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Feel like a royal with our guide to the best UK castles

King of the castles… We are very lucky in the UK to have so many historic buildings within easy reach of a visit and castles are what fairy tales are made of. Here are some of our favourites with YHA properties you can stay at whilst exploring. Armour at the ready!

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle, England

The second largest inhabited castle in the UK, Alnwick has served as a military outpost, a teaching college, a refuge for evacuees, a film set, and a family home. It was built following the Norman conquest with the first parts of the castle dating back to 1096.

Nowadays you can tour the castle and step into the world of a medieval knight or pretend to be witches and wizards. All feels a little familiar? That’s because Alnwick Castle is Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, it’s also featured in Transformers: The Last Knight, and as Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey. And whilst in the area Bamburgh Castle, which is on the spectacular Northumberland coastline, is definitely worth a visit too.

Stay at YHA Alnwick, YHA Berwick, YHA Wooler

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle

Set high on a craggy peninsular overlooking a dramatic stretch of Cornish coast, Tintagel Castle has a very interesting history. According to legend, this was the stronghold of King Arthur and the remains of a Dark Ages settlement. It was believed to have been constructed around 1140AD, built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland projecting into the Cornish sea.

Make your way across the footbridge to the island and discover the remains of Tintagel’s early medieval settlement, where Cornish rulers lived and traded importing exotic goods and trading tin. Look out for wildlife as the island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to plenty of flora, fauna, and birds sheltering from the winds in the ruins. You might even spot seals in the water.

There’s also a beach walk and a beach café to enjoy, make sure you pre-book tickets before your visit.

Stay at YHA Tintagel, YHA Boscastle, YHA Treyarnon Bay

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

One of the most impressive castles in Wales, overlooking the Conwy estuary, this magnificent medieval fortress still towers over the town after 700 years. King Edward I and his architect Master James of St George built both castle and walls in four years between 1283 and 1287.  Take the spiral staircase or trace the servants’ passages between the rooms.

Explore the King’s Great Chamber, the atmospheric chapel or the ‘watching chamber’ – equipped with its very own latrine – from which royal personages could observe religious services in privacy. This famous fortress is exceptionally well preserved.

In the distance rise the craggy mountains of Snowdonia and spread out below are the harbour and narrow streets of Conwy – still protected by an unbroken 1,400-yard (1.3km) ring of town walls. Conwy is also a World Heritage Site.

Stay at YHA Conwy, YHA Rowen

York Castle

York Castle

York Castle is a fortified complex in the city which consists of a series of castles, prisons, law courts and other buildings, which were built over the last nine centuries.

Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of York Castle built by William the Conqueror to strengthen his military grip on the north. It was one of the two motte and bailey castles he built in 1068-69, the mound of the second, now known as the ‘Old Baile’, is across the river from the tower. It has served as a prison in its time, it’s most famous convict was the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin. Visit York Castle Museum to find out more.

Stay at YHA York

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle’s history dates back to the eleventh century.  The name Belvoir – meaning ‘beautiful view’ in French and pronounced today as ‘beaver’ – dates back to Norman times. Belvoir Castle has been seen on screen as Windsor Castle in season three of The Crown.

Now, you can lord it up at Belvoir Castle as it has a retail village, restored from old estate buildings, for local food, drink and artisan shopping. Don’t miss the majesty of the State Dining Room and also take a meander through the beautiful formal gardens and parkland that offer a variety of walks and trails.

Stay at YHA Thurlby

Corfe Castle 

Corfe Castle

Uncover the secrets of Dorset’s iconic medieval monument and discover how royalty, warfare and nature have shaped the castle. The first stone of Corfe Castle was laid more than 1,000 years ago. Since then it’s seen its fair share of battles, mysteries and plots. It’s been a treasury, military garrison, royal residence and family home.

The keep was built in the early 12th century for King Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son. The dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle stand on a natural hill guarding the principal route through the Purbeck Hills. It’s a picture postcard location.

Stay at YHA Swanage

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from a wooden fort, originally built by William the Conqueror (yep, he built a lot of castles) during 1068. It’s situated on a meander of the River Avon. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century.

Now owned by the same company as Alton Towers, it’s a fun family day out. There’s birds of prey shows, a Horrible Histories Maze and 64 acres of grounds and gardens.

Stay at YHA Stratford-upon-Avon

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle is a medieval castle in the centre of Pembroke in Wales. This mighty fortress is largely intact and its endless passages, tunnels and stairways are great to explore. In 1093, Arnulf of Montgomery built the first castle at the site beside the Pembroke River during the Norman invasion of Wales. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. Henry VII was born on 28th January 1457 at the castle during the War of the Roses.

It’s an enormous oval castle, mostly surrounded by a serene mill pond. The walled town of Pembroke grew up around the castle and also contains many ancient and interesting Norman buildings. There’s a circular path around inside and outside of the mill pond, a shop, a brass rubbing centre and café.

Stay at YHA Broad Haven, YHA Manorbier or YHA Newport Pembrokeshire

St Briavels Castle

YHA St Briavels Castle

We couldn’t leave off our very own castle. YHA St Briavels Castle is a venue with real wow factor that will amaze and inspire visitors of all ages. The castle is over 800 years old, with bags of character and remarkably well-preserved features throughout, and a magical charm that promotes social interaction and historical interest in equal measure.

The castle is a Grade I listed ancient monument, a rich piece of history and an inspiring location. Be transported back in time to medieval world of King John and the Magna Carta within this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The grounds are an archaeologically preserved site and operate as an English Heritage visitor attraction during the afternoon.

Stay at YHA St Briavels Castle

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Photo credit: Bnoragitt / acceleratorhams / samott / Patrick McCabe / Tharmine / valeryegorov / Madrugada Verde / spectrumblue / PhotoFires / Adobe Stock

Written by Jo Avery

Jo works in YHA's communications team, writing about travel and adventures for all. She loves curling up with a good book and a large mug of tea, ambling through wheat fields in Derbyshire with her family and dog and holidaying beside the seaside.

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HistoryFeel like a royal with our guide to the best UK castles