5 Amazing Castles To Visit In The United Kingdom

Hundreds of years ago and across the pond, an English man's home was his castle, literally. There were enough royals, bishops and conquerors in the United Kingdom once that the country is now dotted with lavish castle estates and expansive gardens. It's the stuff of fairy tales.

Hundreds of years ago and across the pond, an English man's home was his castle, literally. There were enough royals, bishops and conquerors in the United Kingdom once that the country is now dotted with lavish castle estates and expansive gardens. It's the stuff of fairy tales.

Deciding which castles to visit can be an overwhelming task. The country boasts well over 3000 castles, ranging from historic ruins to medieval strongholds to Victorian beauties.

We've highlighted five noteworthy castles spread across Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A visit to any of these will leave tourists with a good sense of what it was like to live in a more romantic, if less sanitary (bubonic plague anyone?), time.

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5 Amazing Castles To Visit In The United Kingdom

For travelers who want more than to simply tour castle grounds and view relics behind glass, a hotel castle is the way to go. Tucked in the stunning West Sussex countryside, Amberley Castle is among the most impressive. 

What started off as a hunting lodge built by Bishop Ralph Luffa of Chichester in 1103 is now an expansive luxury hotel. The castle is stationed in a fort complete with a 60-foot curtain wall and a 2-ton portcullis that is still lowered at midnight and raised at dawn, as in old times. In its 900-year history, the castle has been leased to the Crown and served as a home to bishops. Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, visited the castle in 1945. 

The castle's romantic setting makes it a popular wedding venue. Rose-covered arches, koi-filled ponds and medieval stonework dress the gardens. Most of the 19 guest rooms have four-poster beds where visitors can easily imagine a royal retreating to in the 1700s. There are modern-day luxuries as well: Every room is outfitted with a Jacuzzi. An 18-hole putting course was added to the estate in celebration of its 900th anniversary in 2003. 

For an unforgettable dinner, book the Mistletoe Lodge. The more exclusive of the two restaurants on site, this one is in a treehouse cozily set up for two. A rope bridge leads into the intimate dining room, nestled atop an oak tree near the castle's main entrance. 

Where to stay: Right here, for about $370.

Belfast Castle looks as though it was torn right out of a fairytale book. Its picturesque towers and winding staircases are enough to make Cinderella green with envy. 

Compared to the other castles on this list, Belfast Castle is relatively young: It was built in the 1860s. Two other castles existed on the site beforehand, the first of which dates back to the late 12th century while the second, built in 1611, was burned down 100 years later. The third iteration stands tall over Belfast, resplendent in its Scottish baronial style. It belonged to the Shaftesbury family until it was turned over to the City of Belfast in 1934.

On a clear day, Belfast Castle offers excellent views of the city. Visitors with tots in tow can let the kids run loose at the Cave Hill Adventurous Playground, located within the castle. To wind down, grab a chair at the Cellar Restaurant in the castle. It's designed to take visitors back to the Victorian era with its gas lights and faux shop fronts.

The outdoor enthusiast should bring a pair of hiking shoes and explore the caves and marked trails of Cave Hill, which can be accessed near the estate grounds. Both Cave Hill Country Park and the Belfast Castle Estate provide natural habitats for local wildlife, and rabbits and badgers are commonly spotted.

Where to stay: There's a quaint bed and breakfast less than a 10-minute walk from the castle called Somerton House. Standard rooms start at about $60, a steal for its proximity to the castle and Cave Hill. 

Built on a volcanic rock from 340 million B.C., Edinburgh Castle has nothing if not a long history. Archeologists have found evidence of human existence on the castle rock from the Bronze Age. Fast forward a few hundred years to the Middle Ages, when Edinburgh was Scotland's chief royal castle: Queen Marie de Guise dies here in 1560 and Mary Queen of Scotts gives birth here to James VI in 1566.

There is a lot to see within the castle walls today, but the must-sees include The Crown Room, where the crown, scepter and sword of state are on view with the Stone of Destiny, used in coronation ceremonies and an important symbol of Scottish nationhood.

To avoid waiting in line, buy fast track tickets online, which cost 15 British Pounds ($24) for adults. Be sure to arrive by 1 p.m., when the One O'Clock Gun is fired -- a tradition kept alive since 1861.

Where to stay: All this castle touring will have anyone feeling opulent. A luxury stay in a Gothic suite at The Witchery By The Castle goes for just a little over $500 per night.

Warwick Castle takes the cake when it comes to the castle touring. Re-enactors here take historical tourism to a whole other level, performing  combat shows and over-the-top ceremonies. Visitors should definitely set aside an entire day or two for exploring this castle-turned-theme-park. 

One of the top attractions, the dungeon, transports visitors back to 1345, when the plague ran rampant. The castle's newest attraction, Merlin: The Dragon Tower, opened in April and  allows visitors to encounter the famous Arthurian wizard through an enchanted mirror. 

The castle hosts a trebuchet and houses one of the world's first hydroelectric power stations, which once generated power for the entire castle. The impressive Victorian rose gardens were buried by a tennis court after World War II, but two of the original drawings from 1868 survived and it was brought back to life in 1986. A new English rose was even bred to commemorate the recreation of the garden - it is appropriately named "Warwick Castle."

Tickets to the castle can be pricey. An adult ticket starts at about $43 and a child's ticket goes for about $35. They do offer discounted family packages.

Where to stay: After a jam-packed day at the castle, tired travelers will need some tranquility. For $145 per night, retreat to Wroxall Abbey Estate, a 12-minute drive away on 27 acres of parkland. 

The most grandiose medieval castle in Wales heavily sits on the banks of the Seiont River. King Edward I set his sights high when he commissioned Caernarfon Castle to be built, asking that it echo the walls of Constantinople to display English strength. The looming structure served many purposes: royal palace, government seat and military stronghold. Today's generation may recognize Caernarfon as the setting for Charles' crowning as the Prince of Wales.

The greatest military architect of the age, James of St. George, directed the construction of the castle beginning in 1283. Nearly 50 years later, the castle was completed and in its 700 years of existence has needed minimal restoration. The castle's unique towers and color-banded masonry distinguish it. Visitors can roam the deserted fortress, gaze out to sea or visit the exhibitions located within the tower.

The first English Prince of Wales was born here in 1284, making the castle as an important part of royal history. Caernarfon's history helped it earn recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where to stay: For lodging with its own piece of history just a short walk from the castle, stay at the Black Boy Inn. The family-owned inn was built circa 1522. Rooms start at about $130, breakfast included.


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