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
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.
19. Trakai Island Castle
As the name indicates, this magnificent castle is set upon a small island with the sparkling waters of Lake Galve surrounding it. Located just outside of Vilnius, the imposing red brick fortification was once of the utmost strategic importance to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
First erected in the second half of the 14th century, the castle and its magnificent Ducal palace were restored to their original look and style in the 1960s. The Gothic and Romanesque features of Trakai Island Castle look particularly arresting when viewed from across the shimmering waters of the lake.
18. Castello di Miramare
Very elegant and refined, the brilliantly white walls of Castello di Miramare stand out delightfully against the glimmering waters of the Gulf of Trieste. Lying a stone’s throw away from Trieste in the northeast of Italy, the castle was built in the 1850s to house Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife.
Very befitting of the Hapsburgs, the beautiful setting and design of the castle are perfectly complemented by lavish gardens and a spectacular seashore park. Now a very popular museum, Castello di Miramare attracts visitors from all over the world, who come to see its original furnishings and rooms in all of their splendor.
17. Predjama Castle
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.
16. Kylemore Abbey
Originally known as Kylemore Castle, this fantastic fortification in the west of Ireland was turned into a Benedictine monastery by Belgian nuns fleeing the fighting of World War I. Built in 1868 to be the private home of a wealthy doctor, the Victorian-style buildings and Gothic church of the estate are beautifully reflected in the waters of Pollacapall Lough.
With delightful mountains, reflective lakes, and gushing rivers all around it, Kylemore Abbey has long been one of County Galway’s most popular attractions, and many people come to stroll around its landscaped gardens.
15. Conwy Castle
Located in the north of Wales, Conwy Castle was built all the way back in 1283 by Edward I of England, who was attempting to conquer his unruly neighbors. Set at a strategic spot on the banks of the River Conwy, the imposing castle played a crucial role in many battles and wars for centuries to come. Featuring not only two hulking barbicans but eight large and impenetrable towers, the castle is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of military architecture in Europe.
While its massive silvery-grey stone walls and riverside location certainly make for a beautiful sight, its interior is no less impressive due to its well preserved medieval royal apartments.
14. Bamburgh Castle
Built atop a wind-swept bluff on the northeast coast of England, the large and looming Bamburgh Castle has a long and fascinating history for visitors to delve into. Once the site of a Celtic Brittonic fort, some form of fortification has remarkably stood in the same spot ever since the year 420.
Constructed in the 11th century by the Normans, the current castle long acted as an important outpost for the English monarchs because of its proximity to the Scottish border. Due to its romantic and desolate seaside setting and its majestic turrets and crumbling crenellations, the photogenic Bamburgh Castle has featured in numerous books and films over the years.
13. Chateau de Chillon
Lying at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, Chateau de Chillon makes for a spectacular sight, particularly when the snow-covered Dents du Midi are visible in the background. An earlier version of the castle was first built by the Romans to guard the strategic passes through the nearby mountains.
Set on a small island that is connected to the lakeshore by a delightful little bridge, the Swiss chateau features some arresting and artistic architecture, which is magically reflected in the waters around it. A popular day trip from Geneva, Chateau de Chillon also has some elegant halls and courtyards for visitors to check out, as well as an atmospheric crypt.
12. Windsor Castle
Famed around the world for being the home of the British royal family, Windsor Castle has long been one of the United Kingdom’s most popular tourist destinations. Remarkably, the castle is not only the longest-occupied palace in the world, but also the largest.
The sheer size and scale of the royal residence beggars belief, and taking a tour around the luxurious and seemingly never-ending state apartments is simply a must. Originally built in the 11th century, Windsor Castle’s Georgian and Victorian design, extravagant Baroque interiors, and refined Rococo furnishings all make it one of the finest and fanciest castles on Earth.
11. De Haar Castle
Rising from amidst a tangled mess of lovingly landscaped rose gardens, the elegant turrets and towers of De Haar Castle appear all the more magical. Neo-Gothic in design, the beautiful castle is set just outside of Utrecht in the Netherlands, with magnificent moats, lakes, and gardens all around it.
Its interior is no less impressive, as its two hundred rooms are all lavishly decorated with priceless paintings and fabulous furnishings. While the earliest mention of the castle is in 1391, the current romanticized version dates to 1892, when it was restored and refurbished from its ruinous state.
10. Corvin Castle
Built in a marvelous Gothic-Renaissance style, Corvin Castle in Transylvania is one of the largest castles in the whole of Europe. Set on a hilltop overlooking the Zlasti River, the 15th-century fortress proudly boasts a number of lofty towers, as well as impregnable walls and a sturdy drawbridge.
Numerous myths and legends swirl around the Romanian castle. Its attractive and fairytalesque look has seen it featured in numerous television shows and films.
9. Cochem Castle
Set in a scenic spot overlooking the town of Cochem and the Moselle River, the castle of the same name is surrounded by rolling greens hills, with lush forests and vineyards all around it. While a castle has stood on the same hilltop since at least the year 1130, the original was destroyed by the marauding troops of Louis IV in 1688.
Restored and rebuilt in a gorgeous Gothic Revival style, the current castle is now a popular tourist attraction in the German Rhineland. While Cochem Castle is fascinating to explore, the views from its turrets and towers of the valley, town, and river below are just as spellbinding.
8. Swallow’s Nest
The delightfully named Swallow’s Nest can be found perched dramatically on the edge of a clifftop in the Crimean Peninsula. Overlooking the shimmering waters of the Black Sea, the daintily decorated castle was built in 1911 following very romantic Neo-Gothic designs.
Having featured in numerous films in Soviet times, the Swallow’s Nest is now a popular place to visit amongst tourists, who come to ogle at its precarious setting, refined architecture, and the stunning views on offer.
7. Spis Castle
Located in the northeast of Slovakia, Spis Castle has dominated its surroundings ever since it was built in 1241. Due to its cultural, economic, and political importance to the Kingdom of Hungary, the castle kept growing in size until it became the enormous fortress it is today.
Boasting impressive and imposing stone walls and towers, as well as a wonderful Romanesque palace, Spis Castle now serves as an interesting and educational museum. With commanding views out over the hills and valleys to be enjoyed from its battlements, this magnificent fort is not to be missed out on when in Slovakia.
6. Hohenzollern Castle
Whether viewed emerging from the treetops which surround it or from amidst the clouds which swirl around its walls, Hohenzollern Castle always makes for an epic sight. Perched atop of a prominent mount of the same name, the castle and Gothic Revival palace exhibit some astounding architecture, and the halls and chambers within are just as delightfully decorated.
While the current castle was only completed in 1867, a fortress has stood upon the same mount since at least the 11th century. One of the most visited castles in the whole of Germany, Hohenzollern is still owned by the royal house of the same name.
5. Alcazar of Segovia
Shaped very much like the bow of a ship, Alcazar of Segovia has long attracted sightseers due to its distinctive design and breathtaking setting. Indeed, the castle’s magnificent keep and slim towers look particularly dashing, considering they are perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the confluence of two rivers.
Located in the center of Spain, its well-preserved palace is full of elegant rooms and halls that are covered in art and fine furnishings. Now a popular museum, the Alcazar of Segovia also has a well-equipped armory and collection of weapons for visitors to peruse.
4. Bran Castle
Commonly known outside of Romania as ‘Dracula’s Castle,’ Bran Castle certainly looks the part. The forbidding fortress lies hidden in a forest in Transylvania. Despite its eerie appearance, however, the castle only has tenuous links at best with the cruel and barbaric 15th-century ruler Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.
Clever marketing ploy aside, Bran Castle is definitely worth visiting for its amazing architecture and beautiful setting in a lush valley. In addition to this, visitors can now enjoy exploring the castle’s many rooms, which house the extensive art and furniture collection of Queen Marie.
3. Pena Castle
Certainly the brightest and most daringly designed and decorated castle on this list, Pena Palace – as it more commonly goes by – really is as unique as they come. Awash with color, the vivid yellows and reds of its walls shine forth from its prominent hilltop setting in the Sintra Mountains just outside of Lisbon.
Completed in 1854 in a Romanticist style, its imaginative design is a joy to gaze upon, and the views from its ramparts and gardens aren’t half bad either. Taking in all its fantastic features and exotic and extravagant architectural styles is sure to be one of the highlights of any trip to Portugal.
2. Eilean Donan
Located at the point where three lochs meet, Eilean Donan in Scotland is truly blessed when it comes to its spectacular setting. While the original castle is thought to have been built on the small island sometime in the 13th century, the current romanticized and reimagined reincarnation only dates to the 20th century.
Although its crumbling grey walls and undistinguished features may not look quite as impressive as many other castles, it is its gorgeous surroundings that really set it apart. Having featured in countless films and television shows over the decades, Eilean Donan is certainly one of the most famous and recognizable castles in the whole of Europe.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle
Perched atop a forested mount with the majestic Bavarian Alps behind it, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria looks as if it has just emerged from a book of children’s fairytales. Only completed in 1886, the castle’s delightful design draws from both romanticism architecture and Ludwig II’s love and appreciation for the operas of Richard Wagner.
Fittingly, the photogenic palace, with its beautiful towers and glorious entrance, actually served as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland. Full of incredible artworks and precious paintings, the interior of the castle is no less exceptional. Visitors can take a tour around its luxurious halls and chambers. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful castles in the world thanks to its fabulous design and breathtaking setting.