If you want to visit the best castles in Cornwall, this blog post is for you!
Cornwall has a range of castles, from defensive structures built by Henry VIII to 13th century dwellings. If you’re into history, architecture or just want to see some of Cornwall’s most popular attractions, read on!
Should I become an English Heritage member to see the best Cornwall castles?
One of the best ways to see amazing castles, not just in Cornwall but all over the UK, is to become an English Heritage member.
Membership costs around £60 per person, and gives you free entrance to castles and other English Heritage sites all over England and Northern Ireland for a year. For the first year, you also get half-price entrance into Welsh and Scottish heritage sites – and if you continue your membership, entrance is free.
There are so many amazing English Heritage properties, that membership is well worth it if you think you will visit more than five in a year.
The Best Castles in Cornwall
Built by Henry VIII in the 16th century, Pendennis Castle is one of the most impressive castles in Cornwall. Its unique architectural history demonstrates how it was one of the most important buildings that defended Cornwall in a time of European instability.
This Tudor castle was also used in the 20th century during both World Wars – the battery was a lookout where operators watched for German ships and planes. You can visit the battery and learn all about this!
Nowadays, it is one of the most impressive coastal fortresses in the UK, with sweeping views over the popular town of Falmouth. However, it’s also one of the best things to do in Cornwall in the rain, as there are a lot of inside attractions!
Pendennis is run by the English Heritage. You can book tickets here.
Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall is perhaps the most historically important castle in Cornwall. Steeped in mystical legends, it is said to be where King Arthur was born.
The Medieval fortification has a long history spanning back to the 13th century, when it was owned by Richard, Duke of Cornwall. It was the heart of an ancient Cornish town where people traded goods from elsewhere in Europe. Indeed, pieces of ceramic from Italy and ancient writing dating back from the 7th century have been discovered here!
Tintagel Castle is also a place of Arthurian legend – it is alleged to be King Arthur’s birthplace. Whether you believe this or not, it certainly adds an edge to visiting these ancient ruins!
The castle is mostly ruins nowadays, but there are lots of information boards detailing its ancient history, and you can catch some incredible sea views around Tintagel Island – the steps at the end lead down to a sandy beach.
Tintagel Castle is expensive to get in – I recommend joining the English Heritage or the Cornish Heritage Trust before visiting. English Heritage membership will cost you about £55 and includes entrance to every English Heritage site.
The Cornish Heritage Trust costs £25 for a family and includes entrance to every English Heritage site in Cornwall. It’s actually cheaper to join the Cornish Heritage Trust than it is to pay for a one time entrance to Tintagel!
Launceston Castle is an impressive structure on the border of Cornwall and Devon, in the town of Launceston.
The castle was built after the Norman conquest and nowadays boasts a shell keep with a 13th-century round tower. It was used as the Earl of Cornwall’s headquarters and was an administrative hub where he could control the surrounding estates in the Cornish countryside.
Nowadays, it is one of the most impressive ancient buildings in the county and sees many visitors each year. It is an English Heritage castle and you can also visit it with a Cornwall Heritage pass.
Restormel Castle is nestled in stunning countryside, in between Fowey and Bodmin. The 13th century castle was built as a retreat for its rich owners – and to this day, you can still get a sense of its grandeur.
While Restormel was a prosperous Medieval castle, it is nowadays ruins – but you can explore and look for the ancient doorways and other features, as well as enjoy stunning views over the countryside!
Caerhays Castle is a historic fortification, dating back to the 14th century, that belonged to the Arundell family.
Located close to Mevagissey, this castle has beautiful gardens and a long-spanning history. You can learn all about the castle on one of their popular castle tours, or simply walk around the garden and admire the plants.
As Caerhays Castle is a private residence, it is only open for visitors during a short period in the Spring.
St Michael’s Mount
Located on a tidal island near Marazion in West Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount is one of the most impressive castles in Cornwall. St Michael’s Mount was built in the style of the Benedictine Abbey Mont St Michel in Normandy in around 1135, and was a site of conflict and fighting throughout Medieval history. It has been the residence of the St Aubyn family for hundreds of years.
It’s a fascinating castle to explore, both inside and out. You can either buy a ticket for the gardens, where you will get to enjoy the beautiful plants and incredible views over Penzance Bay, or opt to visit the castle, where you can learn about its history – or of course, you can buy a ticket for both!
The National Trust runs St Michael’s Mount, and members can enter for free – although you may still have to pay to get a boat across.
Doyden Castle is a bit different from the others on this list – it is actually a holiday home! Located in the tiny hamlet of Port Quin, near Port Isaac, Doyden Castle was a Victorian castle that was a place for its owner – Samuel Symonds – to entertain. Nowadays, it’s a fully functioning holiday home with epic views of the Cornish coastline.
If you want to stay at Doyden Castle, here’s some more information. If not, you can just admire it from afar! Doyden Castle was also featured in Doc Martin.
St Mawes Castle
Like Pendennis, St Mawes Castle was built in the 16th century by Henry VIII and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Falmouth. The two artillery forts work together to protect the Fal Estuary, which was pinpointed as one of the country’s most important areas to defend.
This is one of the most significant historic castles in Cornwall because it has a lot of inscriptions talking about Henry VIII and his son, Edward – it was almost used as a propaganda tool to talk about how great they are!
This coastal artillery fortress also has some beautiful gardens that you can take a stroll around.
With panoramic views over the Fal Estuary, toward Falmouth and Pendennis, it’s definitely one of the best Cornwall castles.
St Catherine’s Castle
Located by Readymoney Cove near Fowey, St Catherine’s Castle is the smallest castle in Cornwall. Like Pendennis and St Mawes, St Catherine’s Castle was constructed to defend the harbour against enemy attack – in this instance, it defended Fowey harbour.
St Catherine’s Castle is free to enter, but it is very inaccessible. You can just about get to the ruins if you are prepared for a challenging walk – if not, you can at least walk to a spot where you can get a view of the wall. From here, there are also beautiful views over Readymoney Cove and coastline.
Alternatively, you can take a boat trip up the Fowey River to catch a view of the castle!
Carn Brea Castle
Carn Brea Castle is a 14th-century building in Redruth. The original castle was first constructed as a chapel, and the Basset Family later used it in the Victorian era as a hunting lodge.
It’s a bit different to the other Cornish castles on this list as it now functions as a restaurant. Carn Brea provides an intimate dining experience serving delicious Middle Eastern food. It’s a great way to see this historic building while also enjoying a tasty meal!
Seating inside is limited, so do book in advance. You can visit their website here.
Beautiful and Historic Cornish Castles
There are definitely some epic historic castles in Cornwall! So whether you’re interested in exploring the story of King Arthur at Tintagel, want to learn about Medieval leisure at Restormel, or are fascinated about how the Tudors defended the coast of Cornwall at Pendennis and St Mawes, there’s a castle for you in the Duchy!