Built by kings and queens of years gone by to protect and rule their realms, castles had not only to be able to withstand attack but project power and wealth for all to see. As such, sturdy keeps and imposing walls were erected alongside marvelous palaces, full of ornate and elaborate chambers, halls, and throne rooms.
In addition to the astounding architecture on show, these castles were often built at strategic and spectacular settings at the mouths of valleys, at the entrance to mountain passes, or on glittering lakeshores. Add in the weight of history, and these architectural marvels set amongst breathtaking scenery make for some of the most beautiful castles in the world.
20. Hohenwerfen Castle
Hohenwerfen Castle, perched atop a rocky outcrop with the stunning Berchtesgaden Alps in the background, is an epic sight. Built between 1075 and 1078, the castle and its fortified walls are located in the picturesque Salzach valley, just south of Salzburg in Austria.
It served as an imposing fort, residence, and hunting retreat for the Archbishops of Salzburg throughout its history, but also as a state prison. Hohenwerfen Castle, now a museum, is well worth a visit for its fascinating history and breathtaking setting amidst the mountains.
19. Trakai Island Castle
As the name implies, this magnificent castle is situated on a small island surrounded by the sparkling waters of Lake Galve. The imposing red brick fortification, located just outside Vilnius, was once of critical strategic importance to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The castle and its magnificent Ducal palace, which were built in the second half of the 14th century, were restored to their original appearance and style in the 1960s. When viewed from across the lake’s shimmering waters, Trakai Island Castle’s Gothic and Romanesque features are particularly arresting.
18. Castello di Miramare
Elegant and refined, Castello di Miramare’s brilliant white walls contrast delightfully with the glistening waters of the Gulf of Trieste. The castle, located in northeastern Italy, is a stone’s throw from Trieste. It was built in the 1850s to house Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife.
As befits the Hapsburgs, the castle’s setting and design are enhanced by lavish gardens and a spectacular seashore park. Castello di Miramare, now a very popular museum, attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see its original furnishings and rooms in their full splendor.
17. Predjama Castle
Predjama is undoubtedly one of the most visually arresting castles on Earth, set directly into the side of a large, craggy cliff face. Nestled in a cave’s mouth, its advantageous location made it extremely difficult to attack, and defenders could replenish their supplies via a hidden network of cave passages.
Predjama Castle, which has been built and destroyed numerous times over the centuries, is located just a short drive from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. July is an excellent time to visit, as it hosts a vibrant and chaotic medieval festival and jousting competition.
16. Kylemore Abbey
It was initially named as Kylemore Castle, but Belgian nuns fleeing the fighting of World War I converted it into a Benedictine monastery. The Victorian-style buildings and Gothic church of the Pollacapall Lough estate, built in 1868 to be the private home of a rich doctor, are beautifully reflected in the water.
Kylemore Abbey, located in County Galway, Ireland, has long been a popular tourist destination thanks to its beautiful surroundings, which include mountains, lakes, and rushing rivers.
15. Conwy Castle
England’s Edward I began construction of Conwy Castle in 1283 as a means to incapacitate his defiant neighbors in Wales. In battles and wars for centuries to come, the castle’s strategic location on the banks of the Conwy River played a major role. One of Europe’s finest examples of military architecture, the castle features eight large and impenetrable towers in addition to two hulking barbicans.
Despite its imposing silver-grey stone walls and riverside location, its well-preserved medieval royal apartments are just as impressive.
Perched upon a rocky mount with the breathtaking Berchtesgaden Alps lying in the background, Hohenwerfen Castle certainly makes for an epic sight. Built between 1075 and 1078, the castle and its sturdy walls are set in the gorgeous valley of Salzach, which lies just to the south of Salzburg in Austria.
Throughout its history, it not only acted as an imposing fort, residence, and hunting retreat for the Archbishops of Salzburg, but also as a state prison. Now a museum, Hohenwerfen Castle is well worth visiting for its fascinating history and stunning setting amidst the mountains.
Set directly in the side of a large, craggy cliff face, Predjama is certainly one of the most visually arresting castles on Earth. Nestled in the mouth of a cave, its advantageous position made it very hard to attack, and defenders could replenish their supplies through a hidden network of cave passages.
Built and destroyed numerous times over the centuries, Predjama Castle can be found just a short drive away from Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana. A great time of year to visit is in July, when it hosts a colorful and chaotic medieval festival and jousting competition.
14. Bamburgh Castle
On the northeast coast of England, Bamburgh Castle stands atop a wind-swept bluff with a fascinating history for visitors to explore. It’s remarkable that a fort has remained in the same place since the year 420, when the Celtic Brittonic fort stood there.
As a result of its proximity to the Scottish border, the Normans built the current castle in the 11th century and it has served as an important outpost for English monarchs ever since. Bamburgh Castle has been featured in numerous books and films over the years because of its romantic and desolate seaside location and its majestic turrets and crumbling crenellations.
13. Chateau de Chillon
The Chateau de Chillon, located at the eastern edge of The lake Geneva, is a stunning sight, especially when the Dents du Midi, which are usually covered in snow, are visible in the background. As a Roman fortification, a predecessor to today’s castle was built in the nearby mountains.
It is located on a small island that is linked to the lakeshore by a lovely little bridge, and the Swiss chateau’s architecture is reflected in the water around it. The Chateau de Chillon, a popular day trip from Geneva, has a number of elegant halls and courtyards, as well as an eerie crypt, for visitors to explore.
12. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle, the residence of the British royal family, has long been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the castle has been occupied for more than 900 years, making it the world’s longest-occupied palace.
A visit to the opulent and seemingly endless state apartments of the royal residence will astound you with its sheer size and scope. Windsor Castle, built in the 11th century, is one of the world’s finest and most luxurious castles, thanks to its Georgian and Victorian design, extravagant Baroque interiors, and refined Rococo furnishings.
11. De Haar Castle
De Haar Castle’s turrets and towers appear even more magical in the midst of a tangled mess of rose gardens. Beautiful moats, lakes, and gardens surround the neo-Gothic castle just outside of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
There are more than two hundred rooms in the building, and each one is decked out with priceless artwork and opulent furnishings. This romanticized version dates back to 1892 when it was rebuilt and restored from a state of ruin. The earliest mention of the castle is in 1391.
10. Corvin Castle
As one of Transylvania’s largest castles, Corvin Castle was constructed in an amazing Gothic-Renaissance style. The 15th-century fortress, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Zlasti River, is known for its numerous towers, strong walls, and sturdy drawbridge.
The Romanian castle is the subject of numerous myths and legends. It has appeared in numerous television shows and movies because of its attractive and fairytale-like appearance.
9. Cochem Castle
Located on a hilltop overlooking Cochem and the Moselle River, the Castle of Cochem sits amidst rolling green hills and vineyards, surrounded by lush forests. There has been a castle there since at least 1130, but the original was destroyed by the troops of Louis IV in 1688.
The current castle, which was rebuilt and restored in a beautiful Gothic Revival style, is a popular tourist attraction in the German Rhineland. The views from the turrets and towers of Cochem Castle of the valley, town, and river below are just as enchanting.
8. Swallow’s Nest
The Crimean Peninsula’s Swallow’s Nest can be found perched precariously on a cliff’s edge. When it was built in 1911, it was inspired by romantic Neo-Gothic designs that overlook the Black Sea.
To this day tourists flock to the Swallow’s Nest in order to marvel at its perilous location, refined architecture, and breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
7. Spis Castle
Since its construction in 1241, Spis Castle in the country’s northeastern region has frequently appeared over the region. Because of its significance to Hungary’s culture, economy, and politics, the castle was continually expanded until it reached its current size.
Spis Castle is a wonderful Romanesque palace with impressive stone walls and towers, as well as a fascinating and educational museum. In Slovakia, this fort is a must-see, with its battlements offering a stunning view of the surrounding hills and valleys.
6. Hohenzollern Castle
Every time I see Hohenzollern Castle, I am in awe of its grandeur. The castle and Gothic Revival palace are perched atop a prominent mountain of the same name, and the halls and chambers within are equally beautiful.
Since at least the 11th century, a fortress has stood on the same mountain where the current castle stands. As one of Germany’s top tourist attractions, Hohenzollern is still owned by the house that bears its name.
5. Alcazar of Segovia
The Alcazar of Segovia, with its distinctive bow shape evoking a ship, has long been a popular tourist destination. Because they are perched on an outcropping overlooking two rivers, the castle’s magnificent keep and slim towers look especially handsome.
Elegant rooms and halls are adorned with fine art and furnishings in this well-preserved palace in the middle of Spain. Tourists can also peruse an impressive collection of weapons and armour at the Alcazar de Segoviá, which is now the site of a popular museum.
4. Bran Castle
Bran Castle, which has been nicknamed “Dracula’s Castle” outside of Romania, looks the part. In a forest in Transylvania, lies a forbidding fortress. Even though it has an eerie appearance, the castle’s connection to the brutal and barbaric 15th-century ruler Vlad the Impaler is only tenuous at best.
Bran Castle, despite its clever marketing ploy, is still a beautiful place to visit thanks to its stunning architecture and lush valley setting. In addition, the extensive art and furniture collection of Queen Marie is now on display in the castle’s many rooms.
3. Pena Castle
It’s no surprise that Pena Palace, as it is more commonly known, is the most daringly designed and decorated castle on this list. On a prominent hilltop just outside of Lisbon in the Sintra Mountains, the vibrant yellows and reds on the castle’s walls shine brightly.
There’s a lot to admire about this Victorian-era structure, which was completed in 1854 in a Romanticist style. When visiting Portugal, a visit to the country’s fantastical features and exotic and extravagant architectural styles will be a high point of the trip.
2. Eilean Donan
Eilean Donan in Scotland has a spectacular setting because it sits at the confluence of three lochs. In spite of the fact that the original castle is believed to have been built somewhere around the 13th century on this small island, the current reimagined and romanticized reincarnation dates back to the 20th century.
While it may not be as visually appealing as some other castles, its beautiful surroundings are what really set it apart from the rest. Eilean Donan Castle has appeared in numerous movies and television shows over the years, making it one of Europe’s most famous and recognizable castles.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle
Located in the Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle looks like something straight out of a children’s fairy tale book, perched atop a forest-covered mountain. Ludwig II’s love for Wagner’s operas and romantic architecture are evident in the design of the castle, which was completed in 1886.
The picture-perfect palace, with its stunning towers and grand entrance, was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. A treasure trove of artworks and priceless paintings, the castle’s interior is just as impressive. Visitors can take a tour of its opulent halls and chambers, which are open to the general public. Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful castles thanks to its stunning design and breathtaking location.