European history would be unimaginable without the remarkable castles scattered across the continent. Castles seem full of magic and mystery, something straight out of a fairytale. Yet so many fairy tales and stories have drawn inspiration from real castles that we can still see around us to this day.
Countries like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are overwhelmingly rich with castles – each unique in its own way and not failing to impress anyone, who sees them up close. However, the majority of European countries have at least a few castles that are worth noting. After all, countries’ borders weren’t always the way they are now and some kingdoms stretched far and wide, leaving an imprint in the territories they occupied.
While there are so many more to explore, here are 15 of the most impressive castles in Europe.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
This 19th-century Romanesque Revival-style castle is the most visited castle in Germany as well as one of the most picturesque castles in the world. Instantly recognizable, Neuschwanstein Castle has served as inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle making this a real-life fairytale castle.
The castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II who due to his unsuccessful reign closed off to the reality of the world and drew in more and more in his own imagination and this castle was a living proof of that. Ambitious design and unrealistic deadlines meant that the building of the castle took longer than intended. What was supposed to be three years ended up taking well over two decades. King Ludwig II only lived in the castle for approximately 172 days.
Over a million tourists visit this Bavarian castle each year and during busy summer months – several thousand per day.
Not only the castle itself but its surroundings are truly spectacular. Overlooking forests and mountains of the nearby region, it is easy to believe you have suddenly traveled into a fairytale.
2. Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle located in Central Romania is famously known as Dracula’s Castle despite that there is no evidence in Bram Stoker’s work that would tie the fictional Dracula’s castle to this undeniably impressive real-life location. The first documents mentioning the castle date back to the 14th century, and the fortress was intended to protect the region from the Ottoman Empire.
From the late 19th century until about 1920s the castle was in a state of despair until Queen Marie of Greater Romania restored it as a summer residence.
Bran Castle is an example of Gothic architecture. The castle sits atop a 60-meter high cliff in the Transylvanian Alps or Southern Carpathian mountains.
3. Château de Chantilly, France
There is no denying that medieval castles, fortifications, and strongholds that once housed knights and saw many battles fought on their doorsteps are impressive and awe-inspiring. However, there is no competing with many of France’s delicate and quaint chateaus, especially Château de Chantilly or Chantilly Castle.
Only about an hour from Paris, Château de Chantilly is an exquisite gem in French history. The current castle dates back to the mid to late 19th century, when the property was rebuilt after the original was destroyed during the French revolution. The castle and its interiors are pristine examples of renaissance architecture.
Chantilly Castle never belonged to the French royalty, but was always in the possession of noble families.
The grounds and gardens surrounding the castle cover an impressive area of 115 hectares. The perfectly manicured gardens and beautiful ponds create an unforgettable landscape that has a dreamy appeal.
The castle currently houses Musée Condé.
4. Eilean Donan, Scotland
When asked about Scottish castles, most people would immediately think of Eilean Donan. Not only is it one of the most famous castles in Scotland, but also in the whole of United Kingdom. The appearance of this impressive medieval stronghold is further emphasised by its stunning surroundings. Set on a small island in the Scottish highlands enclosed by three sea lochs – Loch Dutch, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh – Eilean Donan won’t leave anyone unimpressed.
Films like Highlander and The World Is Not Enough from the James Bond film series have contributed to making this castle even more widely-known.
Just like many British castles, the history of Eilean Donan hasn’t been without its turbulent times. The castle dates back to the 13th century, but it was destroyed in the 17th century, and the ruins were rebuilt in the 20th century.
Eilean Donan was the stronghold of Mackenzie and Macrae clans.
5. Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Hohenzollern Castle is one of the most significant objects in the region of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. Sitting on top of Mount Hohenzollern, the construction of the current castle began in 1850 after the first two castles that stood in the same location fell into despair.
The impressive castle complex on top of the mountain easily resembles something out of fictional world – with its many towers and buildings, there is so much for the eye to explore. The castle comprises of military architecture, palatial buildings, chapels, and gardens.
Sitting 855 meters above the sea level, the castle overlooks the surrounding landscape better than anything else. The views stretch as far as 100km away on a clear day.
6. Corvin Castle, Romania
Castles form a significant part of Transylvanian history. This region in Romania is well known for its infamous connection to Dracula or more precisely Vlad the Impaler, the ruler of Wallachia. We already mentioned Bran Castle, which is famously known as Dracula’s Castle but it’s impossible to speak about significant Romanian and European castles without mentioning Corvin Castle also known as Hunyadi Castle.
Built in Gothic-Renaissance architectural style in the late Middle Ages, Corvin Castle is not only of the most significant objects in Romania, but it is also one of the largest castles in Europe.
The castle has been renovated many times. After being left in despair for a long period, it also underwent several fires that cause significant damage.
Due to its impressive Gothic appearance, the castle has regularly been featured in films, video games, and TV programmes.
7. Château de Chambord, France
Château de Chambord is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that it is also one of the most splendid ones. Being one the most well-known examples of French Renaissance architecture, Chambord is recognised worldwide, and approximately 2 million people visit each year.
Chambord has a unique design as it blends medieval forms with Renaissance structures. Built in the early 16th century and originally serving as a hunting lodge for King Francis I of France, the chateau is surrounded by vast grounds and a wondrous forest. The chateau was only completed during the reign of Louis XIV.
Since 1981 Château de Chambord has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
One of the most significant features within the castle is the double helix staircase. With its revolutionary design and engineering, it is said to have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s designs. The spiral staircase has two sets of steps and people going up one side don’t interact or even make eye-contact with those coming down the other side.
There are over 400 rooms and nearly 300 fireplaces in the chateau, however only 60 rooms are open to the public.
8. Moszna Castle, Poland
Moszna Castle in southwestern Poland in the small village of Moszna is a 17th century castle that features Baroque, neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance architectural styles. The fairytale-like castle used to be the residence of industrial magnates, the Silesian Tiele-Winckler family.
The castle has an impressive number of turrets – 99 in total. The number of rooms within the castle is no less impressive – 365.
Ownership of the castle changed several times and at one point the castle used to house a health institution specialising in psychiatry and neurology.
9. Gravensteen, Belgium
Gravensteen is an impressive medieval fortress in the Belgian city of Ghent. Dating back to the late 12th century, the castle was the residence of Counts of Flanders until mid-14th century.
The castle was intentionally built to look threatening as it was inspired by crusade castles. The castle features typical medieval castle elements – a keep, a fortified, oval-shaped enceinte, bartizans, and a moat.
After leaving the ownership of Counts of Flanders, the castle was used as a court and prison until the 18th century.
10. De Haar Castle, Netherlands
When visiting the Utrecht province in Netherlands, one of the must-see places is Castle de Haar. Largest castle in Holland, the castle is located only a half an hour drive from Amsterdam. The medieval-looking castle was actually built between the changing of the 19th and 20th centuries on the ruins of a previous castle.
The interiors feature significant wood carvings throughout. Works owned by the Rothschild family are also seen throughout the property, as the castle was rebuilt by the family.
The castle is surrounded by a beautiful castle park with old trees, gardens, and ponds.
11. Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
Alcázar of Segovia is one of the most impressive castles in Spain. An alcázar is a Spanish castle built in Moorish architectural style. First mentioned in Christian writing during the 12th century, Alcázar of Segovia, typical for a fortress, was built on top of a rocky crag.
During the Middle Ages, monarchs of Castille favoured Alcázar of Segovia as one of their residences.
The castle exterior features a moat, a drawbridge, a keep with four towers, as well as a Herrerian courtyard. Inside there are several noble rooms and a chapel.
12. Castillo de Coca, Spain
Combining the elements of Western and Moorish military architecture, and featuring Gothic elements, Castillo de Coca is a 15th century castle which showcases one of the finest examples of Spanish Mudejar brickwork.
Located approximately 45 kilometres to the north of Segovia, it is one of the few Spanish castles that wasn’t built atop of a hill. The castle has a three-tier defence system and is enclosed by a moat.
Castillo de Coca has been a Spanish national monument since the 1920s.
Nowadays several parts of the castle are open to the public. These include: the chapel, the weapons room, the central keep.
13. Château de Chenonceau, France
Instantly recognisable, Château de Chenonceau has a unique design with an arched bridge above the River Cher. It is one of the most well-known chateaus in Loire valley. The current chateau dates back to the 16th century, however, a previous estate has been mentioned in writing as far back as the 11th century.
Combining elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture in the exterior, the interiors feature a significant and extraordinary collection of furniture, tapestries, and works of art.
The chateau is surrounded by a vast forest and there is a beautiful castle park within the grounds. The truly unique design of this palace allows for hours of wondrous exploration.
14. The Alcázar of Seville, Spain
Made even more famous than it already was by films like Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, and the cult series Game of Thrones, Alcázar of Seville is among the most-visited places in Spain and Seville.
The alcazar was built for the Christian king Peter of Castile on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress. Just like Alcázar of Segovia, this fortress is another excellent example of Mudéjar architecture.
Patio de las Doncellas courtyard is one of the most prominent features in the alcazar complex with its strikingly beautiful tiled plinths. The 14th-century Salón de Audiencias is still being used as the ruling monarch’s reception room and it’s open for viewing to the public via guided tours.
The alcazar is still a royal palace making it one of the oldest royal palaces being still in use in the world.
15. Burg Kreuzenstein, Austria
Often mistaken with Burg Lichtenstein, where the movie The Three Musketeers was filmed, Burg Kreuzenstein is another castle that seems to have risen out of someone’s imagination – full of magic and fairytale-like wonders.
Only a few miles north of Vienna, the castle is within easy reach and therefore is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
The current castle was built on top of remains of a previous castle and, interestingly, in the reconstruction, parts of other medieval structures from across Europe were purchased and incorporated in the building of this castle.
Several films and TV series have used the castle as a filming location.