North Yorkshire is home to more than 30 historic castles which were used to house and imprison royalty, demonstrate the wealth of powerful families, and protect land ownership during bloody battles.
Many of these castles have stunning locations in some of North Yorkshire’s most popular market towns and pretty villages, with elevated spots looking out over the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.
If you fancy exploring romantic ruins and uncovering some of the region’s fascinating history, here is our guide to the finest castles in Yorkshire.
#01 Helmsley Castle
Helmsley Castle is an English National Heritage site in the heart of a popular North York Moors market town that looks out over the nearby Helmsley Walled Garden. There are picnic tables dotted around the gorgeous grounds, so after exploring the castle remains you can relax and enjoy the wonderful location before exploring even more of Helmsley.
- The castle is accessed through a visitor centre and shop where you can pick up local souvenirs and English Heritage gifts, plus get lots of information, including free audio tours, to make the most of your visit.
- An on-site Tudor mansion houses a fascinating museum that takes you through the changing history of Helmsley Castle with hands-on exhibits and lots of interesting original items from the past.
- You’ll find information panels located around the ruins that show how the castle would have looked in its heyday.
Stay nearby: Woodland View | Sleeps: 4 guests
#02 Ripley Castle
Ripley Castle is located in a pretty Nidderdale village that’s just 3 miles away from Harrogate, with gorgeous grounds and gardens that are open throughout the year. Special guided tours are available where you can look around six rooms in the beautifully preserved castle, including the Tower Room and the Knights Chambers.
- The Ripley Castle Courtyard is home to a number of gorgeous independent shops where you can pick up local handmade gifts and a lovely tearoom where you can stop for refreshments.
- You can take a lovely walk around the parkland and deer park that surrounds Ripley Castle and seek out wonderful waterfalls, pretty ponds and an array of wildlife including rabbits, squirrels, fallow deer and geese.
- Ripley village is also well worth exploring; the handsome buildings are based on a French model village with a traditional coaching inn at the centre that serves top-notch seasonal food.
Stay nearby: Scarah Cottage | Sleeps: 6 guests
#03 Bolton Castle
Located in the Wensleydale countryside, in the peaceful village of Castle Bolton, is the wonderfully well-preserved Bolton Castle. There’s lots to see and do in and around this medieval castle which makes it a great choice for a fun-filled day out with the kids. The castle was once famously used to imprison Mary Queen of Scots who is said to have dropped her shawl on the limestone escarpment that leads to the nearby town of Leyburn.
- The wonderful gardens at Bolton Castle look out over some spectacular Wensleydale scenery and include roses, a walled herb garden and a vineyard. There’s also a bowling green that’s surrounded by colourful flowers and a tricky maze to try and find your way out of.
- Bolton Castle is well-known for its falconry experiences where visitors of all ages can either walk alongside the majestic birds or learn how to handle and care for them.
- Children’s activity packs are ideal for little ones to explore the castle and there are also special activity trails and medieval games to keep them entertained. Parts of the castle are still intact and there are artefacts and information boards to help visitors of all ages learn more about its past.
Stay nearby: Waterside Cottage - Leyburn | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 1 dog
#04 Scarborough Castle
It’s hard to beat the stunning location of Scarborough Castle which looks out over the Yorkshire Coast from its elevated spot above the popular seaside town. The castle lies on a rocky promontory that’s right in the middle of Scarborough’s North and South Bays so you can uniquely enjoy wonderful views over both parts of town.
- Scarborough Castle is set within 16 acres of grounds with large grassy areas for families to play on, and you can take a scenic walk around the perimeter, play hide-and-seek among the ruins, or lay out a rug for a picnic.
- Make the most of the coastal views from a couple of special viewing platforms then take a look around the 18th-century Master Gunner’s House which contains a large number of original artefacts - some dating back around 3,000 years.
- Special activity booklets are available for younger visitors and there are also lots of information boards and audio tours so that you can make the most of your visit to this English Heritage site.
Stay nearby: Seagulls Rest - Scarborough | Sleeps: 6 guests plus 2 dogs
#05 Middleham Castle
Middleham Castle is best known as the childhood home of Richard III and has a prime spot in one of Yorkshire’s prettiest villages, with both the River Ure and River Cover flowing close by and two cobbled market squares to explore. The extensive remains include the largest castle keep in the North of England and there is lots to explore during a visit to this English Heritage site.
- A beautiful 15th-century amethyst was discovered by a metal detectorist in the castle grounds and although the original Middleham Jewel is now in the Yorkshire Museum, a replica of it can be found in the Middleham Castle museum.
- Middleham lies between Wensleydale and Coverdale, and there’s a special viewing platform at the castle where you can look out over this wonderful Yorkshire Dales landscape.
- Middleham is home to a number of leading racing stables and you can watch horses being led through the village to the nearby gallops and take a scenic riverside walk to watch them running at full pelt.
Stay nearby: Little Windor | Sleeps: 4 guests
#06 York Castle Museum
Although the majority of York Castle is unfortunately long gone, Clifford’s Tower still remains and York Castle Museum has also been built on much of the original site. You can still visit the original castle prison to learn some of the punishments that were meted out to convicts and come face-to-face with the infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin.
- One of the highlights of the museum is a recreated Victorian walk where you can visit period shops and meet some of the interesting characters of the time. The Victorian walk is also specially decorated for Christmas each December.
- There are changing exhibitions throughout the year and a range of interesting items that tell the story of York.
- Clifford’s Tower sits imposingly on a high grass mound in the centre of York, and you can climb right to the top of the tower for an open-air wall walk with panoramic views over this medieval city.
#07 Richmond Castle
One of the highlights of Richmond in North Yorkshire is the large Norman castle that looks out over the town from its spot on a hill called the Riche-Mont. It’s a bit of a climb to the top from the market square below, but rolling down the hill has always been a fun thing to do for kids of all ages. The extensive ruins are also perfect for a family game of hide and seek.
- It’s well worth taking a stroll around the Cockpit Garden which lies just outside Richmond Castle. There’s a cobbled pathway all the way around the 1-acre walled garden and the site is filled with wildflowers with parterre terraces and yew trees, plus a bench where visitors can sit and make the most of the view.
- You can take a scenic walk along the River Swale from Richmond Castle to nearby Easby Abbey and enjoy some of the wonderful countryside at the northern tip of the Yorkshire Dales.
- At the heart of the castle is a 100-foot keep which you can still climb to the top, and there are also lots of information boards and an on-site museum where you can learn more about the history of Richmond Castle.
#08 Skipton Castle
Skipton Castle in the Yorkshire Dales is one of the country’s best-preserved medieval fortresses and you can still look around completely intact rooms that include a banqueting hall, kitchen, bed chamber and privy to see how life would have been around 900 years ago.
- You can climb to the top of the castle’s watchtower to look out over your surroundings or delve deep into the spooky dungeons for a taste of life as a medieval prisoner.
- Picnic tables are dotted around the lovely grounds and there are also well-kept gardens to explore and an ancient yew tree in the castle courtyard.
- There are lots of interesting features to seek out around Skipton Castle and visitors are given a handy tour sheet to get the most out of a visit.
Stay nearby: The Halcyon | Sleeps: 4 guests
#09 Knaresborough Castle
This ruined fortress has a picturesque spot looking out over the River Nidd in the historic spa town of Knaresborough near Harrogate. Discover a secret tunnel that runs underneath Knaresborough Castle, explore the remains of a hidden dungeon and climb a winding staircase up to the upper chamber which is where high-class guests would once have been entertained.
- An on-site museum contains an original Tudor courtroom where prisoners would once have stood trial - you can even try out the stocks for yourself.
- A hands-on activity gallery includes tales of interesting local characters from the past including Mother Shipton and Guy Fawkes and there are games, trails and dress-up costumes to try.
- Knaresborough Castle is surrounded by stunning grounds and parkland with a putting green and bowls available during the summer months. It’s also worth walking to the nearby River Nidd where you can hire a boat for a trip along the water.
#10 Pickering Castle
This large motte-and-bailey castle is nestled on the edge of Pickering in the North York Moors, and you can take a scenic circular walk around the extensive remains and climb a series of stone steps before exploring the nearby forests and woodland.
- Pickering Castle dates back to the 13th century and you can still climb the original stone keep. An on-site chapel also contains an exhibition where you can learn more about the building's history.
- Pickering is one of North Yorkshire’s most popular market towns and there are around 100 independent shops to browse after exploring the castle remains.
- Pickering is also the starting point for the heritage NYMR steam railway, and you can catch wonderful period trains from the town to Whitby on the Yorkshire Coast.
Stay nearby: Isabella Cottage| Sleeps: 3 guests
Plan your getaway to Yorkshire
If you have been inspired to visit some of these wonderful castles, you’ll find lots of places to stay in Yorkshire. Whether you are looking for a cosy retreat for two or a dog-friendly holiday home that will sleep the whole extended family, browse our full range of Yorkshire cottages to find your perfect base.
If you’re looking for more holiday inspiration, read our comprehensive things to do guide which includes National Trust sites, Yorkshire walks and dog-friendly days out.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.