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Castles conjure up a time steeped in historical significance and atmosphere, an age of impenetrable moats and stone walls, fearless knights and beautiful princesses, battles fought and won. It’s hard not imagine what it must have been like to be King of one of these incredible fortresses, surveying your domain from the top of those high walls. We’ve put together a list of castles in the UK and Ireland, from the scenic to the extraordinary, that truly are the stuff of fairytales.
The Tower of London
Construction began on this spooky fortress in 1078. Perching eerily on the North bank of the River Thames, the world-renowned tower has had many guises over the years - royal residence, armoury, treasury, menagerie, public records office and, most notoriously, prison. Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Anne Boyeln, William Wallace, Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Rudolph Hess were all held captive here. The prison was actually still in use as recently as 1952 when it housed infamous gangster twins the Krays. The Tower is also home to the Crown Jewels of London. Last year award-winning theatre designer Tom Piper’s incredible poppy display at the Tower, designed to commemorate the centenary of World War 1, made headlines around the world.
Jurys Inn London, Croydon offers cheap hotel rooms in an ideal location only 40 minutes by train from the Tower of London.
It’s not difficult to understand why tourists flock to Edinburgh’s crowning glory, which looms imposingly atop the city skyline. Sitting on an extinct volcano, it has had a tumultuous history, besieged and captured over the years by Edward I, Robert the Bruce and Oliver Cromwell. Highlights of a visit include the 881-year-old St Margaret's Chapel (Edinburgh oldest building), the 16th-century Great Hall, the Scottish crown jewels, and Mons Meg, a giant medieval siege weapon. The castle has sheltered many Scottish monarchs within its walls including Queen Margaret, who died there in 1093, and Mary Queen of Scots, who gave birth to James VI in the Royal Palace in 1566. Every August the castle esplanade plays host to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands. Performers from over 46 countries have taken part, and around 30% of the 220,000-strong audience each year are tourists.
Alnwick is the UK’s second-largest inhabited castle after Windsor Castle, home to the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland since the 14th century and has a fascinating history. It was famously held by Lancastrian forces during the Wars of the Roses, and is a place of pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans, having cropped up many times in the popular film series. Hosting a medieval crafts and dress-up event, Broomstick training, Jesting, Minstrel and Medieval Alchemy displays and performances makes it a great choice for a family day-out. The castle recently featured in the Downton Abbey Christmas special, as well as in Becket, Black Adder, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It often ranks highly in Top 10 landmark lists and currently welcomes 800,000 visitors a year.
Alnwick Castle is a 45 minute drive from Jurys Inn Newcastle.
Alnwick Castle by Phil Thomas Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 (image and image size have been modified)
Nestled in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains, visiting this picturesque Scottish castle, complete with dusty pink turrets and gargoyles, is like taking a step back in time. Completed in 1626, Graigievar Castle is a highly-regarded example of Scottish Baronial architecture and is home to a treasure-trove of priceless artwork and furniture carefully preserved by the Forbes family who resided here for 350 years. The 200 acre surrounding woodlands and countryside make it the perfect antidote to busy city life, and a nice option for a day-trip or ramble around at the weekend.
Craigievar Castle is a 1 hour drive from Jurys Inn Aberdeen.
Craigievar Castle by Ikiwaner/ CC BY-SA 3.0 (image and image size have been modified)
The Rock of Cashel
Just on the outskirts of the town of Cashel, Co Tipperary, Ireland lies the towering Rock of Cashel. According to local mythology the castle actually originated 20 miles away in the Devil’s Bit Mountain where St Patrick banished Satan from a cave. St Patrick later converted the king of Munster to Christianity here, who then donated the fortress to the church. It was the former seat of the king of Munster prior to the Norman invasion and houses a stunning collection of Celtic art and medieval architecture. Must-see features include Scully’s High Cross, built in 1867, and a beautifully preserved round-tower with an entrance 12 feet from the ground.
The Rock of Cashel is a 1 hour drive from Jurys Inn Cork.
Rock of Cashel by RX-Guru/CC BY-SA 3.0 (image and image size have been modified)
This 18th century city-centre castle has played a central role in the Irish capital’s history. Up until 1922 it was the seat of British rule in Ireland before being handed back to the state. First built as a defensive fort, the castle assumed the role of the Four Courts for a period of time due to damage inflicted on the building during the Irish Civil War. The Castle has been the site of choice for the every presidential inauguration since Douglas Hyde was sworn-in in 1938. Its appeared in numerous films including Barry Lyndon, Michael Collins, Becoming Jane and The Medallion, as well as the pilot episode of The Tudors, where it doubles as the Vatican. A mere 3 minute walk from Jurys Inn Christchurch, the castle is also a cultural institution. Sample some Persian cuisine from the Silk Road Café, take in an art exhibition or performance, leaf through an old book in the Chester Beatty Library or simply throw a Frisbee around the grounds on a nice day. Dubliners can often be found enjoying lunch al fresco here during the summer months (weather permitting).
Dublin Castle is a 3 minute walk from Jurys Inn Dublin, Christchurch.
Dublin Castle by J.-H. Janßen/ CC BY-SA 3.0 (image and image size have been modified)
Built in the 13th century Doune Castle acted as both a royal retreat for the Duke of Albany and a prison and garrison. Due to Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Glencairn's rising in the mid-17th century, and the Jacobite Risings of the late 17th century and 18th century, by 1800 the castle was in ruins, but has since been restored to its former glory. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed on location here in 1974 and is perhaps its most long-standing legacy. The many castles featured throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles or hanging miniatures. The Castle has also portrayed Winterfell in the television Game of Thrones.
Doune Castle is a 45 minute drive from Jurys Inn Glasgow.
Doune Castle by Wikifan75 / CC BY-SA 3.0 (image and image size have been modified)
For more Must See Castles in Great Britain check out our previous blog post!