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Here Are the 10 European Castles that You Must Visit Once in Your Life

Serra de Sintra-Portugal

| 9 mins read

Whether you are a fan of the modern Bridgerton, rustic Game of Thrones, or the classic Beauty and the Beast, the one thing they all have in common are the enchanting castles, and castles, more often than not, mean Europe! If you want to picture yourself as Belle or Daphne, waltzing in the castle among the grandeur, here is a list of the 10 most gorgeous European castles to visit at least once in your life.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, which translates roughly as “New Swan Castle”, sits atop a hill located in Bavaria, Germany, providing a breathtaking view of the surroundings. Widely known as the inspiration for the fortress in the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, Neuschwanstein has a unique architecture inspired by medieval German design. The castle was built as a personal retreat of King Ludwig II and features over 200 rooms, grand turrets, towers, and spires, along with intricate wood carvings, making it a brilliant example of Romantic architecture.

Moreover, the castle holds many hidden secrets - the best-kept of which is its hidden “Grotto.” The Grotto is basically a cave-like room between the King's living room and the study room, which resembles the natural setting of a cave. It has rock-like walls, a small waterfall and a wave machine to create a personal fairytale land! Do you know there are rumours that King Ludwig built this as a fairytale escape from his royal responsibilities? To enhance your experience, be sure to ask your local guide about the wealth of horror stories specific to Neuschwanstein!

Bran Castle, Romania

Welcome to the home of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, perched high atop a 200-foot-high rock and steeped in mystery and legend!

In the real world, the Bran Castle is best known for its association with Vlad the Impaler and Queen Marie of Romania. Legend has it that Bram Stoker's Dracula is inspired by the notorious resident of the Bran Castle, Vlad the Impaler, known in the world's history for his brutal tactics in warfare and resistance against the Ottomans. Although there is no evidence supporting Vlad's stay at Bran, you can still visit the place in person and see the reason behind such claims for yourself! Apart from the legends and historical narratives, you will be captivated by the scenic views of the village of Bran and towering spires of Gothic architecture set against a backdrop of dense forests and mountains, creating a fantastic heritage!

Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

Built-in the 11th century, the Hohenwefen Castle was originally built as a military fortress for Salzburg's archbishops, a fact that is evident from its architecture of tall watchtowers and fortified walls. It beautifully sits on a steep rocky hill high above the Salzach Valley, and its most unique feature is - apart from the architecture and the location - the stunning bird of prey show at the historic State Falconry. At Hohenwerfen Castle, falconry demonstrations are quite a reward, where the birds and their handlers showcase their skills and a unique bond between a human and a bird, bonded on survival! 

Walking along the medieval walls of this 900-year-old fortress, witnessing this unique falconry art while hearing interesting titbits from your local guide will be an experience that will have an everlasting impression.

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

When you are in Lithuania, take a short day trip to Trakai Island,  around 30 km from Vilnius to see one of the most unique castles in the world, the Trakai Island Castle. Located on a small island in Lake Galvė, one of the deepest lakes in Lithuania, the Trakai Island Castle was built at the end of the 14th century, and after losing its strategic importance to the events in history, it was turned first into a noble residence, with new frescoes and decorations, and then later served as a prison.

Today, the castle garners the world’s attention for its gothic architecture and, more so, for its special location. The view of this majestic castle feels straight out of a fantasy movie. Interestingly, if, for some reason, you have limited time to explore the castle, there are local guides who can suggest the best spots to take in the majestic views of the castle from a yacht.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Popular for being the inspiration for the DunBroch castle in Brave, Eilean Donan Castle was built in the mid-13th century in the Scottish Highlands, where it is located on its own little island for strategic advantage. The castle overlooks the Isle of Skye at the point where three sea lochs meet and is surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail. With such natural splendour all around, it is easy to see why the directors of the movie Brave drew inspiration from Eilean Donan for their settings.

On your guided visit, get to see period furniture and historical artifacts in its well-preserved rooms and wander around the picturesque banqueting hall, bedrooms, and kitchens while your guide tells the story of the castle's tumultuous history. Interestingly, the castle witnessed numerous historical events and has been rebuilt several times. Moreover, the castle once served as a strong centre of Clan Mackenzie, which played a key role in the Jacobite uprisings. This will provide you with deeper insights into the important chapters of the Scottish Highlands.

Pena Castle, Portugal

Pena Palace is lovingly called the jewel in the crown of the Sintra Hills, and it is clear why - the castle looks straight out of a Disney movie, with its vibrant colours and domes and towers. Lauded as “the eternal legacy of Ferdinand II, the King-Artist”, the Pena Palace is his love letter to 19th-century Romantic architecture. Located in Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle is a brilliant work of architectural art, blending Gothic, Moorish and Manueline elements in a unique style.

Alcazar Castle, Spain

The Alcazar of Segovia, located near Madrid, is perhaps one of the most famous castles in Spain. It perches between the confluence of the Rio Ciguinuela and the Rio Eresma, which meet in the centre of Segovia. When strolling along the streets of the nearby town, the castle, shaped rather like the bow of a ship, gives an illusion of it sailing towards you!

What is most interesting, apart from the stunning scene and architecture, is the history of the castle. It originated as an Arab fort, then was rebuilt as a royal palace, then served as a state prison, then a military academy and so on! Today, it finally stands as an enchanting tourist location that allows you to relive the fantasy of walking through the silent rooms of a medieval castle! Moreover, the castle is located in the historic city of Segovia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, allowing you to enhance your experience by admiring Gothic-styled architecture, wandering through lanes lined with local tapas bars and streets filled with Spanish melodies!

Do you know the castle is also rumoured to be the inspiration for both the Dornish castles in the Game of Thrones and Cinderella’s castle in the Disney movie?

Bled Castle, Slovenia

With the first mentions of the castle in 1011, the Bled Castle in Sloveniais officially the oldest castle and one of the most visited sites in the country. With the first mentions of the castle in 1011, the Bled Castle in Slovenia is officially the oldest castle in the country. Additionally, it is also one of the most visited sites in the country and fair because of its stunning location of majestically standing on a sheer cliff overlooking the serene Lake Bled, with the beautiful Julian Alps in the background. 

With a local guide by your side, trace the blend of medieval and Renaissance styles in its architecture, visit the chapel and the museum to learn of its history and, especially, witness the castle’s printing works to see the traditional manual printing techniques. Moreover, be sure to ask your local guide for the eerie legend of the sunken bell still to be heard ringing from the depths of the lake. The story and the history will only enhance the thrilling experience!

Tintagel Castle, England

If there is one legend that surpasses popularity in the UK beyond any other story (yes, even Harry Potter), it is the Legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. And what can be a better place to learn about King Arthur and the legend than his supposed birthplace? 

Built half on the mainland and half on a jagged rock formation projecting into the Cornish Sea, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spellbinding historic sites in Britain. It was an important stronghold from about the 5th to the 7th century AD. Today, the scattered stone structures, fragmented walls, and luxury pottery imported from the Mediterranean offer a historical insight not only into the British times but also the Roman era and the Dark Ages. It will be a great experience to walk with your guide and fully immerse yourself in the stories of a bygone era!

Castle di Miramare, Italy

Travelling along the coastal road in Trieste, the very first thing which will come to notice is the Castello di Miramare, sitting commandingly overlooking the sea. A much recent castle, built in teh 19th century, this magnificent castle was once home to Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. The most interesting sight is the vast 22-hectare park full of exotic trees. It is said that these trees were collected by the Archduke himself from his scientific expeditions around the world. Like the other castles, Miramare is also steeped in local legends, the best of which you can ask from yourlocal guide. Remember to definitely ask about the fitting legend surrounding the curse for the ill-fated who sleep there. 

Here’s a little bonus: Castle in Love with the Wind, Bulgaria

The result of an artist’s dream and 20 years of blood, sweat, and tears, the Castle in Love with the Wind in Bulgaria is an ode to both the imagination and determination of Georgi Tumpalov, one of the few remaining knights of our time. The amount of love poured into this work of art makes it quite impossible not to mention it in an article about dreamy castles!