As an American living in the UK, I am in awe of the fact that I live within reasonable driving distance from a castle—or rather, 10 castles—since there are so many of them here (relative to the United States, where there are exactly zero). Most of them, built before 1492, are older than America herself. Lucky for us, a handful of those old, turreted buildings—with their majestic moats and coats of armor—have found new lives as hotels. These atmospheric country getaways, located across the pond, marry modern comforts (soft robes, fragrant soaps) with fairy-tale imagery (canopied beds, secret passageways), and do not slack off when it comes to food.
There’s a castle in the UK for pretty much every kind of traveler. Below, we’ve picked seven hotels we’d love to escape to for a few nights. Located in different parts of the country, each castle comes with landscape views that are just as picturesque as the castles themselves.
A castle with one moat is pretty cool, but a castle with two takes the Eccles cake. This 13th-century estate was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and was also, at a later time, owned by one of Henry VIII’s other wives, Anne of Cleaves. So naturally, the aesthetic is wholly Tudor—rose motifs, dark wood paneling, and enormous fireplaces that make a cold-weather trip almost as appealing as a warm-weather one. The reason spring is the best time to visit has everything to do with the 125-acre garden, which has over 4,000 rose bushes and a loggia (with a bar) that overlooks the gorgeous Hever Lake, surrounded by maze-like nature paths. If its 700 years of history makes you wonder if the hotel is out of touch, then look no further than its on-site pizza van, vegetarian and gluten-free afternoon tea menus, and energetic family-friendly programs.
A romantic boutique hotel with the Relais & Chateaux stamp of approval, the 19-room Amberley Castle is sophisticated and just a little eccentric, with resident llamas and white peacocks roaming its meticulously landscaped gardens, and suits of armor aplenty. Ultra-luxurious Vispring beds (made of a cashmere-horsehair-bamboo-and-more-comfortable-things blend) and homemade cookies greet you when you enter the rooms. There’s one restaurant on the premises; it has a dress code and an above-eight age limit, as well as big fireplaces and gorgeously plated classic-but-contemporary fare (cod with seaweed gnocchi, chicken confit with truffled ketchup).
Located in the north of England, aka Downton Abbey land, the Swinton Park Hotel—part of the larger, 20,000-acre(!) Swinton Estate—feels like someone’s home...because it is. Owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s, family portraits hang on the walls and hand-selected antiques decorate the rooms and common areas. The estate has its own cookery school, which offers lessons in way more than just classic British fare; you’ll find lessons in artisan baking, Indian food, fish and seafood, as well as classes for kids and teenagers. The estate also houses the largest hotel kitchen garden in the UK, which supplies fruits and vegetables for the restaurant’s menu; venison, trout, and other fish and game caught on premises also make an appearance. Afternoon teas, with gluten-free, vegan, and Champagne options, happen every day in a circular room with plush curtains and towering windows.
More casual than its English and Scottish counterparts, Cardigan Castle offers a mix of self-catering and hotel accommodations. The almost 1,000-year-old castle was reopened in 2015 after a decade-long restoration project. The medieval atmosphere is obvious on the outside, walled fort and all, but the insides are awash in natural light and 2019-looking decor—no canopied beds or dark tapestries. It overlooks a bridged estuary of the Teifi and is in the heart of the ancient market town of Cardigan. The on-site restaurant, 1176, is more contemporary than its name lets on, with changing local-seasonal menus and what the Telegraph calls one of the region’s best Sunday roasts (these sky-high Yorkshire puds concur). The best time to go is summer, when you can explore the nearby beaches—where dolphins are often spotted—and hike the cliffy 12-mile coastal path from Cardigan to Aberporth, as well as taste local produce at its best.
The turreted-and-towered, seven-century-old Dalhousie Castle just outside of Edinburgh can make you want to spend the day in a dungeon—where its hydro spa, with a Roman sauna and Turkish steam room (and warm Scottish hospitality), is located. The hotel’s 29 bedrooms are reached by walking through labyrinthine passages and staircases, and you can opt for a themed room (four-poster bed, pink-red walls) or a contemporary one. Also in the dungeons: a barrel-vaulted restaurant you enter through a bookcase/secret entrance, with a menu that’s in tune with the world outside (kale panna cotta, compressed pineapple with caraway cake). Their bright, airy bistro, The Orangery, has a more family-friendly menu; don’t miss the afternoon sandwiches, with fresh spelt bread and Inverawe smoked salmon.
The 73 rooms in the quadrangular, 14th-century Lumley Castle, in the northeast of England, are maximalist in the best way, with four-poster beds, lively wallpapers, old-fashioned lamps, a hallway of busts, and plush armchairs. The Library Bar, with its log fire, is a refreshing setting change for afternoon tea (or a tipple), and the in-house restaurant, the Black Knight, has a satisfying and steakhouse-y menu. Themed events, like the Elizabethan Banquet, a site-specific Escape the Room, and a re-enactment of a murder mystery based on the true story of the Lord Marcus Lumley, highlight the experiential nature of the hotel (no spa or gym here).
Queen Victoria (yes, that one) spent a week at Inverlochy Castle back in the day, sketching and painting the view and writing these words in her diary: "I never saw a lovelier place." Well, if it’s good enough for her, then this castle in the Scottish Highlands, with views of Ben Nevis (the UK’s tallest mountain) and a private loch, doesn’t have to work very hard to impress you. And yet it does so anyway, with a dining program—designed by legendary father-and-son duo Albert and Michel Roux Jr.—that French-ifies Scottish produce. Most of the furniture in the restaurants were gifted to the castle by the King of Norway, so it’s basically like having dinner at his vacation home.
Ruffled curtains, dog art, and 400-thread count Egyptian cotton might make you want to curl up and never uncurl, but it’s not just the natural surroundings that make Inverlochy Castle so exceptional. The town of Fort William, with the Ben Nevis Distillery, the Lime Tree art gallery, and the seasonal Jacobite Steam Train, widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world (it’s the actual Hogwarts Express route), make this castle stay exceptionally picturesque.
Have you ever spent the night in a castle? Tell us in the comments below!