I have Walt Disney to blame for filling my imagination with fairy tales. I’ve been enchanted with castles for as long as I can remember! Unsurprisingly, my childhood desire to be a princess (#tbt) led to my obsession with castles. This dream then blossomed into more of an admiration for European history and aesthetics.
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Did you know that there are many intriguing castles beyond Prague, Windsor and Versailles? And Mont St-Michel isn’t actually a castle but rather a town surrounded by an Abbey. Many more castles beyond the well-known ones hold a special place in my heart.
Top 7 castles you absolutely must visit in Europe
1. Schönbrunn Palace, Austria
Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands out in all its glory west of the city of Vienna. This stunning palace is home to the famous Princess Sisi and the venue for Mozart‘s first concert. Inspired by Baroque and Rococo architecture, the luxurious castle has huge formal gardens, a zoo and a concert hall that is still in use.
A visit to Schönbrunn will reveal many of the secrets of the Austrian royal family and teach you more about the conflicts that led to the First World War.
Nomad tip: I strongly recommend you take the audio-guided tour, so you don’t miss anything.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle holds the top spot on my list. It is the ultimate Disney castle, the holy grail example of what you think a castle should be. The neo-Gothic castle stands on a rocky hill above Füssen. It’s famous for its incomparable allure and the splendour of the surrounding landscapes. The nearly empty Neuschwanstein was only used for eleven days by Ludwig II of Bavaria.
The castle was the primary inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle we all know and love at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. If you plan to visit Neuschwanstein castle in Germany, take the opportunity to visit the nearby Hohenschwangau and Linderhof castles too.
3. Predjamski Castle, Slovenia
The slightly less conventional Predjamski castle can be found nestled in the crevices of a high cliff in the Slovenian countryside. It looks stately and has an equally impressive history. Its most remarkable inhabitant was Érasme Predjamski, the ex-knight turned bandit.
You can now visit the museum in the main rooms and the dungeons.
4. Kronborg Castle, Denmark
Kronborg Castle in Helsingør has played an important role in the history of Northern Europe, thanks to its strategic location. It stands at the edge of a peninsula by the Øresund strait separating Denmark and Sweden. Kronborg symbolizes the Danish Empire’s power and holds Scandinavia’s best-kept secrets. It is so spectacular that Shakespeare made it the setting of his famous tragedy Hamlet.
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5. Eilean Donan Castle, UK
Eilean Donan is, in my opinion, the most beautiful castle in Scotland. I have dreamed of exploring it since I was a teenager. The ultra-secluded castle sits on a tiny island in the far north-west of Scotland and has all the makings of a romantic castle. The medieval structure originally served as a defence fortress against the Vikings and then became a residence for nobles. Today it’s a popular place for Hollywood films, appearing in movies such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Highlander.
A popular legend suggests that the castle is haunted by the ghost of a Spanish soldier who was killed in battle there.
6. Alcazar of Segovia Castle, Spain
The Spanish castle Alcazar of Segovia rises above a rocky outcrop, mimicking the appearance of a ship’s bow. Over its existence, the castle has served as a fortress, a royal palace and a state prison. Today it functions as a military academy. Some say Walt Disney drew inspiration from this castle for his adapted version of Cinderella.
7. Chenonceau Castle, France
Aside from its magical allure and picture-perfect location, the Château de Chenonceau makes it onto this list because of its history and drama. Many French nobles lived and stayed there. Also called the “Château des Dames”, Chenonceau is home to the secrets of Catherine de Medici, Diane de Poitiers, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont and Gabrielle d’Estrées.
The fully furnished castle allows you to admire the enchanting rooms of all the past tenants. I suggest taking the guided tour to get a better understanding of all the events that took place.
Obviously, there are more than just seven castles to visit in Europe. Gems from all ages cover the entire continent. So many stories to uncover! If you love castles, you might be interested in another (small) list of the castles I would like to visit in my lifetime.
Other notable castles to explore in Europe:
- Swallow’s Nest Castle, Ukraine
- The Royal Pavilion, UK
- Chateau d’Ussé (Castle of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault), France
- Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
- Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland
- Fortified City of Carcassonne, France
- Ksiaz Castle, Poland
- Grand Palace of Peterhof, Russia
- Arundel Castle, UK
- Pena Palace, Portugal
- Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark
- Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle), Romania
- Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
- Haunted Eltz Castle, Germany
- Warwick Castle, United Kingdom