From the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle to the actual structure that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, here’s a list of Britain’s 10 most striking castles
Great Britain is home to one of the most impressive lists of castles. That being said, it could take you a while to add each one to your castle-gazing bucket list. So, we’ve narrowed it down to the 10 most striking castles you’d want to visit for a round of royal play-pretend.
Starting with the home of British kings and queens for nearly ten centuries, the oldest and largest inhabited castle houses a remarkable 1,000 rooms. Comprised of two quadrilateral-shaped building complexes separated by the Round Tower, the castle embodies centuries of architectural history – and clearly made a desirable wedding venue for modern royals, too.
Originating in the 11th century, the structure’s frame endured various makeovers, reconstructions, and even a fire. Settled atop a steep, chalk cliff rising from the south bank of the River Thames, the mediaeval fortification covers an area of around 13 acres.
With its captivating attributes in mind, it is easy to imagine why the Queen chooses it as her royal retreat.
This 10th-century creation came at the request of a real warrior Princess – the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great, Ethelfleda. Developed from a wooden motte-and-bailey fort by William the Conquerer, the now mighty stone fortress is surrounded by greenery and reflective waters.
Aside from admirable architecture and landscaped features, the castle is home to the world’s most powerful catapult; a historic weapon called the trebuchet, Nikita; a majestic sea eagle with a 2.5 m wingspan, and the UK’s only free-flying Andean condor, the world’s largest bird of prey, with a staggering wingspan of over 3 m.
Tower of London
This 900-year-old castle in central London is renowned for housing the crown jewels and holding some of the most notorious prisoners within its walls.
Today, the series of buildings and fortifications that make up the complex sprawl over 12 acres on the north bank of the River Thames. Home to some of England’s darkest secrets – as well as an impressive collection of armour and royal treasures – this building is one of London’s most popular attractions.
In the English county of Northumberland, this 11th-century castle and country house is the seat of The 12th Duke of Northumberland and is home to Harry Potter-inspired events and Dragon Quest. Having witnessed drama, tragedy and romantic tales, its history lives on through magnificent State Rooms, stunning art collections, mediaeval crafts and a more contemporary take on the legends within its halls – Harry Potter-inspired magic. Visiting Alnwick would inspire the most creative depths of imaginations.
Moving onto the land of extraordinary coastlines, historical records have shown the Scottish country to serve as home to over two thousand castles over the centuries.
The most well-known of those is Edinburgh Castle, the residence of Scottish monarchs-turned-museum. Rising 135 metres above the capital city from a volcanic crag called Castle Rock, its grey structure bears the memories of military adventures and royal anecdotes. The castle is also home to the Royal Palace, the National War Museum, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
Sitting atop Castle Hill, a volcanic rock which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation, is one of the largest and most prominent houses of Scottish history. Acting as the link between the Lowlands and Highlands, Stirling Castle rules the skyline amid green cushioning.
During the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. When the castle flourished in times of peace, it offered its rooms to Scottish royalty. Nowadays, it tops the lists of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the country.
Deep in the woodlands and vibrant country of the Cairngorms stands an entrancing, pink tower house that is the stuff of fairytales – quite literally. Serving as the muse for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, the 17th-century stone masterpiece had to be put on our list. And behind its dawn-tinted covering, you can examine a unique collection of well-maintained artefacts, artworks and weaponry.
Wales boasts an impressive 600 plus castles, some of which have survived centuries of stories, while others have buried their sagas in ruins. The impressive list of castles still-standing has scored Wales the title of the most castles per square mile in the world.
Dominating a grand 30-acre site, Caerphilly Castle is one of the great mediaeval castles of western Europe. It was constructed by one of Henry III’s most powerful and ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan in the 13th century. Its immense size has made it the largest in Britain after Windsor, and the masterly utilization of water to accompany its concentric layout helped it claim authority as a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning.
Built by Edward I during his 13th-century conquest of Wales, Conwy Castle is home to the most intact set of royal apartments from that period. In order to reach them, one would have to climb the lengths of eight spiral staircases in the castle’s towers. Those willing will be rewarded with unforgettable views of Snowdonia National Park in the distance. Marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this castle is a must-visit.
Last but certainly not least, the grey stone fortress located in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, north-west Wales. Built on a vicious foundation of conflict, this fortress-palace stands as one of the world’s greatest and most-recognized architectural symbols of the Middle Ages.
Situated along the banks of the River Seiont, the castle is grouped with Edward I’s other castles at Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech as part of the World Heritage Site, “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd”, cared for by Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service. Although part of a series of castles, this 700-year-old structure stands out on its own as a legend brought to life – the Welsh myth of Macsen Wledig, who dreamed of a great fort at the mouth of a river.
Due to the wars taking place the time it was constructed, its immense curtain walls and intimidating King’s Gate were designed to withstand attacks. While the castle’s eagle statues, polygonal towers, and multi-coloured masonry mimic imperial Roman architecture.
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