Europe is a continent with so much history and tradition behind it. It is filled to the brim with interesting places to visit, among them medieval fortresses and opulent chateaus.
Some of us fantasize about living fairy tale lives. From childhood, we have been told stories about princesses riding in horse-drawn carriages, damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by chivalrous knights, and other royal characters immortalized in fairy tales and children’s books. We often wonder what it would be like to live like royalty, step into their palaces and manors, pondering which battles and quests their stone-walled homes withstood, and perhaps experience some of the comforts and conveniences that come with noble birth even for a fleeting moment.
These historic aristocratic homes and ancient castles are so beautiful that they have inspired many movies and animation films. And thankfully, many of these well-preserved structures are scattered all over Europe and have opened their doors to the general public. These colossal abodes are steeped in mystery and thousands of years’ worth in history, so you can start discovering and experiencing Europe’s rich heritage as you live your life’s fantasies.
If you are planning to go on a medieval tour anytime soon but still need help deciding which hilltop stronghold or grand citadel to visit, here are 10 captivating castles you should visit in Europe.
Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, is a hilltop 19th century Romanesque revival structure commissioned by Germany’s eccentric king Ludwig II. Located in Fussen, the castle is Bavaria’s, if not Europe’s, most popular castle, attracting more than a million tourists per year. Looking like it came out of a fairy tale book, the Neuschwanstein boasts an architectural design and an opulent interior inspired by Richard Wagner’s operas and characters.
One of the oldest inhabited royal residence in the world, the Windsor Castle is Her Majesty The Queen’s principal and official residence. With an area spanning 13 acres, the castle houses the Magnificent State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Doll House, the Drawings Gallery, and St. George’s Chapel. The chapel is one of the most beautiful religious buildings in England. It is also the burial place of ten of England’s past rulers.
At more than 900 years old, this Royal Family residence in Berkshire is one of the most important historical attractions in the country and hosts costume events and festivals each year. A classic example of a hilltop medieval fortress, the Gothic castle is complete with a moat, baileys, turrets, and towers.
One of the most captivating castles in Germany, Linderhof Castle is located in Bavaria, near Ettal Abbey. Completed in 1869, it was one of the three palaces commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and the only one completed before his demise.
Although not intended as a luxurious home, it was inspired by the Versailles. It has a grand staircase, a hall of mirrors, and tapestry chambers, in addition to a massive park that comes with a landscaped Italian Renaissance garden, formal gardens, and adorned with fountains, sculptures, and other structures.
An iconic landmark in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle ranks high among the top paid attractions in the United Kingdom. This Scottish Castle, dating back many centuries, is comprised of several buildings, built at different times. Its oldest structure is 12th century St. Mary’s Chapel.
The ancient fortress is perched on top of a volcanic rock, making it a dominant figure in Edinburgh’s skyline. It has a long and immensely eventful history characterized by sieges, wars, invasions, political strife, and power struggles. So it’s no wonder why the citadel features different architectural styles given that the building underwent different changes and restorations spanning different eras.
Aside from its expansive size and beautiful design and interiors, what draws local and foreign visitors to Edinburgh Castle are the priceless collections housed within its massive walls. Palace visitors will have the rare opportunity to view the Crown Jewels of Scotland as well as the Stone of Destiny, one of the most important symbols of the Scottish monarchy that is used each time a new Scottish king assumes the throne.
Another must-visit in Scotland is Stirling Castle, a formidable structure that can be seen from miles away. Managed by the Historic Environment Scotland, it is said that Stirling Castle is where Queen Mary of Scots once lived.
The castle was also a basis for King Arthur’s Camelot. In fact, in 2011, archaeologists investigating the Stirling’s grounds unearthed what many people believe is the legendary king’s round table.
Stirling Castle’s embattled history speaks of sieges and attacks. Several battles were fought near the castle, two of which are considered important events in Scottish history. The castle is also witness to the baptism, coronation, and deaths of Scottish royalty.
Sitting on top of a hill, Wawel Castle is an iconic attraction in Krakow, Poland. The gorgeous ancient structure, featuring Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture is definitely Poland’s prized gem as it represents the country’s pride, statehood, and patriotism. Think of it as Poland’s answer to the British Buckingham Palace, only that Wawel Castle also houses a cathedral.
Now one of the top museums in the country, the castle is home to the crown jewels as well as a vast collection of paintings, tapestries, ceramic, porcelain, arms and armour textiles, and prints, to name a few.
Loire Valley Castles
Loire Valley is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France. With its collection of over 300 chateaus of which 42 is included in the valley’s World Heritage Site, the place draws millions of visitors per year. All of the castles included in the list are beautiful and well-maintained but if you only have time to visit a few of the Loire Valley Castles, pick Chenonceau Castle, Chambord Castle, and Castle of Langeais.
Owned and managed by the Crown, Chenonceau Castle is known for its beautiful Gothic architecture, rich interiors, and cultural significance. Located in Chenonceaux, on the river Cher, the castle’s creation, transformation, and restoration are largely due to the efforts of six exceptional women. The women who administrated the castle made sure that castle is loved, maintained, and protected through the centuries.
Another castle worth visiting is the Castle of Chambord. The largest of the castles in the Loire Valley, the Chambord looks like a fairy tale castle and is said to be one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s Castle. Standing regale with a lush countryside as its backdrop, the Chambord boasts a moat, 16th century turrets, imposing towers, and exquisite interiors and detailing. It was highly popular among aristocrats and dignitaries in the 17th century.
Set in the beautiful town of Langeais, the Castle of Langeais is an impressive structure that was commissioned during the time of King Louis XI. The medieval fortress, made from stone and chestnut wood, is designed for protection and comfort. The exterior features massive walls and imposing towers while the Renaissance inspired interiors give it a softer appearance. Housed in the castle is a collection of paintings, tapestries, and elegant period furniture.
Commonly referred to as the home of Dracula, Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, is one of the top tourist attractions in Europe. The castle, often enveloped in fog, was built in 1211 and functioned as a defense against the Ottoman Empire. While Bram Stroker, the author of Dracula, has never stepped inside the medieval castle’s Gothic gates, Vlad Tepes, the man erroneously mistaken as Dracula, stayed in the fortress’s dungeon for a couple of days during the Ottoman invasion of Romania.
Propped on a rocky outcrop above a conflux, Alcazar Fortress in Segovia is Spain’s most popular castle. It was originally built for defense but the massive stone structure underwent many transformations, from prison to military school, royal palace, and art museum. The palace was also where Queen Isabella was crowned in 1474. Due to it’s stunning beauty, the fortress was also chosen as Sir Lancelot’s home in the 1967 movie Camelot.
Mont Saint Michel
Set high on a peak on a rocky islet 600 metres away from land, the Mont Saint Michel near Normandy is one of the most popular chateaus in France, drawing millions of pilgrims and tourists per year. The inspiration for Rapunzel’s castle in the Disney film Tangled, it is located at the mouth of Couesnon River and is considered one of medieval architecture’s greatest feats and among the best-preserved to this day.
In the 11th century, Benedictine monks originally built the abbey in Romanesque style and it wasn’t until the 12th century when Gothic elements were added. The castle, spanning 247 acres, underwent many strategic fortifications through the centuries. And thanks to the natural defense – tide drove off or drowned would-be attackers – it withstood the English attacks during the Hundred Years’ War, making it one of France’s symbol of national identity. Aside from being a religious structure, Mont Saint Michel was also used as a prison and a regular jail.
Planning to go medieval on your next trip? Check out Travezl.com for the best castles and chateaus to experience.
By: Brendelyn Balaga