Castles are incredibly popular tourist attractions for a multitude of reasons. Some people are interested in their history. Others like to admire their beauty and size. And some are inspired to dream up fairytales in their magnificent setting – perhaps even imagining themselves living there.
Devon has plenty of castles of various sizes and ages. They include Castle Drogo, which was constructed between 1911 and 1930 and was the last castle to be built in England, and Berry Pomeroy Castle, which is reputed to be one of the most haunted castles in Britain.
In order to help you decide which to visit, here’s some information about 10 Devon castles. They are listed in order of their ranking on Tripadvisor, starting with the best.
1 Berry Pomeroy Castle
Within the 15th-century defences of the Pomeroy family castle is the ruined shell of the mansion of the Seymours, which was begun around 1560 and enlarged from around 1600. The mansion was intended to become the most spectacular house in Devon, but it was never completed and it was abandoned by 1700.
After lying in ruins for 100 years, in the 19th century it became celebrated as an example of the ‘picturesque’ and a popular tourist attraction, a status it retains today, aided by it being the focus of some blood-curdling ghost stories which are recounted in the castle’s audio tour.
With stunning grounds and woodland views, the castle is managed by English Heritage and occasionally closed for private functions. There is a cafe on site. Tripadvisor reviewers have called it a “really interesting and beautiful place” and the audio tour is “fully recommended.” Admission: £ 7.80 for adults, £ 4.70 for children, under-fives are free. For more information or to book tickets, click here.
2 Powderham Castle
Powderham Castle lies within an ancient deer park on the banks of the River Exe, just south of Exeter. It first opened to visitors in 1959. Since then, more than a million people have visited to share in over 600 years of history and heritage.
Very little of the castle itself has changed since the early days, but there are now many more attractions in the grounds for visitors of all ages to enjoy. Dogs on a lead are welcome and may access all areas except the deer park and walled garden. Dog admission is £ 1.
The most recent Tripadvisor review said it was “definitely a place that I would recommend going out of your way to visit” and another said it was “priced correctly for what you get.”
The castle and grounds are open Sunday to Friday until Sunday, October 30, when they close for the winter. An adult ticket costs £ 12.95, a child ticket costs £ 10.95 and under-fives are free. Cheaper tickets giving access to the gardens and grounds only are also available. You can return for free within seven days. For more information, click here.
3 Okehampton Castle
Another English Heritage property, this site has the remains of the largest castle in Devon, in a stunning setting on a wooded spur above the River Okement. Begun soon after the Norman Conquest as a motte and bailey castle with a stone keep, it was converted into a sumptuous residence in the 14th century by Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, much of whose work survives. After the last Courtenay owner fell foul of King Henry VIII in 1539, the castle declined into a ruin.
There is a riverside picnic area and beautiful woodland walks nearby. It’s a great place for bird lovers with regular visiting species and in spring and early summer you can enjoy a variety of seasonal wildflowers.
Tripadvisor reviewers called it a “nice place to spend a morning and then have a walk” but warn the steps up to the keep are “steep and uneven” and may not be suitable for all. Tickets cost £ 6.60 for adults and £ 4.00 for children. For more information and to book tickets, click here.
4 Rougemont Castle aka Exeter Castle
Rougemont Castle was built into the northern corner of the Roman city walls of Exeter starting in around 1068, following Exeter’s rebellion against William the Conqueror. An outer bailey, of which little now remains, was added in the 12th century.
Devon’s county court was located here from 1607, and the last people in England to be executed for witchcraft were tried and convicted at the Exeter Assizes in 1682. All the buildings inside the walls were swept away in the 1770s to make way for a new courthouse , which was extended in 1895 and 1905. The court moved to a new location in 2004 and the site was sold to a developer. Exeter Castle is now apartment rentals and an event and wedding venue.
The castle is named after the red stone used in the construction of the original buildings. The early Norman gatehouse is the main remaining feature. It is surrounded by the public parks Rougemont Gardens and Northernhay Gardens. Tripadvisor reviewers said it’s “worth a quick look.”
5 Dartmouth Castle
English Heritage says Dartmouth Castle is “one of the most beautifully located fortresses in England.” For over 600 years, it has guarded the narrow entrance to the Dart Estuary and the vibrant port of Dartmouth, in service right up until the Second World War. It offers stunning views of the estuary and out to sea.
The complex of defences was begun in 1388 by the privateering Mayor of Dartmouth. A century later, the townsmen added the imposing ‘gun tower.’ Updates included the Victorian ‘Old Battery’ with its remounted heavy guns, guardrooms and maze of passages.
You can make it a full day out by taking a river boat trip, visiting a tea room and doing one of the coastal or woodland walks around the castle where you can spot plenty of wildlife. Tripadvisor reviewers called the castle a “hidden gem” with views “to die for.” Tickets cost £ 9 for adults and £ 5.40 for children aged five and over. You can book tickets here.
6 Tiverton Castle
Tiverton Castle was originally built in 1106 by order of Henry I. It was rebuilt and much enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries. There were later additions and alterations down the centuries and all periods of architecture from medieval to modern can be seen, with beautiful walled gardens within the romantic ruins.
The only time in its long history that it saw battle was in 1645 when it was besieged during the English Civil War by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Part Scheduled Ancient Monument and part Grade I listed, the castle is now the private home of Angus and Alison Gordon.
One Tripadvisor review said: “Tiverton Castle is clearly much loved; a charming venue worth seeking out. ” The castle and gardens are open to the public from 2.30pm to 5.30pm on Sundays, Thursdays and Bank Holidays until the end of October. It is available for private tour parties outside normal opening hours. For more details call 01884 253200. Tickets cost £ 10 for adults and £ 5 for children aged seven to 16.
7 Castle Drogo
This country house and mixed-revivalist castle near Drewsteignton was constructed between 1911 and 1930 and was the last castle to be built in England. It was designed and built by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The client was Julius Drewe, the hugely successful founder of the Home and Colonial Stores. The garden is colorful in all seasons and there are miles of pathways to explore in the Teign Gorge. It’s now a National Trust property.
Tripadvisor reviewers have called it a “beautiful castle with a really interesting history.” Standard tickets are £ 13 for adults and £ 6.50 for children. For more information visit the National Trust website.
8 Compton Castle
Compton Castle is a dramatic fortified manor house and small formal garden in Marldon. The National Trust says: “A rare survivor, this medieval fortress with high curtain walls, towers and a portcullis, is set in a landscape of rolling hills and orchards. Compton Castle is a bewitching mixture of romance and history. It has been home to the Gilbert family for nearly 600 years, including Sir Humphrey Gilbert – half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh.
“You can wander round this charming small castle’s gardens, great hall and sub solar, and peer into the chapel and medieval kitchen.”
Tripadvisor reviewers were a little disappointed there was “not a lot to see” but said it was “worth a visit if you are National Trust members.” If you are not a National Trust member, entry costs £ 9 for an adult and £ 4.50 for a child. For more information, click here.
9 Totnes Castle
Totnes Castle is one of the best preserved examples of a Norman motte and bailey castle in England. It was founded soon after the Conquest to overawe the Saxon town. A later stone shell-keep crowns its steep mound, giving sweeping views across the town’s rooftops to the River Dart.
Keep an eye out for the ‘graffiti’ on the trees left by prisoners of war during the Second World War. Within easy walking distance of the town, the castle is an ideal addition to any day out in South Devon. Dartmouth and Berry Pomeroy Castles are just a short drive away. Totnes Castle is an English Heritage property.
Tripadvisor reviewers were most impressed by the “wonderful views” but felt the castle didn’t take very long to look around. Tickets cost £ 6.60 for adults and £ 4 for children and can be booked here.
10 Haldon Belvedere (Lawrence Castle)
Haldon Belvedere, or Lawrence Castle, is a unique and special wedding venue. It was built in 1788, at the height of the Romantic Period of the Georgian age, and is a much-loved iconic landmark sitting high in the hills of Haldon Forest above Exeter, with breathtaking panoramic views over the Devon countryside.
The grounds are free and open to the public at any time, but access to the upper lawn will be restricted when wedding ceremonies are under way.
One Tripadvisor review said: “The perfect fairytale wedding venue. The building is splendid, the views spectacular and the setting a natural delight. ” Another said: “Spectacular views for miles around. Great walk up to the area and to be greeted by this coming out of the wilderness was uplifting. “