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Tintagel Castle: King Arthur’s Legendary Cornwall | UK day trips

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

Along the wild northern coast of Cornwall, Tintagel Castle is where history meets legend – combining the ruins of a Dark Age castle with the mythical stories of King Arthur. All of which comes with a dramatic setting on one of the UK’s most spectacular stretches of coastline. Legend has it that this was where Arthur was conceived. His father Uther Pendragon was besotted with the Duke of Cornwall’s wife Ingraine. So when he heard the duke had been killed, Pendragon got Merlin to use his magic and disguise him as the duke. Ingraine thought he was her husband so she slept with him and Arthur was conceived. And in an impressive bit of forgiveness, when she learned the truth she agreed to marry Pendragon anyway.

Read more: One-week coastal Cornwall by train itinerary

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall

The archway in the ruins of the Great Hall

Away from the world of Arthur and back among the historical evidence, the castle ruins at Tintagel date back to the 13th century, but Tintagel’s history goes a lot further back than that. The site was first used as a Roman military outpost, then in the fifth and sixth centuries it was a summer residence for Cornwall’s Celtic royalty. The coastal location meant it grew into an important port on a vast trade network to the Byzantine empire. This meant the kings had access to all sorts of exotic luxuries, and the remains of olive oil jars, Mediterranean pottery and Andalucían glass have all been discovered around the castle.

Archaeological discoveries at Tintagel

Archaeological discoveries at Tintagel

When the Celtic kings left, Tintagel was left to revert to nature. That’s until Geoffrey of Monmouth published his book, History of the Kings of Britain, in the 12th century. A kind of historical fantasy novel, it introduced the story of King Arthur’s magical conception in Tintagel. From then on the legend was born and Tintagel became famous across Europe. So when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, wanted to build a new castle in 1233, he decided that Tintagel’s Arthurian and Cornish royal connections made it the perfect spot. Its heyday didn’t last long though and by 1330 it was being used as a temporary prison and grazing land for sheep.

Spectacular coastal location

Tintagel’s spectacular coastal location

But a few centuries later fame was thrust upon Tintagel again – this time it was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poems that revived interest in the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. That and the arrival of the railways in Cornwall brought an explosion of visitors to the site, and they keep on coming. It’s become one of the most popular castles in Cornwall, with over 3000 visitors a day in summer – with plenty of Arthur-themed family activities. But on a sunny early spring day the paths were quiet and there was plenty of space to roam around.

The entrance to Tintagel Castle

Cliffside stairs towards the entrance to the castle

Part of what makes Tintagel so special is its location. It’s almost an island, just joined onto the mainland by a narrow neck of land. You can see how it made such a good location for a fortress. You need a decent head for heights as to get to the top you climb across over a wooden bridge and up a steep flight of stairs cut into the side of the rocky cliff. And from there you can look down onto the sea way below, and the waves crashing onto the rocks with the full force of the Atlantic behind them. With the jagged Cornish coastline stretching off into the distance on each side of the island it’s a breathtaking place.

Views from Tintagel Castle

Views along the coastline

Not much of the castle is still standing – best preserved is the Great Hall with its arched doorway and slit windows. Low stone walls also show where houses, kilns and a chapel once stood. But Tintagel has plenty of secrets still to discover. Excavations only started in the 1930s and it wasn’t until fire broke out and burnt away the headland’s covering of heather that artefacts started to be found. There’s been a stream of pottery, carvings and coins from the Iron Age to the medieval period. But less than 10% of the site’s been excavated so far so who knows what else there’s still to find – who knows, maybe Arthur left his mark after all?

The Great Hall at Tintagel Castle

Windows and doorways in the Great Hall

The details

Tintagel Castle is open from 10am–6pm from March to September and until 5pm in October. The rest of the year it’s open 10am–4pm on Saturday and Sunday only, except during February half-term. Entry costs £8.40 for adults, £7.60 for students/over 60s and £5 for children aged 5–15. Or it’s free if you’re an English Heritage member – annual membership gets you entry to 400 sites across the country and costs £54 per adult or £96 for joint membership, and you can get three months free if you sign up by Direct Debit.

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Exploring the coastal ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall – where Dark Age history meets the myths and legends of King Arthur in a spectacular setting overlooking the sea. #Cornwall #Tintagel

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  • Reply
    March 17, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I love this spot. I visited it many years ago and your post brought back some great memories!! Thanks.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 10:23 pm

      Glad to bring back some good memories Darlene, it’s lovely down there!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Lovely pics of a lovely place. We stayed the night there once in November and it was deserted. Nice when the sun is out, but on a grim day it is the epitome of the word bleak!

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      It’s pretty exposed out there – I can imagine you wouldn’t want to be out on the top on a windy winter’s day, the steps would be terrifying!

  • Reply
    Jill Barth
    March 17, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    So very interesting. Imagination is going now…

    • Reply
      March 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Yes it’s one of those places that really brings the stories to life!

  • Reply
    March 18, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    What an interesting place. I haven’t heard before the legend about King Arthur’s conception;)

    • Reply
      March 21, 2016 at 9:53 am

      No I hadn’t heard of it either – definitely a good story!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    March 20, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    We hoped to visit a couple of years ago but it was absolutely pelting with rain – definitely one to re-visit judging by your shots. Good to know the history behind it.

    • Reply
      March 21, 2016 at 10:00 am

      I can imagine it’s pretty grim on a grey rainy day so think you made the right choice – hopefully next time the sun will shine for you!

  • Reply
    Ladies (@LadiesWhat)
    March 21, 2016 at 10:13 am

    I love history & legends and going to see Arthur’s part of the world is something I’ve wanted to do but still haven’t got round to. This has inspired me to sort my act out! Keri

    • Reply
      March 21, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      The are some great myths and legends in this part of the world – I only scratched the surface but would love to see more sometime!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Brilliant I’ve been obsessed about the legends, hope to visit here someday!

    • Reply
      March 25, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      It’s a really interesting place – and those views are just gorgeous on a sunny day!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

    ‘Love this piece.
    Surprisingly, I don’t believe that I’ve ever been to Cornwall even though I’ve been everywhere else! At least, I might have been there as a kid, but not as an adult as I can’t remember lol!

    • Reply
      March 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

      It is a long way from pretty much everywhere else I’d spend a lot more time down there, but the coast is just gorgeous – well worth a visit sometime!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Beaaaaautiful pics and post!! I so loooooooove it!!
    I’m crazy about King Arthur’s tales and I’m seriously considering to spend some short breaks in Cornwall. I was considering to stay in a cottage, because I need to take my dog with me (I don’t have anyone who can take care of him while I’m out and I found it might be easier to stay with him in a “normal” house). Do you have any tips?? What is the best place to stay that is near Tintagel, but not that expensive??

    Thanks for this beautiful photos!

    • Reply
      June 7, 2017 at 1:10 am

      Thank you, it’s a great place! Cottage rentals are a really good idea, especially if you want to bring your dog. There are a lot of rental companies – I’ve used Cornish Horizons and Stay in Cornwall recently and both were really good. If you’re on a budget you might want to look inland a bit near Bodmin Moor as it’s not far from Tintagel and tends to be a bit cheaper than the coastal villages.

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Love Tintagel, Spent 18 years of my life growing up down there, beautiful place, always my home! lovely to read such a nice post about my little hometown (more village!)

    • Reply
      November 14, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      Such a lovely place, really enjoyed exploring it!

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