It is well documented that an Englishman’s home is his castle; however, despite popular belief to the contrary I am very sad to say that not all of us grew up in one.
In fact, some of us have never spent a single night in one and I can confirm that I have not even been invited to a single royal wedding despite being a fully documented UK citizen from birth.
However, considering the cost of maintaining and heating these icons of English culture, it is not surprising that many castles are now being transformed into luxury hotels and the chance to spend some time playing lord or lady of the manor is now very possible.
My minimum criteria when choosing a castle to stay in is that it’s, well, a castle!
Don’t be fooled by stately homes, mansions, towers and estates that have just stuck a turret on the corner at some point and started calling themselves a castle.
In my humble opinion, based on my expertise as an English woman raised on fairy tales, a castle is only a castle if that was its original intended use.
Preferably it will have been built before the 16th Century, which is when castles started to become more of a status symbol than something used for defensive purposes.
Using this criteria, I have scanned the significant selection of castles now open to paying overnight guests and selected my dream castle destinations from all over England.
In no particular order, these are my top 9 castle hotels.
1. Bickleigh Castle, Devon
Bickleigh Castle is one of very few castles in the southwest of England that meets my exacting criteria.
It is nestled in the stunning Devonshire countryside.
Devon is a dramatic coastal county and boasts some of the best weather to be found on our green but rain-soaked island, so the castle deserves a place in my top 9 for that alone.
There has been a castle on this site since 1018, when it was built by the Saxons to defend against the marauding Normans, although much of the original buildings were destroyed during the English Civil War 600 years later.
The existing gatehouse dates back to the 1400s and the entire estate is undeniably soaked in history.
The property was transformed into a luxury hotel by the current owners in 2002 and rooms are now available in the castle itself or in one of the many beautiful cottages that can be found on the grounds.
It is well worth the consideration of anyone longing to experience a slice of quintessential English country life.
For information on booking and prices, you can visit their website.
2. Amberley Castle, West Sussex
We move east along the coast to West Sussex to reach our next humble abode, the glorious Amberley Castle.
This by far one of the most visually stunning castles that England has to offer, and it is situated in the legendary beauty of the South Downs.
It is also surrounded by iconic English towns and cities and a visit to this area wouldn’t be complete without joining the ladies that lunch in Chichester or the crazy creatives in Brighton, but before we start planning day trips let’s take a look at what this place has to offer.
If it’s history that you crave then how about staying somewhere that was built before England was even a country?
Amberley Castle was a gift from the King of Wessex in 683 AD, although it was more of a lodge then.
It became fortified over the next 400 years, including the portcullis that you will still have to walk under to enter the castle today.
There is no doubt that you will feel like you are somewhere special if you choose to stay here.
If the castle and its suitably resplendent interior isn’t enough then maybe the acres of gardens, 18-hole golf course and freely wandering white peacocks will do it for you.
For much more information, visit their website.
3. Hever Castle, Kent
Our next offering is in the county of Kent, affectionately known as the garden of England, and this impressive stronghold does much to support this inspiring moniker.
In terms of age, it is a mere whippersnapper in comparison to the first two castles on the list, as its history begins as recently as the 13th Century.
What it lacks in age it more than makes up for in history, for this fortress was once the home of Anne Boleyn, wife of the iconic Henry VIII and mother of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I.
This castle ticks every box for me: turrets, acres of gardens, a boating lake, three mazes, not one but two moats and, of course, ghosts.
This building has been at the heart of some of England’s most significant historic events, and the sumptuous wooden-paneled interiors and decadently styled guest rooms live up to the expectations one would place on a home of this caliber.
In addition to the permanent displays and exhibitions there are regular special events held at the castle, including opportunities such as Tudor Walks and interactive installations.
Staying in such a hotel will definitely be an unforgettable experience.
For booking and more details, click here.
4. Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire
We follow in Ann Boleyn’s footsteps now as we head west towards the border, with Wales deep in the natural beauty of the Cotswolds to Gloucestershire.
It is recorded that she and her new husband Henry VIII visited this sprawling estate for their honeymoon.
What’s less romantic is that Henry had seized the property from the poor chap who’d just finished building it, following his conviction for high treason.
Given the judiciary system of the time, I imagine losing his castle was the least of his worries.
There are several more tales of this type to be had regarding the boisterous history of this impressive stone structure, as according to its Doomsday entry it dates back to the 10th Century with links to William the Conqueror no less.
Now we all have the chance to be part of its history and, as well as the heritage and the obligatory four-poster beds in richly decorated quarters, the castle also boasts a grand hall and, of course, a dungeon dining room.
If these remarkable state rooms and the notable grounds aren’t enough to tempt you, then maybe the range of spa treatments that you can order to have in the comfort of your room will.
They almost guarantee that any stay will be more in keeping with that of a princess than the experience had by the tragic Ms. Boleyn.
Full details of this luxurious property can be found here.
5. Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
Warwick Castle is not new to the indignities of being exposed to the general public, and there are very few native English people who don’t have memories of visiting this awe-inspiring national treasure at some point in their childhood.
Its history and grandeur are no less impressive as a result of its contact with commercialization, but this wouldn’t necessarily be a peaceful and gentile break and should only be considered by those wanting to be immersed in wonderfully over-the-top events, exhibitions, displays and showmanship.
It should be noted that the estate did have a rather audacious start, as it was in 914 AD that none other than Alfred the Great (arguably the first King of England) ordered that a rampart be built on the site to protect the town of Warwick.
It was a little more than 150 years later when William the Conqueror ordered the first motte and bailey construction be put in its place.
This is some serious heritage and may explain its popularity with English and foreign tourists alike.
The castle has been owned by the famous Tussauds Group since the 1970s and they have turned it into a wonderful attraction, while also keeping to their responsibility to restore and maintain the original building.
There are many options for staying here in lovely, but purpose-built structures within the grounds, but you can still get a room in one of the original 14th Century towers, and the relative extravagance one would expect from such a stay, if you don’t mind paying a little extra.
More details on this brilliant English attraction can be found here.
6. Hazlewood Castle, Yorkshire
Nicknamed God’s Own Country and Historic Yorkshire, this is England’s biggest county by far and it celebrates its own unique culture, dialect and landscapes.
Home to the Peak District, an area of truly outstanding natural beauty and bearing the white rose emblem in reference to its role in the infamous war of the roses.
Given its prominent place in the history of England, it is maybe not surprising that there was more than one castle to choose from in this region, but Hazlewood was the clear and obvious choice.
At the climax of much civil unrest towards the end of the 11th Century the land that Hazlewood sits on ended up in the hands of the Vavasour family.
Astoundingly, it was to remain in their hands for the next 800 years until 1908; since then it has changed hands a few times before the current owners transformed it into a lavish and irresistible haven.
It is almost impossible to choose the most interesting snippet from this fortress’s history, but I think my personal favorite is from around 1220, when it is said that Maud Vavasour and her husband Fulk had a violent disagreement with King John resulting in Fulk losing his land and becoming an outlaw hiding in the woods.
If this sounds familiar it will be because you know the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, who are fabled to be based on these two very real prominent members of Hazlewood’s history.
I personally would be happy to stay in a ruin that had this history, but it just so happens that the castle’s facilities are a direct reflection of its rich and varied history.
Luxurious hotel rooms, world class dining, manicured lawns, turrets, grand halls and flying buttresses all await you at this not to be missed destination.
Read more about the castle, the events and the rooms at their website.
7. Augill Castle, Cumbria
On the west coast of England sandwiched between Yorkshire and Scotland lies Cumbria.
Famed for the breathtaking Lake District and its dramatic awe-inspiring landscapes, this is a county that must be seen to be believed.
Its location has unsurprisingly resulted in the area being defined by invasions, settlements, skirmishes and general unrest, exactly the sort of history that results in lots of castles.
You will find several to visit in the area, all of which meet my exacting standards for being a castle, but none of these have been converted into a hotel for paying guests.
So, I have allowed the rather unique Augill Castle to slip onto the list despite it only being built in 1841.
Regardless of being an infant in comparison to the others on the list, it appeals to me for its history of characteristically English eccentricity, which appears to have been maintained by the current owners.
This folly was built purely as a result of two over-privileged brothers attempting to outdo each other with extravagance, and the effort is visible on every stone of this building.
Over-the-top turrets, ramparts, mullioned windows, landscaped gardens, wooden paneling, huge fireplaces and grand halls are just some of the features that you will see here, but what I really love is the different approach the owners have taken.
Yes, you will stay in rooms that make you feel like royalty, but you will not be expected to be on your best behavior or to be standing on ceremony — quite the opposite.
The brother who built this place used it as a fantasy play palace to entertain his rich friends, and the current motto is ‘a castle built for parties.’
You are actively encouraged to relax and make yourself at home; there’s a bar, a music room, a library and lofty halls, all for you to treat as your own, and there’s even a cinema, which you’re free to use as you like.
This might not be steeped in history, but the history it does have has been well maintained and it offers a truly unique experience.
Visit the site to see more of what this place has to offer.
8. Walworth Castle, County Durham
Bordering Cumbria but not quite reaching up to Scotland and on the east coast of England is County Durham.
A county with a rich religious history and strong links to the Bishop of Durham has seen it leave the tumultuous Middle Ages relatively unscathed by battles and scandals but with a unique culture of its own.
The west of the county is defined by the Pennines, which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and on the east by dramatic views offered by Durham’s Heritage Coast.
With all these reasons to visit the area, where better to stay than Walworth Castle?
We are back on track with the authentic castles now, as there has been a stronghold on this site since the 12th Century.
The current building was completed in 1600, which was just in time to accept King James VI of Scotland, who needed somewhere to stay on his way to London to be crowned King of England.
With this heritage of patronage who are we to turn down the opportunity to follow in King James’ footsteps?
The castle has been open to the public as a hotel since 1981 and offers four-poster beds, suites and all the luxuries one would expect from a stay in a place of this grandeur.
Visit the website to find out more about this intriguing entry on my list.
9. Langley Castle
It is now time to venture into Northumberland, which, as the name suggests, is the furthest north of England’s counties.
Its border with Scotland has lent itself to a history of battles and changing boundary lines throughout recorded history.
It is the most sparsely populated of all the English counties and boasts untamed flatlands, highlands, moorlands and coastlines, which are now protected as being Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Langley Castle is situated perfectly in the valleys of South Tyne, in view of breathtaking landscapes but still just a short drive from the vibrant cities of Newcastle and Carlisle and a mere stone’s throw from the infamous Gretna Green.
It is fair to say that this is a place built for romance and drama.
Constructed in the 14th Century with seven-foot thick walls, battlements and turrets, it has all the features of the period but it now comes with all the luxuries of the 21st Century.
Each morning after a world class breakfast the hotel offers a range of tours to make sure you really get a feel for the heritage of this glorious fortress.
Visit the website for more information about this fascinating stronghold.
P.S. Have you ever stayed at a castle hotel?