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If you like castles, you will love the area around Harrogate – North Yorkshire’s beautiful spa town. With an impressive 11 castles to visit near Harrogate within a 60-minute drive, the town is the perfect base for your explorations!
Imagine a few days pottering around ancient North Yorkshire castles to discover centuries of history, then retreating to Harrogate’s excellent restaurants, fashionable bars, and classy hotels to unwind. Alternatively, you could stay in a castle hotel!
Are you ready to discover fabulous North Yorkshire castles near Harrogate? Let’s get started!
Why are there so many castles near Harrogate?
We need to go back to 1066 when William the Conqueror (the Duke of Normandy) invaded England, killed the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and became King William I of England.
William stamped his authority on his new kingdom through a programme of castle building. He gifted lands across the country to his faithful noblemen, who built castles as protection from rebellious locals and invaders from Scotland.
Work on the magnificent North Yorkshire castles started quickly after the Norman invasion, with many castles added in the turbulent years that followed.
11 Castles to Visit Near Harrogate
Each of the castles near Harrogate is steeped in history, with many stories for you to discover. Some of the castles are in a good state of repair, and will take time to explore, while others are significantly ruined, but each is exciting!
The only question is, how many of these fabulous fortresses will you visit while you’re in North Yorkshire?
1. Knaresborough Castle
Castle Yard, Knaresborough HG5 8AS
Knaresborough is one of the prettiest towns in North Yorkshire, with a soaring Victorian viaduct over the River Nidd, lovely riverside walks and an attractive town centre.
The ruined 12th century medieval stronghold of Knaresborough Castle (and the Courthouse Museum) sits high above the river, moments from the town centre and train station. It’s the most beautiful location!
This North Yorkshire castle has a long and fascinating history, with lots of Royal connections. King Richard II was imprisoned in the castle’s “King’s Tower” for one night, before he was sent to Pontefract Castle where he died “in mysterious circumstances”.
Knaresborough Castle highlights:
✔️ Explore the castle walls independently for free
✔️ Join a paid tour to discover the history of the King’s Chamber, visit the dungeon and escape through the secret underground exit (the “sallyport”).
✔️ Visit the Courtroom Museum to discover an original Tudor courtroom and learn more of Knaresborough’s colourful history and connection to Guy Fawkes.
Admission: Free (£3.20 for the tour) Website
Distance from Harrogate: 4.3 miles
Travel time: 18 minutes
📍 Fancy staying over? You’ll love cute Waterside Cottage Bed & Breakfast. It’s one of the loveliest cottages in North Yorkshire!
2. Skipton Castle
The Bailey, Skipton BD23 1AW
Skipton is a thriving market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales with a fabulous castle at the end of the high street! The stunning 900 year old castle in Skipton is one of the most intact Medieval castles in England.
Skipton Castle highlights:
✔️ The beautiful Tudor courtyard with its ancient yew tree
✔️ The dungeons, the “long drop” privy in the kitchen (kids love it), the banqueting hall and day rooms
✔️ The imposing gatehouse and its unique shell grotto
Admission: £10.20 (adult). Concessions are available. Website
Distance from Harrogate: 22 miles
Travel time: 37 minutes
📍 Extend your trip to Skipton with a stay at the Bailey Bed & Breakfast or pick one of their cute shepherd’s huts – located right opposite the castle!
3. Bolton Castle
Nr Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 4ET
The tiny rural village of Castle Bolton (population 100) takes its name from the impressive 14th century castle overlooking the village green.
While Bolton Castle was originally built as a family home, it was also used as a prison by Queen Elizabeth I! She held her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, captive in the castle for a year, from July 1568, before sending her to harsher conditions at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire..
Bolton Castle highlights:
✔️ Explore the beautifully presented castle, including the rooms used by Mary Queen of Scots, her servants and attendants.
✔️ Wander through the lovely castle gardens, including the Mary Garden, the medieval Dyer’s Garden and the splendid herb garden.
✔️ Book a half-day falconry experience, including learning how to handle and fly a falcon!
Admission: £12.50 includes admission to the castle, gardens and grounds, plus the boar park and falconry flying displays. Concessions are available. Website
Distance from Harrogate: 48 miles
Travel time: 1 hour 13 minutes
📍 Bolton Castle is located in a very rural part of North Yorkshire. You could join this tour from York that includes both Bolton Castle and Richmond Castle, if you prefer to enjoy the scenery and let someone else negotiate the narrow country roads.
4. Ripley Castle
Ripley, Harrogate HG3 3AY
Tiny little Ripley is like a village from a story book it’s so pretty!
Walking or cycling from Harrogate to Ripley village via the scenic Nidderdale Greenway is a treat for active visitors. The 4-mile route along a converted railway line passes through lovely woodland carpeted with bluebells in spring. In summer, you’ll have views of yellow and purple wildflower meadows and a blaze of red and orange in the autumn before the leaves fall.
Ripley Castle is a 14th-century fortress that has been the home of the Ingilby family for 28 generations!
Ripley Castle highlights:
✔️ Join a paid castle tour to learn about Ripley castle history and discover secret rooms and hiding places (including a priest hole) used by Catholics escaping persecution after the death of “Bloody Queen Mary”.
✔️ Explore the beautiful grounds and gardens, including the deer park and orangery
✔️ Venture into the Walled Garden, home of the National Hyacinth collection
Admission: £5.00 for the castle grounds and gardens. Castle tours can be booked via the castle’s website
Distance from Harrogate: 4.6 miles
Travel time: 17 minutes
📍 Stop for lunch at the highly regarded Boars Inn, but make sure to book as it’s very popular! Don’t forget to try some delicious Ripley ice cream during your visit – it’s very tasty!
5. Spofforth Castle
Castle St, Spofforth, Harrogate HG3 1ND
Sleepy little Spofforth is an attractive village between Harrogate and Wetherby with a ruined 12th-century castle at its heart.
Medieval Spofforth Castle has a fascinating history, a surprising connection to the Magna Carta, and a lurid ghost story too! You could easily visit the castles at Spofforth and Knaresborough in one day.
Spofforth Castle highlights:
✔️ Explore the castle independently for free
✔️ Look out for the Spofforth Castle ghost
✔️ Checkout the Great Hall and the Undercroft
Distance from Harrogate: 6.4 miles
Travel time: 15 minutes
📍 Fancy a bite to eat? Pop into the Spofforth Castle Inn before heading back to Harrogate.
6. Helmsley Castle
Castlegate, Helmsley YO62 5AB
Helmsley is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable little towns in North Yorkshire, thanks to its lovely market, beautiful old stone houses and castle!
Helmsley Castle has an illustrious history as it evolved from a medieval fortress to a Tudor mansion, then became a stronghold during the civil war. Ruined since Victorian times, Helmsley Castle is easy to visit from Harrogate, with a drive through gorgeous countryside!
Helmsley Castle highlights:
✔️ Visit the remains of the magnificent three-storey East Tower, that was ruined in the 17th century by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War
✔️ Check out the massive groundwork surrounding the castle
✔️ Watch out for the castle ghosts – the Green Lady, the soldier and the pixie-like creatures!.
Admission: £9.00 (free for English Heritage members) Concessions and family tickets are available. Website
Distance from Harrogate: 37 miles
Travel time: 60 minutes
📍 Helmsley is a gorgeous town. If you decide to stay over, the unforgettable Feversham Arms is a real foodies treat!
7. Richmond Castle
Tower St., Richmond DL10 4QW
Richmond is a beautiful, welcoming North Yorkshire town, with a quaint charm and a huge castle!
Richmond Castle is described by English Heritage as “the best-preserved example of an early Norman castle in England.” It was built in 1070 by Count Alan Rufus who fought alongside William I at the Battle of Hastings.
Richmond Castle highlights:
✔️ Explore the great curtain walls and the Gold Hole Tower
✔️ Climb the 100+ steps to the top of the towering Keep (Conan’s Tower)
✔️ Stroll through the delightful castle gardens
Admission: £7.80 (Free for English Heritage members). Concessions are available. . Website
Distance from Harrogate: 39.1 miles
Travel time: 60 minutes
📍 If you want to spend a night or two in Richmond, you’ll need to book early, as this exceptionally photographic town is popular all year round. In the town centre, the Castle House or King’s Head are lovely choices.
8. Middleham Castle
Castle Hill Middleham, North Yorkshire, Middleham, Leyburn DL8 4QG
Middleham is located in stunning Wenslydale, with some of the best views in Yorkshire. As it’s also home to many of Yorkshire’s best racing stables, you’ll probably see magnificent race horses pass through the town on their way to the gallops.
The original Middleham Castle was a wooden motte and bailey castle, replaced in the 12th century by a vast (ruined) keep and impressive curtain walls. Middleham Castle is one of the most incredible castles to visit near Harrogate!.
Middleham Castle highlights:
✔️ The story of the castle’s most famous resident – the infamous King Richard III – who spent his childhood at the castle
✔️ The outstanding views of Wensleydale from the viewing platform
✔️ The remains of the oven and horse mill in the castle grounds
Admission: £7.80 (Free for English Heritage Members). Concessions are avilable. Website
Distance from Harrogate: 31 miles
Travel time: 61 minutes
9. Clifford’s Tower York (York Castle)
Tower St, York YO1 9SA
York, the largest city in North Yorkshire, is a walled city that was founded by the ancient Romans. The city’s 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster, has medieval stained glass and 2 soaring bell towers.
Just two years after winning the Battle of Hastings, William I’s forces began construction of two castles in York. All that remains today is Clifford’s Tower – a large and imposing four lobed 13th-century stone tower.
Despite the distance, Clifford’s Tower is one of the easiest castles to visit near Harrogate, as you can visit York by train from Harrogate.
Clifford’s Tower highlights:
✔️ Climb up to the top of the tower for wonderful 360° views over the ancient city
✔️ See King Henry III’s medieval garderobe (toilet) – the only known one of its type in England.
✔️ Visit King Henry III’s medieval chapel
Admission: £8.10 (Free for English Heritage members). CXoncessions are available. Website
Distance from Harrogate: 23.7 miles
Travel time: 53 minutes
📍 Marmadukes Town House Hotel is a characterful boutique hotel with luxurious, individually styled rooms and fabulous deep baths. Perfect for sinking into to relax after a long day walking around York! On-street parking is free from 4 pm to 10 am and onsite parking is just £7. Check availability at Marmadukes Town House Hotel.
10. Harewood Castle
Harewood, Leeds LS17 9LZ
Knaresborough is one of the prettiest little towns in North Yorkshire, with a soaring Victorian viaduct over the River Nidd, lovely riverside walks and an attractive town centre.
Ruined 12th century medieval Knaresborough Castle and Courthouse Museum sits high above the river, moments from the town centre and train station. It’s the most beautiful location!
The castle has a long and fascinating history, with lots of Royal connections, including King Richard II who was imprisoned in the King’s Tower for one night, before he was sent to Pontefract Castle where he died “in mysterious circumstances”.
Harewood Castle highlights:
✔️ The hidden location means you may be able to explore without seeing another soul
✔️ The beautiful carpets of bluebells if you visit in springtime
✔️ Tons of photo opportunities
Distance from Harrogate: 7 miles
Travel time: 15 minutes
As Harewood Castle is one of the closest castles to visit near Harrogate, and you’ll only need an hour to look around it, it’s easy to fit into your trip itinerary. Find the best places to stay in Harrogate here.
11. Whorlton Castle
Castle Bank, Northallerton DL6 3EA
The abandoned village of Whorlton in North Yorkshire is the location of the ruined 12th century motte and bailey Whorlton Castle built by Robert de Meynell. Seriously off-the-beaten path, while this is one of the more ruined castle near Harrogate, it’s the perfect place for a countryside walk.
Whorlton Castle highlights:
✔️ The mid-14th century sandstone gatehouse that is the main surviving relic of Whorlton Castle
✔️ The row of three carved shields in cusped panels on the impressive gatehouse. These mark the marriage of Philip Darcy to Elizabeth Gray in the 14th century
✔️ The stone spiral staircase which you can climb up to the first floor (if you’re careful and steady-footed0
Distance from Harrogate: 37.5 miles
Travel time: 55 minutes
Top Tip: While visiting the castle, check out the two pirate graves in the semi-abandoned Church of the Holy Rood 100 metres from the castle.
Wrap Up – The Best Castles to Visit Near Harrogate
So there you have it! A wide variety of castles to visit near Harrogate to tempt you to get out and explore. Have you decide which of these North Yorkshire castles you would like to visit?
LIKE IT? PIN THESE NORTH YORKSHIRE CASTLES FOR LATER!