If you’re anything like me, you’ve dreamed of immersing yourself in the enchanting world of Gothic castles as you explore the United Kingdom. From enthralling tales of royalty, battles, and ghosts to magical architectural masterpieces, these castles are sure to captivate your imagination. Here is a list of incredible Gothic castles that will take your breath away in the UK.
Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852. As a royal home, public access is limited but that doesn’t mean you can explore a bit! The grounds, gardens, and exhibitions at Balmoral are open to the public throughout the year. While it may require a bit of planning on your end, we highly suggest you try to make a visit if you’re able to so you can see firsthand where Queen Elizabeth II loved to spend her winter holidays. The castle features majestic turrets and narrow windows, showcasing Scottish baronial architecture. As one of the most famous castles in the UK, a visit to Balmoral is sure to be unforgettable!
Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland
Gamis Castle has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372. And while not a royal residence, Glamis Castle is still full of royal history! The deep connection to today’s Royal Family is one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit the castle. It was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and the birthplace of HRH Princess Margaret.
one of the things that I find most fascinating about the castle, is that it inspired one of theater’s most famous plays – Shakespeare’s Macbeth! We haven’t seen any ghosts around but that doesn’t mean the stories aren’t true…
Margam Castle in Port Talbot, Wales
This stunning 19th Century Tudor Gothic Mansion was designed by the architect Thomas Hopper for Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot. Margam Castle epitomizes the grandeur of Victorian-era castles with some gorgeous features. Its vast staircase hall and octagonal tower make it the perfect setting for any fairytale. The Entrance Hallway as well as the Staircase Hall are open to the public. If you find yourself wanting to make a day of your visit, pack a picnic and explore the gorgeous grounds! If you want to visit some beautiful castles in the UK, Margam should be on your list!
Wray Castle in Cumbria, England
If you find yourself near Lake Windermere, make sure you make a point to visit Wray Castle! The castle was built in the 1840s and admission is always free. Currently, the castle’s ground floor is the only area open to the public. The castle resembles a medieval fortress that only ever had to protect itself from the Cumbrian weather. And with dazzling neo-Gothic architecture that overlook stunnig views, it is easy to see why the region has inspired so many.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that part of the reason that I love Wray Castle is because of a Taylor Swift song. I know, I know, it’s not exactly the logic you would expect but hear me out. One of my favorite songs as a Swiftie is “The Lakes” which she wrote after taking a trip to the Lake District. Naturally, in my head, it makes sense that if she was spending time near Lake Windermere she would also maybe mosy on over to Wray Castle for a visit. While I can’t confirm nor deny that she’s visited any castles in the UK, it is fun to think about how this region of the United Kingdom might have inspired her.
Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England
There are nearly 1,000 years of history at Arundel Castle which overlooks the River Arun in West Sussex. The castle was built at the end of the 11th century and has quite a connection to many important figures in England’s history. You’ll find a fascinating collection of items at the castle including furniture from the 16th century and portraits by well-known artists like Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Mytens, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Canaletto. Also on display are some of my favorite artifacts from the castle, the personal possessions of Mary, Queen of Scots
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, stayed at the castle for three days in 1846, so the castle has ties to the current royal family. Arundel Castle was one of the first English country houses to be fitted with modern amenities like electric light and central heating.
Set in a picturesque village the castle offers visitors the chance to explore its beautiful hallways, chambers, tapestries, and paintings. And when it comes to castles in the UK, this one has a library worth mentioning! The Library is the 11th Duke’s work and is one of the most important Gothic rooms of circa 1800 in the country. It is 122 feet (38 meters) long and has close to 10,000 books!
Leeds Castle in Kent, England
Positioned on two small islands in the River Len, Leeds Castle is known as “the loveliest castle in the world.” And it is one of the top attractions in Kent so if you find yourself in the area, you don’t want to miss visiting! The castle’s history spans over 900 years so there is plenty to learn and discover. When you visit you’ll learn about the lives of those who owned and commanded Leeds Castle from generation to generation. And through displays and exhibits, you can learn of the queens who have ties to the castle as well as Lady Baillie who saved the castle.
While you are exploring this castle in the UK, don’t miss the Dog Collar Museum! The museum features an extensive collection of canine neckwear that spans over 5 centuries. The 130+ rare and unique collars displayed are a fun way to look at the history of man’s best friend!
Durham Castle in Durham, England
If you are a fan of Harry Potter like I am then you might recognize Durham Castle‘s neighbor, Durham Cathedral as one of the filming locations for Hogwarts. The castle has been, since 1837, the home of University College, Durham. Prior to being home to the university the castle was the residence of the Bishops of Durham. The facility is open to the public but only through guided tours. Guides are often history students from the university which I think adds to the experience and provides a beautiful way to bridge the past and the present. The tour takes about 30 minutes and since it is right next to the cathedral you can plan your day to visit both buildings.
Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, England
Strawberry Hill House is an internationally renowned example of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture in Twickenham. The home was built by Horace Walpole, author, historian, and son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. His vision was to recreate a medieval Gothic castle and he spent many years transforming his home into just that. The home has been welcoming visitors for over 250 years – there were even limited tours being offered during Walpole’s lifetime.
Strawberry Hill House, with its elaborate towers and battlements painted white and adorned with bright colors, redefined Gothic style in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its vaulted ceilings, arched windows, and ornate details are must-sees for any castle enthusiast. The architecture of Strawberry Hill House was revolutionary at the time as it kick-started the Gothic Revival in the 18th century in England.
The house was filled with his collection of antiquities and curiosities. After Walpole’s death in 1797, the house changed hands several times. To fully appreciate Horace Walpole’s Gothic masterpiece, you should really consider booking a private guided tour. These tours cover a variety of subjects and themes related to Walpole and what many would certainly say is one of the most unique Gothic castles in the UK!
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England
Alnwick Castle is another filming location you might recognize. This castle is not a newcomer to the big screen! With its stunning architecture serving as the backdrop for numerous films and television series. Most recently, it was showcased in Transformers: The Last Knight and graced our screens as the grand Brancaster Castle in the Christmas specials of Downton Abbey in 2015 and 2016. The castle’s cinematic history also includes serving as the backdrop for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the initial two Harry Potter films.
With a rich history spanning over 950 years, Alnwick Castle’s roots trace back to the Norman era. The castle’s narrative has been closely linked with the Percy family since 1309, a lineage as distinguished as the castle itself. As the UK’s second largest inhabited castle, Alnwick has worn many hats throughout its history. It has functioned as a military stronghold, an educational institution, a sanctuary for evacuees, a backdrop for films, and, importantly, a family residence. Embark on a journey through time and explore the remarkable history of this dynamic and continuously evolving castle.
If you’re looking for something to stand out while you are visiting, Alnwick Castle is located near the Alnwick Poison Garden! Gothic castles in the UK and a poison garden? Say no more!
Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England
One of my personal favorite castles in the UK is none other than Highclere Castle! The estate has a rich history dating back to 749 and its origins can be traced back to an Anglo-Saxon King who granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester. Over the centuries the castle became to be what we see today. The most notable transformation was in 1842 when Sir Charles Barry redesigned the house.
The estate has an archaeological history that might surprise most. There is an Iron Age fort and a number of tumuli, ancient trackways, lynchets, and field systems within its boundaries.
The estate grounds are truly beautiful! Make sure to spend some time in the Monks’ Garden, the White Border, the Wood of Goodwill, the Rose Arbour, the Wild Flower Meadow, and the Healing Herb Garden. And while the grounds are perfect for a day in the country with a picnic, the real star here is the castle.
There are between 250 and 300 rooms in the castle some of which you can see while taking a tour of the castle. While visiting the castle, you can explore the lavish interior, which showcases an extensive collection of art and antiques. During the tour, you are also able to explore the main state rooms, some bedrooms, and the cellars. You’ll also find the Egyptian Exhibition, which celebrates the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Highclere Castle is not just famous for its architecture and history, but also for its role in popular culture, serving as the setting for the beloved series “Downton Abbey” a show I fell in love with after it was off the air. This stately home with its Gothic Revival architecture set within a 5,000-acre estate is a must-see castle in the UK!
Hever Castle in Kent, England
Hever Castle is a 14th-century marvel and a must-visit destination for history and architecture enthusiasts. The castle is famous as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, and mother of Elizabeth I. So the castle is full of British history and ties to the monarchy. It boasts a collection of fine furniture, tapestries, antiques, and Tudor portraits, with a special display of Anne Boleyn’s prayer books in the Book of Hours Room.
The castle’s interior is a journey through time, with rooms and exhibitions reflecting its rich history. Highlights include the Entrance Hall, added by Anne of Cleves, featuring a grand staircase and original 14th-century timbers, the Library with its Grinling Gibbons-style carvings, and Anne Boleyn’s Bedroom, part of the Boleyn family’s private suite of rooms. The Great Chamber, the center of the Boleyn family home, and King Henry VIII’s Bedchamber, featuring 16th-century paneling, are also noteworthy.
The castle’s exterior is equally impressive. Hever’s architecture, complete with crenellations and a moat, along with reputed hauntings, make it one of the most popular attractions and castles in the UK.
The grounds include 125 acres of award-winning gardens that are well worth spending some time exploring. Visitors can marvel at the Pompeiian Wall and Italian Garden, play a game on the Giant Topiary Chess Set, and enjoy the fragrance of over 5,000 rose bushes in the English Rose Garden. But if relaxing with a picnic is more of what you are hoping for, the Loggia, overlooking a 38-acre lake, is perfect.
Visitors should allocate at least an hour for the castle and 1.5 hours for the gardens. A visit to Hever Castle promises a rich, historical, and visually stunning experience.
Corfe Castle in Dorset, England
Corfe Castle might not look like some of the other majestic castles in the UK we’ve covered so far, but looks can be deceiving! This place is a captivating site with its romantic ruins, fallen walls, secret places, ‘murder holes’, and arrow loops. This once-majestic fortress was partially destroyed during the English Civil War, but its dramatic ruins continue to captivate visitors. The castle offers an audio tour trail that tells the story of Corfe Castle throughout different historical periods, from its conception up to the present day – including the Norman, Tudor, and English Civil War periods.
While on the grounds, visitors are encouraged to look out for the ravens. According to an old legend, if the ravens ever leave Corfe Castle, something terrible will happen. They have been nesting in the castle for hundreds of years, and their nest is high up in the stonework.
Each of these Gothic castles adds a unique layer to the rich tapestry of the UK’s architectural and historical landscape. Whether you’re a history buff, a fan of literature or film, or simply enchanted by the allure of these magnificent structures, these castles offer something for everyone.
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