A Truly Historic Rest: 10 Unforgettable Medieval Castle Vacations
Any enthusiastic lover of history undoubtedly dreams of that perfect castle vacation filled with ancient stories and thrilling historic sights. Alas, holidays don’t always turn out quite as planned. Every year, hundreds of history buffs find their hopes running aground when faced with the same old options. But now you can change your vacation rut for good! We’ve put together a list of fabulous castles-turned-hotels ideal for true history aficionados. These 10 medieval castles you can actually sleep in will make for the ultimate castle vacation.
1. Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham, England
A stay at Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham is an ideal castle vacation. (Ellenborough Park)
Situated about 2.5 miles (4 km) northeast of the center of Cheltenham, this historic country house, known today as Ellenborough Park, boasts a rich medieval background. It was the original residence of the knightly De La Bere family, who were raised to the rank of bannerets after the Battle of Stoke in 1487. Originally a lordly manor house - a sort of a simple castle of the Norman feudal system - it grew over time into a sprawling and luxurious country manor.
Over the decades, it was the residence of some very important figures, such as King George III, as well as the famous Barons of Ellenborough. These days the manor has been transformed into a charming and elegant hotel. It boasts a classic English manor look, nestled in the picturesque historic area of the Cotswolds. As such, it is truly a dreamy setting for a historic hotel. The Ellenborough Park hotel is noted for its calm and quiet, for its stunning park grounds, affordable pricing, as well as its top-notch food!
2. Pousada de Óbidos, Portugal
Óbidos Castle in Portugal is now home to a lovely luxurious castle hotel. (Joaomartinho63 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Óbidos Castle, or Castelo de Óbidos, is one of the most formidable and memorable medieval relics in Portugal. Located in the coastal district of Leiria, Óbidos Castle has some far-reaching and ancient origins. Originally a Luso-Roman oppidum, it gradually grew into a sprawling and formidable medieval castle complex. Within its tall stone fortress walls, a picturesque settlement grew, and today it is a true tourist haven.
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The castle’s medieval background can be traced back to the Reconquista period, when King Alfonso I began its recapture. Over the following centuries, the ramparts, walls, and fortifications continued to expand. They all survived in exceptional condition, and are a true treat for fans of medieval castles and dying for a castle vacation.
Located within the citadel in the castle courtyard, the stately Paço dos Alcaides (Palace of the Alcaldes) has been transformed into a modern and luxurious castle hotel. Anyone staying in one of the hotel’s 16 rooms is guaranteed a stunning view, a true medieval ambience, exceptional Portuguese cuisine, and high quality service. This really is a medieval experience you need to try!
3. Castle Hotel Schönburg, Oberwesel, Germany
Castle Hotel Schönburg in Germany. (Traveler100 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is just one of Germany’s numerous medieval relics and it won’t fail to leave you speechless. Castle Schönburg is perched high above the medieval town of Oberwesel, located in the idyllic Rhine Valley. Its earliest mentions in history are dated to 911 AD, and it has been the historic seat of the powerful Lords of Schönburg, an old noble family with princely and sovereign prominence.
Alas, the Middle Ages were unkind to this marvelous castle. Although it was a powerful fortress, it could not withstand the downfall of the Schönburg family. The family’s last male heir died in the late 17th century, bringing the family line to an end. Soon after the castle was burned down by French soldiers, during the War of the Grand Alliance (Nine Years’ War) in 1689.
Over the next 200 years the castle lay in ruins, abandoned and overgrown. Luckily, its potential was recognized and it underwent a series of renovations and adaptations, beginning with its acquisition by the wealthy Rhinelander family. Nowadays, it is owned by the historic town of Oberwesel, and leased to the family that transformed it into a high quality hotel. Many guests have dubbed this hotel the “storybook perfect medieval castle”, noted for its iconic vintage furnishing, stunning views, and classic German dishes. One of Germany’s oldest castles still in use, Schönburg is a hotel like no other.
4. Ashford Castle, County Mayo, Ireland
Ashford Castle is without a doubt one of Ireland’s most prominent remnants of Irish heritage. A sprawling and stunning site, it has deep medieval origins and has been gradually expanded over the years due to its role as a seat of power and prominence. Situated near Lough Corrib, near Cong at the border of counties Mayo and Galway, Ashford Castle offers a true medieval castle experience which will take your breath away.
Its story began around 1228 AD, when the Anglo-Norman family of House Bourke built a formidable castle near a monastic site. The castle grew gradually, until it was won over by the English Bingham family, of the Lords President of Connaught. Over time, new owners added their own extensions, creating sprawling castle grounds and manorial estates. In modern times, the castle was owned by the famed Guinness family, before changing hands repeatedly until recent years.
Nowadays, it is one of the most famous castle hotels in Europe, let alone in Ireland. The perfect destination for a luxurious castle vacation, Ashford Castle has housed prominent guests like King George V and Queen Mary, Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, Prince Edward and numerous Hollywood actors and actresses. Providing you can afford such a luxurious stay, Ashford Castle won’t fail to leave you stunned and inspired.
5. Swinton Park, Yorkshire, England
Swinton Park Hotel in Yorkshire. (Swinton Park)
As far as medieval castles of England go, Swinton Estate arrived to the scene at quite a late date. Nevertheless, it remains one of the prettiest castles in England, and also one of the best preserved. It was erected from 1695 onwards, by Sir Abstrupus Danby. A wealthy country gentleman, Danby based himself at the new estate, and his successors and heirs continued expanding the rich manor. Over time, numerous medieval features were added, such as the gatehouse, the battlements, turrets, a tall tower, parapets, and so on. Thus, the manor was transformed into an actual castle, and it remains as such today.
Nowadays, the Swinton Park Estate is home to a renowned luxurious hotel which opened in 2001. It has been refurbished internally to a high standard and also boasts extensive park grounds and stunning surroundings. Its parkland, listed as Grade II* on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, is the home of some breathtaking landscapes, as well as a herd of around 120 fallow deer. Those wishing to escape the hubbub of the daily grind can come to Swinton Park and embrace a true English medieval castle experience.
6. Purschenstein Castle, Neuhausen/Erzgebirge, Germany
View of Purschenstein Castle. (Purschenstein Schlosshotel)
Germany is dotted with marvelously preserved medieval castles that have luckily survived the ravages of time. Purschenstein Castle, known as Schloss Purschenstein, is one such historic place which has now been turned into a luxury hotel. Built as early as 1200 AD, most likely by Boreš I of the Hrabišici noble family, it has been the backdrop to a long history. These were important Bohemian aristocrats, and they erected this formidable castle at a critical point on the “Old Bohemian Track” trading route.
Its tall walls and pointed towers, combined with the castle’s location high on a rocky point, give it a truly idyllic and charming appearance that will leave you lost for words. In 2005 the castle was acquired by a Dutch businessman, who has since renovated it fully and adapted it for use as a luxury hotel. Today, the Purschenstein Castle Hotel offers a high quality castle vacation, complete with luxury amenities, an indoor pool, and a spa. Of course, the whole experience is boosted by an unmistakable medieval ambience and stunning views.
7. Dalhousie Castle Hotel, Edinburgh, Scotland
Who hasn’t dreamt of being a Scottish Clan laird at least once in their life? Well, even though this privilege is off limits to many, you can still feel somewhat like a laird when staying in this idyllic Scottish castle hotel. Dalhousie Castle was the seat of Earls of Dalhousie, chiefs of the Scottish Clan Ramsay.
The castle itself was erected by a Norman knight, Simon of Ramsay, who hailed from the English village of Ramsay. This Norman knight, following his liege into Scotland, was given lands there and is considered as the progenitor of the Clan Ramsay. He created his sturdy and formidable castle sometime after 1170 AD. It has been the seat of the Ramsay chiefs ever since.
Dalhousie Castle is situated in Cockpen, Midlothian, near the town of Bonnyrigg, some 8 miles (13 km) south of Edinburgh. It remained in Ramsay possession until 1977, which comes to over 800 years! But when the Clan moved its seat to Brechin Castle, Dalhousie was put on the market for sale. Ever since it has been the site of a stunning luxury hotel, with unique park grounds, expert levels of preservations, all of which combine to make Dalhousie Castle one of the finest hotels in Scotland.
8. Ruthin Castle, North Wales
Exterior view of Ruthin Castle in North Wales. (Ruthin Castle Hotel)
Ruthin Castle, known in Welsh as Castell Rhuthun, is situated in the idyllic Vale of Clwyd, near the town of Ruthin. It is one of Wales’ oldest medieval castles, and is today the site of a luxury hotel. At its site existed an Iron Age fort, which later transformed into a medieval castle. The site was granted to Dafydd ap Gruffydd by King Edward I of England in 1277, and these were the true origins of the Ruthin Castle.
Over the centuries, it had a turbulent history, and changed hands many times. Still, it was always known for its formidable fortifications and a strategic position. Sadly, due to historic events, the castle was largely demolished by the forces of Oliver Cromwell, and lay in disrepair for a long time. Luckily it was renovated gradually, and nowadays a refurbished part of the castle has been turned into a unique and luxurious hotel.
The entire surroundings and the looks of the medieval ruins make a stay in this castle-hotel a one-of-a-kind experience. Over the years it has welcomed many prominent guests, including Charles, the current Prince of Wales. Interestingly, the hotel has the reputation of being haunted, which may guarantee a truly unique castle vacation! But worry not, the Ruthin Castle Hotel is as modern as can be, and prides itself on its top notch quality.
9. Luttrellstown Castle, Clonsilla, Ireland
Luttrellstown Castle from above. (Luttrellstown Castle)
The mighty and picturesque Luttrellstown Castle boasts an exciting history. Situated in Dublin’s suburb of Clonsilla, it’s a true stone’s throw historic site in Ireland’s capital city. The castle itself was built around the early 1400’s by the members of the prominent Luttrell family. The castle stayed with them for many generations, but changed hands repeatedly in near-modern times.
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Nowadays, the Luttrellstown Castle is the place of an exquisite, prime 5-star resort and hotel, covering the entirety of the park grounds and the castle’s vicinity. It benefited from a thorough renovation project that cost many millions of euros, and was transformed into a luxurious place to stay for a castle vacation.
Of course, one cannot overlook the castle’s unmistakable medieval atmosphere and looks. Staying at this elegant estate can make you feel like a wealthy landowner from the Middle Ages, even though you are just a short way from the very center of Dublin. The castle has boasted some very prominent guests, including Queen Victoria, and - more recently - the Beckham family. Whenever you take it, a dream vacation at Luttrellstown is guaranteed!
10. Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Ireland
Dromoland Castle aerial view. (Eugene Remizov / Adobe Stock)
The beautiful Dromoland Castle is one of Ireland’s often overlooked historic jewels. It is situated near Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare and is known in Irish as Drom Ólainn. It is presumed that the original castle was built sometime before the early 1500s, likely by Thomas, the son of Shane Mac Anerheny. Over time, it has been the home of noble Irish families, such as the O’Briens and the McInerneys. Of course, each new inhabitant made additions to the castle, expanding it to its modern, luxurious layout.
Dromoland Castle is one of the best preserved and prettiest medieval castles in Ireland. Those looking for an exquisite castle vacation and a stay in a remarkable castle-hotel, can’t go wrong with Dromoland. The hotel prides itself on its restaurant, the Earl of Thomond, which is run by chef Jean Baptiste Molinari and is included in the Michelin Guide. If you love medieval history and first class cuisine, you need to pay this hotel a visit!
Top image: Dromoland Castle is just one of our ten recommended medieval castle vacations. Source: Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Club
Hopewell, D. 2014. “10 Castles You Can Actually Afford to Sleep In” in Fodor’s Travel. Available at: https://www.fodors.com/news/hotels/10-castles-you-can-actually-afford-to-sleep-in
Stuart, C. 2020. “11 European Castle Hotels You Can Actually Sleep In” in Jetsetter. Available at: https://www.jetsetter.com/magazine/best-chateau-hotels/
Wenger, T. 2018. “11 insanely beautiful castles you can actually stay the night in ” in Matador Network. Available at: https://matadornetwork.com/read/11-insanely-beautiful-castles-can-actually-stay-night/