, and interiors. Dog lovers can even explore the dog collar museum, while kids will compete for the crown in the Squires’ Court Playground.
With 500 acres of Kentish countryside to play with, this spectacular castle makes the most of the seasons. In the summer expect regular events like open-air cinema and falconry displays, as well as the chance to explore a yew-tree maze, exhibitions, and several playgrounds. Your admission ticket allows you to visit as many times as you like for 12 months, including many seasonal events throughout the year.
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Raby Castle, County Durham
Every single one of the atmospheric rooms in Raby Castle, from the magnificent Barons’ Hall to the Medieval Kitchen, gives fascinating insights into life throughout the ages – and gives kids the chance to let their imaginations run wild!
Behind the powerful exterior of towers and fortifications, Raby houses a fantastic art collection and splendid interiors. Plus don’t miss out on the horse-drawn carriage collection!
St Michaels’ Mount, Cornwall
Stroll across the causeway where a legendary giant once walked, and follow the footsteps of pilgrims to St Michael’s Mount. Here, you can discover a medieval castle, a sub-tropical paradise, and a close-knit island community.
Children will be fascinated by the history, legends and myths of St Michael’s Mount and they have an entertaining quiz in the castle enabling little ones to explore and learn.
From weekly church services to live bands on the village green every Sunday from Spring, St Michael’s Mount plays host to a programme of events across the seasons. Try your hand at the annual Easter Egg hunt, the all-day celebration of music in May, or see the swash-buckling buccaneers on Pirate Fay in August. If that doesn’t tire out the whole family, just across the street is the Marazion Play Park, with climbing frames to challenge toddlers through to teenagers.
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Warwick Castle, Warwick
Delve into the jaw-dropping history of Warwick Castle and discover mysteries of ancient myths and spellbinding tales. Smell the fear in the battles, explore four centuries of secret rooms, meet shy ghosts, walk into the dead bear’s lair, and experience the magic of the Arthurian legend firsthand in Merlin: The Dragon Tower, which is inspired by the BBC show.
And that’s not all! Enter the Horrible Histories Maze and muddle through challenges to escape the past, or travel back in time in the Ticking Time Tower. Rule the kingdom from a mini fortress at the Pageant Playground, and be sure to stop by The Mighty Trebuchet to see a huge catapult.
Don’t miss Warwick Castle’s daring live-action show, Wars of the Roses Live. The epic battle for the throne, featuring sword-wielding knights in shining armour, will leave the whole family in awe. Expect a great birds of prey display and breath-taking stunts and tricks!
When it’s finally time to take a break from the adventure, browse the shops and tuck into something delicious at one of the restaurants.
Wray Castle, Cumbria
You can spend an entire day at Wray Castle and there is something for everyone. Find your way from James and Margaret Dawson’s grand living spaces to narrow, winding passages used by their servants. Wander the elaborate hall, rooms with towers, turrets and arrow slots. Linked with a walk down to the lakeshore, as well as extensive grounds to explore and a café with a spectacular view it is the base for a fabulous day out.
Wray Castle also has a fantastic Peter Rabbit themed play area – and you can arrive by boat! Since this National Trust property was bequeathed without furnishings, they’ve made something suitable for the youngest of visitors with the Peter Rabbit Adventure throughout the rooms. It’s also possible to build your own castle, and who wouldn’t want to do that?
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Legendary Castles in Scotland
Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
Balmoral Castle is the Scottish home to the Royal Family, and has been since the time of Queen Victoria. When royalty is not in residence, visitors can enjoy exhibitions in the Castle Ballroom, the largest room in the castle, and wander through the charming gardens and grounds.
If you are travelling to the area, there are holiday homes to let – does that mean you can say you’re a guest of the Queen?!
Cawdor Castle, Inverness
Cawdor Castle, set in the Scottish Highlands, dates from the late 14th century and was built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor.
Still home to the Cawdor family to this day and lovingly filled with beautiful furniture, fine portraits, intriguing objects and amazing tapestries, the Castle has evolved for over 600 years.
There are three distinct gardens within the grounds of the Castle – a Walled Garden, the Flower Garden, and the Wild Garden. In addition, the Big Wood is home to splendid trees and nature trails that the kids will love to explore.
Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie
One of the most photographed castles in Scotland due to the jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery, Eilean Donan Castle sits on an island where three great sea lochs meet.
The site was first inhabited around the 6th century, although the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century. Since then, there has been several re-builds of the Castle with the resulting structure now one of the Highlands greatest attractions.
The best bit is that you can explore nearly every part of the Castle. Some of the most popular aspects include: climbing the steps to the Keep Door; discover the Billeting Room and see some of the fascinating collection of castle and local history artefacts; see the cannonballs fired during the bombardment of 1719; check out the duelling pistols on display; and marvel at the Banqueting Hall whose timber ceiling beams of Douglas Fir were shipped from British Columbia during the restoration.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire
Castle Fraser is maybe the best of the bunch when it comes to catering to young kids. With over 140 acres, there are woodland trails, walled gardens and an incredible view from the top of one of the largest tower houses in Scotland.
Keep an eye out for Daubenton’s bats which can often be spied swooping across the lake! At the castle itself, there are quirky features hidden around every corner, like the Laird’s Lug and its trap doors or secret spy holes! Aspiring artists can admire the many family portraits that adorn the walls, including a Raeburn, while the library has books of every description just like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast!
Stirling Castle, Stirling
When you think castles, what comes to mind? A Great Hall, grand towers and the relics of Kings and Queens long past? You could very well be describing Stirling Castle which is perhaps one of the most classically grand castles in Scotland.
Sitting high on an impressive rock outcrop for all to see, this castle was once home to both Stewart kings and queens.
Explore the Palace and Gatehouse, before ducking into the medieval kitchens to imagine the great feasts that were once whipped up in there. There’s plenty to keep kids entertained, including costumed characters and quizzes which will lead you around the ancient corridors. You should also keep an eye out for the frequent events and musical performances that fill this fabulous fairytale location with life.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh
Set high above Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic Scottish landmark. The first of the buildings dates back to the 12th century, and progressed through the ages until the last addition, the Scottish National War Memorial, after the First World War.
There are guided and audio tours available, but whichever you choose make sure not to miss some of the Castle’s most famous attractions – the Honours of Scotland (Crown Jewels), the Stone of Destiny, the famous 15th century gun Mons Meg, the One O’Clock Gun and the National War Museum of Scotland.
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Amazing Castles in Wales
Conwy Castle, North Wales
Constructed in the 13th century by English King Edward I as one of his key North Wales fortresses, Conwy Castle is a formidable structure. Standing high on a rock outcrop, the castle’s eight huge round towers were designed to intimidate.
Designated a World Heritage Site in 1986, the Castle’s incredible views are breathtaking and span both mountains and sea. To get the best view, head to the battlements where kids can imagine what it would have been like to fight out an invasion!
Caerphilly Castle, South Wales
Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales, and the second largest in the UK. Surrounded by a series of moats and islands, the castle dominates a 30-acre site.
Built in the 13th century by Gilbert de Clare, the design of the castle is based on a concentric ring of walls which was unusual in Britain at the time. The famous leaning tower, pictured here, fascinates kids (and is a fun photo op!) and has been that way since Oliver Cromwell’s failed attack on the castle in 1648!
Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire
Idyllically set on the banks of the river estuary, this mighty fortress is largely intact, and its endless passages, tunnels and stairways are great fun to explore. Pembroke castle was once the literal seat of a succession of major barons – this historic home is the birthplace of Henry Tudor, father to the infamous Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I.
Spend a day getting your history fix as well as enjoying the best of your surroundings. You can picnic in the beautifully kept grounds or enjoy views along the estuary from St. Anne’s Bastion.
Complete your visit with a walk around the medieval town walls and millpond, and stand on the opposing bank to see the castle in all its glory, surrounded by beautiful scenery.
It’s always worth checking ahead to see if you can catch a bonus event: they’re spread throughout the year and vary dramatically but have included battle re-enactments, falconry displays, dragon days, story-telling and lots more!
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff
You’ll find 2,000 years of Welsh history packed into Cardiff Castle! Start at the interpretation centre for a solid introduction, some dressing up fun for kids and to pick up your audio guides (there’s one for kids too).
Next, move on to discover all that the Castle has to offer. Climb 101 steps up a spiral staircase to the top of the Clock Tower. Then explore the network of underground tunnels below the castle which were used as air raid shelters for up to 2,000 people during World War II.
Throughout the year, there are numerous events that take place at the Castle. Traditional events take place regularly, giving you an opportunity to see medieval battle re-enactments, storytelling, jousting competitions, and skilled knights duelling for the ultimate win!
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