Castles are the crown jewels of Europe. What were once walled towns to keep invaders outgrew into stately homes and private residences for the kings and queens of Britain, France, Germany, and beyond. Many of the great castles of Europe still stand today, some in ruins and others like they were still new.
These castles have inspired fairy tales, epic fantasy novels, Disney movies, and more. They are some of the most magical, magisterial, and majestic places in all of Europe, both on the mainland and across the British Isles. Whether you adventure north, south, east, or west, you’ll find sites that will drop your jaw when you see them, and historical stories beyond your wildest dreams. Let’s take a look at the most incredible castles in Europe.
13 of the most incredible castles in Europe
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Otherwise known as the ‘castle of the fairytale king’, Neuschwanstein Castle famously inspired Walt Disney for the original Cinderella castle. There’s no escaping the fact this is probably one of the most easily recognisable and beautiful castles in Europe and should be top of your castle visiting itinerary. Neuschwanstein was originally built for the notoriously shy King Ludvig II to hide away from the world, the ultimate introvert.
Sat atop of a green hill in the Alps of Bavaria overlooking the Hohenschwangau valley, the setting is as breathtaking as the castle itself. Tickets to visit the UNESCO world heritage site can only be bought from Hohenschwangau Village below or online. It’s worth pre-booking during high-season as it gets very busy in the Summer.
2. Windsor Castle, England
One of the Queen of England’s three official residences (she spends most weekends there!), Windsor Castle is one of the oldest castles in the world that’s still occupied. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th-century , thirty-nine monarchs have lived in the castle. So, if you love British history, this should very much be top of your list.
You’ll find plenty of activities inside Windsor Castle like the changing of the guard and a state apartments tour you can join. Make sure you pay a visit to see the ‘treasures of the castle’ which includes portraits and other items belonging to the castle’s infamous inhabitants. They recommend you book in advance as it’s a popular destination year-round.
3. Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Germany really does boast some wonderful castles, and here’s another German slice of history to enjoy. With stunning panoramic views from on top of a hill and amazing landscaped gardens to wander, this 11-century castle (with rebuilds in the 13th and 18th century is one of the most incredible castles in Europe. You’ll find it in the heart of Baden-Württemberg between Lake Constance, the Black Forest and Stuttgart meaning this one of the most picturesque spots in the country from above and below.
To add to the fairytale mystique, there’s even a ghost that wanders the halls of Hohenzollern The ‘white lady’ is the stuff of legends, a countess who murdered her children after misunderstanding a prophecy and died there years later. A must-visit European castle, you can take a shuttle bus up the hill to the castle if you don’t fancy the long hike to the top.
4. Bran Castle, Romania
Perhaps most famous for being one of the castles that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dracula himself was inspired by the very real Vlad the Impaler, who spent a lot of his reign laying siege to quite a lot of castles across Romania. Given that the mythic Dracula probably didn’t visit Bran Castle himself, this Gothic masterpiece of a castle sits on the Transylvanian side of the historical border with Wallachia – an area most recently been made famous all over again by the Netflix Castlevania show.
The Romanian castle itself is dedicated to Queen Marie who lived there and now the castle displays her vast and impressive furniture and art collections. You’ll also find an open-air museum at the bottom of the hill depicting traditional peasant life in Romania. This is a particularly impressive sight given that many Romanians outside the big cities actually do still live something close to medieval peasant life. And also because the museum, coupled with how intact the castle is, really takes you back in time.
5. Versailles, France
A world heritage site, and one of the most famous sites in all of France, Château de Versailles is an opulent masterpiece. This says a lot given that France has the highest number of castles in all of Europe. So many, in fact, that you can buy one and live in it for the price of an apartment in central Paris! But when it comes to Versailles, nothing quite matches the pastel colours of its facade and you’ll see that people queue for hours to enter and explore interior sites like ‘the hall of mirrors’ and the magnificent royal apartments.
Commissioned by the infamous King Louis XIV in 1682, this French castle took years to finally be completed. Even the gardens alone took forty years to complete! It’s one of the most exquisite day trip from Paris that we have available today and easily one of the most incredible castles in Europe. Not to be missed on a trip to Paris, given that it’s doable on a day trip.
6. Eilean Donan, Scotland
Scotland is home to quite a lot of fairly epic castles. The rugged landscape and dramatic Scottish skies make for some truly medieval scenes, after all. Shakespeare knew that well enough, setting one of his most epic plays, Macbeth, in a medieval Scottish castle just like the one we’re about to explore! Eilean Donan is a fine example of a Scottish castle, dating all the way back to the 13th century. It was originally constructed to protect the Scots inside against invading vikings from across the narrow seas.
On an island all of its own, overlooking the incredible and mythical Isle of Skye, there’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area and it’s very much at one with nature, exposed to the rugged Scottish elements as it is. Eilean Donan is one of the most famous castles in Scotland and you’ll often find its visage proudly displayed on the lids of tins of Scottish shortbread or on tourist postcards. Nothing, unsurprisingly, compares to the real thing though. So make sure to take a visit and get ready to be rendered speechless.
7. Gravensteen, Belgium
Ghent is a beautiful town and is more often than not visit alongside, or instead of, the equally stunning Bruges (Bruges itself is also a gorgeous medieval town made famous by the dark comedy film In Bruges). If you’re struggling to choose one over the other then allow Gravensteen to surely swing it for you. Gravensteen is the only remaining medieval castle with a moat in all of Flanders and the castle has a fascinating and turbulent political history.
There’s a particularly gruesome torture room in the castle’s old pantry where you can still see all of the torture equipment that was used in the past. And make sure to visit the courtroom where those gruesome sentences were dolled out to very unfortunate prisoners of all kinds. Once a symbol of power and abuse, Gravensteen is now one of Belgium’s top attractions. It’s hard to miss out on a castle that’s so intact, has such a bloody history, and proudly displays that turbulent history in a deliciously gothic manner.
8. Kronborg Castle, Denmark
Denmark boasts some of Europe’s most incredible castles. Kronborg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site (and rightly so), remains a firm favourite thanks to its location on the beach with a view of Sweden just across the water. And, of course, for being the castle which William Shakespeare based the setting and story of Hamlet on. In fact, you’ll find a stone tribute to the bard carved into a wall just inside the castle as soon as you’ve got your tickets.
Shakespeare is not thought to have actually visited the castle (in fact, there’s no proof at all that he ever left English, despite setting so many plays across European nations and history) but it’s still cool to imagine Hamlet wandering the halls and knowing that this is what Shakespeare had in mind when he composed the play. Aside from the beautiful courtyard with a fountain (which was actually originally stolen by Swedish invaders as the spoils of war many centuries ago), you can explore the caverns beneath the castle which are genuinely dark and creepy. There, you’ll meet a hulking statue of Holger the Dane, a mythic knight and protector of Denmark, sitting quietly in the darkness.
9. Alhambra of Granada, Spain
Translating to the crimson castle, the Alhambra is a masterful piece of architecture and history and has been described as a ‘love letter to Moorish culture’. Now a world heritage site, the castle only became a residence for kings from the 13th-century being used purely for the military prior to that. Set against the dramatic Sierra Nevada peaks, it’s not only one of the most incredible castles in Europe but also one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture. Don’t forget to explore the Generalife gardens while you’re there and make sure to book tickets in advance, they sell out quickly.
10. The Palace of Pena, Portugal
One of the most famous castles in Portugal and not only for its dazzling yellow facade perfectly contrasting the Parque de Pena forest around it. Like a fairytale, the woods surrounding the castle are full of secret pathways, stunning views and mystical statues. The castle itself, created by King Ferdinand II, is no less romantic and while it’s tempting to stay outside and enjoy the colours and vistas, inside you’ll find stately rooms and terraces to enjoy as well as the Queen’s fern garden and duck lakes.
It gets incredibly busy during high season so if you’re travelling May-September then aim to come early in the morning or late afternoon after the tour buses have left.
11. Harlech Castle, Wales
One of the most well-preserved castles in the country, this fortified medieval fortification towers atop a sheer rocky crag overlooking the dunes and mountains below. A world heritage site, built in 1282, along with Edward I’s other nearby Welsh castles of Conwy, Beaumaris and Caernarfon, it’s the spectacular setting which makes Harlech truly special and an unforgettable visit.
The walk to the top is an invigorating 108 stone steps but it’s more than worth it. Learn about the various sieges this castle has survived over its many years or just wander the battlements and enjoy the view. This is easily one of the most incredible castles in Europe.
12. Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
Bojnice is one of the most visited castles in central Europe thanks to its gorgeous fairytale aesthetic and surrounding Strážovské vrchy mountains. Modelled after the castles you’ll find in the Loire Valley in France, the current castle was designed in the 19th century on the site of an older 11th century medieval castle.
Inside, you’ll be treated to a museum of art and history ranging from gothic masterpieces like the altar of Bojnice made by Nardo di Cione Ortagna, an artist from Florence in the mid-14th century and the original furniture and the artistic collection of the noble family Pálffys. Once you’re finished exploring the castle, you’ll find extensive gardens to explore and a dripstone cave beneath.
13. Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania
This castle is straight out of a fairytale, set in the middle of lake one of the very best ways to see it is from above. You can take a hot air balloon directly over the castle and get an open view of the courtyard below. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, however, then it’s just as beautiful crossing the bridge to enter the 14th-century masterpiece built by Kęstutis. Inside the castle, you’ll find archaeological artefacts, religious objects, coins and various items in the courtyard from life in medieval Lithuania.
The town around the castle is as charming as the castle with colourful houses, inns serving traditional food and souvenir shops. Trakai is just half an hour’s drive (20km) outside Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius and makes for an easy day-trip.
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