The best castles in the world come in all shapes and sizes; some are clearly intended to be defensive fortresses while others were built as luxury palaces. Some are in ruins, some have been changed beyond recognition from their original styles and yet others remain largely unchanged through the ages. A few of the most lavish castles which were never intended to provide protection include Hearst Castle in California, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and lovely Chambord Castle in France. Windsor Castel and Prague Castle are among the largest castles in the world, while Beaumaris Castle in Wales is considered to be the most technically perfect. Leeds Castle, Mont Saint Michel and Peles Castle feature among the most beautiful castles on the planet.
1.Aggstein Castle, Austria
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Offering visitors a stunning eagle’s-eye view of the majestic Danube River, Austria’s medieval Aggstein Castle ruin is a must-see attraction for all visitors to the country. Construction of the castle is believed to have started in the early 12th century. You can explore all the fascinating nooks and crannies of the castle and its grounds at your own pace with the assistance of an audio-guide. Highlights of your tour include the Rose Garden (not your average garden, but rather a macabre outdoor prison), the elevated viewing platforms, secret hidden stairwells and the dungeon. You can also visit the castle chapel and dine like a knight at the tavern. The castle hosts an annual Christmas Market in November, before closing to the public until March when a Spring Festival takes place.
Aggstein Castle, Aggsback Dorf, 3642, Austria, Phone: 43-275-38-22-81
Gravensteen Castel (aka Castle of the Counts) is one of the most imposing defensive castles you are every likely to see. The castle was built in the 12th century as a statement of the power and wealth of Count Philip of Alsace, and was intended to scare off any possible foes simply by its size and prominence. The castle is widely known for the notorious abuse of human rights and the tortures which were perpetrated behind its walls. You can learn all about this fascinating fortress on an audio-guided tour, which is presented in a distinctly humorous way to bring a little lightness to what could otherwise be a very somber tour.
Gravensteen Castle (Castle of the Counts), Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Gent, Belgium, Phone: +32-92-25-93-06
3.Castle of Amboise, France
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Beautifully nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley, the Castle of Amboise is without doubt one of the most romantic castles in the world. The renaissance-style castle was built in the 11th century and was home to the kings of France from the 15th to the 19th century. Although it is relatively sparsely furnished, the castle still exudes a sense of luxury and style. You are welcome to explore vast reception rooms, the maze of underground tunnels and secret stair wells at your own pace using a wonderful new tablet-based guide called the Histopad, which offers visitors a unique immersive experience. One of the castle highlights is the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci which is located in the castle crypt.
Castle of Amboise, 37400 Amboise, France
4.Castle of Chambord, France
The Castle of Chambord is one of the world’s most distinctive French renaissance castles, offering architecture enthusiasts a feast of visual delights. Construction of the castle started in 1519 and the impressive structure was never fully completed. Today visitors can walk in the steps of royalty as they explore the extravagant double-spiral staircase, which is one of the highlights of the castle and is believed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. You are allowed to explore the castle on your own using audio headsets which will greatly enhance your tour. If you visit during summer you can join a guided English tour of the magnificent building. The grounds are large and beautiful and you can even go paddling on the lake.
Castle of Chambord, 41250, Chambord, France
5.The Citadel of Carcassonne, France
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Imagine an entire red-roofed town nestled within sturdy castle walls, surrounded by defensive moats and watched-over by no less than 53 towers. This is what you are about to encounter when you visit the amazing Citadel of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France. The entire complex is a remarkable example of medieval and Roman military architecture and attracts thousands of tourists each year. Highlights of a visit include walking the length of the gap between the inner and outer castle walls, the Cathedral of St. Nazaire, Chateau Comptal and the Ramparts Walk. You can explore at your own pace with an audio guide or join a guided tour.
The Citadel of Carcassonne, 11000 Carcassonne, France
6.Himeji Castle, Japan
Japan’s most imposing and impressive castle may come as a shock to some visitors. Unlike the style of a “conventional” European castle, Himeji Castle is a wonderful example of Japanese architecture and, together with its surrounding gardens, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle has survived intact since the 1600’s and the complex includes more than 80 buildings connected by gates and pathways. At the heart of the complex you will find the imposing 6-story keep. If you visit during cherry-blossom time (early April) the entire complex is ablaze with colorful blossoms (but there could be long queues). Volunteer local guides offer free guided tours or you can get an English guide book and explore at your own pace.
Himeji Castle, 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 370 0012, Japan
7.Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Widely acknowledged to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat features on many bucket lists. Built in the early 12th century, the enormous complex is the largest religious monument in the world and was originally built as a Hindu temple. The complex covers over 162 hectares and the remarkable five lotus-shaped towers at its heart rise over 65mt into the air. The scale and beauty of the main temple and the surrounding complex is impossible to describe and cannot be appreciated in a matter of a few hours, so most visitors spend at least two days at the site. The best time of year to visit is between November and April, and everyone should see the sunrise in Angkor Wat at least once in their lifetime.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
8.Gyeongbokgung, South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 and is the largest and most impressive palace in Korea. Located in southern Seoul, the palace once lay at the heart of the capital, which was then known as Hanyang. The palace was completely destroyed in 1592 and had to be completely reconstructed. You can join a 50 minute guided tour in English to learn all about the history of the palace and then move on to visit the National Palace Museum of Korea, which is located south of the Heungnyemun Gate. If you would like to visit the National Folk Museum you will find it on the eastern side of the complex. Palace highlights include the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and the Hyangwonjeong Pond as well as the Royal Audience Chamber.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, 161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
9.Forbidden City, China
Built in 1420, during the famous Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City is by far the largest ancient palace structure in the world, as well as the best-preserved imperial palace in China. As you walk in the footsteps of the ancient royalty (ordinary citizen were forbidden entry), you will be able to admire the epitome of traditional Chinese architecture and culture at every turn. To give you an idea of the scale of the palace, you can imagine 980 buildings spread through 70 palace compounds, all of which is surrounded by a 53mt wide moat. A few of the most important things to see within the complex are the Imperial Living Quarters, the traditional gardens and the amazing art collections.
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
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10.Castle of Belmonte, Spain
Belmonte Castle stands tall and proud on the summit of San Cristobal hill in Spain’s Cuenca province. The castle is impressive and slightly unusual in that it is built around a triangular central court and is in the form of a 6-pointed star with a cylindrical lookout tower at each of the six points. The architectural style is Gothic/Mudejar and the castle has been furnished with impressive antiques which date to the 19th century. This is one of the few castles which offer an elevator to help people reach the upper level and there is a small restaurant where you can have a snack or drink. The castle holds regular battle re-enactments – try to plan your visit to coincide with one of these exciting events.
Castle of Belmonte, Calle Eugenia de Montijo, Belmonte, Spain
11.Hearst Castle, California
Beautiful Hearst Castle is a classic example of a modern-day castle which was never intended to be used as a fortress. The castle occupies an enviable hill-top location overlooking the town of San Simeon and the beautiful California coastline, and took almost three decades to complete. Here, in the lap of luxury, William Randolph Hearst entertained on a lavish scale, accommodating his guests in three sumptuous suites. Today visitors can join tours which explore four different parts of the castle including the Grand Rooms, the Upstairs Suites, the Cottages and Kitchen and two tours which specifically explore the fascinating architecture and art collections of the castle.
Hearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452-9741, Phone: 800-444-4445
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Leeds Castle is often referred to as the loveliest castle in England, and when you visit you will understand why this is. Leeds Castle has been around for 900 years – the first stone castle was built on the site in 1119 and it was once home to the notorious King Henry VIII. The main castle is beautifully positioned on an island within a lake and the long driveway into the estate gives you your first glimpse of turrets and the substantial moat wall. Once you have toured the public areas of the castle you can walk through the beautiful formal grounds, gardens and the maze. There is a golf course and on-site accommodation if you would like to stay overnight.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone ME17 1PL, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-16-22-76-54-00
13.Bamburgh Castle, England
Bamburgh Castle has a fascinating history which spans more than 1,400 years. Standing guard over the coastline of Northumberland, this was the first castle in the world to fall to gunpowder during the 30-year War of the Roses in the 1400’s. If the walls could speak, what stories they would tell of mysteries and intrigues, ghosts and ghouls, life and death. This is a wonderful castle to explore – you will see defensive walls that are no less than 11 feet thick in the massive central castle Keep, the outstanding Victorian design of the King’s Hall, amazing armor and weapons in The Armoury and an incredible collection of artifacts in the sumptuous State Rooms.
Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh NE69 7DF, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-16-68-21-45-15
14.Windsor Castle, England
Located just outside London, Windsor Castle is a must-see destination for all visitors to the UK. The castle dates back to the 11th century when it was founded by William the Conqueror and is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. The castle is home to Queen Elizabeth II, and you will know if she is in residence by checking to see if the Royal Standard flag is hoisted on the roof. This is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK and you are strongly advised to book in advance. You can tour the sumptuous State Rooms, the Semi-State Rooms, St.George’s Chapel and watch the famous Changing of the Guard.
Windsor Castle, Windsor, SL4 1NJ, United Kingdom
15.Beaumaris Castle, Wales
Of great interest to visitors who are interested in military architecture, Beaumaris Castle is considered to be the most technically perfect of all Britain’s castles. Unfortunately, the castle was never completed as funds ran out before the gatehouse and 6 Great Towers reached their planned height. However, Beaumaris is still an imposing edifice which attracts many visitors each year. On your tour of the castle you will see the 14 separate obstacles which stood in the way of possible marauding attackers and have a chance to admire the cleverly-designed arrow slits which were called “murder holes”. You can walk along the path between the inner and outer walls for excellent views of the surrounding town and landscape.
Beaumaris Castle, Castle Street, Beaumaris, LL58 8AP, Wales
16.Lednice Castle, Czech Republic
Beautiful Chateau Lednice is nestled in the heart of the greater Lednice-Valtice area in the south-eastern corner of the Czech Republic. Built in the 19th century, and surrounded by one of Europe’s largest parks, Lednice Castle is a wonderful example of English Neo-Gothic architecture. Touring the interior of this beautiful chateau will give you a glimpse into the lives of the European aristocracy in the 19th century. You can tour the Representative Rooms, the Private Princely apartments, the Children’s Rooms and the Puppet Theater before setting off to explore the castle gardens. Here you can visit the Palm House, the Venetian Fountain, the Chinese Pavilion and many other attractions.
Lednice Castle, Zamek Lednice, Zamek 1, Lednice 69144 CZ, Phone: +42-519-34-01-28
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17.Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Situated high upon a hill in the center of bustling Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. There is a great deal to see and do at the castle and it is wise to consider all the highlights and decide which of these you would most like to see. You can explore at your own pace with the assistance of an audio guide or join a free guided tour and the website offers a downloadable orientation map. To get some background you should start off by seeing the “Fight for the Castle” exhibition in the Argyle Tower. Castle highlights include the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the Half Moon Battery and the War Prisons. Visitors are advised to book well in advance.
Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, United Kingdom, Phone: +44-13-12-25-98-46
18.Trakoscan Castle, Croatia
Dating back to the 13th century, the Neo-Gothic Trakoscan Castle is located in northwestern Croatia, where it was built high on a hill to provide good views of an important trade route. The castle has changed hands many times over the centuries and is now owned by the Republic of Croatia and was opened to the public 1954. The interior of the castle is well worth exploring to admire the fine collections of weapons, antique furniture, art, books and photographs. After you have seen the interior of the castle you can move on to explore the expansive landscaped gardens, which include a lake and walking/hiking trails.
Trakoscan Castle, Trakoscan 4, 42253, Bednja, Croatia, Phone: +385-42-79-62-81
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19.Prague Castle, Czech Republic
The imposing Prague Castle is the most important monument in the Czech Republic and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is thought that the castle dates back to around 880, and it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest coherent castle complex in the world. This is the ultimate treat for anyone interested in history and architecture as you will find several building styles from early Romanesque to Baroque and much later Gothic modifications. The complex is massive and comprises palaces, cathedrals, basilicas and much more. Visitors are welcome to tour the castle using an audio guide, but a guided tour is the best way to fully appreciate all you will be seeing.
Prague Castle, Hradcany, 119 08 Prague 1, Czech Republic
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20.Mont Saint Michel, France
From a distance, the magnificent Mont Saint Michel appears to float above the bay. This stunning hill-top castle was built on a small island off the coast of Normandy in the early 8th century to be a Benedictine abbey. Over the centuries many buildings were added to the original abbey and defensive walls were added to keep out the English forces. Today the island can be reached via a causeway from the mainland and you can walk in the footsteps of countless religious pilgrims as your explore the beautiful abbey buildings, church, cloisters and museums. Ideally you should spend at least a night in one of the on-site hotels.
Mont Saint Michel, 50170, France
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21.Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is probably one of the most photographed castles in the world and was the inspiration for the fairy-tale castle in Disney Land. The castle was the brainchild of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, an eccentric and highly artistic king and the structure was something of a miracle of engineering and building acumen back in 1869. Although King Ludwig did get to live in his palace he never saw the completion of his dream. Visitors to the castle are advised to book their tickets well in advance as the castle receives over one million visitors each year. Your entrance ticket includes a free guided tour of the marvelous building.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Neuschwansteinstrasse 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
22.Hohenschwangau Castle, Germany
Hohenschwangau Castle is thought to have been built in the 12th century. For many years the structure was home to the Knights of Schwangau but was poorly maintained and was almost completely rebuilt in 1832. This castle was the childhood home of King Ludwig II, and served as his inspiration to build the bigger, more beautiful and infinitely more romantic Neuschwanstein Castle. When you visit Hohenschwangau Castle you will find a well-preserved 19th century interior surrounded by attractive gardens. The public are allowed to visit the Royal Apartments, the gardens and the kitchen of the castle. Guided tours in English and German are available or you may use an audio guide.
Hohenschwangau Castle, Alpseestrasse 30, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
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23.Burg Eltz, Germany
The fairy-tale Eltz Castle is unique in that it has been owned and occupied by the same family for over 850 years and survived unscathed through several wars. Perched high upon a 70mt rock and replete with 8 towers, oriels, roofs and turrets, the castle is surrounded by dense forestation and is the epitome of an original medieval castle. The Eltz Castle Experience includes a guided tour of the interiors of the castle, which are still furnished with many original pieces dating back to the medieval era. The Armory and Treasury are of particular interest and are home to amazing collections of art, artifacts and weapons, while the un-changed 15th century kitchen is one of the most popular castle attractions.
Eltz Castle, Burg Eltz 1, 56294 Wierschem, Germany, Phone: +49-26-72-95-05-00
Vienna’s Hofburg was the imperial residence of the Habsburgs for over 60 years and is where the perennially-popular Empress Elizabeth (aka Sisi) lived. It was originally built as a medieval fortified castle in the 13th century but has been extended and re-designed by a succession of emperors. Today the sprawling complex includes 18 wings and 2,600 rooms which accommodate nearly 5,000 people. A guided tour of the Hofburg will include a visit to the remaining parts of the original old fortress and will explain all the architectural changes which have occurred over time. Highlights of your visit to the Hofburg will include the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the remarkable Silver Collection.
Hofburg, Michaelerkuppel, 1010 Wien, (Vienna) Austria
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25.Peles Castle, Romania
When it comes to choosing the most beautiful castle in Europe, Peles Castle is a strong contender for first place. Located in the picturesque town of Sinaia in the south of Romania, Peles Castle is widely acknowledged to be a prime example of German New-Renaissance architecture and will enthrall all castle enthusiasts. The castle was completed in 1883 and is furnished and decorated in a very lavish fashion, featuring the finest European art, crystal and glass. Unique features include a mechanically operated stained-glass roof, a concert hall and a 60-seat theater. One of the highlights of your visit will be the amazing collection of European and Oriental art on display in the armories.
Peles Castle, Str. Pelesuleu 2, Sinaia
25 of the Most Stunning Castles in the World
- Aggstein Castle, Austria, Photo: JFL Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Gravensteen, Belgium, Photo: dmitr86/stock.adobe.com
- Castle of Amboise, France, Photo: Cezary Wojtkowski/stock.adobe.com
- Castle of Chambord, France, Photo: Mistervlad/stock.adobe.com
- The Citadel of Carcassonne, France, Photo: beatrice prève/stock.adobe.com
- Himeji Castle, Japan, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Photo: tawatchai1990/stock.adobe.com
- Gyeongbokgung, South Korea, Photo: Kalyakan/stock.adobe.com
- Forbidden City, China, Photo: ake1150/stock.adobe.com
- Castle of Belmonte, Spain, Photo: JackF/stock.adobe.com
- Hearst Castle, California, Photo: dschreiber29/stock.adobe.com
- Leeds Castle, Photo: Dan Breckwoldt/stock.adobe.com
- Bamburgh Castle, England, Photo: philipbird123/stock.adobe.com
- Windsor Castle, England, Photo: Mistervlad/stock.adobe.com
- Beaumaris Castle, Wales, Photo: Tim/stock.adobe.com
- Lednice Castle, Czech Republic, Photo: Adwo/stock.adobe.com
- Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, Photo: ex_flow/stock.adobe.com
- Trakoscan Castle, Croatia, Photo: xbrchx/stock.adobe.com
- Prague Castle, Czech Republic, Photo: rustamank/stock.adobe.com
- Mont Saint Michel, France, Photo: herby64/stock.adobe.com
- Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany, Photo: Scanrail/stock.adobe.com
- Hohenschwangau Castle, Germany, Photo: mojolo/stock.adobe.com
- Burg Eltz, Germany, Photo: naughtynut/stock.adobe.com
- Hofburg, Austria, Photo: LALSSTOCK/stock.adobe.com
- Peles Castle, Romania, Photo: rh2010/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: SiHo/stock.adobe.com