Castles hold a certain sense of allure for many people. Whether you’re wanting to live out a fairytale fantasy, have a fascination with the history, art and culture found within their walls, or want to explore some of the most innovative architectural structures in the world, a castle visit is sure to be a highlight on any holiday. From Japanese fortresses to geometric castles shrouded in mystery, discover our favourite castles below.
- On a rugged hill in Bavaria, lies “the castle of the fairytale king”. Commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Neushwanstein Castle (German for ‘New Swanstone Castle) was to be a retreat from the political turbulence. Unfortuneately King Ludwig II never saw the completion of the castle. In 1886, after his death, Neushwanstein Castle opened to the paying public. The castle remains one of the most popular and spectacular castles in all of Europe, and even the world.
- Built into the mouth of a large cavern, halfway up a 123m cliff lies one of Europe’s most dramatic castles - Predjama Castle. It’s almost impossible to tell when the castle ends and the cavern begins, adding to the appeal of this remarkable site. When it was constructed in the 13th century, Predjama Castle was considered virtually impenetrable. In fact, there is a story of a thieving baron called Erazem Lueger who started a war with the Habsburgs. He managed to elude the Emperor’s forces by hiding out in the castle. For an entire year and one day, he snuck out of the castle through a secret tunnel to replenished his food and drink supply from a nearby town. Eventually he was sold out by his servant. The castle has been reconstructed many times over the years but retains its Renaissance-style.
- Shaped like the bow of a ship and perched on a rocky hill, is one of the most recognizable castles in Spain - Alcázar of Segovia. The stone castle was built in the 12th century as a fortress. Since then, the castle has served as a royal palace, a state prison and even a military academy. If you feel a certain sense of affinity with the castle or recognize it, but are unsure why; Alcázar of Segovia was one of the inspirations for the castle in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.
- On the crags of Castle Rock, lies the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Archaeologists believe that people occupied the castle’s site dating back to the Iron Age, but its royal ties can only be traced back to the 12th century when King David I built the St. Margaret’s Chapel in honour of his mother. Those interested in Scotland’s royal history, can see the remnants of the gilded initials “MAH”, for Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley above the palace door. Today, guests flock to the castle to explore the various buildings and ancient artefacts displayed throughout.
- Experience one of the finest examples of French Renaissance architecture at Château de Chambord. Boasting an impressive 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, 84 staircases, and a decorative moat, the chateau is an exceptional site to explore. King François I was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci and insisted that elements of the castle, such as the double helix staircase, should draw on the works of the Italian polymath. His intention had been to use the grand chateau as a weekend hunting retreat. However, in the end, the chateau was to ostentatious for his liking and he only spent a few weeks in residence there during his reign.
- The Pena National Palace is eccentric and colourful, and showcases the flair of 19th century Romanticism in Portugal. Blending Middle Eastern and European Baroque styles, the palace was once the summer home of the Portuguese royal family. The interchanging vibrant hues decorating the façade and various architecture styles that make up the Pena Palace offer insight into the Portuguese Monarchy, who reigned until the Revolution of 1910. Today, the palace is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Although Europe is better known for its castles, Japan’s Himeji Caste is one of the most spectacular castles in the country and the world. There are few medieval castles still intact in Japan, and Himeji Castle is a prime example of its time. Considered a National Treasure in Japan, the UNESCO Heritage Site was built above the Inland Seas. Its elegant white façade earned the nickname “White Heron Castle” for its resemblance of a bird taking flight. Today, visitors can explore this outstanding complex and its cherry blossom garden.
- Found at the end of the Street of the Knights, is the stunning 14th century Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. This phenomenal structure is set on the site of a 7th century Byzantine fortress and one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece. During the 19th century, the palace experienced devastating destruction to its interior because of an explosion. An Italian reconstruction was completed in the 1940’s to repair the interior damage.
- The city of Hillerød is home to the largest, and arguably the most beautiful castle in Scandinavia. The Frederiksborg Palace stands on three islets of Lake Slotsso (Castle Lake). Built as a symbol of King Christian IV’s power as ruler of Denmark and Norway, the Renaissance castle became the official royal residence for more than 100 years before its original structure was destroyed in a fire in 1859. Only the Chapel and the Audience Chamber survived the flames. A nationwide lottery and collection were held to raise funds to rebuild the palace, and in 1878 the palace became the Museum of National History in Denmark showcasing an impressive collection of portraits, historical paintings, and the castle interior.
- Castel del Monte is shrouded in mystery. Its construction was ordered by Emperor Frederik II in 1240 in a remote area of Southern Italy; an area that offered no means of protection. Soon after it was built, the emperor abandoned the castle, leaving many questions surrounding his intentions for its construction. Celebrated as a masterpiece of medieval architecture, the fortress features an octagonal base and tower at each corner and eight trapezoidal rooms within. There has been speculation around whether the geometric layout might hold religious significance, specifically to the Holy Grail. The UNESCO World Heritage site has become one of southern Italy’s most visited landmarks.
- Bran Castle in Romania, also known as Dracula’s Castle, is one of the most famous castles in the world. The medieval fortress was built atop the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia between 1377 and 1388. Bram Stoker was inspired by the castle which served as the home of the fictional bloodthirsty Count Dracula. Even before Stoker brought the castle to the attention of the public through his novel, it was surrounded by lore and mystery. When Transylvania became a part of Romania, the city’s government offered the castle to the reigning Queen Maria of Romania as a memento of appreciation for her efforts in unifying the two areas. The castle served as a royal residence until 1993, after which it was reopened as a museum.
- Located on a cliff 250 metres above the river Echaz, The Castle of Lichtenstein is one of Europe’s best examples of outstanding medieval architecture. Come for the castle and stay for the views. No matter the weather, the castle holds a certain allure. Cloudy days give the appearance the castle is floating above the clouds, while clear days offer complete views of the intricate and grandiose details of the castle. Although the castle is privately owned by a prestigious German family, visitors are welcome.
- With colourful tales of lustful sultans, ambitious courtiers, captivating concubines and scheming eunuchs, the Topkapi Palace sounds like a George R.R. Martin plot. But in its heyday, between the 15th and 19th, the court of the Ottoman empire was an exciting place to be. For 400 years, the Topkapi Palace was the epicenter of this great empire, and as such hold incredible historical, architectural and artistic value. Visitors can experience the palace's opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury, courtyards and gardens, and the Harem.
- Although Cardiff and its surroundings are home to an abundance of castles, Cardiff Castle is the hands down favourite for most who visit the region. Built on foundations that date from the year 50AD, and later reconstructed in the 1800’s, the castle remains in an almost perfect condition. The castle was built for the 3rd Marquis of Bute who was reportedly the world’s richest man at the time (and had the extravagant taste to match). The castle features on of the most elaborate ceilings, Arab Room Ceiling, along with over 2000 years of history.
- Initially the residence of the princes of Bohemia, and later the Royal Palace, Prague Castle has been an important symbol for more than a thousand years. The castle is one of the largest and oldest castles in the world with its construction beginning as early as the 9th century. Prague Castle is listed alongside the rest of the historic centre of Prague as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and spans a massive 750,000 square feet. With several churches, palaces, towers, halls, and other buildings within Prague Castle, the area feels like its own mini medieval metropolis; a city within a city. There are several vantage points around the castle grounds where you can get the best view of the city, especially at sunset.
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