Castles bring to mind fantastical tales of nobility, but they are also reminders of the reality of medieval history. Here is a list of must-see castles in Europe.
- Highclere Castle
If you’re a fan of the TV drama “Downton Abbey“, then you’re probably familiar with this 5,000-acre estate in England. Used as the filming location of the hit series, the castle has recently soared in popularity, with thousands of visits per year. A classic mansion with Gothic and Renaissance influences, the building is actually open to overnight guests during certain times of the year for a price of $540 a night.
- Ashford Castle
This famous castle-turned-luxury hotel is a definite must-see for those touring western Ireland. With 82 rooms and suites that are the epitome of luxury and elegance, this castle offers exquisitely decorated interiors, award-winning cuisine, and a taste of royal living. Built in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman family the House of Burke, the castle is now a hotel with rooms ranging from $244 to $537 a night.
- Palace of Pena
Built by the famous King Ferdinand, this perfect example of 19th-century Portuguese Romantic architecture is located on the peaks of the Serra de Sintra. Dating back to 1839, the building was built in such a way so as to be visible from Lisbon and much of its urban area. Its unconventional mixture of Neo-gothic, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance styles makes it a rare site to see.
- Bran Castle
If you have an affinity for tales of vampires, werewolves and ghosts, then this might be an obligatory stop for you. Known as Dracula’s Castle, Bran is a picturesque fortress located near Transylvania in Romania. Home of the main character in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the castle was built in 1212 by the Teutonic Knights and is said to have been the home of the legendary Romanian vampire, Vlad the Impaler.
Built by the “mad fairy-tale king” Ludwig II to retreat from public life in the 1800s, this Bavarian masterpiece in Germany has been visited by over 60 million people. With its elaborate white towers and spires, the castle served as the inspiration for Disney’s trademark Sleeping Beauty castle.
- Château de Chambord
Considered as one of the greatest buildings in France, this castle was built by the young King François I in 1526 as an architectural symbol of his power to show off to visiting rulers. With 440 rooms and a 20-mile wall around a forest of 13,000 acres, this awe-inspiring building is thought to have actually been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
- Windsor Castle
The longest occupied castle in Europe, Windsor Castle is one of the official residences of the Queen. With a rich history that goes back 1,000 years, it is one of best kept architectural masterpieces of its kind and is visited daily by hundreds who desire to witness the castle guard change.
- Château de Chillon
With more than 300,000 guests per year, Château de Chillon is the most visited historic site in Switzerland. Located on the banks of Lake Geneva, the island castle was used during the 16th century to house prisoners such as François Bonivard, who inspired the famous poem “Prisoner of Chillon” by Lord Byron.
- Malbork Castle
Poland has many castles to put on your travel bucket list. But if you can see just one, don’t miss Malbork. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Malbork is the world’s largest castle in terms of surface area and the largest brick building in Europe. An unmatched example of Gothic architecture, the castle was built by 13th-century Teutonic knights who wished to consolidate a monastic state. An icon of medieval Christianity, the building was inhabited by Polish kings until the 18th century.
- Castillo de Coca
Built in the 15th century by a wealthy businessman of Castile, Don Alonso de Fonseca, this brick and stone castle is known as one of the most prominent buildings in Spain. With a 560 meter-long moat, the castle’s structure warded off intruders until the 18th century, when the French were able to capture it for the first time in its long history.