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11 MUST SEE BEAUTIFUL CASTLES IN EUROPE
From the Romans to the Habsburgs, Europe has been ruled by many different empires throughout the ages. However, these empires were never just given away, they were won.
In the ‘olden days’, armies were likely to come hurtling towards you with horses, swords, bows and arrows, and perhaps even the odd pitchfork, in order to take your land. So, it was pretty important to protect it with all your worth, and fortunately, most European rulers were worth a lot. They spent bags of money building tall, intimidating impenetrable castles – so impenetrable in fact, that most of them are still standing tall today.
And what a sight they are to behold. Castles may not be a rarity in Europe, but each of them possess their own magic, and each of them have their own stories to tell. So sit back in your seats, and let us tell you more about a few of our favorites.
Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland
Edging upon a craggy cliff face, overlooking the seemingly miniature city below, Edinburgh Castle stands tall and proud. It may be the most besieged castle in Britain, but its graphite-grey fortified walls have aged well, and it has stood strong , defining the city’s skyline for over 900 years. The castle entrance, however, is actually hidden like a pot of gold at the end of the Royal Mile, a hub for shoppers and bagpipists alike. No but seriously, the castle really is full of gold; you can still find the Honours of Scotland here to this day.
Neuschwanstein Castle – Fussen, Germany
The character-defining turrets of Neuschwanstein Castle soar to the sky, almost touching the clouds, as it perches atop an impossibly steep hill. The castle is said to have been the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, which would come as no surprise since it was commissioned in the 1860’s by Ludwig II of Bavaria, the ‘Fairytale King’ himself. However, only 14 of 200 rooms were ever completed, including the King’s Bedroom, the Singer’s Room, the Dressing Room, and the Throne Room. Each of them is decorated with a Bavarian flare and decadence that you won’t want to miss, no matter how steep the climb to the castle.
Château de Chambord – Chambord, France
Tucked away in the quiet Loire Valley, two hours from Paris, Château de Chambord is truly one of the country’s best hidden gems. Although it was primarily built as a hunting lodge for a French King during the Renaissance, no expense was spared in its design; the elaborateness of the castle’s towers, bastions and pinnacles will flaw you, especially from the roof terrace where you can get a close-up look. The inside doesn’t disappoint either; the flamboyance of French royalty is evident throughout the castle, but to truly appreciate it, you must have a keen eye for detail, for that’s where its true beauty lies.
Windsor Castle – Windsor, England
Founded by William the Conqueror himself over 900 years ago, Windsor castle is the world’s oldest and largest castle still occupied today. It is currently used as the weekend home for Queen Elizabeth II – and her adorable pack of corgis. It may be guarded by beefeaters, but it is possible to tour the castle grounds to learn more about its rich history, and go inside and see how British royalty live for yourselves. You will get to view the state apartments, which have been preserved as they were decorated over the centuries by the occupying monarchs, and the semi-state rooms, which are still used to entertain official guests.
Hohenzollern Castle – Burg Hohenzollern, Germany
Hohenzollern Castle is so far from sea level that it bursts through the clouds and into the heavens. So while it may not be easy to reach, the views from this English Gothic Revival fortification, spanning 100km in all directions, are more than worth the journey (cloud or no cloud). The castle complex itself is so large, it’s easy to get lost in, but with the spectacular ceiling murals and ornate antique furnishings that it houses, I don’t think you’d mind. Unless you end up in the dungeon, the walls of which have plenty of horror stories to tell.
Pena Palace – Sintra, Portugal
With walls of striking red, yellow, purple and blue, Pena Palace is the most eye-catching castle in all of Europe. It overlooks the equally sincilating Portugese Riviera, capturing the regions’ romantic atmosphere with its own brilliant Moorish architecture. Its interior is even more dazzling, as it’s decorated from floor to ceiling in playfully patterned, and richly coloured Portugese tiles, giving it a sense of style and glamour unmatched by any other castle. Pena Palace is also surrounded by 200 hectares of majestic forest, brimming with exotic plants imported from far-away lands, and laced with winding paths that will most likely get you lost.
Aragonese Castle – Ischia, Italy
Aragonese Castle is one of the oldest fortifications in Europe, as it originally dates all the way back to 474BC, although the castle that stands today was predominantly built in the 15th century. Thanks to a few invasions from some unwelcome outsiders, Aragonese Castle is now a well-preserved ruin, but its walls tell of a past even greater than its age. This castle won’t only wow you with its vast history though, it will wow you with its unbeatable Mediterannean Sea views, for it is in fact built upon a volcanic rock islet next to Ischia Island off the coast of Naples.
READ MORE: WHERE TO EXPLORE ITALY OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
De Haar Castle – Utrecht, Netherlands
De Haar Castle dates back to the 13th century, but it is defined today by its more recent, star-studded history. The castle was owned by the Van Zuylen’s, a high-flying family who commissioned Pierre Cuypers, designer of the iconic Amsterdam Central Station, to reconstruct it in the late 1800s. The red-bricked castle now takes on a neo-Gothic style inside and out, complete with an impressive moat, drawbridge and 55 hectares of perfectly pruned gardens. After its reconstruction, the Van Zuylen family were known to host lavish parties for their celebrity friends, including Joan Collins and Bridget Bardot.
Alcázar de Segovia – Segovia, Spain
Segovia in northwestern Spain is rich in historical architecture, yet Alcázar de Segovia is the most celebrated of its landmarks. Whilst most European castles are typically medieval or Gothic, Alcázar de Segoviahas a uniquely Moorish flair, as it was built under Muslim rule. From the outside, it may look like a simple turreted fairytale castle, but as you step inside, it’s like being transported to an Arabian palace. Over time, its furnishings became more westernised, but its arched windows and doorways, patterned cornicing, and intricately detailed geometric ceilings pay homage to its Eastern roots.
Eltz Castle – Germany
Unlike most other castles within Europe, Eltz Castle survived the world’s transition from the Middle Ages into the modern age without so much as a scratch. Since its construction in the 12th century, the castle has stayed within the Eltz family who made every effort to love, care for, and preserve it. True to German style, the castle is built atop a steep hill, allowing it to soar gracefully above the Eltz Forest nature reserve in which it resides. Inside, you will find the castle’s murals, paintings, furniture and even its armoury, just as they were in medieval times.
Mont Saint-Michel – Avranches, France
Built upon a small islet off the sleepy coast of Normandy, is a towering monastery dating all the way back to the 900’s when it’s awe-inspiring abbey was first built. The abbey quickly became a site of religious importance, and a village formed around it to accommodate pilgrims. As one of the country’s most important historical assets, France later fortified the islet to keep prying English enemies out. Today, however, the ramparts serve as the perfect viewpoint from which to see the incredible Atlantic coastline, and the village buildings serve as cute boutique shops, hotels and restaurants.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile,with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.