For centuries, people have been fascinated with castles. Whether they were home to cruel leaders (such as Count Dracula) or the settings of love stories, the castles always played an important part in European history.
Nowadays, they make “guest appearances” in movies or are the perfect place to spend an interesting vacation. There are actually thousands of castles throughout Europe, though many of them are in surprising states of disrepair if they are even recognizable as castles at all. But there are also hundreds of well preserved castles you can tour yourself, and the dozen below just might be the most beautiful of all of them.
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1 – Château de Chenonceau, France
The castle is built on river Cher, offering one of the most beautiful sights as it reflects in the water. Nicknamed “Château des Dames”, it owes much of its charm to several influential ladies in French history. The surrounding gardens and the castle itself aren’t the only beautiful things to admire here. Within the castle, there are impressive collections of Renaissance furniture, tapestries and many masterpieces.
The castle is located in the small city of Chenonceaux. To get there you first need to arrive in Paris and then catch a local train or bus to Chenonceaux.
2 – Neuschwanstein, Germany
This fairy tale castle doesn’t have a very long history to brag with, but its beauty makes all of us admire it in silence (and without taking photos of the interiors). It started its life in the 19th century as homage to Richard Wagner. After the death of Ludwig (the king who commissioned it), the castle was open for the public. The grounds have a theatrical aura to them which only helps to bring more visitors (about 1.3 million annually).
Does this castle also look familiar? It should because it was featured in many movies and was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park and the Cinderella Castles at the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland.
In order to get to the castle, you should first get to Munich (either by plane or train). Then you need to take a train to Füssen and then a bus in the direction to Schwangau until you reach the stop Hohenschwangau. From the bus station you can walk to the castle (about 30 minutes).
3 - Miramare Castle, Trieste, Italy
The beautiful castle was built in the 19th century. The grounds include a cliff and seashore park which gives the castle its beautiful and romantic look. The entire grounds were completely re-landscaped to accommodate the numerous tropical plans and trees, which are now overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
The castle located in the Trieste region was finished in 1860 and the eclectic style dominates the entire building. Currently, the castle houses a museum. The original furnishings, ornaments and furniture still can be admired in the castle’s rooms.
The easiest way to get to the castle is by train (Miramare station). If you come by car, take the A4 Motorway in the direction of “Trieste centro”.
4 – Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland
If you are after a sumptuous vacation in an incredible place, Ashford Castle should be your destination. The imposing interiors blend nicely with the majestic entrances, creating a unique atmosphere. The spacious rooms are elegant, offering the guests a taste of what nobility experienced hundreds of years ago.
Built in 1228, the castle is very well preserved to retain its centuries old beauty. The guests can choose between numerous activities, including falconry, horseback riding and hunting.
The castle is located at only 30 min from Galway City and 90 min from Shannon Airport.
5 – Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic
The largest castle in the world is also one of the most beautiful in Central-Eastern Europe. Prague Castle started its life in the 9th century with a church. Centuries later a Romanesque palace was erected here and in the 14th century the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style. After a big fire which destroyed much of the castle in the 16th century, it has been renovated and some buildings in renaissance style appeared.
Today the castle houses several museums and important buildings. Most of it is open to the public. To properly explore the place (without visiting the museums) you will need about half a day.
Prague can be easily reached either by plane or by train.
6 – Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania
Considered by many one of the most beautiful castles in Eastern Europe, Peles Castle is the pride of Sinaia, a mountain town located close to Brasov, Romania. Although the castle combines elements of several architectural styles, the German Renaissance one dominates the building and contributes to its stunning beauty. Currently a museum, Peles Castle boasts 160 rooms, out of which the Big Armory Room and the Reception Room are among the most interesting.
Almost adjacent to Peles, we can find Pelisor and Foisor, two smaller castle-like buildings, which are also museums (and can be visited). The domain belongs to the Romanian Royal Family.
To get to Peles Castle from Bucharest, you need to take DN1 to Brasov. Alternatively, you can take a train from Bucharest and get off in Sinaia. Once in the town, take the road which leads up from the railroad station. It takes you directly to the Castle.
7 – Burg Hohenwerfen, Salzburg, Austria
Located high above the Salzach Valley, between the Tennen and Hagen mountains and at just 40 km from Salzburg, the castle fits perfectly the description of a fairy tale place. The former fortification was built in the 11th century but to secure the area, three castles were later extended, including this one.
The Hohenwerfen is today an interesting adventure castle for its visitors. There’s a romantic tavern to explore, an interesting weapons chamber to discover and the historic Falconry Center with daily flight demonstrations.
In case this looks really familiar, you should know that the castle appears in the background of The Sound of Music during “Do Re Mi”.
Since the castle is so close to Salzburg, you can either catch a flight into the city or arrive by train. Then you can rent a car and drive to the castle.
8 – Palace of Pena, Sintra , Portugal
The oldest palace inspired by European Romanticism stands on top of a hill overlooking the city of Sintra. Its history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel was built on the very same hilltop. Later, a monastery was built but, by the 18th century it was reduced to ruins because of a lightning and an earthquake. The place remained in ruins for decades until 1838 when Ferdinand II bought the area and decided to build a palace.
The palace is a true expression of the European Romanticism, mixing several styles: Neo-Gothic, Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. The beautiful park which surrounds the castle comprises exotic plants and trees.
The easiest way to get to Sintra is by taking the train from Lisbon. The small city can easily be negotiated on foot.
9 – Alcázar of Segovia, Segovia, Spain
The Alcázar of Segovia is perched atop a rock in the old city of Segovia. Just like many other Spanish castles, it started off as an Arab fort. During the Middle Ages it was the preferred residence of the monarchs. The current castle dates mostly from those times.
Today the castle is one of the three major attractions in the city and one of the most popular historic sites in the country.
The easiest way to get to Segovia is via train from Madrid. The Old City, which also includes the ancient Roman aqueduct and the cathedral, can easily be negotiated on foot.
10 – Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, UK
Perched atop Castle Hill, it dominates the city of Edinburgh. It is one of the few castles in Europe which still have a military garrison (although for ceremonial purposes only). No matter where you are in the castle, the views are delightful. On a clear day, if you look to the north, you can see the mountains of The Kingdom of Fife in the distance.
The true beauty of the castle is highlighted during Military Tattoo, which takes place each year on the Esplanade. The oldest structure in the castle is St Margaret’s Chapel which dates from the 12th century.
Edinburgh is served by many low-cost carriers from different European cities.
11 – Vajdahunyad Castle, Budapest, Hungary
Vajdahunyad Castle is actually (in part) a copy of the Castle with the same name located in Hunedoara (Transylvania, Romania). The one in Budapest started its life in cardboard at the millennial exhibition in 1896. It was so popular with the locals that it was decided to build it from stone and brick. You can find it right by Heroes’ Square.
A Gothic gate leads to the courtyard. Inside, there is a beautiful chapel – where newlyweds love to take their wedding photos – which is flanked by two pseudo-medieval ambulatory with a corner turret. Among the other replicas, there’s also a copy of the castle-tower from Sighisoara Citadel (Romania). Also in the courtyard, we can find the statue of the Anonymus. It is believed that touching its pen brings luck.
Budapest is served by many low-cost carriers so getting to Hungary’s capital is very easy and cheap. Once here, take the metro or the bus to Heroes’ Square. As you stand facing the column, the Castle is in front of you, a little to the right.
12 – The Castle of the Knights of St. John, Rhodes, Greece
The entire Old Town of Rhodes is incredibly well preserved. Within the medieval town, the Palace of the Grandmaster is the most impressive sight. It contains the relics dating from the medieval times as well as beautiful 1st century floor mosaics which were brought to Rhodes from the island of Kos.
Another interesting place to visit is the Street of Knights, a fully restored medieval road, which stretches from the Archaeological Museum to the Grandmaster’s Palace.
Rhodes is served by both domestic and international flights. Within the summer season you can fly directly into the island from many European capitals, while during winter you might need to change planes in either Athens or Thessaloniki.
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Additional photo credits: Salzburg – drobnikm on Flickr, Sintra – mounir.idrissi on Flickr, Alcazar – kellyandapril on Flickr, Prague – trentstrohm on Flickr, Rhodes – nathangibbs on Flickr
Neuschwanstein – storem on Flickr ,Château de Chenonceau – Glynnis Ritchie on Flickr ,Trieste – mscolly on Flickr,Cong, Ireland – Elin B on Flickr