Durham is home to many striking castles, built over the centuries to protect and to control. From vast fortresses and former strongholds to noble families residences, these moments stand as a reminder of the county’s turbulent past. 

These castles allow you to delve into Durham’s fascinating history and heritage, whether you’re visiting for the day, following in your ancestor's footsteps' or even sleeping over.  


View of Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland surrounded by blue sky

Auckland Castle

Auckland Castle is one of the best-preserved Bishops' Palaces in the whole of Europe and was once the private home of the powerful Prince Bishops of Durham. Inside the 900-year-old castle you can uncover the remarkable history of the Prince Bishops and get a close-up view of incredible artwork, including Zurbarán’s ‘Jacob and his Twelve Sons’, a collection of thirteen life-size figures painted during the Spanish Golden Age of art. The paintings were brought to the castle in 1756 and have hung in the Long Dining Room at Auckland Castle ever since.

No visit to Auckland Castle is complete without exploring the ancient 150-acre deer park, stepping inside St Peter’s Chapel - one of the largest private chapels in Europe, and soaking up the beautiful scents and colours at the 17th century Walled Garden.  

Auckland Castle and Gardens is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am - 4pm (March - Oct) 11am - 3pm (November - December) / The deer park is open daily from dawn till dusk.  

couple walking through the grounds of Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle

Crowning a rocky crag overlooking the bustling market town and boasting stunning views, the 12th century fortress of Barnard Castle was named after founder Bernard de Balliol. 

The castle was originally built to control the river crossing on the River Tees, between the Bishop of Durham’s territory and the Honour of Richmond. After a fierce siege in 1569 the castle was abandoned by the 17th century and has remained an imposing ruin ever since.  

The ruins of this once mighty fortress are open daily from 10am – 5pm, until 31st October, and throughout the winter season on weekends, 10am – 4pm. 
 

The ruins of Bowes Castle, County Durham

Bowes Castle

The ruins of Bowes Castle can be found on the outskirts of Barnard Castle and are located on the site of a former Roman fort. It was constructed to guard the strategic route known as the Stainmore Pass and was occupied from the late 1st century AD to the late 4th century. Once in the possession of the Honour of Richmond, the castle came into the ownership of King Henry II, who strengthened the castle for defence against a Scottish invasion, which happened in 1173/4.  

Today, the castle now stands in a field surrounded by a moat on two sides, and the keep is the only surviving part, which was originally three storeys high. The site is open every day during daylight hours. 
 

External view of Brancepth Castle, County Durham

Brancepth Castle

Constructed in the mid-12th century, the medieval Brancepeth Castle has a dynamic history just waiting to be discovered. Today the castle is a combination of the Nevilles' medieval stronghold and grand country house created for the wealthy Russell family.

 Legend has it that the castle takes its name from the 'Brawn's Path and the legend of the Brancepeth Brawn, a formidable wild boar which struck terror into the lives of locals. 

Now a family home, the castle is open for guided tours on a number of days each year and for public events.
 

External view of Durham Castle

Durham Castle

Crowning the hilltop over historic Durham City, Durham Castle was the centre of power for the Prince Bishops of Durham. Many Prince Bishops have called the castle home throughout the years, and many have left their mark on the castle. You can hear all the stories and legends about these powerful men on a guided tour of the castle. 

Did you know in 1503 Princess Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, stayed at the castle on her way north to marry the Scottish King James IV. Prince Bishop Richard Fox was involved in marriage arrangements and held a banquet in her honour during her stay.  

The castle sits in the heart of Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been continuously occupied since the 11th century. Today the castle is home to Durham University students and offers guided tours on various days throughout the year. Outside of term time, when the students go home, you can enjoy a sleep over, as this magnificent castle is transformed into a bed & breakfast
 

external view from above of Lumley Castle Hotel, County Durham

Lumley Castle

Live like a King or Queen at Lumley Castle Hotel! A short 15 minute drive from the Durham City centre, Lumley Castle offers luxurious rooms in the grand surroundings of a real English castle. Famous for its elegant interiors, medieval banquet evenings, and delicious afternoon tea, Lumley Castle is a great stay for those who revel in historic settings.   

Found on the banks of the River Wear, Lumley Castle was originally a grand manor house and was transformed into a castle in 1389 by Sir Ralph Lumley, whom the castle is named after. The castle transferred ownership throughout the ages until it was transformed into a hotel in the late 1970s.  

view of Raby Castle and surrounding lake on a bright sunny day

Raby Castle

One of England’s finest medieval castles, Raby Castle is surrounded by 200 acres of lush green parkland, where herds of red and fallow deer live wild. The castle and parkland are a great place to spend the morning or a full day exploring.

See what wildlife you can spot as you wander around the parkland, step back in time as you take a tour inside the castle’s grand walls, explore the many impressive rooms filled with an impressive art, textiles and furniture dating from the 17th century. And the little ones will love the castle’s newest addition – The Plotter’s Forest, a treetop adventure playground. 

Originally built as a Viking settlement of King Cnut, the castle as it stands today was built by the mighty Neville family in the 14th century, its history rolls back almost 1000 years. The castle was home to Cecily Neville, the mother of two Kings of England and was also the scene of the plotting of 'The Rising of the North' in Elizabethan times. 

Raby Castle is open daily from March to October. The Plotter's Forest and Deer Park is open daily at various times, throughout the year. 

external view of Walworth Castle, County Durham

Walworth Castle

The 12th century Walworth Castle can trace its heritage from the Hansard family known as the “Handsome Hansards'”, famous for chronicling the debates in the Houses of Parliament. Throughout history the castle has had many owners, from the Jenison family to a wine merchant, Durham Light Infantry and Durham County Council. 

Walworth Castle is now a 3 star hotel nestled in 18 acres of lawns and woodland.  

Discover more of Durham's incredible historic gems on our dedicated History in Durham. page.

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