It’s undeniable that a good number of people today are fascinated by castles. The beauty, tumultuous histories, royal legends and overall mystery of castles around the world keep us intrigued – a fact easily shown by how many visitors these castles attract each year. If you’re a history nerd like I am, here are 18 of the world’s best castles to visit – add them to your bucket list now! 😉
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th Century Romanesque palace built by Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was intended to be used as a personal refuge for the king and was financed by his own personal fortune. Since his death in 1886, the castle has been visited by over 61 million people and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Kilkenny Castle, Ireland
The original Anglo-Norman stone castle was built for William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke (c.1146-1219) in 1195. Kilkenny Castle was a symbol for the Norman occupation and later became the principal Irish residence of the powerful Butler family for almost 600 years.
Peleș Castle, Romania
Peleş Castle was built in the Carpathian Mountains by King Charles I of Romania between 1873 and 1914. The Neo-Renaissance castle was built on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia and was intended to serve as a summer residence with political and cultural functions.
Kronborg Castle, Denmark
Kronborg Castle is a stronghold in Helsingør, Denmark, well known as Elsinore in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It’s one of the most significant Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Dating back to the 12th Century, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction and was the center of several historical conflicts (and besieged multiple times). It has been used as not only a castle, but a military barrack, a stronghold, and now a museum.
Palace of Versailles, France
The Château de Versailles is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. Originally constructed as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Marie-Antoinette is among its most famous residents and even had her own estate on the grounds.
Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Prague Castle is currently the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. It dates back to the 9th Century and has been the center of power for Bohemian kings, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of the Czechoslovakia. It holds a Guinness World Record for being the largest ancient castle in the world.
Himeji Castle, Japan
Himeji Castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture. It comprises of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period and is frequently knows as Hakuro-jō (White Egret Castle) or Shirasagi-jō (White Heron Castle) because of its white exterior meant to resemble a bird taking flight.
Hochosterwitz Castle, Austria
Hochosterwitz Castle sits atop a limestone rock at an astonishing 160 meters (520 ft) above the valley below. The castle was first mentioned in 860 and served as a refuge for the local population during the Turkish invasion in the 11th and 12th century. Centuries have passed, but no changes have been made to Hochosterwitz since the 16th Century.
Catherine Palace, Russia
Catherine Palace is a Rococo style palace built as a summer residence for the tsars, commissioned by Catherine I of Russia. Construction started in 1717 and the design was meant to rival Versailles, with more than 100 kilograms of gold used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof.
Mont Saint-Michel, France
Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune in Normandy, France with a population of 44. It has been used as a strategic fortress for centuries and has been a monastery since the 8th Century. The structural composition of the town reflects the feudal society that created it: At the top, God, the abbey and monastery; below it, the great halls; then stores and housing; and finally at the bottom, outside the walls, fisherman’s and farmer’s housing.
It has a unique position as it’s only 600 meters from land, making it accessible to pilgrims to the abbey during low tide, but this also served a defensive purpose as the tide stranded or drowned assailants. Because of this, the Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War.
Conwy Castle, North Wales
Conwy Castle is a medieval fortification built by Edward I during his conquest of Wales between 1283 and 1289. It played an important role over the next few centuries in several wars and UNESCO considers it to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.”
Bran Castle, Romania
Situated near Bran on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia, Bran Castle was used as a defense against the Ottoman Empire and a royal residence. It may be better known, however, as “Dracula’s Castle,” despite there being no evidence that Dracula author Bram Stoker knew about the castle.
Windsor Castle, England
Windsor Castle was originally built in the 11th Century after the invasion of William the Conquerer. A royal residence, it has been continuously used by succeeding monarchs since Henry I and is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
Potala Palace, Tibet Autonomous Region
Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan uprising. Now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built in 1645 and consists of 13 stories of buildings with 1000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 20,000 statues.
Castillo de Coca, Spain
Castillo de Coca was built in the 15th Century by the Archbishop of Seville and Don Alonso de Fonseca (Lord of Coca and Alaejos) during the Revolt of the Comuneros. It is a characteristic example of Mudéjar style, combining Islamic and Gothic elements.
Dunrobin Castle, Scotland
Dunrobin Castle was the residence to Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th Century, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in the country. Many of its inhabitants were some of the most powerful families in Britain with important matrimonial and territorial alliances.
Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
Built in the 12th Century, Bojnice Castle is one of the most visited castles (and hosts the most popular museum) in Slovakia. Given its romantic Gothic and Renaissance architecture, it has been widely used in fantasy and fairy tale films.