How to find castles and historical hotels in the UK and Ireland

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History enthusiasts, people who want to sleep where royalty has stayed, and fans chasing connections with hit television shows like “Bridgerton.”

Those are some of the types of travelers a new “collection” of historical castles, manor houses and grand homes in the United Kingdom and Ireland is hoping to attract.

Storied Collection is a travel website that lists heritage hotels and homes — including private castles — so vacationers who love history can easily find accommodations that suit them.

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa is located inside the Royal Crescent, a row of terraced houses built between 1767 and 1775.

The Royal Crescent

The idea for the site came to Storied Collection co-founder Michael Goldin when he was searching for a “beautiful castle” to stay in after Covid travel rules were relaxed and the U.K.’s borders reopened, he said.

But the process of sifting through online search results was unsatisfactory, he added.

Eventually, he found Fenton Tower, a Scottish castle with 12th-century origins, which was restored and turned into a luxury accommodation in 2000. Goldin also discovered an ancestral connection to the tower — in the 16th century, it was briefly owned by his 13th great-grandfather, a man named Sir Alexander Hamilton, he told CNBC by email.

Goldin, who is from the United States, is an avowed fan of history, as are many Americans, some of whom seek to trace their family histories to other continents.

Spurred by reopened borders and shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown,” Americans are flocking back to the United Kingdom, with flights from the U.S. to the U.K. from February to April this year on track to surpass pre-pandemic levels, up 9% from the spring of 2019, according to the tourism agency Visit Britain.

The 31-bedroom Markree Castle in County Sligo, Ireland, sits on 500 acres of land, and former guests include Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

Valerie Robus | Moment Mobile | Getty Images

Returning from vacation, Goldin called Justin Hauge, a former Airbnb executive and friend. “He … said ‘hey, I just took this amazing trip with my wife, it was like no other trip I’ve ever taken … I really felt like I was transported back in time. I want to explore this,'” Hauge told CNBC by phone.

Hauge — who left Airbnb in 2021 after more than a decade — reached out to castle owners and operators in the U.K. and Ireland who told him their websites were randomly “lumped” into online search results. They also said that they lacked an effective way to tell their stories to the travelers they wanted to reach, he said.

This was Hauge’s “lightbulb moment,” he said. Hauge and Goldin, with the help of former CEO of Best Western UK Rob Paterson, launched Storied Collection in 2022.

Heritage travel

Spurred by reopened borders and shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown,” Americans are flocking back to the United Kingdom, with flights from the U.S. to the U.K. from February to April this year on track to surpass pre-pandemic levels, up 9% from the spring of 2019, according to the tourism agency Visit Britain.

Travelers who like the idea of staying in a place of historical importance can search Storied Collection’s accommodations by surname, if they are seeking a family connection with a specific owner or a famous former guest. Listings also detail television shows and movies that were filmed at the homes and hotels.

The listing for Fenton Tower — which accommodates up to 13 people — details nine former owners and King James VI as a guest, as well as the ruins of a medieval church. It’s also described as suitable for golf vacations with more than 100 courses within a 30-mile radius of its location in the East Lothian region of Scotland.

If that’s too small, there’s the 31-bedroom, 17th-century Markree Castle in County Sligo, Ireland, which once hosted the country singer Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash. Surnames of previous owners include Cooper, Bingham and Synge, according to Storied Collection.

The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel in central London, has a number of royal-themed rooms in a separate wing of the property.

The Rubens at the Palace

Hauge said Americans’ love for British and Irish historical sites has risen over the years.

“These kind of heritage attractions … have been a massive draw for U.S. travelers … The last few years, with the popularity of shows like ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Bridgerton,’ has kind of created this even new awareness [in] … travelers that want to experience this way of life, and there’s really no other place that they’re able to do that,” he added.

In a global survey of around 23,000 people about how Britain is seen by tourists conducted by Visit Britain, those in the U.S. ranked the statement “a place where I can explore history history and heritage” as their top perception of the country.

The drawing room of the Sir Percy Blakeney Suite at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath, England.

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa

Rooms at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath, a Georgian building on a street featured on “Bridgerton,” can be booked via Storied Collection, with vacationers able to pick from 45 rooms and suites decorated by British designer Jane Clayton.

The hotel is one of three accommodations on a “1,000 Years of History Tour” road-trip itinerary suggested by Storied Collection, where the properties have a combined age of 1,000 years. Not far from Bath, guests can stay at Thornbury Castle, the 16th-century retreat of Henry VIII.

The king’s bedroom, where he stayed with second wife Anne Boleyn in 1535, is even available to sleep in, while more recent guests, according to the listing, are Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier. Rooms start at $344, according to Storied Collection’s website.

Rates for the King Henry VIII Suite at Thornbury Castle — where Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, stayed — start from 569 British pounds ($685) per night.

Thornbury Castle

The third property on the tour is The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel that was once part of Buckingham Palaces grounds. It has royal-themed bedrooms as well as more classic luxury accommodations.

The seven-night “1,000 Years of History Tour” costs from $1,999, according to Storied Collection’s website.

Hauge cited Gilmerton House, a 17th-century Scottish mansion that can accommodate up to 20 guests, as a favorite of his. “It’s almost like you’re living in a museum,” he said of the property, which is owned by the 13th-generation of the Kinloch family.

Storied Collection hopes to sign more grand properties, said Goldin. One recent addition is Pentrehobyn Hall in north Wales, a Jacobean manor built by Edward Lloyd in 1625 that remains under the same family ownership today.

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