If you also grew up reading stories that start with “once upon a time” and end with “and they lived happily ever after” like me, it is possible that you have also fantasized living or visiting a castle at some point in your life- may it be as a prince, a princess, a soldier, a huntsman, a stable boy, or just someone who wanders aimlessly around the tower where a princess may be asleep.
Unlike Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the castles from our Disney fantasies will not magically pop-up out of nowhere, but lucky for us, there are hundreds of magical castles all over the world that we can visit anytime. When you are ready to experience a once in a lifetime fairy tale, check out our list of the best castles in Europe to narrow down your choices.
1. Palacio da Pena
Palacio da Pena or Pena Palace towers on the top of the hill in Sintra Mountains in Portugal. With its crimson and gold colors, it can easily be seen from Lisbon, the country’s capital, on a clear day. Completed in 1854, Pena Palace is a national monument. Aside from being one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, this Romanesque Revival palace is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best castles in Europe. If you’re in the area and need a place to eat a good meal, check out Tripelle’s review of one of Sintra’s best restaurant, Cafe Paris Restaurant
2. Chambord Castle
Commonly known as Château de Chambord locally, this castle in Chambord, Loir-et-Cher takes pride in its highly recognizable French Renaissance architecture. With its 426 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 77 staircases, Château de Chambord is hailed as the largest château in the Loire Valley. Visitors often come here on summers to enjoy its grand gardens and extravagant exteriors fit for a royalty. Make sure to check out the double helix staircases that was said to have been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci himself. Anything that Da Vinci has created sounds like a crowd magnet to me.
3. Eltz Castle
I’ve read of princes who went travelling for a fortnight in carriages and found themselves arriving in a castle in the middle of the forest. Eltz Castle in Wierschem, Germany is exactly how I pictured the castle would be. This medieval castle, which is more than 850 years old, is divided into several parts and is owned by different families. Most parts of the castle are available for public viewing between April to October. Make sure to come early, as the crowd thickens around late morning since Eltz Castle is one of the best castles in Germany.
4. Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland. Built on a top of a cliff on a coast in Ayrshire, Castel Culzean gives anyone who visits the breathtaking view of the ocean and the fascinating façade of the castle. The garden is also huge, which is perfect for huge parties. All Disney Princesses with their royal court could fit here.
5. Alcázar of Segovia
Rumored to be the inspiration of Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World, Alcázar of Segovia (Segovia Fortress) in Segovia, Spain was built mainly for defense. It was constructed on a rock right above the confluence of two rivers- Rio Ciguinuela and the Rio Eresma. Aside from being one of the best castles in Europe, Alcázar of Segovia also holds an important part in royal history. Queen Isabella I was crowned here.
6. Alnwick Castle
This castle is magical. You may have seen this in films, often accompanied by one of the most recognizable musical scores in film history. Alnwick Castle was a location for the Harry Potter films. Yes, not only kings and queens reside in castles; witches, wizards, and vampires do, too! Located in Northumberland, Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England. Throughout the summer, the castle is open to the public. You will see a lot of Potterheads trying to recreate the scenes from Harry Potter’s flying lessons with Madame Hooch on the castle grounds.
7. Prague Castle
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. With its construction starting in 870 and being completed in 1929, this edifice had its ups and lows, but have withstood the test of time. After multiple events of deterioration and restoration, this castle is still standing mighty, and is a proud official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. Aside from presidents, the castle had also been a seat of power to kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperors.
8. Leeds Castle
A visit to the “loveliest castle in the world” is a good idea, especially during summer, don’t you think? Leeds Castle in Kent, England, is built on two islands in the middle of a lake and has been opened to the public since 1974. It has been dubbed one of the best castles in England as well as a “ladies castle” due to the number of medieval queens that have lived there. To date, the castle is a famous venue for banquets, conferences, and weddings. Leeds Castle is surely a perfect place to start a couple’s happily ever after.
9. Bojnice Castle
Bojnice Castle is a medieval castle located in Bojnice, Slovakia. This is the most popular and most visited castle in the entire country. Like most ancient castles, Bojnice Castle had its own fair share of changes; however, it still has retained some of its Renaissance and Gothic elements. When talking about fairytale, this romantic castle is close to perfection. Not sure when to visit yet? That’s okay. The castle hosts public events throughout the whole year. The biggest yearly event is the International Ghosts and Spirits Festival every May. The castle also has a park and a zoo outside which is perfect for families and kids.
10. Örebro Castle
This medieval castle in Örebro, Närke, Sweden gives off the old boarding school vibes like the one in the movies. It wasn’t a surprise to know that some of the rooms in this castle are used as classrooms. The castle was originally built as a fortification, but has been used as a residence of country governors for the past two centuries. As of now, the majority of the castle is open to the public.
11. Neuschwanstein Castle
This castle in Bavaria, Germany may look a little bit familiar. Neuschwanstein Castle became the inspiration of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Although Prince Phillip has never stepped into this castle after fighting his way through a massive thicket of thorns, a royalty did live here. The castle used to be a summer refuge of King Ludwig 11 of Bavaria. With over a million visitors per year, Neuschwanstein Castle is the most popular among all other castles in Germany and all over Europe.
12. Dvorac Trakošćan
Sometimes, having a hard time pronouncing its name adds mystery to the place itself. If you are ever in Croatia, make sure to check out Trakošćan Castle (Dvorac Trakošćan is its local name). The castle was built as a fortress in 13th century, but has seen a lot of changes over time. Its current look was attained in the 19th century. The castle is currently a property of the Republic of Croatia and is available for guests who would like to visit. Tourists come here to hike around the garden, have a picnic by the lake, or take a tour inside the castle and learn and appreciate its history.
13. Bran Castle
Castelul Bran or Bran Castle in Braşov, Romania is known for its spookiness because it has been closely associated with Bram Stoker’s fictional character Dracula. The Irish author had never visited Romania and had never seen the castle, yet readers has dubbed Bran Castle as Dracula’s Castle based on the description of Dracula’s origin and residence in the novel. Situated on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia, this castle has been turned into a museum of arts and furniture which showcases the collections of Queen Maria. The castle is a popular tourist destination the whole year, but the crowd would usually increase come Halloween.
14. Moszna Castle
Locally known as Palac w Mosznej, this notable castle is located in a small village in Poland, and was constructed in a Baroque Style in the 17th century; however, the castle suffered major damages from a fire in 1896. It was repaired the same year, and thus the Neogothic and Neo-Renaissance styles that the castle has presently were added. Moszna Castle became a home to different institutions, including a convalescent home. Today, it is a major tourist attraction in Poland. Guests come here for art exhibits, concerts, or to simply walk around the park and take photographs of the fairytale-like towers.
15. Buda Castle
This castle in Hungary has witnessed a lot of history. Constructed in 13th century on a plateau above the Danube River, Buda Castle (also used to be called as Royal Palace or Royal Caste) is a majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether you are inside the castle checking on royal remnants or outside enjoying barbeque in the courtyard, the place is a perfect avenue for daydreaming.