Europe’s most majestic castles

Europe’s best castles Europe is peppered with incredible castles, spanning a variety of…


Europe is peppered with incredible castles, spanning a variety of eras and architectural styles. From Sleeping Beauty’s castle come to life in Germany to a spooky Dracula castle in Romania, these structures are filled with mystery and myth, and have captured people’s attention for centuries. Hidden in mountains, perched on hillsides and nestled on lakes, these are the best castles in Europe.




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As castles go, Bran is probably one of the spookiest. The medieval fortress in Transylvania became known as Dracula castle, despite Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, never having visited Romania. Today the castle, with its eerie turrets and stunning hilltop location, remains synonymous with the legendary vampire.




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Bran Castle is now used to exhibit furniture and artifacts collected by Romania’s late Queen Maria. However, in 2016 two vampire fans became the first people to spend the night in Bran Castle after winning an Airbnb competition. The Canadian siblings slept in velvet-lined coffins and despite some people’s fears, they survived the night.




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King Ludwig II of Bavaria built Neuschwanstein Castle in the 19th century to use as a private retreat from public life. The castle’s stunning architecture, complemented by its hilltop location, isn’t rivaled by many others and is arguably one of the continent’s most famous. Not many know that its dreamy towers and turrets, which could have been plucked straight from a fairy tale, served as inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.




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Despite its old-world design, Neuschwanstein Castle was extremely modern upon its completion, with central heating and even a telephone line. Nevertheless, its interiors show Ludwig’s desire to escape into a world inspired by the operas of German composer Richard Wagner, of whom the king was a devoted fan and patron. Much of the art inside depicts the kings, poets and knights that appear in the composer’s work.




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The picturesque Peleș Castle was constructed in the 19th century for Romanian King Carol I, who fell in love with the Carpathian Mountains and decided to build a summer retreat here. It’s not a modest affair, either. The building in Sinaia, central Romania, is a striking mix of Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival architecture.




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There are more than 170 rooms in Peleș Castle, brimming with furniture and intricate details. Some have even been decorated to reflect different cultures, from the Florentine Room to the colorful Turkish Parlour. Pictured here is the magnificent, wood-paneled dining room.




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Standing on the site of a medieval 11th-century castle, Bojnice Castle’s romantic appeal and fairy-tale setting is one of the most beautiful not only in Slovakia, but in all of central Europe. Once home to famous Hungarian noble families, the current castle took its shape at the end of the 19th century and much of its exterior follows the patterns of chateaux of the Loire in France.




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Once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of Elizabeth I, this magnificent castle is tucked away in the quiet village of Hever. It has a long history, dating back as early as the 13th century. After it was owned by the Boleyns, it later came under the ownership of another of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves, when their marriage ended in divorce.




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The staircase gallery is one of the castle’s most stunning features. Built in 1506, it contains a rare portrait by French Renaissance painter and miniaturist François Clouet, depicting Mary Queen of Scots in mourning over the death of three close family members. It is believed that during Henry VIII’s courtship of Anne Boleyn, he stayed at the castle several times. The lavish bedroom reportedly has the oldest ceiling in the castle, dating from 1462.




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Nestled on the edge of the Thuringian Forest, Wartburg Castle rises out of a high bluff, overlooking the town of Eisenach. First built in 1067, the oldest surviving section is the 12th-century great hall, but nearly every century has left its mark with a new addition or restoration. It was the first German fortress to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.




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Located at the point where the distance between Denmark and Sweden is the shortest, the castle is also notable for its star-shaped outer wall. Throughout history it’s been used as a royal residence, a prison and even a garrison, but today it’s a museum and the home of Shakespeare Festival that typically takes place every summer.




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Although Wales has plenty of landmark castles, Caernarfon Castle, in the historic town of Caernarfon, stirs the imagination like no other. Often cited as one of the country’s most impressive fortresses, it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is also notable for its royal connection – it was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911 and again in 1969.




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Perched on a high rock overlooking the Orava river, the namesake castle looks like it’s been picked straight out of a fairy tale. As with most Slovak castles, it was built at the site of a former medieval fortress in the 13th century and over the centuries was inhabited by aristocrats, county heads and noblemen, protecting an important route to Poland and serving as the military center for the region.




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The biggest and most luxurious in the Netherlands, De Haar Castle in Utrecht is mentioned in historical records as early as 1391, but the castle that stands today was rebuilt in 1892. Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar inherited the crumbling castle and spent 20 years restoring it with the backing of his wife’s family, the Rothschilds, and the help from famous architect Pierre Cuypers.




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De Haar’s interior is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, mirroring Roman Catholic design at the time, and there are 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms. The interior also features items from the Rothschilds’ collections, including porcelain from Japan and China as well as Flemish tapestries and paintings. The castle is situated in beautiful parkland with meticulously landscaped gardens.




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One of Switzerland’s most popular historic sites, the picture-perfect Chillon Castle is nestled on an island on the edge of Lake Geneva. The castle dates back to the 11th century and it served as the summer residence for the Counts of Savoy from the 1200s until the 16th century, when it was converted into a prison, though a jail existed in the castle from the 13th century onwards.




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The first historical record of this imposing fort’s existence dates to the 12th century, but the majority of the construction was probably completed by King Philip II in the 1500s. Rising high above the city of Segovia, it’s best known for its unusual design – the Alcázar is shaped like the bow of a ship.




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The breathtaking building has been used as the royal court, a prison and a military college throughout its long life, and today it serves as an artifact-packed museum. The Hall of the Galley (pictured) is in-keeping with the ship theme of the Alcázar, since it’s designed in the shape of an inverted ship hull.




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The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, Windsor Castle has been home to English and British monarchs for nearly a thousand years. Today, Queen Elizabeth II spends weekends and carries out certain formal duties here. Originally developed by William the Conqueror after his Norman conquest of 1066, it’s also the final resting place of many monarchs including Henry VIII, Charles I and George V.




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Several areas of the castle are usually open to visitors year-round, but, since it’s a working royal residence, it may at times be closed for special events with little forward notice. For example, in 2018 the castle’s St George’s Chapel was the venue for the weddings of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, and Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank.




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It’s hailed as the largest cave castle in the world by the Guinness World Records, with a tangle of medieval-style rooms and a complex network of caverns opening out below it. Legend has it, a knight named Erasmus of Lueg took over the castle in the 15th century and used a series of intricate cave tunnels to steal from the rich and give to the poor, just like Robin Hood. A servant eventually betrayed him, leading to his death.




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Prague Castle is quite the feat. Covering an area of around 750,000 square feet (69,677sqm), the complex is one of the largest of its kind in the world, home to Gothic-style St Vitus Cathedral, as well as several other churches. Dating from the 9th century, the site acts like an architectural textbook for the last millennium and, unsurprisingly, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.




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The formidable Malbork Castle was built in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, a group of German Catholic crusaders, and at the time of its completion was the largest brick castle in the world. Malbork served as a residence for the Polish royal family until it was occupied by the Swedes in the 17th century and then by the Germans during the Second World War.




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The castle suffered severe damage during the Second World War, but at the end of the conflict, it was returned to Poland. Careful restoration work began in 1962 and then again in 2016 when it was returned to its former glory. Today, intricate vaulted ceilings, columns and museum displays hide inside its hulking brick exterior.




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Built between 1238 and 1358, Granada’s sprawling Alhambra is an impressive Moorish masterpiece. The name Alhambra comes from an Arabic phrase meaning red castle and was given due to the reddish hue of its towers and walls. It was described as “a pearl set in emeralds” by Moorish poets, referring to its location within the woods.




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The Alhambra served as a royal palace and its exquisite gardens are home to many beautiful walkways and fountains. A fortress complex rather than a standalone building, Alhambra consists of a castle, several courts and halls, and a collection of outlying buildings.




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Edinburgh Castle is arguably one of the city’s most famous sights, with its imposing battlements overlooking the city’s Old Town. The castle dates back to the 12th century and has been attacked so many times, it earned the dubious accolade of being the most besieged place in Great Britain. Today, the castle and its grounds are normally open to visitors.




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Many royals have called the castle home including King Malcolm III of Scotland and his wife Saint Margaret of Scotland – St Margaret’s Chapel is a tribute to the late queen and the oldest existing part of the site. Inside, the Great Hall, built for James IV in 1511, is the castle’s glorious centerpiece.




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It might be called a palace, but it is in fact a castle, and few are so heart-flutteringly pretty as Pena Palace. Its butter-yellow turrets and brick-red towers rise above the treetops in hilly Sintra, just outside Lisbon. The multicolored beauty, an example of 19th-century Romanticism, was commissioned by King Ferdinand II and completed in 1854, and has been home to Portuguese royals through the years.




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The exterior and grounds are filled with storybook details, from tiny gargoyles to hidden pathways weaving through forest. The striking interior isn’t far off its lavish fairy-tale exterior either. The dining room and adjoining pantry, for example, have vaulted ceilings and walls covered with intricate tiles.




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Nestled behind the pretty northeastern market town of Alnwick, this majestic medieval castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England. Alnwick has been home to the Percy family for over 700 years and is the current seat of the 12th Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy.




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Thanks to Moszna Castle’s jaw-dropping 365 rooms and 99 turrets, it would be possible to spend every day in a different room over the course of a year, if you wished. Constructed in the 17th century, the castle is situated within a park covered with canals, meadows and even a forest.




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In 1945, Moszna was occupied by the Soviet Red Army and its owners fled to Germany. The occupation caused significant damage to Moszna’s interior furnishings, but the castle has since been restored. The opulent site was also briefly used as a hospital following the Second World War, and today it houses an art gallery.




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Constructed on the site of a Roman castle between the 11th and 14th centuries, this mighty fortress has a string of impressive rooms, including a dinky chapel dating to the 12th century. It has had an extremely diverse mix of owners too, ranging from the Counts of Vianden to a spice merchant.




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The castle fell into ruin after one owner began selling it off in parts, but thankfully it returned to the hands of the Luxembourg royal family in the 19th century. Members of the Luxembourg resistance even used the castle during a battle against the Nazis in 1944. Highlights today include the gorgeous wood-clad dining room (pictured).




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Lithuania’s Trakai Island Castle occupies a stunning location in the center of Lake Galvė. The castle was built in the 14th century and is the only Gothic island castle in Europe. It has served many purposes in its lifetime, going from fortress to residence to a prison. Sadly, in the 17th century, the castle was damaged in conflict and fell into disrepair.




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There are some mysterious legends surrounding the property too. The best-known tale about the castle is the Monster of Glamis, a cruel name given to a disfigured child who was born into the Lyon family and was supposedly locked away in a secret chamber. The ghost of the Monster of Glamis is believed to still haunt the castle to this day.




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This whimsical castle in Sozopol is the stuff of dreams and fairy tales, and its alternative name – In Love with the Wind – only adds to its charm. It was designed by Georgi Kostadinov Tumpalov, who worked with a team of builders to craft the medieval-style structure from 20,000 tons of stone.




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Built in the mid-16th century, Egeskov Castle, on the Danish island of Funen, is one of Europe’s finest Renaissance buildings, and was originally constructed for defense purposes. During the last 400 years, it has belonged to various families who have all lived in the striking structure. Today, it’s surrounded by an impressive garden and boasts the best-preserved moat in Europe.




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A scenic forest trail leads its way up to the castle with some of the best views of the lake. Inside there is now a museum celebrating the history of Bled, from the first settlements to present day, as well as a restaurant and a wine cellar. Visitors can also see a reconstruction of Gutenberg’s printing press and typically, demonstrations showcase how it worked and was used after its inception.




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Built by the English monarch Edward I in the late 13th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Conwy Castle is certainly a breathtaking construction. Its seemingly endless circuit of walls add up to nearly a mile (1.6km) and are guarded by 22 towers. It has amazing views of the mountains and the sea, and typically plenty of family-friendly events are put on for visitors, such as medieval-themed weekends and spooky Halloween parties.




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Throughout the Second World War, the castle kept exchanging hands frequently. First, it was converted into a Nazi headquarters building, then New Zealand troops entered Trieste and took control of the castle in 1945, which was swiftly followed by the British taking over and finally, the Americans. After the war, the castle was renovated and opened in 1955 as a tourist attraction. Today, it’s a museum with all the rooms still featuring the original furnishings, ornaments and furniture.




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The largest Renaissance residence in Scandinavia, Frederiksborg Castle is situated to the north of Copenhagen. It was built in the early 17th century by King Christian IV, but today, it’s home to the Museum of National History. What’s more, the castle’s old wine cellar has been converted into an area geared towards kids, with child-friendly displays and a picture trail.




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The castle suffered a devastating fire in 1859, which ruined most of the building. However, more than 300 paintings were saved and can now be seen in the castle’s museum. Reconstruction was publicly funded and today 70 rooms, plus the Chapel, the Rose Room and the Audience Room are included in the museum.




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The ancestral seat of the imperial House of Hohenzollern, this imposing castle is located atop Mount Hohenzollern in southwestern Germany. The third castle to be built on top of the mountain, it was finished in 1867 as a family memorial. Later, in 1945 it briefly became the home of the former prince Wilhelm of Germany, son of the last Hohenzollern monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II.




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A major Budapest landmark, the jaw-dropping Buda Castle was originally constructed in the 13th century, but the work didn’t stop there. Extensions and renovations were carried out over the next two centuries, and various refurbishments and repairs are still continuing today. It’s now home to several galleries, including the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.




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As there is an extensive tunnel system underneath the castle and the castle district, there are, of course, many urban myths and legends surrounding them. One story says that during the Turkish occupation, women were built into the walls of the cellars and tunnels, and their cries can still be heard to this day. Another tale claims there were vampires residing beneath the tunnel, including the Black Count, believed to be Dracula himself.




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