Swiss landscapes are some of the most beautiful in Europe and the whole world for that matter. The landlocked country features awe-inspiring Alpine landscapes, crystal-clear lakes, and cities and towns that follow suit. Among all that you can also find some of the most spectacular castles and strongholds that proudly sit amidst the picturesque panorama.
Switzerland is famous for its military neutrality, and this can easily be observed through the fantastically well-preserved castles too, many of which date back to the medieval times. Some have been in the middle of turmoil during the Burgundian Wars, others have stood through time without being besieged, and some are still owned by the original families.
1. Vufflens Castle
Vufflens Castle is located in the canton of Vaud in western Switzerland and is a privately-owned 15th-century castle. Despite not being open to the public, seeing the castle up close in person is worth every second. Surrounded by rows and rows of vineyards, Vufflens Castle dominates the surrounding landscape with its beautiful square and round towers.
Vufflens Castle was preceded by an earlier medieval castle. For a century Vufflens Castle stood uninterrupted until 1530, when a Bernese army set the castle on fire. It was another century before the castle was acquired by the Senarclens family.
Even though the whole structure hasn’t survived to this day in its original form, several features from the original castle remain. These include the 60-meter high donjon, several towers, outbuildings, the gatehouse, as well as the surrounding wall.
Vufflens Castle is one of the most significant examples of the fortified Romandy castles. Built to face Lake Geneva, it is one of the oldest castles in the whole canton. The surrounding vineyards provide grapes for the wine that is produced in the castle’s cellars.
2. Chateau de Chillon
Chillon Castle easily has one of the most spectacular locations for any European castle. Located on a rock on the eastern side of the picturesque Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle attracts visitors from all over the world throughout the year. In fact, it has the most visitors each year for any historic building in all of Switzerland.
Chillon has a rich history due to its significantly strategic location. Starting out as a Roman outpost, it controlled an essential Alpine pass. The actual history of the castle is divided into three significant periods: the Savoy Period, the Bernese Period, and the Vaudois Period.
Even though the exact date of the castle’s origins is not known, the first mention in historical records dates back to 1150. During the Middle Ages, the first significant renovations and extensions were made in the 13th century and onwards, when the castle was turned into a summer residence for the counts. It wasn’t long until the castle slowly fell into neglect due to being uninhabited for the most part of the year.
In 1536 the Bernese overtook the castle. For over two and a half centuries the castle was a significant fortress, arsenal, and prison under the Bernese rule in the region. Since the late 18th century the castle has been in the possession of the Canton of Vaud. The restoration campaign that was launched in the late 19th century is still ongoing.
The castle is open to visitors with several exhibitions and tours of the castle.
3. Munot Fortress
Munot Fortress in north Swiss city of Schaffhausen is a 16th-century circular fortification that rises above the surrounding landscape and thus is also the main landmark of the city. Overlooking the Old Town and Rhine River, it boasts spectacular panorama views that historically served to its advantage – controlling the river pass and spotting any threats in the town, like fires, for example that would break out rather often.
Munot Fortress was always a defensive structure and never a residence. This is one of the main reasons why the structure remains almost completely in its original form as residential castles tended to be rebuilt and extended more often than defensive ones.
The fortress is open to visitors, who can enjoy this spectacular structure from both inside and out.
4. Tarasp Castle
Located in the alpine Upper Engadine, Tarasp Castle, also a Swiss heritage site, is a medieval castle dating back to the 11th century. The hilltop castle not only rises above the surrounding landscape, but is also located 1499 meters above the sea level. Up until 1803 the castle actually belonged to Austria.
The castle was built gradually. The first structures on site were a ring wall and a chapel with a bell tower. The palas was built later, in the 13th century. The structure with impressive 2-meter thick walls became the main focal point of the complex. After that, additions of residential wings followed.
The castle was attacked several times around the 16th and 17th centuries. Due to inevitable fires during the attacks, the castle suffered damages but these were swiftly repaired, especially in the residential wing.
5. Thun Castle
Thun Castle is one of the most recognizable castles in Switzerland. Not only the castle structure itself is memorable – the fairytale-like surroundings are absolutely picture perfect. Located in the city of Thun in the canton of Bern, the castle boasts unmatched views of the city, Lake Thun, and the snow-capped mountains.
The castle was built at the end of the 12th century but never became the residence of the Zähringen family who preferred their other residence. A couple of decades after the castle was built, the House of Kyburg inherited the property and started making improvements which included building upper levels of the castle complex.
The main focal point of the castle complex is the well-preserved donjon. This part of the castle is open to the public, as well as the four corner towers that allow visitors to enjoy stunning views over the city.
6. Tourbillon Castle
The mountainous Swiss landscape proved to be perfect for medieval castles and fortifications, many of which sit atop cliff-edged hilltops. Tourbillon Castle is no exception. Located in the southwestern part of Switzerland, Tourbillon Castle was built between the 13th and 14th centuries.
The castle has had a tumultuous past since it housed bishops from the Diocese of Sion. Undergoing several attacks and attempts to besiege the castle, the first serious attack with lasting damages happened in 1417 when a large part of the castle was destroyed. Luckily, shortly after, rebuilding and repair work took place, but in 1788 a completely destructive fire that had overtaken the city of Sion destroyed the castle to ashes.
In the 20th century the castle ruins were excavated and restoration took place in the 60s and the 90s. Tourbillon Castle is part of the Valère & Tourbillon complex, where the castle sits atop one hill directly opposite the cathedral of Valère which is located on another hill.
7. Gruyères Castle
When hearing the name of the town of Gruyères, most people will immediately think of the world-famous Gruyère cheese. And while that is one of the main attractions, it is not the only one. The beautiful Gruyères Castle is one of the most significant landmarks in the region and it’s easy to see why. This Swiss heritage site of national significance was built in the late 13th century and belonged to the Counts of Gruyères until the mid-16th century.
The castle was built in a square plan, typical for fortifications in the Savoy region. While the majority of medieval castles and fortifications have an imposing appearance about them, there is something particularly charming and quaint about Gruyères Castle. It’s not just the scenic surroundings that paint an Alpine fairytale picture, but the castle itself has an exquisite charm. With its several towers, lovely inner courtyard and small but beautiful landscape garden, there is more to discover inside. Intricately painted walls and decorations allow you to take a stroll in history, and it’s clear that Gruyères Castle truly is worthy of royalty.
8. Rapperswil Castle
Located on the shores of Lake Zurich, Rapperswil Castle sits above the town of Rapperswil which is also often referred to as the “town of roses”. The late-12th-century castle is set on a rocky hilltop called Lindenhof. Within its walls, the castle holds a surprising element – the Polish National Museum. To many it comes as a surprise, but the museum has been a part of the castle since 1870.
Each corner of the castle features a tower, and the highest is the donjon in the southwest of the castle. One of the most prominent features is the five-sided clock tower.
9. Aarburg Castle
The beautiful Aarburg Castle complex in northern Switzerland dates back to the medieval times, even though the exact date of when the castle was built is unknown, it was first mentioned in writing around the 13th century.
The castle was besieged in 1415 by the Bernese and in the 16th century extensive renovations and extension work started on the site that continued well into the 17th century.
The central parts of the castle are located on a narrow ridge. This part includes a limestone-walled keep and a tower house. Interestingly, the bottom floor is made up from the rock on the hill – it was directly carved out.
These days Aarburg Castle houses a juvenile rehabilitation center.
10. Valère Basilica
We already briefly mentioned the Valère Basilica when talking about the Tourbillon Castle since the two are located directly opposite on separate hilltops, however, it wouldn’t be a list of Switzerland’s best castles without dedicating a separate section to the Valère Basilica itself.
The Valère Basilica or Valère Castle is a fortified church in southwest Switzerland in the town of Sion. Even though a cathedral has been mentioned in records as far back as in the 11th century, it is believed that the first parts of the castle church were built between the early and mid-12th century in Romanesque style. Gradual building work took place over the next centuries and in the mid-15th century the grandiose cathedral organ was installed.
The organ is still functioning to this day and is believed to be one of the oldest functioning church organs in the world.
11. Stockalper Palace
One of the most unique castles in Switzerland when it comes to design is the Stockalper Palace. The distinctive towers give an immediate otherworldly feel to the entire castle complex which was built in the 17th century by Kaspar Stockalper, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and politician.
The three towers were named after the Three Wise Men in the Bible. One of the main purposes of the impressive palatial complex was to provide warehouse space for Stockalper’s growing trading business.
12. Grandson Castle
Grandson Castle is the second largest château in Switzerland. Overlooking the beautiful Lake Neuchâtel in western Switzerland, the impressive medieval stronghold is both impressive and awe-inspiring.
The medieval fortress dates back to as far as the 11th century even though continuous construction took place up until the 14th century. Otto I of Grandson, who rebuilt the castle in the 13th century, had close ties to the English royalty and especially Edward I. Thus the importance of Grandson rule in the Swiss territory cannot be overlooked.
One of the most significant times in the history of the castle was in the late 15th century when it played an important role in the Burgundian Wars and the battle of Grandson.
13. Champvent Castle
Situated on a hill above the valley of Thiele, Champvent Castle has a harmonious appearance that fits perfectly into the surrounding landscape. It is one of the best-preserved medieval fortifications in the country, and it was one of the castles built by the Lords of Grandson. Champvent Castle dates back to the 13th century.
Architecturally the castle follows the Savoy Square structure with a rectangular enclosure and four round towers in each corner. The largest tower is also a donjon.
During the Burgundian Wars the castle suffered serious fire damage but was rebuilt in the 16th century and since then it remains private property, thus it can only be appreciated from the outside.
14. Blonay Castle
Blonay Castle is a charming medieval castle in the canton of Vaud in southwestern Switzerland. The castle was built in the third quarter of the 12th century by the Blonay family. The Blonay family has owned the castle throughout the history up to the present day except for a brief period in the late 18th century.
Just like many other medieval castles, Blonay Castle too has undergone several changes to adapt to the requirements of each time period. It has been noted by archeologists that the castle in the shape of an irregular rectangle used to have four towers in each corner, while only two remain to this day.
15. Aigle Castle
The Swiss canton of Vaud proudly contains several stunning castles and Aigle Castle is no exception. Surrounded by vast vineyards in the Rhone Valley not far from Lake Geneva, Aigle Castle attracts visitors with its quaint appearance – truly fairytale-like with traditional medieval castle elements like towers and turrets, thick curtain wall and arrow slits.
While the majority of the current structure dates back to the time of the Bernese rule from the 15th to the 18th century, the original castle was built in the 12th century and some parts of the original building remain. The castle suffered serious damages during the Burgundian Wars in the 15th century