Dorset is blessed with some of the most beautiful castles and fascinating ruins, all with a captivating history to discover.  Below are our top 5 castles that you simply must visit on your break to Dorset. 

Corfe Castle

This thousand year old castle is a battle-scarred survivor with a turbulent past!  Corfe Castle has been a Saxon stronghold, a Norman fortress, a royal palace and a family home.  During that time it has seen murder and war and known kings and paupers.

Sitting prominently in the Purbeck ridge, Corfe Castle dominates the surrounding area and never fails to impress.  With fallen fortress walls and secret places to discover, visitors of all ages can’t fail to be captivated by these romantic castle ruins with breathtaking views across Purbeck.

Corfe Castle

Feel history come alive with tales of historic treachery and treason; you can imagine yourself being transported back in time. 

The views from Corfe Castle are simply stunning and if you’re lucky you might even spot one of Swanage Railway’s steam trains puffing its way through the Purbeck countryside.

Corfe Castle is a particularly active castle and stages lots of events throughout the year. Its rugged beauty has won the heart of thousands of visitors, young and old and is a must visit on your trip to Dorset.

Highcliffe Castle

Built mainly between 1831 and 1836 Highcliffe Castle sits on a cliff-top site overlooking Christchurch Bay with wonderful views out towards the Isle of Wight.

The Castle was the realisation of Lord Stuart de Rothesay and was once lavishly furnished in the 18th century French style.  It has been described as arguably the most important surviving house of the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture, which flourished at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

The Castle remained a family home until the 1950s but unfortunately a pair of devastating fires in the 1960s left Highcliffe Castle a roofless ruin which in turn left the Castle uninhabited for years.

Highcliffe Castle

However, today the Castle’s renovated exterior is testimony to the remarkable skills of the craftsmen and women who carried out a huge repair conservation programme in the 1990s and is well worth a visit.

Join a guided tour and listen to the wonderful, knowledgeable room hosts who will bring to life the detailed history of the building with behind the scenes stories and facts about the Castle and its hidden heritage.  The guide will show you the unrestored areas uncovering the hidden history of the Castle, bringing its rich heritage alive.

Highcliffe Castle

Highcliffe Castle has played host to royalty, the rich and the famous.  American-born retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge lived in the Castle between 1916 and 1922 and is buried with his wife and mother at St Mark’s churchyard just across the road from the Castle.

When visiting, make sure you take a relaxing stroll around the beautiful gardens and on a warm, sunny day bring a picnic and while away an hour…or two!

Sherborne Castle

Built in 1594 by Sir Walter Raleigh, Sherborne Castle reflects a magnificent variety of decorative styles from over 400 years of English history. 

Sherborne Castle

Visit the Castle and view the rich interiors with nationally important collections of art, furniture and porcelain together with the original kitchen, family artefacts and archaeological finds from the old medieval castle on view in the Castle cellars. 

Sherborne Castle has been the stately home of the Digby family since 1617 and on your visit you will find a typical country home where each succeeding generation has left its imprint.  Visitors tour the Castle on a self-guided basis following from room to room in their own time.  Room stewards are on hand throughout the Castle to help with any queries.

During your visit make sure you explore the 42 acres of beautiful gardens and grounds.  The Grade I listed garden was one of Capability Brown’s first commissions providing a magnificent English Landscape Garden which survives largely unaltered today.  The gardens offer delightful walks around the 50 acre lake.

Sherborne Castle Gardens

Sherborne Castle plays host to a wide variety of events throughout the year, from large country fairs to classic car rallies and jousting tournaments.

Set in the beautiful grounds next to Sherborne Castle is Sherborne Old Castle, a romantic 12th Century ruin.  The Old Castle was reduced to ruins during the Civil War and the name of Sherborne Castle was transferred to the new building.

Sherborne Old Castle

Lulworth Castle & Park

Not all castles were built for warfare and protection; some were built just for fun! Lulworth Castle was built in the 17th Century as a hunting lodge to entertain aristocracy and royalty. 

For centuries it was the family home for the Weld family, the current owners of the Lulworth Estate, but it was ravaged by fire in 1929 and was left as a roofless ruin.  The family built a new residence nearby and the Castle was partly restored in the 1970s in partnership with English Heritage.  The roof, exterior walks and surviving walls in the interior were restored but no new walls or replacements for the destroyed upper floors were constructed.

Today, Lulworth Castle stands majestically in the extensive parkland at the heart of Lulworth Estate and its mediaeval style complete with towers and crenellations certainly look the part!

Lulworth Castle

There is plenty to entertain and interest visitors of all ages, with the Castle basements and ground floor open for you to explore with interesting displays and exhibits.  Walk in the footsteps of kings and queens as you discover the Castle’s fascinating history.

Climb the tower and be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the Purbeck countryside and vistas out towards the Jurassic Coast.

With extensive parkland, woodland walks and a children’s playground, the spacious grounds are yours to enjoy… its not every day you get to enjoy the playground of royalty!

The Castle is also renowned for its events and plays host to the well-known Bestival and family friendly, Camp Bestival.

Portland Castle

Last but certainly not least on the list is Portland Castle.  Built in the early 1540’s to protect against French and Spanish invasion, Portland Castle is one of Henry VIIIs finest coastal forts and overlooks Portland Harbour.

Portland Castle

Built in Portland Stone, the Castle is among the smallest of those built by Henry VIII and remains one of the best preserved of its kind in the UK.

On your visit to the Castle you can follow its 450 year history on an audio tour and discover the part it played in the First and Second World Wars.

Kids will love trying on outfits and armour in the Armoury and imagining themselves as a Tudor soldier or Royalist Gunner!

Head up to the gun platform where you can enjoy stunning sea views and get up close to the powerful cannons.

Outside is a beautiful garden; sit where fruit and vegetables would once have been grown to feed the troop and enjoy the peaceful charm of the Contemporary Heritage Garden, recreated using a coastal theme.

Why not also visit Sandsfoot Castle across the harbour in Weymouth, Portland Castle’s sister castle.

Wow, that’s a lot of castles to explore but having them all in one county makes it so much easier and each and every one of them is well worth a visit!  The biggest question is which one first??

Castles in Dorset for Weddings

If you're looking for a stunning venue for your perfect wedding then why not choose one of Dorset's castles.

Lulworth Castle is the perfect backdrop for your fairytale wedding with its long sweeping drive and acres of unspoilt parkland.  The raw textures of this partially restored castle offer a truly mesmorising backdrop for your unforgettable day.

Sherborne Castle and Gardens provide both a beautiful and historic setting for your dream wedding. Providing a truly romantic and magical setting, Sherborne Castle is the perfect venue to host your special day.

Highcliffe Castle provides a truly stunning setting; the romantic rooms and exquisitely landscaped grounds will ensure your day is amazing in every way possible!

Dorset has a castle for every occassion! 

Related

Corfe Castle
National Trust Property
Corfe Castle in spring

Adults and children alike will be captivated by the romantic Corfe Castle ruins and the breath-taking views across Purbeck.

Highcliffe Castle
Castle/Fort
Highcliffe Castle

Magnificent Grade I Listed 1830's mansion built by Lord Stuart de Rothesay.

Sherborne Castle
Historic House/Palace
Sherborne Castle, Dorset

Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 & home of the Digby family since 1617. View Magnificent Staterooms, Nationally Important Collections of Art, Furniture & Porcelain, Raleigh’s Kitchen & a Museum. Explore 42 acres of English Landscape Gardens designed by ‘Capability Brown’ and discover a 50 acre lake, herbaceous borders, magnificent specimen trees and sweeping vistas.

Sherborne Old Castle
Castle/Fort
Sherborne Old Castle - Aerial view

Visitors today can delight in the great gatehouse, stroll in the castle grounds and enjoy a picnic where Sir Walter Raleigh once entertained when the castle acted as his country home.

Lulworth Castle & Park
Castle/Fort
Lulworth Castle & Park

Welcome to Lulworth Castle and Park, situated at the heart of the privately owned Lulworth Estate. Follow the fascinating story of the castle and the inspiring past of its dedicated owners. Discover breathtaking views over the Dorset countryside from the Lulworth Castle tower, picnic in the grounds, enjoy a cream tea in the Castle Tearoom, wander through ancient woodlands and explore the historically significant Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Mary's. Feel free to participate in lawn games such as pitch 'n' putt, swingball, giant jenga, noughts & crosses, and boules or inside the Castle (especially for the children) you can Hunt the Bats! For special events and opening times, please visit www.lulworth.com

Portland Castle
Castle/Fort
Portland Castle

A well preserved coastal fort built by Henry VIII to defend Weymouth harbour against possible French and Spanish attack. Exhibition: 400 years of the castle's history.

Sandsfoot Castle and the Rodwell Trail
Castle/Fort
Sandsfoot Castle and the Rodwell Trail

Halfway along the Rodwell Trail you'll find Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry VIII in 1539 to protect his kingdom from foreign invasion. Abondoned by the military in 1665 it's become an iconic ruin overlooking Portland Harbour for the past 350 years in Green Flag gardens with an outdoor cafe where a free guide can be obtained. Rodwell Trail is a 3.4km green link for walkers and cyclists and a haven for wildlife between Weymouth and Ferrybridge following the course of the old Weymouth to Portland Railway. Wheelchair friendly although most access points are steep it is suitable for all ages.

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