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With thousands of years of fascinating, turbulent history, it’s unsurprising that the British Isles are awash with castles of all shapes, sizes, and ages, particularly around the troubled Scottish-English and Welsh-English borders. While many of these magnificent castles in England and Scotland were built strategically on cliffs or hilltops to protect against invaders, and others were surrounded by a well-defended moat, a small handful of breathtaking island castles were built too.
As there are so many castles in England, Scotland, and Wales to choose from, here’s my collection of the most unmissable island castles in Britain to add to your own bucket list!
- 10 Utterly Beautiful Castles in Wales (+ Stunning Hidden Gems)
- 12 Fairytale Scottish Castles
- 3 Amazing Jersey Castles You Will Love to Visit
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6 Mesmerising Island Castles in the United Kingdom for You to Explore
It’s incredibly rewarding to visit and explore historic English island castles. Apart from all of the fascinating history, the ancient stone walls always seem to have stories a-plenty to tell, and most of the castles have quirky cafes for a spot of tea and cakes too!
Exploring England is amazing – it’s a small country, but there is so much to see.
St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, England
One of the best-known island castles in England is located in Cornwall – England’s most south-westerly county. St Michael’s Mount is a rocky island, cut off from the shore twice a day at high tide. The oldest buildings in this spectacular setting date back to the 12th century, with a medieval church, castle, a living community, and a legendary connection to King Arthur.
There is plenty to see and do at this castle on an island, but check the tide times before your visit! You can surround yourself with history, marvel at the architecture of the medieval church and castle itself, discover the legend of Jack the Giant Killer, enjoy the subtropical terraced garden, and find out about a connection to King Arthur too.
When uncovered at low tide, the causeway to St Michael’s Mount is about 1/2 mile long – about a 10-15 minute walk. If the tide is in, you can take a boat to the island.
Where to stay near St Michael’s Mount
Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Scotland
The most northerly of Britain’s island castles is the breathtaking Eilean Donan Castle which has become an iconic image of Scotland. Located on the main tourist route to the Isle of Skye, this breathtaking castle is in the small village of Dornie, at the meeting point of three sea lochs – Loch Long, Loch Alsh, and Loch Duich.
Initially created as a monastic cell by the 6th-century Irish saint, Bishop Donan, the island was fortified in the 13th century to protect the area from Viking invasions. The castle has changed many times over the intervening centuries, although it was at its biggest in medieval times when it covered the entire island.
When you visit the castle, you can discover how it was involved in the Jacobite uprisings in 1719, and how, despite walls that are 14 feet wide, this led to the destruction of the castle!
Find the best places to stay near Eileen Donan here.
Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, England
Lindisfarne Castle is located on Holy Island, the beautiful, remote tidal island where St Aidan established his monastery in 635 AD which flourished until King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Lindisfarne Castle was built in the 1550’s, using stone from the ruined abbey.
Today, the castle is a charming place for you to visit, with a beautiful walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, early 20th-century alterations by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and lovely cafes and shops. Just remember to check the tide times before planning your visit, as the island is utterly inaccessible once the tide sweeps in.
Find lovely places to stay near Lindisfarne here.
Elizabeth Castle, Jersey, Channel Islands
Elizabeth Castle is the most southerly of the island castles in England and the only one built to defend against a French invasion. It’s also the only one to have been occupied by German forces during World War II.
Strategically located on a tidal island in Jersey‘s St Aubin’s Bay, Elizabeth Castle was one of the many defences built around the coast of Jersey as protection against invasion from nearby France. Constructed started on the castle during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, after whom the castle is named.
Two of the most famous residents of Elizabeth Castle were Sir Waler Raleigh, who was Governor of Jersey at the time, and King Charles II, while he was living in exile. More infamous residents of this island castle were the occupying German soldiers who built bunkers and gun emplacements across the site.
Top Tip: The best way to explore Elizabeth Castle is to join one of the free guided tours offered by Jersey Heritage.
Find the best places to stay in Jersey here.
Castle Stalker, Appin, Scotland
Castle Stalker is located in a fabulous rural location in Loch Linnie, 25 miles north of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. The name of the castle comes from the Gaelic “Stalcaire” which means hunter or falconer.
Dating back to 1320, the castle belonged to the Stewarts of Appin until 1620 when it was lost to the Campbell clan in a drunken bet. Two centuries later, the castle was abandoned by the Campbells, until it was restored by Lt.Col. Stewart Allward in the 1960s, with the help of his friends and family.
You might have seen this castle before – it was used as a film location in Monty Python’s cult movie The Holy Grail as Castle Aaaaaaargh.
Find stunning places to stay near Castle Stalker here.
Piel Castle, Cumbria, England
14th-century Piel Castle is perched on the southeast tip of tiny Piel Island, in Morecambe Bay. The castle was originally built by John Cockerham, Abbot of Furness after he was granted a ‘licence to crenellate’ by King Edward III. The castle was needed to provide a place of safety for the monastic community, as Northern England was plagued by Scottish raids at the time.
In 1537, Furness Abbey was dissolved, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by King Henry VIII, making the castle the property of the king who left it to fall into ruins. Piel Island was presented to the people of Barrow and District by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1920, to presented to commemorate those who died in the First World War.
Although this island castle is in ruins, the massive keep can be seen from around Morecambe Bay! You can visit the castle for free, but the ferry across to the island is chargeable.
Find the best places to stay near Piel Castle here.
Star Castle, Isles of Scilly
One island castle which didn’t quite make the list, as it’s a castle on an island, rather than an island that is fortified, is Star Castle on the stunningly beautiful Isles of Scilly. Dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the castle was built as a defence for the Isles of Scilly. Commanding magnificent sea views in every direction, you can stay in this castle, as it’s now a highly rated hotel. Find more information here.
There are so many more castles in England and the wider British Isles to visit. It’s impossible to round them all up in one post. I’ve not visited them all yet, but look forward to exploring more and adding them to my list of great castles in Britain to visit.