History in the Making

5 Castles You Have to Visit, Travel Thursday

Although my travel experience isn’t the widest in the world, I have been fortunate enough to see many of the places and things on my bucket list! I’ve decided to start a new travel series with 5 of my top recommendations in different categories- I can’t promise that I won’t update them as I travel more, but I’m excited to share all of my favourite places with everyone! Today is all about castles- the homes of royalty and other important persons.
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1. Schloss Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg, aka, Charlottenburg Palace, is one of the most fascinating places in Berlin to me! Understandably the city is dominated by Second World War and Soviet history, but I was drawn to the palace. (Is it shocking in the least? I think not!) Originally built in the 17th century, and then expanded further in the 18th century, it was made for Sophia Charlotte (the wife of Frederick III). Although it was nearly destroyed in the Second World War, the government has restored it and now it is a museum with beautiful gardens to relax in. The chapel is absolutely gorgeous (you can imagine an eighteenth century German composer rocking out here), the Chinese pottery collection is out of this world, and the gardens are so beautifully maintained that you can’t imagine all of the work that goes into it.
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in Early Modern or German history, who loves a beautiful garden, or has a thing for blue porcelain!
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2. Edinburgh Castle

Although Holyroodhouse is rich with Mary, Queen of Scots history, I would definitely recommend spending your day at Edinburgh Castle. Because Edinburgh Castle isn’t a royal residence anymore, you can walk throughout almost all of it, and move through a lot of Scotland’s history. My personal favourites are the rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James I, the doggie cemetery (it’s how all dogs should be remembered!), and the view down the Royal Mile is pretty spectacular. If you are particularly interested in older buildings, you need to spend a little time in St. Margaret’s Chapel. Built at the end of the thirteenth century, it very well may be one of the oldest buildings in all of Edinburgh! Plus if you time it right, you may be able to catch one of the military tattoos at the Castle.
Who Should Visit: Anyone interested in Mary, Queen of Scots, military history, or Scottish history! (Or anyone who just wants a fantastic view of the city…)
Edinburgh Castle.jpg

3. Hampton Court Palace

I’ve spoken before about my love of Hampton Court Palace, but it really is a one of a kind place that ties in so many different eras of history into one grand palace. Originally built by Cardinal Wolsey (right hand man to Henry VIII), it was given to Henry who enjoyed it as one of his countless palaces with his countless wives. (Cue: Divorced, beheaded, died…) After the Tudors, it rather fell into disrepair with William and Mary half scrapping the palace to make their own- which means that you now get to tour a medieval palace and a Baroque palace all in the same place. If you are anything like me and spent your formative years reading about the Tudors and their courts, it really is something else to stand in the Great Hall where Anne and Henry would have danced, or see stunning ceiling of the Watching Chamber in honour of Jane Seymour. Plus, you get a lovely train ride on the way there!
Who Should Visit: Anyone who loves English Royal history, watched the Tudors, or loves gardens.
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4. Bunratty Castle

I’m going to be sharing more about Bunratty Castle in the next few weeks (the post is in the making), but I was lucky enough to spend a morning there with one of my best friends when she visited me in Ireland. It is a fifteenth century tower house that is in County Clare (close enough to the Shannon River), built by the MacNamara family. If you are at all interested in medieval Irish castles, it is a great example of a surviving tower house, and although it may be a little camp (it hosts medieval themed banquets), it gives you a great idea of what it would be like to actually live in a tower house. Dare I say, maybe not as grand as you imagine?? It’s a whole open-air museum village, so you can also see farms, a church, a school house, and many other buildings that range from the sixteenth century to the present.
Who Should Visit: Anyone who has said “My family is Irish/Kiss me, I’m Irish/any variation”, people interested in medieval castles, and anyone who is up for some goofy fun!
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5. Kensington Palace 
Ohhhhh, Kensington Palace. Be still my heart. Taking afternoon tea there is still one of the highlights of my adult life- the Orangery is absolutely gorgeous, and while it is an expensive tea, it’s not outrageous. But, I digress- the palace!! Kensington Palace is one of the newer palaces on the game- built for William and Mary by famed English architect Sir Christopher Wren, Kensington was meant to be a country escape. (And then London kept expanding annnnnnd here we are.) You can tour the King’s Apartments and the Queen’s Apartments, which are permanent exhibitions- they are some of the most thought provoking and creative exhibitions I have ever seen. I’ve visited no less than four times now, and I could certainly go again. They also host shorter exhibitions, like Fashion Rules, which focused on the fashion of the modern royals (specifically the Queen, Princess Margaret, and Diana, Princess of Wales). Plus, you may happen to spot Catherine or William, as it is their home base!
Who Should Visit: Anyone who is interested in the modern Royal Family, who is interested in fashion and textiles, who loves parks and gardens, or who wants to see what “country” opulence looks like!
Kensington Palace.jpeg

What is your favourite castle? 
Until tomorrow,
The Historian!
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56 thoughts on “5 Castles You Have to Visit, Travel Thursday”

  • Hampton Court, the last time we went, had a re-enactment of a moment from Henry’s reign. When it started, I cringed, thinking it was going to be hokey and horrible, but it was completely absorbing and well acted. They involved the audience, adapting the lines to their reactions–and the kid who was with us (who hates museums) was so involved that she didn’t think she was in one.
    Plus the kitchens give a real sense of what it was like to work in them.

    • I think I might have just missed the tail end of one, but from the reviews that I’ve read from looking it up, it looks like they really do strive to be balanced and not overly camp. If you can get a kid who has no interest involved, you know it’s done right!! The kitchens are truly amazing- you don’t realise just how much man power (and fire power) went into keeping those kitchens running. I couldn’t imagine being the one to turn those spits!

  • Sadly, I haven’t been to any of these. I have been to Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna, which was incredible, as well as Neuschwanstein in Germany. Love castles!!

    • Schloss Schönbrunn and Neuschwanstein both look to be amaaaaaaazing! I only had three days in Germany, and we spent quite some time debating whether or not we wanted to use a day (or more) to go to one of the further castles- we decided to stay in Berlin, but next trip is going to be all castles, all the time!

  • I’ve never been to any of these castles, but a “castle” nearby is Belvedere castle in Central Park in NYC. So that’s the closest one I can relate to.

  • Hi,
    Are you a travel blogger? I considered becoming a travel blogger but now I blog about blogging tips.
    I have been to Edinburgh but have not been to that castle I don’t think.
    I am a history teacher, 7th-grade medieval times, so I teach about castles.
    I met you at Suzie’s blog party. Maybe you can check out my blog if you need any blogging tips. That’s what I write about. I also have blog parties like Suzie.
    Janice

    • I would say I’m sometimes a travel blogger haha- I don’t know that I travel enough to be a proper travel blogger. I will check out your blogging tips! Do you find that your students are particularly interested in learning about medieval history and castles?

  • Greatly enjoyed this post. My most recent castle visit, to Raglan, resulted in a broken wrist, but I am not put off visiting them. Makes me think of a few I have seen over the years. Thank you. Caroline

    • Oh, no!!! I hope that your next castle visit is entirely smooth sailing! I am hoping to do a week to two weeks in Wales in the next few years, as there are so many different castles that I need to see- namely Raglan and Caernarfon 😀 If I could get free reign to wander, I would also love to visit Pembroke Castle!

  • Great recommendations, Jessica. I still can’t believe I haven’t been to Hampton Court Palace in my years yet! The UK is great for castles, isn’t it? I’d love to check out the castles of Germany though. Almost fairytale like. I’m sure you get recommendations thrown at you all the time, but if you ever make it to the North of England, Northumberland is overrun with castles. Bamburgh castle & Alnwick castle (Harry Potter) are particularly amazing.

    • Alnwick has been at the top of my list for YEARS, I just need to actually make it there!! (And my castle recommendations are pretty scant, so please send any and all my way!!) I’m not much of architecture historian but German castles are in a very different style than the UK, and I’d be very interested to know why- I’m wondering if it has to do with which castles ended up surviving in each country/region! The only tough part about German castles is that they tend to be far more spread out from the cities. Still, if someone were to organise a “Castles of Europe” tour, I would be there in a heartbeat! And you haven’t visited Hampton yet?? It’s an absolute must!!!

  • I’ve visited many castles, but only one on this list (Edinburgh) so thank you for the recommendations! Choosing a favourite feels very difficult. Possibly the Norman ruins in Newcastle Emlyn, although I’ve recently come to love Scarborough Castle too!

    • Scarborough Castle is on my to-visit list- the views looking out over the cliffs are something else!! It is a shame that so few castles prior to the Tudors exist in their entirety, because there are so many features that were phased out or evolved prior to the sixteenth century!

  • I lived practically next door to Hampton Court Palace as a student, having being in Kingston Upon Thames for about 6 years, and I never went! Shame on me!

  • What a great selection, I love the history that castles hold in their walls. We have a small castle ruin near us in Odiham, it is said King John stayed there on his way to Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta.

    • Yes, he did!! (Or so we were told 🙂 ) I was lucky enough to catch an exhibition on the Magna Carta, and the map of his journey to Runnymede featured everywhere he was said to have stopped! Are you able to walk around it??

  • Great selection and definitely ones to visit. My favourites tend to be ruins for some reason. I feel history in those far more than fully restored and working ones. But then I try and write atmospheric fiction so they are probably more in tune with that.
    As you say; some of these are opulence to another level. History tells us where greed and wealth go; seems today folk aren’t listening!
    Great post 🙂

    • Thank you, Gary!! I have to say, wandering through the ruins of Holyrood Abbey was something else- ruins give you just enough to imagine what was or could have been while giving you the freedom to fill in your own story!
      And yes, it is astounding when you think of just how much time and money went into these places. Hampton Court doesn’t seem so opulent, but standing in the Watching Chamber the ceiling just glows with gold leaf. Someone out a LOT of money into that!!

      • Ruins, in my opinion, give a tangible atmosphere. I tried writing that in with the Welsh Castle Carreg Cennen in one of my short stories. Knowing history on places like that brings in an eeriness that a lot of people just walking about going “ooh, that’s nice!” miss.
        Even places like Hampton that are not quite what they were still give that sense of awe if you can see something like the Watching Chamber and visualise that into the hayday. Relics lie all over the UK when you start looking. Old estate manses crumbling into ruin. It’s a real demonstration of transience. Life in the now could swiftly atrophy if something changed. I’m certain people living in these places never imagined they would fall into disrepair, or become heritage sites for future generations to remember a lost period. Crumbs that’s quite a thought if you propel now into future history books.

        • Somehow WordPress put this comment in spam- how???? The ruins at Holyrood are something else- butted up against a palace in use by Her Majesty herself, slowly disintegrating over time. I saw many of those houses in Ireland, and it really does make me wonder what people thought would become of their houses, especially those built before the First World War and the War of Independence- their worlds turned upside down, and their homes never stood a chance. It even astounds me that there are so many cathedrals that are impressive and elaborate when we visit now but stood in utter disrepair just 150 years ago or less. It really makes you think about the structures around you!

          • Had that a lot recently, both my comments and others on my posts. Not sure why, but the last month has seen an increase.
            I find looking at extraordinary estate homes that once oozed opulence a stark reminder that time is ceaseless, moments in history are brief and we are way more fallible than we think. History shows countless civilisations that have grown, prospered and fallen. Each would have thought themselves the pinnacle of their time. And yet they atrophied. Are we next?
            I’m more cynical re cathedrals too. To me it shows opulence within religions. That has drifted through centuries hand in hand with power bases and control. Again history shows us why and where all that grew from…if we choose to look objectively. Totally fascinates me that sort of research, especially the Templars.
            You are right though…world’s turned upside down because their time of earth fell at the wrong point. I guess, like you say, if you can get your head around time and it’s endless roll, you start to look at structures, ruins, architecture, cemetery headstones and so on with a greater grasp of transience and understanding.

            • What I really wonder how is how much will survive of our generation now – most houses aren’t built to last even thirty years now. We may finally be the ones to completely disappear.
              Cathedrals certainly were a show of opulence – thousands of men working over the span of decades or even centuries to build and complete what is theoretically an altar to God but also conveniently show the power and wealth of that particular diocese… As a historian, I do appreciate that previous built to last, though. Even though they are long gone, we can still feel their echoes from the stones and the wood and the fibres. Perhaps that was a part of their motivation, perhaps just happenstance!

              • It’s a fascinating thought exercise. Whilst modern structures lack the scale of past projects…Pyramids, The Great Wall of China, Standing Stones and more, around even them there is a lack of everyday structure that was once taken for granted. I guess nature will readily absorb everything given enough time. I do fear that modern times has given us less ability to really engineer though. Everything is now and fast paced and cracks seem to appear. I feel many civilisations follow a curve upwards until they become too affluent and hedonistic whereby they become sensitive to changes that can topple them.
                One might throw in a curve ball too. Power and wealth could be a primary ambition, the excuse to the masses being altar to God. The two being tied together. It challenges belief mind. But then history and searching for answers and truth does just that if one digs deep enough.
                I find old structures really do show how brittle and naive we are to think we are here to last just because we are hear today. Your description of echoes is exactly how I view it all. It’s an element I draw on in writing too.

  • These are some great places. I’ve been to 3/5 of them. I visited Hampton Court with school when I was about 11 but I want to go back now I’m older to see it properly, plus I don’t have much excuse as it really isn’t far away!

  • This is awesome!
    You also need to go to some Asian Castles! You might LOVE Himeji castle in Japan. The history of the castle is pretty cool and it has sooo many interesting things (like fake stairs that lead to traps, or plants close to the castle with leaves that squeak when intruders walk on them, so you can hear people coming…)
    Plus Japanese castles look so, so different to Western Castles that they are fun to explore just to compare…

    • I’ve heard great things about Japanese castles- I took a few Asian civ courses in my undergrad, and their architectural styles and principals in regards to castle building is so different from the Western style! It’s fascinating to me to see how the same thing (a castle) is used for such different purposes!

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