5 Castles to Stay in During Your Next Trip to the UK and Ireland
With England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales finally reopen to tourists, it's time to go big. Castle big.
After a long 16 months and myriad criticisms, England is finally set to reopen its borders to fully inoculated visitors. That means international travelers are officially welcome to travel to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without having to quarantine on the other end. It has been cause for celebration for friends and family of British citizens, as well as the sovereign state’s now long-stagnant tourism sector. So if you’re eager to book accommodations for the coming months, you’re certainly not alone.
And if and and when you do cross the pond, this is the year — more than any other — you should consider going big. Like really big. Moats and drawbridges big.
You should stay in a castle.
After all, Airbnb declared back in January that 2021 would be “The Year of Meaningful Travel,” citing a near universal desire among tourists to prioritize safety, comfort, convening with friends and family, and sharing experiences they’ll remember for a lifetime. Fortunately, the opportunities in the U.K. for exactly those qualities are endless.
There are said to be hundreds upon hundreds of castles still standing around the country, though due to the ambiguity surrounding the exact constitution of a “castle,” the definitive number is unknown. That said, a great many of those castles have, over the course of the past century or two, undergone incredible renovation, predominantly for the sake of restoring them, but also to give them a second life — this time, as hotels. Or bed and breakfasts. Or even Airbnbs, because that’s how accessible castle stays have become in the U.K.
And why not? Where else in the world can you go to unwind in the childhood home of the most infamous royals in all of history? Or vacation on the grounds of a monarch refuge? Of course, it’s worth nothing that “meaningful travel” looks a little different for everyone. But the chance to stay in a nearly millennium-old fortress — steeped in history and capable of hosting large quantities of friends and family all at once — will fit the bill for most.
Below, find four castles you might consider for your next visit to the U.K., along with one you’ll find just across the Irish Sea, in the west of Ireland.
Castle Gatehouse, Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds, touted as having “played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England’s past,” is the only remaining private castle in the country to have a queen — Katherine Parr, the last and surviving wife of King Henry VIII — buried on the property. And although you cannot at present stay directly in the castle where said queen both lived and died, you can stay at one of the 17 Sudeley Castle Cottages that line the edges of the estate. This particular cottage (castle) is listed on Airbnb for £339, or around $470, for a two-night minimum stay, and acts as a vanguard of sorts to the rest of the property. While all of the cottage layouts are said to differ slightly, the gatehouse is split into two wings with separate entrances (both of which boast their own king-sized bedroom), sleeps four and is dog friendly.
County Mayo, Ireland
OK, so this one is not in the U.K., but it’s right next door, in Ireland. On a 350-acre estate in County Mayo sits the Ashford Castle, where it’s been stationed for the past 800 years. Ireland’s “first and only Forbes Five Star Hotel,” the Ashford was founded originally by the Angle-Norman de Burgo before changing hands — including those of the Guinness family — many times over the course of its long history. It was most recently purchased by Red Carnation Hotels, who restored it to its former glory. The castle currently plays home to resident Executive Chef Philippe Farineau, who sources many of his ingredients — like violet flowers, wild garlic and Irish strawberries — from the grounds to use in signature dishes and cocktails, and also offers a variety of exclusive experiences that provide guests the opportunity to dabble in traditional Irish culture. There are 83 rooms and suites as well as one hideaway cottage, all of which are beautifully and meticulously designed, with rates starting at €725, or $860.
Hever Castle, Edenbridge
Originally built as a medieval defensive castle in 1270, the Hever Castle would become home to Henry VIII’s second — and arguably most famous — wife, Anne Boleyn, in 1503. Later, Hever would be passed onto another one of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves, before eventually being inherited by William Waldorf Astor, who used his personal fortune to restore the castle in the early 20th century. Described as being “what every child wants a castle to be: crenellated, moated and haunted,” Hever is remarkable in its history and now also … a bed and breakfast. As far as a stay at Hever goes, guests have two options: one of the 28 five-star rooms located in the Astor or Anne Boleyn Wings (“Edwardian Wing[s] attached to the castle and connected inside”), or at Medley Court, a four-bedroom property that forms part of the Astor Wing. Rates for a standard double room in Astor Wing start at £175.00.
Located just an hour from Edinburgh and 15 minutes from St. Andrews is Dairsie Castle: a historic, self-catering castle available to rent by way of Airbnb. “First sited in the 12th Century, Dairsie has been the location of secret Scottish parliaments, military sieges, and [a] safe haven for escapee monarchs (James VI and I in 1583). The castle became a ruin in the 19th Century. In 1992 it was bought and rebuilt by the current owner who worked hard to restore the castle to its original medieval character, with all the comforts of a modern family home,” the listing reads. For £1,050 a night and a three-night minimum stay, guests will enjoy free reign over the castle and the six acres on which it sits, including access to the river Eden, a walled herb garden and an orchard. Rates start at £900 a night.
More than 800 years old and with walls said to be five feet thick, Roch Castle was once “a group of border strongholds that fortified Anglicised Wales from the independent Welsh to the North.” Located right on the border of English and Welsh-speaking Wales, the castle was first home to a Norman knight named Adam de Rupe. Centuries later, it was converted into a private residence before being acquired by Griffiths Roch Foundation in 2008, who renovated Roch into the five-star guest experience it has since become. Positioned atop a “volcanic, rocky outcrop,” Roch boasts 360-degree views of Pembrokeshire and some of the most contemporary design flourishes of any castle on this list. Rates start at £500 a night, and at certain times of the year, expect a minimum-night stay.
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