The British landscape is liberally sprinkled with exquisite castles, each of them revelling in their reproduction of a bygone glory. But these castles were built to repel invading armies, meaning they were deliberately difficult to access. While they’re open to the public, fighting for a car parking space is the modern equivalent of falling in the moat. And trying to avoid the watchful traffic wardens must be a little like attempting to sidestep the archers that once patrolled the towers. Visiting Britain’s castles by train is far more relaxing. Here are ten of the best.
1. Windsor Castle
Home to the royal family for over 1,000 years, Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world. It’s a treasure trove of libraries, state rooms, towering stone walls, and galleries full of Michaelangelos and Da Vincis. Fancy some exercise? Take the Long Walk all the way to the Castle. Windsor Castle by train is easy. Windsor & Eton Riverside is the terminus for half hourly direct trains from London Waterloo, a journey that takes less than an hour. Alternatively, change at Slough for trains to Windsor & Eton Central. Slough is on the First Great Western line between London Paddington and Reading. Both Windsor stations are within short walking distance of the castle.
Trainline Tip: During summer, the Changing of the Guard takes place at 11am from Monday to Saturday.
2. Dover Castle
Nestled amongst white cliffs, the medieval fortress of Dover Castle is one of Britain’s most impenetrable. Its underground tunnels were still being used in WWII yet the royal courts effortlessly take you back to the time of Henry II. The castle is a 25 minute walk or short taxi ride from Dover Priory Railway Station, making visiting Dover Castle by train the quickest way to travel from London. There are direct hourly connections to and from London St Pancras, London Victoria, and London Charing Cross. Trainline Tip: Dover is Britain’s largest castle complex so allow a full day to see it all.
3. Castle Howard
Castle Howard. Image: Nick Garrod, Flickr
Castle Howard delights in its impressions of regal pomp and razzmatazz, the stately grounds and gardens a great getaway from the city. It’s set in the rolling green landscape of Yorkshire, around 20 miles outside York. There are no direct trains to Castle Howard but the public transport journey is relatively straightforward. First travel to York Railway Station which is on the East Coast Mainline. From here, a visitor’s bus runs three times a day to the castle. Alternatively, take a train to Malton Station then a £13 – 15 taxi ride. Trainline Tip: Going to Castle Howard with the visitor’s bus gets you a discount on the entrance ticket.
4. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is unmissable, perched on a hill above the Scottish capital and dominating the skyline from all angles. Exit Edinburgh Waverley Station and you’ll see the castle peering down from above. Just walk uphill towards the iconic fortress walls. You really can’t miss it and taking the train to Edinburgh Castle is far quicker than circling Edinburgh city centre looking for a parking space. Trainline Tip: Edinburgh Castle gets very busy during summer and booking tickets online in advance saves a frustrated 30 minutes in the queue.
5. Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle. Image: Giborn_134, Flickr
Striking polygonal towers are just the start of Caernarfon Castle’s originality. Towering above the river, this Welsh castle is a real ode to intimidating medieval fortresses. It’s a World Heritage Site and one that would have scared any invading army into submission. The closest train station to Caernarfon Castle is Caernarfon Station on the Welsh Highland narrow gorge railway. A more realistic journey by train is to alight in Bangor and take bus number 5a or 9 direct to the castle. Trainline Tip: The recently completed Welsh Highland Railway is the longest heritage railway line in the UK.
6. Warwick Castle
Sunglasses required. Warwick Castle in the sunshine. Image: Lisa West, Flickr
Warwick Castle is a place of myth and legend, a place where jousting displays and tea with scones go hand in hand. It’s great for taking the whole family by train as it’s just a 20 minute walk from Warwick Station. From here there are direct trains to London Marylebone, Birmingham Snow Hill, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. Trainline Tip: The direct train connections to Stratford-upon-Avon mean you can visit Shakespeare country and the home of William the Conqueror in one day.
7. Kenilworth Castle
Kenilworth Castle on a Summer day. Image: Nathan Reading, Flickr
Kenilworth has always played a role in British history and its majestic towers were constructed to woo Queen Elizabeth I. Relax in the Elizabethan Garden, check out the views from the tower, and relive history in the Castle Keep. To reach Kenilworth Castle by train, head to either Warwick Railway Station or Coventry Station. A taxi from either station will cost around £12. Trainline Tip: If you’re visiting Warwick and Kenilworth in one day, Kenilworth Castle’s gardens make it a good place to rest the feet after touring the fortresses.
8. Stirling Castle
“Tis bit a flesh wound”. Stirling Castle. Image: Martin Grossniklaus, Flickr
Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s finest attractions and an easy day trip by train from Glasgow or Edinburgh. The timeless design inspired many of Scotland’s castles and the grounds evoke narratives of medieval battles. There are three direct trains per hour to Stirling Railway Station from Glasgow Queen Street as well as two per hour from Edinburgh Waverley. From the station it’s a 15 minute walk to the castle. Trainline Tip: Stirling also has regular trains to other historic destinations in the north of Scotland.
9. Lincoln Castle
With its history linking Roman conquests to William the Conquerer, the huge complex of Lincoln Castle is one of Britain’s most underrated. Take a walk along the medieval walls and admire an original version of the Magna Carta, before marvelling at the huge collection of canons. Finding a parking space in Lincoln city centre is challenging but the castle is just 15 minute walk from Lincoln Central Railway Station. There are direct trains to Lincoln Central from London Kings Cross, Sheffield, and Nottingham. Trainline Tip: While you’re in Lincoln, try to also visit Lincoln Cathedral. It was the world’s tallest building for 250 years until the spire collapsed in 1549.
10. Portchester Castle
Portchester Castle. Image: Angus Kirk
Gazing across the waters to France, Portchester Castle’s Saxon history makes it architecturally different from the other castles in this list. In particular, the spiral staircase and crumbling interior walls make for timeless photos of British heritage. To visit Portchester by train, there are one to two direct trains per hour from London Waterloo to Portchester Station. There are also regular connections from Portchester to Havant and Basingstoke. Trainline Tip: Take your own lunch and enjoy it on one of the picnic benches inside the castle grounds.