Wherever you are in Europe, you’re never too far from a castle. There’s one standing proudly in almost every city, while many others lie tucked away in the mountains – or maybe even hidden in plain sight, blending into the walls of our daily commutes.
Whether restored to their original state or lying in ruins, castles serve as testament to an era long past but not forgotten. Many are happy to simply marvel at their beauty from the outside (and immortalise their visit in a barrage of selfies), but some of us just can’t resist the urge to get inside and feel the castle’s history come to life.
From iconic sites with long queues to ones that are just waiting to be explored, here are some of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
1. Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
“Perched on an island at the meeting point of three lochs in the highlands of Scotland, you couldn’t get a much more picturesque place than Eilean Donan Castle. On a sunny day, the castle is mirrored in the water below, and even on a cloudy day, Eilean Donan is a sight to behold against the backdrop of hills, valleys and lochs.
Located not far from the bridge to the Isle of Skye – Scotland’s most popular island – this castle is not to be missed on any kind of Highlands tour. There’s a gift shop and tea room with delicious scones just across the bridge and you can enter the castle for a tour, but the view from the outside is where the real beauty is.”
Sonja from Migrating Miss
2. Caernarfon Castle, Wales
“Caernarfon Castle is the largest of any of the Edwardian Welsh castles. The castle was built in 1284 and is part of the designated area that UNESCO calls “Castles and town walls of King Edward in Gwynedd”.
These days Caernarfon Castle receives more than 200,000 visitors a year. Its walls are remarkably intact and great fun to scale and walk. Caernarfon was the birthplace of the first Prince of Wales and the coronation place of the current Prince of Wales. A special feature of the castle is The Royal Fusiliers Museum. This museum takes you through 300 years of the oldest infantry regiment in Wales.
The castle is great fun for family travel – there is lots of exploring to be done for both kids and adults.”
Mark from Wyld Family Travel
3. Bran Castle, Romania
“Erected on a huge rock, Bran Castle was supposedly the home of Dracula. Today, Bran Castle is a museum. You can reach it from Bucharest, Romania‘s capital city, in less than three hours. As a matter of fact, it seems that Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, has never lived in the castle, but used it only as a starting point for several trips to Transylvania. Nonetheless, the legend managed to overshadow reality. The movie “Interview with a Vampire” was shot in Bran Castle.
The rural area around Bran Castle is very beautiful – there are springs, forests and mountains, as well as a lot of boarding houses and other accommodation options. You can enjoy traditional Romanian cuisine and experience the Halloween-esque atmosphere of the place, even though it’s not possible to sleep inside the castle – yet.”
Violeta from Violeta Matei
4. The Royal Alcazar, Spain
“Southern Spain has some of the most beautiful and unique castles in all of Europe due to its history of Moorish rule. The Royal Alcazar in Seville is one prime example of this. Though it was a Spanish king’s castle – and is actually the oldest royal palace still in use in all of Europe – you’d be forgiven for thinking this castle was actually located somewhere in the Middle East.
Beautiful Arabic calligraphy and traditional Islamic mosaic tile work line the walls of the quintessentially Spanish courtyard. The interiors are a blend of architectural styles and decor, including traditional tapestries, mosaics, decorative arches, and carvings. The result is a living testament to Spain’s long and vibrant multicultural history. I’d recommend it to travellers because there’s nothing else in Europe that is quite like the Real Alcazar in Spain!”
Allison from Eternal Arrival
5. Linderhof Castle, Germany
“Linderhof Castle is located in the Ammerhau Alps in Bavaria, Germany. It is the smallest of the three castles built by “Mad King” Ludwig and the only one that was completely finished (1878). Perhaps the most popular castle in Bavaria is Neuschwanstein, but Linderhof is simply gorgeous! It may be small, but it is beautifully decorated. It also has a hall of mirrors, like the Palace of Versailles.
One of the most interesting features of Linderhof is the dining room table which disappears into the floor, goes to the kitchen, where it is set, and is sent back. The King always wanted to be alone and not have the servants disturb his meals. The castle’s fountains and gardens are also spectacular. Linderhof is just magical!”
Rebecca from Where To This Time
6. Chateau de Chillon, Switzerland
“Chateau de Chillon is located right on Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and has amazing views of the lake and the Swiss Alps. The castle was built in small progressions over the past 1000 years, so it carries a ton of history. It even has a moat.
Rumour has it the castle in the Little Mermaid was influenced by this historic gem. I was staying in Geneva when I visited this beautiful lakeside castle, about an hour train ride from the city. Visitors can spend the day in this idyllic lakeside town or to the lovely village of Gruyere to cheese and chocolates, the mountain views.”
Stephanie from Ginger on the Go
7. Craigmillar Castle, Scotland
“Craigmillar Castle, sometimes known as “Edinburgh’s Other Castle”, is one of those places that leave a mark on your soul. These ruins are wonderfully preserved, and you can explore every square inch of the place – nothing is off-limits! There’s mystery and intrigue, as well as a wonderful narrative that surrounds this castle. Stroll through the grounds and you will learn all you could want to know about Craigmillar.
The castle grounds are a short 30-minute bus ride from the city centre, but once you get there it feels like you’re in a different time and place.”
Susan from McVagabonds
8. Karlstejn Castle, Czech Republic
Dating back to the 1300s, the castle was the long-time home of Bohemia’s crown jewels. The walk up the hill from town is steep (though worth it!), but you’ll love the views even if you don’t hike all the way to the castle grounds. The beautiful architecture and interesting history make Karlstejn Castle a great day trip from Prague!”
Stephanie from Road Unraveled
9. Windsor Castle, England
“Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest active castle in the world. Queen Elizabeth still spends her weekends and holidays in it. The castle was built in the 11th century and its size and architecture are impressive. During the visit, you can enter the State apartments, St Mary’s doll house (a miniature palace supplied with electricity), and St George’s chapel.
Windsor itself is worth a visit, so you can spend some time around town after visiting the castle. Windsor is just 40 minutes away from London, so it is a perfect day trip if you’re in the capital.”
Ivana Nicole from Postcards From Ivi
10. Trakoscan Castle, Croatia
“When someone mentions Croatia, everybody instantly thinks of Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes or one of the country’s numerous islands. Not many people know about Trakoscan Castle, the prettiest and best-preserved castle in Croatia with beautiful surroundings and breathtaking views.
Just 90 minutes away from Zagreb, Trakoscan is a perfect destination for a day trip. Back in time, it was an observation fortress and the residence of the noble family Draskovic. In the 19th century, the castle was restored to today’s romantic looks, and a park and artificial lake were also created. The castle is now a museum, where you can learn about the way of life of Croatian nobility.
After visiting the castle, you can take a walk in the area or rent a paddle boat to explore the lake. Expect to be blown away by the fascinating views!”
Maja from Mexatia
11. Peles Castle, Romania
“Visiting Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania, is like stepping into a fairytale. The beautiful neo-Renaissance structure lies nestled in the forested Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. The castle was built in the mid-1800s as a summer residence for King Carol I. It was the first castle in Europe to have electricity and running water.
Now one of Romania’s main tourist attractions, the castle is renowned for its beautiful frescoes, its stained-glass windows and its decorated rooms, which draw artistic and architectural inspiration from different European countries.”
Erika from Erika’s Travels
12. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
“Edinburgh Castle sits perched atop a volcanic rock looming over one of my favourite European cities, Edinburgh. It is, without a doubt, the most formidable castle I have visited.
The castle offers informative guided tours where you can learn all about the history of Scotland. You can also see the Scottish Royal Jewels, the castles armouries, and the suites where Queen Mary of Scot lived and gave birth to King James.
When touring the grounds, you will be afforded superb views of this lovely city, including the Royal Mile.”
Jamie from The Daily Adventures of Me
13. Chateau de Chantilly, France
“Situated on Île de France, around half an hour from Gare du Nord, the Château at Chantilly is the perfect day trip from Paris. The residence of French princes for almost two centuries, the castle is now not only open for public visits but also home to the Condé Museum, the second largest art collection in France after the Louvre.
I visited the castle for the first time on a chilly yet clear morning at the end of November. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer beauty of the beautiful architecture silhouetted against the candy pink sky. Getting up to see the castle at sunrise was definitely one of the most rewarding early morning starts I’ve ever had!”
Sophie from Solo Sophie