Imposing Castles and Fortresses in Norfolk, England

Despite being a local, I had no idea that there were so many castles in Norfolk. I’ve lived in the county on and off for the best part of three decades and yet, I never knew that there are so many historic fortresses, all with their own stories to tell. 

Once I discovered there was so much fascinating history on my doorstep, I spent a few months exploring it firsthand. From repurposed medieval fortifications to crumbling ruins, this list of castles in Norfolk showcases the best that the county has to offer for history buffs.

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Map of Castles in Norfolk, England

7 Dramatic Castles in Norfolk, England 

1. Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle
Norwich Castle is probably the most famous castle in Norfolk.

When it comes to Norfolk castles, this is the one that everybody knows. Perched in the heart of Norwich, this castle is the only fortification on this list that is not in some degree of ruin. 98 houses had to be demolished to make room for the castle and once it was completed, it was the third Norman fortress to be constructed in England. The first and second were the Tower of London and Colchester.

Once used as a jail (or gaol as it was once known!) for 600 years, it is now home to the Norwich Museum. The museum is touted as one of the best things to do in Norwich and an excess of 175,000 people visit it every year. Keep up to date with touring exhibitions on the Norfolk Museums website

In 1915, Norwich Castle’s historical significance was recognised and it was listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. If you want to learn more about the history of Norwich Castle and the surrounding streets, I highly recommend booking a space on the Norwich Hidden Street Tour

How to get there: Norwich Castle is situated in the middle of the city centre. The city can be reached by train from major southern transport hubs such as London, Cambridge and Peterborough. Buses run regularly to Norwich from surrounding towns and villages. There is parking nearby at Rose Lane, the Castle Mall and Chantry Place. 

2. Baconsthorpe Castle

Baconsthorpe Castle
Baconsthorpe Castle is located close to Holt.

Located just outside of Holt, Baconsthorpe Castle was once one of Norfolk’s finest fortified country houses. Owned by the influential and locally renowned Heydon family, they made their fortunes in law before shifting to the wool trade. 

The castle was passed down through several generations of the Heydons before they were forced to sell parts of it off to pay their debts. Eventually, the castle passed into the hands of the Ministry of Public Works, before later becoming an asset of English Heritage. 

Anybody can visit Baconsthorpe Castle, however, it is worth noting that the structure continues to fall into disrepair. There is a danger of falling masonry so be very careful to heed any signs during your visit and stay away from off-limits areas.

There are a number of beautiful walks in the area which are well worth taking on a sunny day. However, visitors should be advised that these trails are rural in nature, which can mean coming into contact with livestock. Make sure that you take precautions and know how to keep yourself safe if you have to cross fields with cows

How to get there: Baconsthorpe is a small village, just outside Holt. It is one of the more difficult castles to reach using public transport as the area is fairly remote. Buses do frequent Holt but there will be a walk to get to Baconsthorpe Castle from town. The best way to get to the castle is to travel by car. There is paid parking on site. 

3. Caister Castle

If you’re heading to the popular Norfolk seaside town Great Yarmouth, Caister Castle is a great stop to make on the way. Caister Castle is a privately owned medieval castle which was commissioned in 1492. It is of huge historical interest as it is one of the first buildings in England to have been built using bricks. 

Shakespeare fans, listen up, as you may recognise the instigator of this fortress. Sir John Fastolf fought in the Hundred Year War and was said to be the inspiration for the Shakespeare’s character John Falstaff, who appeared in three of the Bard’s plays.

Even though this is an article about the best castles in Norfolk, Caister Castle is actually much better known for the car collection that resides there. It houses the largest private collection of motor vehicles in Britain, including vintage, sports and classic cars. There is also a further collection of motorcycles. If you like to mix your history with a bit of petrol, this is a stop you definitely want to make! 

It is worth noting that Caister Castle is only open seasonally, from the middle of May to the end of September. Therefore, you will only be able to visit this place if you are visiting Norfolk during peak tourist season. 

How to get there: The only way to reach Caister Castle is to make your way using private transport. It is around four miles from Great Yarmouth and the postcode is NR30 5SN. Caister Castle is marked on the brown road signs around the area. 

4. Castle Rising

Castle Rising
Castle Rising has featured in films before.

Castle Rising is by far the most ‘typical’ castle on this list. Located close to Kings Lynn, this incredibly well-preserved keep is one of the best in the whole of England. Built around 1140AD by William d’Aubigny II, the castle was passed down to a number of historically important figures, including Queen Isabella, the mother of Edward III.

Throughout its operational period, the castle served as a royal residence, hunting lodge and at one point, it was even used to ‘house’ a patient with mental health difficulties. These days, the castle is in the ownership of Lord Howard of Rising, a descendant of William d’Aubigny II. Doesn’t matter what you know, but who you’re related to, eh?!

The castle is hugely impressive to look at and is surrounded by a whopping 20 acres of earthworks which would have acted as a defensive measure. The beady-eyed among you may recognise this castle from the Oscar-winning ‘Out of Africa’ movie with Meryl Streep, where it, along with the surrounding area, was turned into Denmark.

How to get there: The best way to get to Castle Rising is by car. It’s located north of Kings Lynn and around five miles from Sandringham. There is parking available on site with adjoining toilet facilities, however, these are not always open. 

5. Burgh Castle

Burgh Castle
Burgh Castle is a Roman monument.

Introducing Burgh Castle, one of the best-preserved Roman monuments in Britain. Although it is hard to imagine what Burgh Castle would have looked like way back when from the ruins that stand today, it is still worth a visit. 

Dating from the late 3rd century, this is the only castle on this list to predate the Normans. Burgh Castle was built to house cavalry ready to defend against any Saxon invasion that could arrive across the water. 

Today, three out of the original four walls remain intact, a remarkable feat when you consider the age of this construction. The gap where the fourth wall should be offers excellent views of Breydon Water and Berney Mill (a beautiful spot on the Weavers Way hike).

How to get there: Burgh Castle is located close to Great Yarmouth. The castle is not serviced by public transport so the only way to reach the site is by car. There is a car park on-site however, it is worth noting that it closes at 6 pm. 

6. Thetford Castle

  • Where: Thetford
  • Era: Medieval
  • Visiting information: Free, access any time
Thetford Castle
All that remians of Thetford Castle is essentially a big hill.

If you are to fully enjoy a visit to Thetford Castle, you should drop your expectations at the metaphorical door. This is not a castle in the way that you are probably imagining! Once a huge motte and Bailey castle in the centre of Thetford, all that really remains of this medieval fortress is a rather large hill. 

Despite this, the castle does retain the accolade of the largest castle motte in England. Pretty cool. Climb up the 90 steps to the top of the 40ft mound for the best views of the market town that you can find. 

This site is free to visit and accessible around the clock so you should definitely visit, especially if you’re a family with children. It is also ideal for those looking for a cheap attraction in the area. If you’re visiting on a nice day, I recommend packing a picnic and enjoying it the surrounding green space.

How to get there: North-west of the town centre, you will find Thetford railway station which runs services between Norwich and London. Buses also stop in the middle of the town, usually coming from nearby towns and villages. If you are driving to Thetford, you can park at Pike Lane which is close to the castle.

7. Castle Acre Castle

Castle Acre
Castle Acre is often overlooked in favour of the nearby priory.

Often confused with Castle Acre Priory nearby, Castle Acre Castle was constructed by the Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne, in the 1070s. Warenne fought under William the Conquerer during the Battle of Hastings and was awarded the land for his service. 

The castle is sheltered by defensive Norman earthworks, which still remain one of the finest examples of earthworks from this period. The rolling hills of the land, artificially created for extra defence make this site really fun to explore.

It is a popular area among dog walkers and families alike. However, because of the steep slopes and uneven surfaces, it is not the most accessible castle on our list. If you have the time, it is definitely worth combining a trip here with a visit to the nearby priory too. Castle Rising is also located just over 10 miles away so these two castles can be combined on a day trip. 

How to get there: Although buses travel to Castle Acre, they don’t run every day. As such, the best way to reach the castle is by car. Free parking is available next to the local shop. There are also additional spaces in the village if needed. 

Have you visited any of these castles in Norfolk? Let me know in the comments!

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