With its rich and colourful history, it's no wonder almost 30 million people travel to Britain every year. Many of those visitors are anxious to take a trip back into time itself by visiting Britain's many historical castles.
What many tourists don't realize, though, is that British castles are a bit like snowflakes in that no two are exactly alike, says Ron Lyons, Jr., an American historian who runs the website great-castles.com.
"The biggest misconception about castles is that if you have seen one you have seen them all," Lyons says. "Every castle has its own story to tell."
While there are hundreds of incredible castles to see throughout Great Britain, here are Lyons' top five must-see castles and their histories:
Tower of London: Located in Central London, the Tower of London is probably best known as the place Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, was imprisoned and beheaded. Built by William I in 1066, it's been home to many kings and queens (and, legend has it, their ghosts), served as a prison, an armoury and is now home to the Crown Jewels. Lyons says the best way to experience the castle is by guided tour from one of the Beefeaters, which start every 20-30 minutes each day.
Warwick Castle: Located in the heart of England, Warwick Castle was built in 1068 as a motte and bailey castle (a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte) and evolved over the centuries to become the stone giant it is today. There are daily exhibitions at the castle, including falconry, archery displays and jousting.
Caernarfon Castle: Located in northwest Wales, King Edward I build this castle in 1283 has part of his iron ring of castles and it served as the king's administrative centre in Wales. The castle walls have a distinctive style that closely resembles the walls of Constantinople, which Edward saw firsthand during the Crusades. According to legend, the king had promised the Welsh that he would name "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English" and then produced his infant son to their surprise. The last Prince of Wales to be invested at the Caernarfon Castle was Prince Charles, in 1969.
Bodiam Castle: This 14th century moat castle in East Sussex, England, was built to defend against the invading French during the 100 Years' War. It's different than most English castles in that it has no central keep and instead has chambers built into the curtain walls of the castle itself. It's also completely surrounded by a water-filled moat, which Lyons says makes it one of the picturesque and most photographed castles in England.
Alnwick Castle: Located in Northumberland, England, not far from the Scottish border, Alnwick Castle was built after the Norman invasion around 1096. The castle was once home to the Percy family who also owned nearby Warkworth castle and today is the home of the Duke of Northumberland, in addition to being open to the public in the summer. The castle also has another claim to fame, having served as a stand-in for Hogwarts Castle in the first few Harry Potter flicks.