Seeing Europe’s most magnificent castles is often on or near the top of any traveler’s to-do list. If it’s on yours, consider visiting one or more of these stunning European castles.
Mont Saint-Michel is perched atop a rocky islet in Normandy, about one kilometer off the coast, set among vast sandbanks that are exposed to powerful tides, connecting and disconnecting the island from the mainland each day. This Gothic-style Benedictine abbey was dedicated to the archangel St. Michael, built between the 11th and 16th centuries. It served as a prison during the reign of Napoleon I and is now preserved as a national historical monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Sleeping Beauty” Castle is often referred to as such as it was said to be the inspiration for the castle at Disneyland. Neuschwanstein is a 19th-century palace that’s set on a rugged hill in Munich, Germany. It was commissioned by the reclusive King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal refuge and was opened to the public following his death in 1886. Today, over 1.3 million people visit this fairytale-like castle every year.
Eilean Donan Castle
One of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, and throughout Europe, is Eilean Donan Castle situated on the main route to the breathtaking Isle of Skye. The structure is one of the most iconic images in the country, set in an especially stunning location on its own island where three sea-lochs meet and surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery. Originally built in the mid-13th century as a fortified castle for Alexander II as a defense against the Vikings, since then it has been built and rebuilt on a number of occasions, fully restored in the 1930s.
Prague Castle is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic and dates all the way back to the ninth century. It’s one of the largest and oldest castles in the world and has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia as well as Holy Roman emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia. While the first known building was erected about 870 AD, in the 12th century it was replaced by a Romanesque palace and 200 years later it was rebuilt in the Gothic style under the reign of Charles IV. Another reconstruction of the Royal Palace took place at the end of the 15th century. Today it serves as the historical and political center for both city and state, with a Changing of the Guard ceremony taking place every hour at its front gates.
Lismore Castle in Ireland is not located on the well-worn Irish tourism path, which is part of its charm. This hidden gem that was originally built in 1185 can be found in the southeast region of the Emerald Isle, on the outskirts of the Heritage Town of Lismore, close to Cork and Waterford. It sits in a panoramic position overlooking the Blackwater Valley with views of rolling, wooded hills to the Knockmealdown Mountains and beyond. While the castle itself isn’t open to the public, the incredibly gorgeous public gardens are. The west wing of the castle houses a contemporary art gallery open during the summer months.
Le Chateau de Chambord
Le Chateau de Chambord in Loir-et-Cher, France is known as one of the crown jewels of Europe. Built as a hunting lodge for Francois I in 1547, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in France. It took more than 30 years to build and has an elaborate rooftop made up of 800 sculpted columns and over 440 rooms and 85 staircases. Here, a game of hide and seek could last a lifetime.
El Alcazar de Segovia
Spain’s most famous castle is also rumored to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle. This incredibly fairytale castle is located in the old city of Segovia atop a rocky hill – shaped like the bow of a ship making it appear as if it’s sailing toward you. The Alcazar was originally built in the 12th century as a fortress, but has served as a royal palace, a state prison and a military academy over the centuries.
This Neo-Gothic castle in the Ardennes region of Belgium, also known as Chateau de Noisy, was built in 1866 by an English architect who passed away before it was finished. It first served as a summer residence for a wealthy family until it was commandeered by Nazis during World War II. For many years afterward, it was operated as a hotel and a home for children of employees of the National Railway Company of Belgium, but unfortunately a fire led to its abandonment. Today it remains magnificent yet desolate, derelict, and possibly haunted.
Set in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, Peles Castle is known to be one of the most spectacular in Eastern Europe and is the pride of the mountain town of Sinaia. The Neo-Renaissance castle, built between 1873 and 1914 under the direction of King Carol I, boasts 160 rooms. It’s an architecture and design fantasyland with ornate wooden spiral staircases and bizarre features like doors hidden inside cupboards and a room shaped like an upside down boat.
Palace of Pena
This breathtaking palace inspired by European Romanticism sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Sintra in Portugal. Named as one of the “seven wonders” of Portugal, it was the result of King Ferdinand II’s creative genius, constructed in 1838. The beautiful park that surrounds it is made up of a forest and luxuriant gardens with more than 500 different species of trees that originate from all corners of the planet. The palace was built in a way that it can be seen from any point within the park and is another that seems to come straight from the pages of a fairytale book.
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