Stepping into a castle is like stepping into a time machine. These stone storytellers, once the epicenters of regal realms, now stand as silent witnesses to a bygone era. They invite us to journey back to a time of gallant knights, ruling monarchs, and fairy-tale charm. (Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?) Here are 20 such castles, each with its unique tale to tell, that you can actually still visit.
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1. Edinburgh Castle: A Volcanic Throne
An extinct volcano serves as the dramatic pedestal for Edinburgh Castle. This fortress, a symbol of Scotland’s past, has been a royal residence for centuries and now safeguards the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Fun Fact: The castle is home to the oldest building in Edinburgh, St. Margaret’s Chapel, which dates back to the 12th century.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle: A Fairy Tale Brought to Life
In the heart of Germany, King Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned a castle that seems to have leapt straight from the pages of a fairy tale. Neuschwanstein Castle, with its enchanting charm, later inspired the design of the iconic Disney castle.
Did You Know? King Ludwig II, also known as the “Fairy Tale King”, died under mysterious circumstances before the castle was completed.
3. Bran Castle: Where Dracula Resides
Bran Castle in Romania, often referred to as “Dracula Castle”, is a chilling reminder of Bram Stoker’s renowned novel, Dracula. This castle, now a museum, draws thousands of visitors annually, eager to explore its eerie charm and fascinating history.
Pro Tip: Visit the castle in late October to experience the special Halloween night tour, complete with vampire lore and spooky surprises.
4. Himeji Castle: Japan’s White Heron
Japan’s Himeji Castle, one of the few remaining original castles in the country, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as the “White Heron Castle”, it stands as a testament to Japan’s rich architectural heritage and historical past.
Fun Fact: The castle’s design includes several defensive systems and traps to thwart enemy invaders, including a complex maze of paths leading to the main keep.
5. Chateau de Chambord: The Renaissance Gem
In the heart of France, the Chateau de Chambord is a marvel of French Renaissance architecture. This 16th-century castle, renowned for its distinctive French architecture and its double-helix staircase, is a testament to the architectural prowess of the Renaissance period.
Did You Know? The castle’s iconic double-helix staircase is believed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
6. Windsor Castle: Home to British Royalty
The world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle, Windsor Castle, has been home to the British royal family for over 900 years. Its grandeur and historical significance make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in British history.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a colorful spectacle of British pomp and pageantry.
7. Chateau de Versailles: The Opulent French Monarchy
The Chateau de Versailles, once the epicenter of French political power, now serves as a museum showcasing the grandeur of the French monarchy. Its opulent interiors and expansive gardens are a testament to the lavish lifestyle of the French royals.
Fun Fact: The Hall of Mirrors, the castle’s most famous room, was where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I.
8. Castillo de San Marcos: A Spanish Stronghold in Florida
The Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States, stands as a symbol of Spanish influence in Florida. Built in the 17th century, this fort played a crucial role in defending Florida from British invasions.
Did You Know? The fort’s walls are made of coquina, a type of limestone composed of shell fragments, which is surprisingly resistant to cannon fire.
9. Blarney Castle: The Gift of Gab
In Ireland, the famous Blarney Stone is housed in Blarney Castle. Legend has it that anyone who kisses the stone is bestowed with the gift of eloquence. The castle, dating back to the 15th century, has a rich and intriguing history.
Pro Tip: Be prepared to bend over backward to kiss the Blarney Stone – it’s a tradition that’s been followed by millions of visitors!
10. Warwick Castle: A Medieval Marvel
Warwick Castle, a medieval castle in England, has been renovated to include modern attractions such as a dungeon and a giant trebuchet. Its blend of historical charm and modern entertainment makes it a unique destination for visitors.
Fun Fact: The castle’s trebuchet is the largest working siege engine in the world.
11. The Alhambra: A Moorish Masterpiece
In Granada, Spain, stands the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 14th century by the Moorish rulers of Andalusia, this architectural marvel is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Spain.
Did You Know? The name Alhambra comes from an Arabic phrase meaning “Red Castle”, due to the red clay used in its construction.
12. Chenonceau Castle: A Bridge Across Time
Spanning the River Cher, the French Renaissance Chenonceau Castle is known for its beautiful gardens and rich history. This castle is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in French history and architecture.
Pro Tip: Visit in the spring or summer to see the castle’s gardens in full bloom.
13. Hohenschwangau Castle: Childhood Home of a King
In the vicinity of Neuschwanstein Castle, you’ll find Hohenschwangau Castle, the childhood home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. This beautiful example of German Neo-Gothic architecture offers a glimpse into the life of the Bavarian royalty.
Fun Fact: King Ludwig II was known to watch the construction of Neuschwanstein Castle through a telescope from his room in Hohenschwangau Castle.
14. Eilean Donan Castle: Scotland’s Photogenic Fortress
Eilean Donan Castle, a 13th-century castle located on an island in Loch Duich, is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Its stunning location and historical significance have made it a popular filming location for many movies.
Did You Know? The castle has been featured in several films, including “Highlander” and “The World Is Not Enough”.
15. Kilkenny Castle: A Window Into Ireland’s Past
Kilkenny Castle, a 12th-century castle in Ireland, has undergone several renovations over the centuries. Today, it serves as a popular tourist attraction, showcasing the history of the Kilkenny region.
Pro Tip: Be sure to visit the castle’s Picture Gallery, which features a collection of 17th-century portraits.
16. Prague Castle: A Complex of Wonders
Prague Castle, a complex of buildings dating back to the 9th century, is one of the largest castles in the world. It includes the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and several gardens, making it a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the Czech Republic.
Fun Fact: The castle is home to the Bohemian Crown Jewels, which are kept in a hidden room.
17. Dunnottar Castle: A Ruined Beauty
Perched on a cliff overlooking the North Sea, Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress. This castle played a key role in Scottish history and has been the site of several battles, making it a fascinating destination for history buffs.
Did You Know? The Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels, were hidden at Dunnottar Castle during the invasion of Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century.
18. Mont Saint Michel: An Island Stronghold
Mont Saint Michel, an island and commune in Normandy, France, is known for its stunning abbey and strategic location. This location made it a key stronghold during the Hundred Years’ War, and today it stands as a symbol of French resilience and architectural prowess.
Pro Tip: Visit during low tide and you can walk around the island on the sandy bed. But be careful, the tide can come in quickly!
19. Malbork Castle: A Teutonic Titan
Malbork Castle, a massive fortress built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century, is one of the largest castles in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a testament to the architectural prowess and military might of the Teutonic Knights.
Fun Fact: The castle was originally named Marienburg, after Mary, the patron saint of the religious order that built it.
20. Buda Castle: Overlooking the Danube
Buda Castle, a complex of buildings that includes the Royal Palace, the National Gallery, and the Matthias Church, offers stunning views of Budapest from its hilltop location. This castle, overlooking the Danube River, is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Hungary.
Did You Know? The castle is home to the Budapest History Museum, which covers the city’s history from Roman times to the present.
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