Must See Castles Around the World
This fall I was wandering around Upstate New York on a press trip. One of the stops was Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands region. This castle, perched on Heart Island in St. Lawrence River, was conceived of by American millionaire George Boldt as an expression of love for his wife. Sadly, his wife died before the castle was completed and Boldt walked away, leaving the castle unfinished.
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took over the castle in 1977 and has been renovating it and finishing it in accordance to what they think Boldt had in mind. They run it as a tourist attraction and anyone can visit. You can have a wedding there.
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(That’s just the power house for Boldt Castle!)
I didn’t even know there were any castles in the United States. Since that visit, I’ve looked into a bit and discovered the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, NC and Kimberly Crest in Redlands, California. I’ve been to Hearst Castle in California, but always thought of that as a mansion, not a castle.
Most of the “castles” in the United States are actually mansions built in the style of a European castle, primarily Gothic Revival, Châteauesque, Romanesque Revival, Scots Baronial, or Tudor Revival styles. They may look like castles, but they weren’t built with fortification in mind; there was no concern of marauders or rival armies storming the gates. The castles I’ve seen in the United States are different than all those castles we toured in Europe
Of all the castles I’ve seen, both in the U.S. and in Europe, I am hard pressed to choose a favorite. Instead of choosing, I put a request out to fellow bloggers to tell me about their favorite castles.
This post includes:
- best castles in the UK
- best castles in Europe
- best castles in the Middle East
- best castles in Asia
What Country Has the Best Castle?
Most of the castles here are in Europe, but not all of them. Deciding which country has the best castles is so subjective that it is impossible to answer. That said, the UK, Germany, and France are known for their castles.
What’s the Biggest Castle in the World?
- Prague Castle (66,761 square meters)
- Windsor Castle (54,835 square meters)
- Hohensalzburg Castle (54,523 square meters)
- Spis Castle (49,485 square meters)
- Buda Castle (44,674 square meters)
- Himeji Castle (41,468 square meters)
- Citadel of Aleppo (39,804 square meters)
- Edinburgh Castle (35,737 square meters)
Best Castles in Great Britain
Windsor Castle, Windsor, England
What is the Oldest Castle in the World? The oldest and largest still-inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle, has been home to British royalty for almost 1,000 years. Windsor Castle is the Queen of England’s favorite weekend home.
Bodiam Castle, Robertsbridge, England
Suzanne from Sussex Bloggers
Bodiam Castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex is one of the most beautiful castles in England. The kind of castle you’d expect to see in a fairy tale. Situated in the Sussex countryside near the River Rother, Bodiam is one of the most photographed castles in England.
The magnificent medieval castle is reflected on the mirror-like moat that surrounds it. Protected by a drawbridge and four castellated towers punctuated with arrow slits, its original owner clearly wasn’t fond of visitors.
Sir Edward Dallingridge built Bodiam castle between 1285 and 1388. He came from a family of local landowners and built the castle as a home and protection for his family. The castle had kitchens, a chapel, cloisters, a well, gunroom, lady’s cloister, and servants quarters.
Inside the walls you can climb the narrow stone staircases, which lead up to the battlements. Stunning views over the Sussex countryside can be seen and down into the castle courtyard below. Grape vines stretch out into the distance in the nearby vineyard and you can see the Kent and Sussex Railway. You could even arrive in style on one of the vintage steam trains, which stop at the station near to the castle’s entrance.
Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
Kirsty from Lost in Landmarks
Eilean Donan is one of my favorite castles in the world and it’s probably the one you have in mind when imagining a Scottish castle – it is always depicted on postcards and in films.
It sits on a small island in the middle of the remote Scottish Highlands. It’s connected by a stone bridge and has the most amazing backdrop of hills and lochs around it making it one of the most scenic and evocative places I’ve been to.
The history of the castle goes back a long way but what stands now is the reconstruction of what was originally a 13th century medieval castle. It even played a part in the Jacobite uprising which is where it met a quite comprehensive and damaging end until the early 1900s when it was rebuilt in the original design.
Since then it’s been a firm favorite with tourists who come from all around the world. There’s a free visitor center by the castle if you just want to visit the outside and get some pictures or you can get tickets to look around the inside too.
Eliean Donan is situated in the Highlands of Scotland and many visit on a road trip on the way to the Isle of Skye and plenty of tours go that way too.
If you have seven days in Scotland, I recommend checking out this itinerary or contacting me through this site for recommendations.
What is the Most Photographed Castle in the World?
The most photographed castle in the world sits on a small island at the meeting point of three lochs in the Highlands of Scotland. Eilean Donan is about a half mile from Dornie and is in one of the Kintail National Scenic Areas.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
Christa from Expedition Wildlife
The city of Edinburgh is known for its historic and picturesque buildings, lined along narrow cobblestone streets that make visitors feel as if they’ve stepped back into another century. The restaurants and pubs aren’t the only lively places in the city, as the Royal Mile road is always teeming with artisans and live performers putting on a show for the many daily visitors. The Royal Mile heads straight up the hill to Castle Rock, upon which Edinburgh Castle sits.
Dating back over a millennium, Edinburgh Castle is a must-visit destination for those interested in learning more about the long history of the city. The castle is home to the National War Museum, including various canons used throughout its history, and Military Tattoo as well as the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, an ancient symbol used in coronation ceremonies in Britain for centuries.
If you can’t swing the time to visit inside the castle, admire its architecture and beauty imposing over the city, and time your visit for the One O’clock Gun, or canon firing, just outside the main entrance of the castle, originally used to inform seafarers of the time. Don’t miss out on visiting this stunning monument in the heart of Edinburgh!
Edinburgh Castle made my list of best things to do in Edinburgh with kids. It’s said to be part of the inspiration for Hogwarts as JK Rowling would have seen it from her writing perch at the Elephant House café.
Best Castles in Europe
Dublin Castle, Dublin, Ireland
Erin from Little Miss Kate
There are some amazing castles in the world, but my favorite is Dublin Castle located in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin Castle is one of the most important buildings in Ireland and has a rich history as it was originally built as a medieval fortress with four towers that guarded a large central area of a Viking settlement.
As time went on it became the control center of Ireland as Irish Representatives of the British Monarch used the Castle as a residence and administrative center. Today if you visit the castle you can learn about Irish history and visit the Viking excavation, Medieval Tower, State Apartments, Royal Chapel, and beautiful Castle Gardens. The guided tour takes just over an hour and is well worth the money, or you can explore the castle on your own. A Must See if visiting Ireland!
Frederiksborg Sløt, Hillerød, Denmark
Kirsten from Kids Are a Trip
Our family has toured close to fifty castles, and one of our all time favorites is Frederiksborg Sløt, in Hillerød, about 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen.
The castle was built in the 17th century by the Danish King Christian IV, and features some of the most impressive architecture and grounds of any European castle. Frederiksborg is the largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia (often referred to as the Danish Versailles) and it is also home to the Danish Museum of National History. Walking through the castle is akin to traveling in time as exhibits span over 500 years of Danish royalty, with paintings, furniture, and family portraits carefully telling the history of the castle and its inhabitants.
After exploring indoors, head out to the Baroque gardens, which are beautifully designed with flowers, fountains, and a view of the castle across the lake on the property. If the weather is good, don’t miss an opportunity to take a boat ride on the lake for a perfect view of the castle and gardens.
Castello di Sasso Corbaro, Castello di Montebello, and Castelgrande, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Augusta from Mini Me Explorer
Why visit just one castle when you can visit three, all in the same town, all included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? And how about two truly unique experiences?
The three medieval castles I am talking about are Castello di Sasso Corbaro, Castello di Montebello, and Castelgrande and they are located in Bellinzona, Switzerland.
The Castello di Sasso Corbaro is the “newest” of the three; it stands 230 meters above Bellinzona and, although it is the least scenic of the three, the views from up there are simply incredible.
Castello di Montebello is the middle castle and the most beautiful one. There’s an ancient drawbridge, suggestive secret passages, imposing towers, and thick defensive walls adorned with merlons which connect this castle with Castelgrande. There’s a tiny museum, too – if you are interested. Unique experience: from April to October (check the exact dates and times with the local tourist office) a local master butcher will teach you how to “make” your own salami; then once the maturation process is over, he will send the salami your home.
The last castle, the one right in the heart of town is Castelgrande. It is the oldest of the three, with two beautiful towers and a small museum. Here, too, you can have a unique experience: eat lunch or dinner in the castle’s restaurant, which is run by the local hotel school: the food is good and not overpriced.
In the castle courtyard, you can often find festivals or events going on. In summer there are concerts and a month-long open-air cinema event, but the very best time to be in Bellinzona is the last weekend of May, when the medieval performance La Spada nella Rocca takes place. There are historical re-enactments and jousting. People attend wearing medieval costumes, you can watch craftsmen at work, take part in archery challenges and sword-fights and even see warriors in their armor.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany
Mark from Wyld Family Travel
Neuschwanstein is more of an icon than a historic castle. Neuschwanstein’s relevance in today’s popular culture comes from the fact that Walt Disney took inspiration to design his Disney Castle. What makes Neuschwanstein so special is its location in the Bavarian Alps.
Perched half way up a hill with forest and clouds as a continual back drop, King Ludwig’s vision was never fully realized as he died before the castle was complete.
A visit to Neuschwanstein from Munich is the best day trip ever. A train through the Bavarian countryside, a horse and cart ride to the castle, a tour through a true design icon is just amazing. One never forgets a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle for many reasons, the likely reason is it is the castle everyone thinks of when they think of any castle.
Chambord Castle, Chambord, France
Andrzej from Wanderlust Storytellers
Chateau de Chambord or more commonly called Chambord Castle, is our absolute favorite of the Loire Valley castles. And I might even add, that this castle is probably the most beautiful castle in France!
This 16th century castle has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its stunning blend of Renaissance architecture and French medieval structures. Not to mention the mesmerizing gardens surrounding the chateau.
When you visit Chambord, you will feel like you have entered some sort of a fairy tale. This is the largest castle in Loire Valley and the most magnificent castle of Leonardo da Vinci’s design. Yes, the master himself designed the architectural features of this amazing chateau, such as the double helix staircase.
The best way to reach this castle is by car. If you are driving from Paris, it will take you approximately two hours driving south. Make sure to give yourself a good few hours to explore the chateau and its gardens. With its 426 rooms, 83 staircases and fascinating viewpoints, this castle tour will take you a little while. But it sure is worth it!
Château de Chenonceau, Loire Valley France
Rachel from Adventure and Sunshine
There are many beautiful castles in France, but Chateau de Chenonceau is one of a kind.
Situated in the Loire Valley, the chateau was built in the 16th century. It was home to both Henri II’s wife, Catherine de Medici and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers at different times during this period.
A gorgeous tree lined avenue leads you to the chateau, which is built alongside and spans the Cher River. During the early years of WWII, the chateau was used by the Resistance to ferry people from Nazi occupied France, as the Cher River was the demarcation line between the two zones. The history of this period is documented in the Gallery that spans the river and has gorgeous views.
It is possible to wander through the rooms of the chateau, which has been sumptuously decorated with furniture, tapestries, and paintings from the Renaissance period. Our kids loved the kitchen with the enormous fireplace, pantry, cooking, and baking equipment from the era.
Our kids enjoyed exploring inside, but loved exploring the spectacular symmetrical gardens outside even more. An old village nearby is also worth some time to explore.
An audio guide is available, which is great for the kids to engage with what they are seeing as they explore the Chateau. It is a truly remarkable castle and well worth adding to your Loire Valley itinerary.
Predjama Castle, Predjama, Slovenia
Chelsea from Pack More Into Life
We’ve visited quite a few amazing castles all over Europe. From Disney inspired castles, to castles overlooking beautiful lakes and castles towering over German valleys, but one of the castles we’ve visited has topped the list for its level of uniqueness and its history. Predjama Castle is located about an hour west of Lake Bled in Slovenia and is over 800 years old. Slovenia is a country nestled between Austria and its popular neighbor, Croatia. We spent an amazing week in Slovenia and Predjama Castle was on the list of favorite places.
Predjama Castle is a castle tucked into a deep valley and nestled into a cave. It is an amazing three-tiered castle extension, starting from the cave, then just in front of the cave, and finally the outer defensive layer complete with chapel, dining room and bedrooms.
During your tour, you can see the unique way in which they collected cave water using a network of man-made pipes along the castle walls into a water collection system. Enjoy the rich collection of plate armors and medieval weapons, as well as peek into the cave and perhaps see the colony of bats.
What sets this castle apart from others is the story behind the castle! Knight Erazem of Predjama was the owner of this unique castle. He would often ride into the local villages and plunder gold and jewels, a bit of a Robin Hood-style adventure. Eventually, the imperial army had enough of Knight Erazem’s adventures and they sent an Army to siege his castle.
For over a year Erazem hid inside his castle while the soldiers outside froze with the impending winter. Erazem would sneak out through the secret tunnels in his cave to forage and hunt. Then after a nice feast, he would throw the animal carcass over the wall to demoralize the troops below.
The siege ended only after a servant at the castle gave away Erazem’s position and a perfectly placed catapult killed Erazem on the royal throne, aka….the toilet. What a way to go!
More things to do in Slovenia:
- Slovenia Travel Planning Guide
- Things to do in Bohinj, Slovenia in Winter
- Things to Do in Winter at Lake Bled, Slovenia (including another castle)
- Free Things to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia in Winter (and almost free)
- Fun for Kids in Ljubljana, Slovenia (grown ups, too!)
- Adventure Trekking in Postojna Cave, Slovenia
Gediminas Castle, Vilnius, Lithuania
Suzi from Survey Suzi
Gediminas Castle is located in Vilnius in Lithuania and is one of the oldest we’ve visited as it was completed in 1409. It’s one of the most commanding attractions in Vilnius and can be seen from most of the old town.
There’s essentially two ways to get there, either walk or catch a short funicular ride for only 1.5 euros. The walk is steep and not ideal for everyone, so the funicular is my recommendation. It’s only a short walk from there to the castle.
The castle is surrounded by lush gardens and essentially made up of the tower and the Upper Castle, which has been restored over the years. Unfortunately you can’t explore the Upper Castle at this point, but you can still admire it from the tower. The tower includes three separate levels to explore with incredible views of the Old Town which add to the historic charm of the castle.
Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Italy
Jaclyn from Your Travel Spark
When in Rome, the Castel Sant’Angelo is one of hundreds of amazing historical places to visit. But the castle is worth a visit for a few important reasons. The castle was originally built as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD, and was slowly turned into a fortress over the centuries. You will see Castel Sant’Angelo, which has been converted into a museum, just as you cross the bridge to leave Vatican City.
Castel Sant’Angelo is home to hundreds of historical pieces, and gives you insight into an interesting era of Roman history. But the reason you should put the castle toward the top of your Rome list is because it has one of the best views of Rome. The 360-degree view from the rooftop allows you to see much of Vatican City, including St. Peter’s Basilica. There is a cafe near the top where you can stop and have a beer or glass of wine and enjoy the beautiful views.
Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic
Betsy from Passing Thru Enterprises
The most impressive castle complex we’ve encountered, Prague Castle, dominates the iconic view from Old Town and the famous Charles Bridge. Dating from the 9th century, according to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the largest castle in the world. Over the centuries, it has been the political seat and personal residence for the kingdoms of Bohemia and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.
Nowadays, it is home to the Bohemian Crown Jewels, as well as the current President of Czechia.
Within the castle walls, there are separate residential streets, galleries and museums, noble residences, palaces, gardens, chapels and churches, and even a monastery. With over two million visitors each year, Prague Castle is probably the most popular attraction in Czechia, so you’ll want to get “skip-the-line” tickets and one of the many guided tour options from which to choose.
Of special note is “Golden Lane,” a cluster of tiny 16th century homes where castle guards and goldsmiths once lived.
Bran Castle, Bran, Romania
Stephanie from Sofia Adventures
It would be impossible to come to Romania without wanting to visit one of the many beautiful Romanian castles, especially when in Transylvania where so many of the country’s castles are located. My favorite among the region’s castles and fortresses is Bran Castle, which might just be Romania’s most iconic spot.
While the castle benefits from being conflated with Dracula, it’s not actually the castle from the Bram Stoker novel. The reason it is referred to as Dracula’s Castle is because it’s the only Romanian castle that fits the novel’s description, but the Irish Stoker never set foot in Romania. However, the castle’s actual history is interesting in its own right. The original fortress was built in the thirteenth century by the Teutonic Knights, and it was turned from a fortress into a castle in the fourteenth century at the behest of the Hungarian king.
When visiting, it’s great to base yourself in Brasov, a delightful medieval city in Transylvania, and you can also make trips to Raznov Fortress and the ski town of Poiana Brasov.
Best Castles in the Middle East
Kerak Castle, Amman, Jordan
Kevin from Wandering Wagers
Kerak Castle is located near Amman Jordan. This spectacular Crusader castle, also known as Al-Karak Castle, has been a center of battle for nearly 900 years. This maze-like complex was in use as a military fortress all the way up until 1893. And although nearly a millennium of activity has caused much of Kerak Castle to crumble, there are many tunnels and rooms left to explore.
Bring your headlamp and wander through the dark underground passageways or gaze out through the narrow archers’ windows at the beautiful surrounding countryside. Kerak Castle is tastefully lit, and it’s a perfect way to feel like you are stepping back in time.
There is a modest entry fee of JD2 for entering Kerak Castle, but this can be bundled with the entrance fees for other castles in Jordan. The facility has washrooms and a small shop for visitors. Guides are not required for touring the grounds or the castle.
Best Castles in Asia
Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
David from Paid Surveys Fanatic
With a rich cultural history, Japan is home to many beautiful and fascinating castles, but the best I’ve visited is the Himeji Castle.
Located in the Hyogo Prefecture on the island of Honshu, the Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many parts remain as they were when it was built in the 1600s.
I was visiting during the cherry blossoms season and was hoping to kill two birds with one stone by seeing the castle and the cherry blossoms. I hadn’t expected Himeji to be so awesome but it really is phenomenal. It’s huge and there’s a lot to explore – I particularly liked the Hyakken-roka, which is a 300-meter long corridor where you can see servant quarters and spots where the castle was once defended from invaders.
The toughest part about visiting the Himeji is climbing the stairs – there are a lot and they are extremely steep. It also gets very busy (it was when we visited) so I recommend bringing water as well.
Getting there is super simple as it’s only a 15-minute walk from Himeji station. Entry into the castle is 1,000 yen and you can also visit the Japanese garden nearby for just 40 yen extra which I highly recommend.
Punakha Dzong, Bhutan
Christian from Unusual Traveler
Punakha Dzong (Dzong is the local name for Fortress in Bhutan and Tibet) in western Bhutan is located between two of the biggest rivers in Bhutan. It’s often considered the most beautiful Dzong in the country, and it´s one of the top three most popular sites in Bhutan, the two other being Tiger Nest Monastery and Dochula Pass.
Punakha Dzong is the second largest Dzong in the Bhutan at 180m long and 72m wide. The construction started in 1637 and was finished after only one year in 1638. The Dzong is built in traditional style of Bhutan and not a single metal nail is used in the construction. This is where the national treasures of Bhutan are kept and where Royal weddings are held.
This castle is definitely a must-visit site while in Bhutan. Nowhere else in the world will you find a similar style fortress.