Best Castles: History, Beauty, and Strongholds
Castles are some of the most visited sites in the world. And no wonder, castles give us a glimpse of the past, and for a moment, the feeling of royalty.
For this list of the best castles, we have compiled fortresses of sovereignty from across the globe. While the styles and sizes of these castles differ, one thing remains the same – all of these castles are wondrous.
What do you think of when you hear the word – castle? Is it the sweeping grandeur of the Cinderella ball and Disney’s Magic Kingdom or the dread of Dracula and the fomenting fear of Frankenstein? Or, maybe you think of famous battles or the Kings, Queens, and Emperors of yesteryear. As some of the most videographed settings in the world, castles continue their impact in the history of the world as truly timeless pieces of architecture, mystery, beauty, and sometimes great human folly. They tell stories just by existing.
Not only are they steeped in history and the culture of multiple civilizations and times, but castles are also great educational pieces for both the old and the young, especially in the more tourist-friendly locations. Similarly, those locations are going to have more family-friendly activities for folks who might be a little less enthusiastic about the awe-inspiring history in front of them.
Read through our list of the best castles, and before long, you might feel like royalty yourself!
Are you planning a trip to see one of these magnificent castles? Make sure you take advantage of our list of the best travel sites, the best travel blogs, and the best travel accessories. These lists will help you plan and make sure that you have everything needed for your trip.
Top 25 Castles:
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Construction Started: 870
Highlights: Largest Castle Complex in the World, Features Roman, and Gothic Architecture
About Castle: The largest castle complex in the world, Prague Castle is almost 70,000 square meters. Featuring Roman and Gothic architecture, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a gigantic feast for the senses. Other features include the crown jewels, the changing of the guards, and a beautiful garden. And, outside of the Prague Castle, Prague is one of the best European destinations to visit, so there is going to be a ton of other things to see and experience.
Location: Schwangau, Germany
Construction Started: 1869
Highlights: The Castle was the Model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle
About Castle: The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle is a fairy tale come true. It was actually used as a model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle is situated among the rolling hills and mountains of Germany, which adds to the beauty of the castle. This idyllic setting perfectly complements Neuschwanstein Castle’s limestone facade.
Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 12th Century
Highlights: Is Home to Scotland’s Crown Jewels, Located at One End of the Royal Mile
About Castle: Edinburgh Castle resides on a cliff overlooking the historic city of Edinburgh and is home to Scotland’s crown jewels. Inside the castle grounds, there are a variety of rooms and exhibits to explore. And, with the castle located at one end of the Royal Mile, visitors can walk to other popular Edinburgh sites as well.
Location: Talkalakh District, Syria
Construction Started: 1031
Highlights: One of the Best Preserved Crusader Castles in the World
About Castle: Crac des Chevaliers is one of the best-known and best-preserved Crusader castles in the world. Its hilltop location is formidable and offers sweeping views of the surrounding area. Finished in the 13th Century, Lawrence of Arabia once described the castle as one of the most admirable castles in the world.
Location: Conwy, United Kingdom
Construction Started: 1283
Highlights: Has Been Essential to England’s Defense Throughout History
About Castle: This 13th-century castle is still around from medieval times and standing strong today. Conwy Castle has been a formidable defense over England’s history. English monarch Edward the First built Conwy between 1283 and 1289. He built the castle on a naturally forming rock, which greatly added to the castle’s defenses during its use throughout history.
Location: Cork, Ireland
Construction Started: 1446
Highlights: Best Known for its Blarney Stone
About Castle: Blarney Castle is a medieval castle located next to Cork, Ireland. It is perhaps best known for its Blarney Stone, a stone that is reputed to bestow eloquence on all who kiss her. However, the Blarney Stone is not all the castle offers. The gardens and castle grounds are equally impressive and well worth exploring.
Location: Warwick, United Kingdom
Construction Started: 1068
Highlights: Recently Updated and Restored, Beautiful and Filled with a Rich History
About Castle: Being attacked and besieged over the centuries, Warwick Castle has endured and is still alive and well today. Over the last ten years, though, over 6,000,000 pounds went into the restoration of the castle. It is worth a visit not only for the beauty of the castle but also for the rich history behind it.
Location: Stirling, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 12th Century
Highlights: One of the Top, Must-See Places in Scotland, a Variety of Famous Rulers Used this Castle Over the Years
About Castle: A pivotal stronghold to the kingdom of Scotland over the centuries, its current day status is one of the top, must-see places in Scotland. With so many famous people in history using this castle at some point (Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, James I, etc.), it is worth visiting solely for the history. Stirling Castle is a must-see on this list of the best castles.
Location: Sintra, Portugal
Construction Started: 1842
Highlights: Can be Seen from Miles Around, Offers Exceptional Views Inside and Looking Out
About Castle: Located in Portugal, Pena Palace comes with breathtaking views both inside and out. Technically labeled a “palace,” we thought it still deserved a spot on this list. It resides on the top of Serra de Sintra and can be seen from miles around. Almost destroyed in 1775 by an earthquake, Pena Palace was rebuilt by King consort Fernando II in the 19th Century. This palace/castle is a must-see if ever in Portugal.
Location: Dover, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 12th Century
Highlights: Known as the “Key to England,” Offers Secret Wartime Tunnels that you can Explore
About Castle: Dover Castle is known as the “Key to England” because it has been the nation of England’s first line of defense for so many years. This medieval castle is going to allow you to step back into time and see the inside of a medieval royal palace. There are also secret wartime tunnels that you can spend time exploring as well.
Location: Hohenzollern, Germany
Construction Started: The 11th Century
Highlights: Excellent Views Inside of the Castle and Looking Out of the Castle as Well
About Castle: Hohenzollern Castle has seen its changes over the centuries. It has been damaged, restored, and filled with different occupiers. Currently, though, it sits as one of the best castles in Germany and the world. Hohenzollern Castle sits on top of Mount Hohenzollern and can be seen from all around the surrounding area. The views inside the castle are equally impressive as you can see priceless pieces and beautiful rooms.
Location: Normandy, France
Construction Started: The 14th Century
Highlights: Has Been a Church and Prison as Well as a Castle, Restored in the 19th Century
About Castle: Starting in 709 as a small church, Mont Saint Michel has morphed into a castle and the beautiful structure that it is today. The castle consists of a central abbey that was fitted with walls and other defenses in the 14th Century during the 100 Years War. And, at one point, it was also converted into a prison during the French Revolution. It was finally restored in the 19th Century and stands as a UNESCO world heritage location today.
Location: Kent, United Kingdom
Construction Started: 1119
Highlights: Has been Coined “The Loveliest Castle in the World,” Updated in the 1920s and 1930s
About Castle: Leeds castle has been coined “the loveliest castle in the world.” This is due to its beautiful interior and it’s immaculately kept lawns and gardens. The castle’s last interior update was in the 1920s and ’30s.
Along with the remodel, there are elegant tapestries, furniture, and porcelain pieces throughout. You can purchase tickets to tour Leeds Castle, and the tickets are good for up to one year. So if you are local, this a great way to get your money’s worth.
Location: Heidelberg, Germany
Construction Started: Early 1200s
Highlights: At One Point, it was Considered the 8th Wonder of the World
About Castle: In the 17th Century, Heidelberg Castle/Palace was celebrated as the “8th wonder of the world.” And although time has taken its toll on the castle, it is still one of the most beautiful castles in the world. Elaborately sculpted figures line the outside of the palace, and the detail of the exterior is worth studying all by itself. However, the interior and gardens are the real draws for guests.
Location: Angus, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 17th Century
Highlights: The Castle has been Updated with a Modern Look, was Queen Elizabeth’s Childhood Home
About Castle: Glamis today looks more like a French Chateau than a medieval fortress. Don’t let its “modern look” though take away from the history that this old castle boasts. This Scotland castle has a fascinating history, making it worth the visit just from a historical perspective. It also has some more recent history as well, as it is Queen Elizabeth’s childhood home and Princess Margaret’s birthplace.
Location: Chambord, France
Construction Started: 1519
Highlights: Picturesque Gardens and Architecture
About Castle: With picturesque gardens and architecture, it would have been tough for us to leave the Château de Chambord of our list of the best castles. Visitors can appreciate the elegant design and beauty of this castle. Matching its breathtaking views, though, is a history that will not disappoint either. You will be able to appreciate the castle and grounds from a historical perspective as well.
Location: Bamburgh, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 11th Century
Highlights: Full of History Going Back to the Start of England, Will Allow you to Step Back Into Another Time
About Castle: Known as the “Royal seat to the kings of Northumbria.” Bamburgh Castle is full of history going back to England’s first days. The castle was a fortress in centuries past and is now a place that allows you to step back into time. This isn’t the most luxurious castle on this list. However, it won’t take you long to appreciate the structure and formidable presence that this castle represented so many years ago.
Location: Schwerin, Germany
Construction Started: 900s
Highlights: 653 Different Rooms, Surrounded by Water
About Castle: With 653 opulent and exquisite rooms, the Schwerin Castle is pure luxury. Add in the idyllic island setting and elaborate gardens that surround the castle, and you will quickly forget that you are not royalty. If you are in Germany or planning a trip to Germany, Schwerin Castle needs to be on your travel itinerary.
Location: Bran, Romania
Construction Started: Late 1300’s
Highlights: The Setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Offers Amazing Views of the Surrounding Countryside
About Castle: While both a medieval fortress and a royal residence, Bran Castle is perhaps best known as the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, despite Stoker having never visited the castle. This misty mountain-top castle commands supreme views of the surrounding countryside, and the myth of Count Dracula lends an air of intrigue to the castle.
Location: Hyogo, Japan
Construction Started: 1333
Highlights: Went through an Extensive Renovation, Nicknamed the “White Heron”
About Castle: Recently reopened after an extensive roofing renovation, the Himeji Castle is just a short drive from Kobe. Nicknamed the “White Heron” because of its white plaster walls, the 400-plus-year-old Himeji Castle is a must-see while in Japan.
Location: Berkshire, United Kingdom
Construction Started: The 11th Century
Highlights: Home to the Queen, Largest and Oldest Occupied Castle in the World
About Castle: Home to the Queen of England, Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. The castle complex also features the well-known St. George’s Chapel (the burial place of ten monarchs) and the Drawings Gallery, which features changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.
Location: Bolívar, Colombia
Construction Started: 1732
Highlights: Features a Maze of Tunnels that can be Explored
About Castle: Although more fortress than a castle, the San Felipe Castle is still an impressive building. San Felipe Castle was finished in the 18th Century and offers a maze of tunnels – some tunnels are even lit for tourists to explore.
Location: Kilkenny, Ireland
Construction Started: 1195
Highlights: 50 Acres of Stunning Grounds, Has Been Updated and Expanded Over the Years
About Castle: Probably a wooden structure, to begin with, the current stone structure of the Kilkenny Castle was completed in the 13th Century. Today, three of the castle’s original four towers survived, and the castle is a popular tourist attraction in the summertime.
Location: San Simeon, California, USA
Construction Started: 1919
Highlights: Offers Sweeping Views of the Ocean, Extends Over 127 Acres
About Castle: Hearst Castle was built by media magnate William Hearst. The castle resides on the California coast and showcases sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Boasting a 127-acre hilltop complex of buildings, the main building, AKA Hearst Castle, is part museum, part opulent luxury.
Location: Helsingør, Denmark
Construction Started: 1420s
Highlights: Used in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Offers a Labyrinth of Casemates to Explore
About Castle: The setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kronborg Castle, is located in the idyllic town of Helsingor, Denmark. Although the interior and grounds are open for exploration, perhaps the best part of Kronberg is the labyrinth of casemates the castle boasts.
Best Castles Conclusion
While no castles currently rank as a Wonder of the World, they certainly are wonders that are well known throughout the Old World and the New World. They are homes to local pride or local fear, depending on the things that happened inside and around them, and always add their own atmosphere. Honestly, where else can you go where you might feel as if you have equal chances of seeing ancient royalty wandering down a mysterious, shadowy flagstone corridor?
As visitors to any of these castles, you will be able to walk and stand where some of the most influential people ever to have lived resided. You will literally be able to walk down the halls of history. The other unique thing about most of these castles is that a good amount of pieces from centuries past have been preserved as well. Instead of just reading about history, you will be able to experience it up close and personal.
Even without all the history, the very architecture of these creations is worth a trip; soaring balustrades, arches, draw bridges, massive gates, and defensive fortifications that stagger the mind and imagination. Castles are also some of the places where the earliest machining and smithing took place. And, if the castle you choose still carries on demonstrations of these ancient crafts, you’re in for a special treat.