Cumbria and the Lake District are full of fascinating castles: from those ruined by the ravages of time to the grand stately buildings that some people still call home today. Each of these Lake District castles has a fascinating story to tell of battles and wars, great victories and devastating tragedies, and intrigue and hauntings.
The history behind each, combined with the beautiful scenic backdrop of the national park, makes each of these fascinating castles a wonderful opportunity for an educational and fun day out with the family. The visitor experience at these sites has been lovingly enhanced to include all the family; nowadays children can have fun in wild play areas and trekking winding woodland trails, whilst grown-ups drink in the impressive views and step back into a historic reverie.
The main castles in Cumbria were primarily intended as homes, while others are more traditional castles where battles were fought and titles defended. Many lie in ruin today, but we’re sure, like us, that you love a dramatic castle to explore and a chance to step back in time!
Lowther Castle and Gardens, Penrith
Despite being just a shell of its former glory, Lowther Castle still stands impressively above the vast Lowther Estate, which lies south of Penrith. In fact, you wouldn’t know it’s a ruin until you got up much closer, its intact outer walls see to that! But the real attraction here is the stunning castle gardens. Covering 130 acres, you’ll find viewpoints, formal gardens, wild gardens, rose gardens, summer houses, and even an exciting children’s play area.
Built in the late 19th century on the site of two earlier properties, Lowther Castle was an enviable home for many years. It hosted such names as Mary, Queen of Scots and its gardens were the talk of the country. When it was inherited by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale – known as ‘The Yellow Earl’ because of his love of the colour – he was so extravagant with his spending that he could eventually no longer live at Lowther and the castle was abandoned, gradually falling to ruin throughout two world wars. It wasn’t until 2011 that this beloved Lake District castle reopened to the public after much work to restore some of its former glory.
- The Lost Castle is one of the largest adventure playgrounds in the UK. It’s the delight of children of all ages with zip wires, bridges, fire poles and much more.
- The Western Terrace is a must-visit – an open stretch of raised land that enjoys spectacular views of the Lowther Valley.
- Explore further afield through the wider Lowther Estate. There are designated estate walks and cycle rides (bike hire is available at the castle) through the beautiful scenery.
Need to know
Opening times: Daily from 10am to 5pm in summer and 4pm in winter.
Price: Adults £14, children £10. Under 3s go free. Family and annual passes available.
Facilities: Cafe, shop, WC, parking.
Accessibility: While the ruins and part of the gardens are accessible, some areas of the garden are rough and unsuitable for wheelchairs. Call 01931 712192 for further details.
Dogs: Welcome on the grounds on a lead (restrictions apply to certain areas, such as the adventure playground).
Muncaster Castle and Gardens, Ravenglass
Situated close to Ravenglass on the lovely Lake District coast, Muncaster Castle and its gardens dominate views of lower Eskdale from its elevation above the estuary. With 77 acres of woodland and gardens set against the striking backdrop of the Western Lake District fells, a trip to Muncaster Castle is a joy for visitors of all ages.
Muncaster Castle is one of the Lake District’s most popular places to visit thanks to its large grounds, fascinating structure and spooky happenings! At its popular Hawk and Owl Centre, you can enjoy aerial displays and get up close and personal with the birds. The landscaped gardens offer scope for pretty walks with many interesting plants and flowers to see; be sure to take in the Georgian Terrace and the riot of rhododendrons during the spring. Entertaining family-friendly festivals take place throughout the year.
- Time your visit for one of the exciting festivals. Some popular options are the Festival of Fools, Medieval Muncaster and the Halloween Family Festival.
- At the Meadow Vole Maze, you’ll shrink down to the size of these furry critters and explore life from a tiny perspective. Dash through the tall grass and avoid the predators! For more fun for the kids, skip through the fairy garden or clamber around the Yeti Adventure Quarry.
- Learn all about the mysterious noises and strange happenings that have given Muncaster a reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in the UK! Will you hear a mysterious crying child, or perhaps be pranked by the long-dead Tom Skelton – the original Fool of Muncaster?
Need to know
Opening times: Open daily from late March until early November. Castle: 12pm to 4pm, gardens: 10.30am to 4pm. See website for out-of-season opening times.
Price: Discounts available when bought online in advance. See website for ticket prices.
Facilities: Cafes, gift shop, WC, parking.
Accessibility: Wheelchairs and mobility scooters available to borrow, disabled parking, accessible toilets, and tarmac paths through part of the gardens. Most of the ground floor of the castle is wheelchair accessible. Further details.
Dogs: Dogs are welcome on the grounds on a lead.
Sizergh Castle, near Kendal
Sizergh Castle in the Lake District, a National Trust property, is a residential castle celebrated for its curious medieval architecture. Standing proudly near Kendal, at the eastern border of the national park, it’s worth a visit if you love to see old stately homes in prime condition. Its rich and beautiful gardens include a pond, an ornamental lake, a national collection of hardy ferns and a bewitching rock garden. The 1,600-acre estate includes limestone pasture, orchards and semi-natural woodland.
The castle itself is a treasure trove of history, including rare Elizabethan joinery and Flemish tapestries amongst its collection of over 2,400 objects. Over the 800 years that the Strickland family have lived in this medieval Cumbrian castle, they have painted a wonderful history through fascinating and unique artefacts, many of which are on display for visitors to admire.
- Children will love the wild play area with its climbing wall, balance beams and rope swing.
- Book one of the many events throughout the year. They include guided walks around the estate, photography workshops and historic exhibitions.
- Explore the wider estate: covering 1,600 acres, there’s plenty to see, including wetlands, farmland and orchards.
Need to know
Opening times: Garden open daily from 10am. House from 12pm but closed most Mondays and in winter. Closing times vary by season. See website for details.
Price: Free for National Trust members. Non-members from £13 for adults and £6.50 for children. Family passes available. See website for full price list.
Facilities: Cafe, second-hand bookshop, gift shop, parking, WC, baby changing.
Accessibility: Disabled parking, accessible WC, wheelchair and mobility scooter available to borrow, level access from car park. The grounds and building are not fully accessible. See website for further details.
Dogs: Welcome on the wider estate. Not permitted in the house and main gardens.
Wray Castle, Ambleside
Overlooking the north side of Lake Windermere, a few miles from Ambleside, this National Trust-managed Gothic revival folly dates back to the mid-1800s. Although it has ramparts, turrets, battlements and a portcullis, Wray Castle, just like many of the other surviving castles in this guide, was envisioned as a residential castle. It’s a superb pick for a gentle day out with your family and loved ones as there are lakeside walks and woodlands to explore as well as a wild play area.
Wray Castle is unusual on this list of castles because it’s almost completely empty inside! Kids can have the run of the place, exploring the large open rooms and playing dress up or chateau building. Guided tours are available where you can admire Wray Castle’s architectural features and learn about its history.
- Leave the car at home and arrive in style on the Windermere Lake Cruiser. A jetty in the grounds offers a unique way to land at Wray Castle.
- Wander down through the lovely grounds to the shores of Windermere where you can enjoy a paddle and a picnic.
- Visit the in-house art collections all year round for different perspectives of the landscapes and lives of the local area throughout the years.
Need to know
Opening times: Castle open Saturday to Wednesday throughout the season, 10am to 4pm. Grounds open 8am to 8pm daily.
Facilities: Cafe, car park, WC.
Accessibility: Designated parking, accessible WC, some level access, accessible routes. Find out more on the website.
Dogs: Welcome on a lead on the grounds.
Piel Castle, near Barrow-in-Furness
The impressive 14th-century Piel Castle can be found on a small island close to the Cumbrian town of Barrow-in-Furness and on the edge of Morecambe Bay. Accessible only by boat, a ferry service runs between April and October from Roa Island. When you arrive, take in the impressive tower, which, though now in ruins, was once ornate and can still be seen from around Morecambe Bay. There are also two other smaller towers and a lower building that is thought to have been a chapel.
Though showing some signs of being a home, Piel Castle is thought to have mainly been a defensive building, protecting the coast against Scottish raids and keeping an eye out for pirates along the trading route. It has played its own small part in a number of historic events but is now much more peaceful as part of a wider nature reserve that extends to the neighbouring island of Walney.
- Don’t forget your binoculars to see if you can spot interesting wildlife and seabirds in this lovely nature reserve, as well as the seal colony on Walney Island.
- Stop off at The Ship Inn on the island for refreshments.
- Hop over the water to Walney Island with its two nature reserves, golf club, and seaside walks.
Need to know
Opening times: Open 24/7, but access depends on ferry times.
Facilities: There is a pub on the island for refreshments.
Accessibility: By foot ferry only.
Dogs: Dogs welcome. Please keep under control in order to protect the local wildlife.
Brougham Castle, Brougham
The haunting remnants of Brougham Castle sit on the banks of the River Eamont in the Eden Valley. Now managed by English Heritage, the castle has survived numerous battles since it was built in the 13th century, and the impressive keep still stands tall. In fact, it’s still possible to climb the ramparts to see fantastic views of the surrounding Eden Valley and beyond.
Kids will love poking around and running through the passageways between the castle’s craggy, embattled walls. And, when they’re done playing at defending the stone walls, the surrounding grassy areas are ideal for a picturesque picnic. Enjoy a seat by the river as you chomp your crisps and sandwiches and admire the historic remains.
- An exhibition in the shop celebrates Lady Anne Clifford, who was responsible for the restoration and upkeep of many local buildings. The display also includes some local Roman finds.
- Combine a visit to Brougham Castle with a trip to other local historic sites that include Countess Pillar, King Arthur’s Round Table, and Mayburgh Henge.
Need to know
Opening times: Daily, 10am to 5pm. Weekends only during the winter.
Price: Free for English Heritage members. Adults from £5.90, children £3.10, U5s free. Family passes and concessions available. Book in advance for discounted rates.
Facilities: Free roadside parking, small gift shop, WC.
Accessibility: Disabled toilet, wheelchair loan available, flagstone path to castle. See access details.
Dogs: Welcome on leads.
Kendal Castle, Kendal
Once the home of the Parr family, this 13th-century castle stands in ruins today. But it’s well worth a visit for those with an interest in royal history, and you can also enjoy some very pretty views over the rooftops of Kendal. Originally built on the site of an older wooden motte and bailey, this Cumbrian castle has a history that stretches far back in time.
Though the Parr family’s most famous resident – Catherine Parr – is best known as Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, this impressive lady holds many more accolades. As well as surviving a husband known for casting off his wives, she was the first woman in England to publish a book under her own name. She also helped the daughters of Henry – Mary and Elizabeth – regain their places in the line of succession, and took custody of Elizabeth on the death of her father.
- Before you set off, download the Kendal Castle audio trail, which brings the history of the place alive.
- Follow a walk around the ruins with a trip to Kendal Museum where you can learn about the fascinating history of the castle, see models of it, and view other interesting medieval items on display.
Need to know
Opening times: Accessible at all times.
Accessibility: The ground is mostly grass, with a gravel path leading up to the main tower and information boards.
Dogs: Dogs welcome on leads.
Carlisle Castle, Carlisle
Carlisle Castle is an imposing edifice that has watched over the town of Carlisle for nearly 1,000 years. It is characterised by its eye-catching stone keep and you will want to visit it to follow in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie, William Rufus, and Mary Queen of Scots. It has a very intriguing history, and you can read all about it through a series of lively displays within the castle walls. You can even take guided tours of the castle to get an in-depth insight into the battles and upheavals the castle has borne witness to.
Impressively maintained, Carlisle Castle was a working fortress until reasonably recently, and still within living memory. Canons still line the walls, and children will love pretending to fire them across the city. The contrast between the more comfortable living areas and the prisons is evident, and you’ll have a great time exploring all the nooks and crannies of this historic Cumbrian castle.
- Carlisle Castle is also home to Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life. Entry is included in your ticket price so you can step back through 300 years of fascinating military history.
- See how many prisoners’ carvings you can spot in the stone walls of the castle keep.
- Stroll around the castle walls for lovely views of Carlisle.
Need to know
Opening times: Daily, 10am to 5pm. Castle open weekends only throughout winter.
Price: Adults from £11.30, children £6.80, U5s free. Family tickets and concessions available. See website for full pricing.
Facilities: City centre car parks nearby, shop, WC, baby changing facilities.
Accessibility: On-site disabled parking, disabled toilets, limited wheelchair access. See website for full details.
Dogs: Welcome on a lead. Excludes the Military Museum.
Penrith Castle, Penrith
Seeing life as both a defensive building against Scottish raids and as a luxurious home by a future King of England (Richard III), Penrith Castle now lies in ruins. Despite that, its walls retain their full height, providing an impressive sight as you enter Penrith.
The castle was first noted as ‘decaying’ in records from the mid-1500s, and, as it hasn’t been used as a residence since Richard III ascended to the throne, it’s no surprise that its deterioration has continued. It was dismantled following brief use in the Civil War before finally being bought by the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway Company, who built Penrith train station opposite it. Despite its decline, as part of a public park, Penrith Castle remains a pleasant spot to visit for a picnic.
- Explore the town on a walk along the Penrith Heritage Trail. As well as the castle, you’ll take it historic churches, ancient henges and grand stately homes.
- Pack a picnic to enjoy in the shade of the castle walls. There are many local producers in Penrith and, if you time it right, you could even get some fresh treats from the popular Tuesday market.
Need to know
Opening times: In line with park opening times. From 7.30am to 9pm in summer and until 4.30pm in winter.
Facilities: Cafe within the park.
Accessibility: Disabled access from Ullswater Road. Paths are mostly good throughout the park, with some steps to access parts of the castle.
Dogs: Dogs welcome under close control.
Brough Castle, Brough
Taking you by surprise as you drive to the Lake District along the busy A66, the ruinous Brough Castle stands proudly on a ridge overlooking the river and on the site of a much larger Roman fort. The oldest part of the building is the 13th-century keep, with remains of more ‘modern’ additions that were added by the Clifford Family in the 16th century. Unfortunately, most of the castle was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1521.
Brough is another Cumbrian castle that was rescued by the indomitable Lady Anne Clifford, who arranged its repair in 1659. Unfortunately, its restoration wasn’t to last, and its gradual decay began when much of its roof and fittings were sold off in the 18th century. Nowadays, it’s a picturesque location for a half-hour visit, with its remaining walls still sparking the imagination.
- On a warm day, enjoy a tasty treat from Brough Castle Ice Cream Parlour opposite the ruins.
- Pop into nearby St Michael’s Church, with parts that date back to the Norman era.
Need to know
Opening times: Daily, 10am to 5pm (4pm October to March).
Facilities: Ice cream parlour and cafe opposite the castle, limited parking.
Accessibility: Uneven surfaces throughout.
Dogs: Welcome on a lead. Farm animals are likely to be on the grounds or nearby.
Dalton Castle, Dalton
Dalton Castle in South Cumbria sits tall and proud in the centre of the town of Dalton. Having seen many iterations – including as a defensive building and as a prison – its main use was as the manorial courthouse of nearby Furness Abbey. Even after the dissolution of the abbey in 1537, Dalton Castle continued to be used as a courthouse for a further 300 years and was eventually given to the National Trust in the 1960s.
Though the current building is thought to have been built in the 14th century, it is believed that earlier buildings in the same spot date as far back as 79 AD. Nowadays, the building is supported by volunteers in the form of the Friends of Dalton Castle Society. Together, they raise money for its ongoing upkeep and also provide fascinating historic tours of this small but interesting castle.
- Take a guided tour to learn about the lives of the abbot and monks of the area, who were once some of the most powerful in England.
- Combine your trip to Dalton Castle with a visit to the grand ruins of nearby Furness Abbey.
Need to know
Opening times: 2pm to 5pm every Saturday from Easter to September.
Accessibility: Limited, with steps and narrow doorways throughout. Seating available.
Dogs: Assistance dogs only.
Cockermouth Castle, Cockermouth
Cockermouth Castle has dominated its position above the town of Cockermouth since the mid-1100s and played important strategic roles in the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. Up until 2013, it was the home of the dowager Lady Egremont. Today, the castle has been partially converted into a private residence, but some sections remain in ruins and can be seen from the riverbanks below.
- A pretty walk down by the river gives the best external views of the castle. Enjoy it as part of the Civic Trust Town Trail.
- Learn more about the Roman settlement of Derventio (now in Papcastle), which is thought to have been as important as better-known sites like Vindolanda.
Need to know
Cockermouth Castle is one to admire from the outside as it is not a visitor attraction. However, there are good positions around the town to see the castle and to take photographs.
Stay at one of our self-catering Lake District cottages
From small cottages to large family homes, we have a wide collection of holiday cottages to choose from close to these fascinating Lake District castles. All of our properties are full of features that make your holiday extra special.
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.