The county of Lancashire in northern England is packed with fascinating historic sites, from medieval landmarks like Clitheroe Castle to modern marvels like the ‘British Eiffel Tower’ in Blackpool. The county’s beautiful countryside, meanwhile, is dotted with a multitude of Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian manor houses, while the scenic public footpaths will offer a delightful way to explore the county.
Many of the sites in our list have a history stretching back centuries, or even millennia – right back to the Bronze Age. Pendle Hill, for example, has seen human activity for thousands of years, while the surrounding area is notorious for the Pendle Witches.
Here’s our pick of 10 unmissable historic sites in Lancashire.
1. Clitheroe Castle
Clitheroe Castle was likely built in the 12th century by Robert de Lacy, who used the site’s natural elevated position and hilly terrain to construct a motte-and-bailey stronghold. During the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV ordered £400 be spent on the improvement of Clitheroe, which would soon prove useful in its role as a prison for his rival king, Henry VI. Clitheroe was slighted by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.
Despite being the second smallest stone-built keep in England, the 12th-century castle casts a striking silhouette against the small town’s skyline. The accompanying museum tells the site’s story from prehistory to the modern-day, with exhibits detailing its role as a medieval stronghold, the area’s history of witch-hunting, and a replica Victorian kitchen. A cafe and art gallery are also present at the site.
2. Astley Hall
Located right next to Chorley town centre, Astley hall is a beautiful country house. The building houses some of the most breathtaking Jacobean plaster ceilings anywhere in England. The estate has more than 400 years’ worth of history waiting to be explored.
Visitors can explore the museum and art gallery which are housed inside the unique county manor. The beautiful gardens make for the perfect setting to enjoy a stroll around the estate.
3. Lancaster Castle
The early history of Lancaster Castle, often known as John O’ Gaunt’s Castle, is unclear, but it may have been founded in the 11th century. Before the medieval fortification was constructed the site was home to a Roman fort. In the 14th century, the castle was damaged by invading Scottish troops. The complex once hosted the infamous trials of the Lancashire Witches, and it continued to serve as a prison until 2011.
Visitors can explore the castle for a small fee, but you’re not free to roam as you please: specialist guides are available to walk you through the structure’s remarkable history.
4. Blackpool Tower
Built from 1891 to 1894, the Blackpool Tower is one of the major attractions of Lancashire. Reaching 158 metres above the city, its design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Blackpool Tower complex actually comprised more than just the tower itself: it’s an entertainment complex housed in the Tower Buildings which is home to the tower, the Tower Circus, the Tower Ballroom and a roof garden.
Famously, the BBC series Strictly Come Dancing hosts one of their episodes per season in the Blackpool Tower ballroom. Visitors can enjoy fantastic views from the top of the tower, while also exploring the other entertainment facilities of the Blackpool Tower complex.
5. Gawthorpe Hall
This magnificent country house was built during the Elizabethan era, with the founding stone being laid in 1600. The most noteworthy feature of Gawthorpe Hall is its grand windows, which were designed to project wealth and power. The interiors are mostly from the Victorian era.
The National Trust describes the site as “an Elizabethan gem in the heart of industrial Lancashire”. It is open to visitors who can enjoy the impressive painting exhibition housed in Gawthorpe Hall.
6. Rufford Old Hall
The beautiful Tudor era Rufford Old Hall is a must-see for anybody visiting Lancashire. The complex consists of the great hall of the old Tudor house, a Jacobean brick building from 1661 and a late Regency era addition. These days, the building houses a large collection of antique furniture and historic armour.
Visitors can explore the grand rooms of Rufford Old Hall and enjoy the scenic estate gardens. During the summer months, you can experience the outdoor theatre, which offers renditions of Shakespeare’s plays and retellings of Charlotte Brontë’s stories.
7. Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill is not only a beautiful natural landmark but a place filled with history. Most notoriously, the surrounding area was the home of the Pendle Witches who were tried and executed for witchcraft in 1612. In more ancient times, the summit of the 557 meters high hill was a Bronze Age burial site.
Explorers can discover the stunning area through one of the many public walkways that go around and up the hill.
8. Harris Museum & Art Gallery
Located in the heart of Preston City Centre, this neo-classical marvel houses one of the finest art collections in the region.
Founded by Edmund Harris in 1877, the Harris Museum & Art Gallery boasts a diverse collection of art. Visitors can enjoy modern art there, for example, as well as Victorian and 20th-century paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
9. Lytham Hall
Lytham Hall is possibly the finest Georgian manor house in Lancashire. The main house was built from 1757 to 1764 by Thomas Clifton. During the medieval era, the site was home to a Benedictine monastery, which was destroyed following Henry VIII’s religious reforms. In 1606 a Jacobean mansion was built where the current Lytham Hall is standing now.
Visitors can come and explore the fine rooms of the Georgian manor house or enjoy an afternoon tea in the attached cafe.
10. Ashton Memorial
The Ashton Memorial is a folly located in Williamson Park. The monument dominates the surrounding area with its 50m height and grandiose architecture. It has been described by some as ‘England’s grandest folly’. Construction on the Ashton Memorial started in 1907 and took two years to complete.
Today, the memorial serves as an exhibition space on the upper floor and a venue for concerts and weddings.