Visit the Biggest Castles in England

What is the largest castle in England? There is no clear answer to that question, some say it’s Windsor Castle but others name Dover Castle as the biggest castle in England.

Many of the biggest castles in England are also some of the oldest castles in the country. Some of these historic castles were built during the Norman conquest or the Middle Ages. Often, they have been expanded, rebuilt, and restored in later centuries. 

These stunning castles tell the story of English history, they have been used a military strongholds, as a royal palace, and as family homes for the grandest families in the United Kingdom.

From Windsor Castle to a castle made famous by Harry Potter. These are the biggest English castles that are worthy of a visit.

photo: Michael Coppins / CC BY-SA 4.0

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle, perhaps the most famous castle in England. Window is the oldest and largest occupied castles in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle’s origin date back to Norman times as it was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.

Originally Windsor Castle was a motte-and-bailey castle that formed (along with other castles) a defensive ring around London. To fully protect the city of London it was built in a strategic location near the River Thames.    

Though the castle wasn’t built as a Royal residence, it has been the home of 39 monarchs since its construction. St George’s Chapel at Windsor is also the final resting place of Queen Elizabeth IIand many other English Royals.

Where: Windsor

Built: 11th century

Visitor information: the castle is open for visitors Thursday-Monday. The castle is still used by the British Royal Family so it can be closed on certain days. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: DeFacto / CC BY-SA 2.5

Warwick Castle

Located on a meander of the River Avon, Warwick Castle is a medieval castle. The first castle was a Norman wooden motte-and-bailey castle but in the 12th century, the castle was rebuilt into a stone castle. The exterior of the castle is a classic example of military architecture. This façade was added during the Hundred Years War.

Where: Warwick

Built: 12th century

Visitor information: the castle is open though the year. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: Robert Eyers / CC BY-SA 4.0

Leeds Castle

The history of Leeds Castle dates back to 857 when the site was owned by a Saxon chief. Since the 13th century, the castle has been owned by English Royals. King Edward I bought the castle for his Queen, Eleanor of Castile.

King Henry VIII remodeled the castle for his Queen, Catherine of Aragon. In the castle hangs a painting of Henry’s meeting with King Francis I of France.

Despite that there was already a castle in Tudor times, its current Tudor appearance dates from the 19th century when the Wykeham Martins family owned the castle. The castle’s interiors mainly date back to the 1930s when Lady Baillie redecorated.

Where: Leeds

Built: 857 (19th century Tudor remodel)

Style: Tudor

Visitor information: the castle is open daily. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: Chensiyuan / CC BY-SA 4.0

Dover Castle

Rising above the White Cliffs above the Channel stands Dover Castle also known as “the Key to England” due to its defensive significance. The castle was founded by William the Conquerer when he and his army traveled to Dover after the Battle of Hastings. But nothing remains of the original Norman castle. The English King Henry II (and later monarchs) rebuilt the castle, the inner and outer bailet and the great keep at the castle date from his reign.

The castle also played a significant role during the Second World War. The castle took center stage during the evacuation of Allied troops from the beach of Dunkirk.

With a visit to Dover Castle, you will learn more about its fascinating history. Learn more about the story of Dunkirk or visit the Great Tower (with its spectacular views) and its medieval recreated rooms. And you can roam the 80 acres of castle grounds where you can see a Roman lighthouse, medieval tunnels, and mighty battlements.

Where: Dover

Built: 11/12th century

Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: Phil Thomas / CC BY 2.0

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle is the second-largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor Castle. Alnwick was founded in Norman times and has been the seat of the Duke of Northumberland since 1309.

With a 950 year history, the castle has a lot of stories to tell. It not only served as a family home for the Percy family, but Alnwick has also been a military outpost, a refuge for evacuees, and a film set.

Perhaps most famously, the castle has featured as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. But is also featured in Elizabeth, Downton Abbey, and Robin Hood.

Where: Alnwick

Built: 11th century

Visitor information: the castle is one of the most visited castle in England and it’s is open daily. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: Mrs. Ella Cott / CC BY-SA 4.0

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle in West Sussex was originally built by Roger de Montgomery (a cousin of William de Conquerer) as a motte-and-bailey castle. However, in the 1870s and 1890s the castle was almost entirely rebuilt in Gothic style by Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk. But you can still see traces of former structures such as a Norman keep, a medieval Gatehouse, and Barbican.

Where: Arundel

Built: 11th century

Visitor information: the castle is open for visitors April-October. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: Bas Sijpkes / CC BY 2.0

Highclere Castle

The Highclere Castle estate is first mentioned in 749 when the estate was granted to the Bishops of Winchester by an Anglo-Saxon king. In 1679, the former medieval palace was rebuilt as a Place House by Sir Robert Sawyer (the Attorney General to King Charles II and James II).

The Classical (and later Greek Revival) style mansion was remodeled and rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry in Jacobethan-style (which was very popular in the Victorian period) for the third Earl of Pembroke. With its 300 rooms, it is one of the largest stately homes in England.

The castle was used as a hospital during the First World War and in WWII the castle provided a home for dozens of evacuee children.

In modern times, the castle is best known for being the main filming location for the drama series/movies of Downton Abbey.

Where: Highclere

Built: 1679 (Jacobethan remodel: 1842–49)

Visitor information: the castle and grounds are open to visitors. Visit the website for current opening hours.

photo: WyrdLight-McCallum Photography

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle is a moated castle that was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in the 14th century. The castle was built to defend to area against a French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.

During the English Civil War the castle, located in the Rother Valley, fell into ruin. Several people, including Lord Curzon, have tried to restore the castle however the interiors are still a ruin. 

Where: Robertsbridge

Built: 14th century

Visitor information: the castle is owned by the National Trust and can be visited. Visit the website for current opening hours.

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