Castles. Not only do they evoke the romance and grandeur of a historical past filled with kings and queens, courtiers and kingdoms, but they also remind us of the fairytale world of childhood – where heroes, monsters and magical beings dwell. Here, then, you can discover 20 castles so spectacular that they could have jumped right off the pages of a storybook.
20. Chillon Castle
Over the years Chillon Castle has inspired poets and welcomed film crews, and it’s not hard to see why. The location, for a start, is spectacular: this turreted island fortress is perched on the eastern shores of Lake Geneva, where it’s backed by sublime Alpine peaks. The castle itself, meanwhile, dates back to the 11th century, and today it’s considered the most historic monument in Switzerland.
19. Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
Tourists flock to Bojnice Castle in Slovakia for a glimpse of the building’s fantastic fairytale turrets and exquisite architecture. In fact, the elegant construction dates back to the 13th century, but it was given something of a Romantic makeover in the late 19th century by Count János Ferenc Pálffy, a talented architect who filled the place with fine art.
18. Swallow’s Nest, Crimea
Swallow’s Nest is a true clifftop castle that enjoys a dreamlike setting above the waters of the Black Sea. This Crimean landmark was designed by a German oil magnate and completed in 1912. But even today the castle’s brooding Neo-Gothic architecture echoes the majesty of a long-forgotten realm.
17. Bran Castle, Romania
Perched high above the Transylvanian countryside is Bran Castle. This imposing structure, complete with ominous spires and towers, is the fictional home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The castle was built in the 14th century near the city of Braşov, and although no proof exists that the author ever visited Bran or that Vlad the Impaler ever resided here, this darkly magical castle is still well worth a visit.
16. Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria
The 900-year-old Hohenwerfen Castle enjoys a spectacular fairytale setting nestled between the snow-capped peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps. It’s little wonder, then, that the striking formation has been used as a filming location for a host of movies and TV productions, including The 10th Kingdom and The Man in the High Castle. And as well as appreciating the impressive architecture, guests venturing inside Hohenwerfen’s walls today can enjoy bewitching falconry displays.
15. Corvin Castle, Romania
Corvin Castle really is a masterpiece of Renaissance-Gothic architecture, and unsurprisingly it was regarded as one of the finest castles in Eastern Europe after its completion in 1480. Dark and imposing, the Transylvanian beauty has witnessed centuries of drama and change, and it famously served as a prison for Vlad the Impaler after he was overthrown in 1462.
14. Eltz Castle, Germany
Eltz Castle is a storybook location with a storybook history. The edifice sits on a 230-foot-high rock spur above the Moselle River, and it has been handed down through 33 generations. Plus, as a “Ganerbenburg” castle, the Eltz was jointly owned by three distinct family branches who divided its 100 rooms among them.
13. Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
The German author Wilhem Hauff excelled at writing fairytales, but it was his romantic historical novel Lichtenstein that supplied the inspiration for Lichtenstein Castle. This mist-swathed fortress was built in the early 1840s by Duke Wilhem of Urach, a cousin of King Wilhem I, and it enjoys an enchanted clifftop setting in southern Germany.
12. Mont Saint Michel, France
Mont Saint Michel occupies a strategic and sparsely occupied tidal island in Normandy and dates all the way back to the 8th century. But plan your visit carefully, for this French masterpiece can only be reached at low tide. Today, Mont Saint Michel offers a snapshot of feudal society: God, monastery and abbey are at the top of the island, the noblemen are beneath them, and the townsfolk reside at the bottom.
11. Guaita Fortress, San Marino
Guaita is the oldest of three fortified towers on Monte Titano, and it enjoys an incredibly romantic location above the city of San Marino. This fairytale tower is ringed by battlements and is believed to date back to the 10th century. And, if you’re lucky enough to visit on a public holiday, you’ll see it rouse to life with a stunning display of artillery volleys.
10. Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Hohenzollern is nestled on a 770-foot-high bluff in the high foothills of the Swabian Alps, while its profusion of fairytale spires stretch even further into the sky. Unsurprisingly, this is among the most popular castles in Germany, and it attracts about 300,000 tourists annually. These days, Hohenzollern also serves as a unique vacation camp for impoverished children from Berlin, who come to stay during the summer.
9. Chateau de Chenonceau, France
The enchanting Chateau de Chenonceau is truly fit for a princess. This castle is the most visited chateau in France after the Palace of Versailles, and it was declared an official monument as early as 1840. The expansive formation spreads the width of the River Cher in the Loire Valley, while its architecture blends late Gothic and early Renaissance styles. And completing this fairytale package, the castle boasts a wealth of sublime gardens and its very own maze.
8. Chateau de Pierrefonds
The medieval Chateau de Pierrefonds was nearly demolished in the early 17th century, but thankfully the task was never completed. The chateau did, however, lie in ruins for more than 200 years until Napoleon III finally commissioned its costly rebuilding. And while the finished battlements may look like something from a storybook, they are actually faithful reconstructions of the military architecture erected during the Hundred Years War.
7. Dunrobin Castle, Scotland
Dunrobin is the largest castle in the Scottish Highlands. And while it was originally built in the Middle Ages, it owes its storybook appearance today to a 19th-century remodeling by Sir Charles Barry – the same architect who designed the Palace of Westminster in London. As you can see, Barry integrated French influences into the structure and especially into the garden, which was actually modeled on the sumptuous Gardens of Versailles.
6. Castell Coch, Wales
The original Castell Coch was built in Cardiff in the 13th century, but it was largely destroyed in a tumultuous rebellion. Afterward, the remains stood abandoned until the 19th century, when a wealthy Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart, decided to reconstruct it. And from these ruins Stuart managed to erect a brand new Castell Coch – a medieval-styled fortress befitting any fairytale.
5. Cochem Castle, Germany
The original 12th-century Cochem Castle is situated on a 300-foot-high hill looking out over the Moselle River, and it too has a tumultuous past. In fact, the castle was completely destroyed by Louis XIV in 1689. And it was to be another 200 years before a well-to-do German entrepreneur, Louis Ravené, remodeled its ruins along neo-Gothic lines. The result? A rather bewitching storybook construction replete with dark spires and towers.
4. Peleș Castle, Romania
Peleș Castle is a deeply refined slice of Romanian heritage that blends a rich variety of architectural styles – Neo-Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Baroque, Alpine and Saxon, to name a few. This unique castle was built during the late 19th century by King Carol I, and its guests over the years have included Muammar al-Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat and Richard Nixon.
3. Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
With its truly extraordinary shape – inspired by the bow of a great vessel – the Alcázar of Segovia invites journeys of imagination. And this medieval construction also has a real-life fairytale connection: it’s reckoned to have been the inspiration behind Disney’s Cinderella Castle. That said, Alcázar was actually built on the ruins of a Berber fort and has played many roles through history: royal residence, prison and military facility. Today, though, it’s a museum and archive.
2. De Haar Castle, Netherlands
True to magical form, legend has it that a cavalcade of fairies and elves descend on De Haar Castle each year for the largest fantasy gathering in Europe – the “Elf Fantasy Fair.” De Haar sits in the province of Utrecht, and while it was originally built in the 14th century, the impressive structure you see today is the result of a 20-year extension and restoration scheme that began in 1892, bankrolled by the Rothschild Family.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle recalls a bygone age of chivalrous knights and fair ladies, and this magical castle was actually the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Palace, too. It was built in the 19th century by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a tribute to the dramatic operas of Richard Wagner. And with its staggering beauty and romantic hilltop setting, it draws 1.3 million visitors to its gates each year.