Europe has a long and turbulent history, from hard fought battles to doomed quests and extravagant royals. Used as retreats for kings and queens or a place for government officials to conduct business, the castles that remain are the relics of some of the most defining moments from European history.
From mesmerizingly beautiful palaces, fit for fairytale princesses and chivalrous knights, to dark and haunting fortresses, we’ve put together a list of the top 6 castles you need to add to your European bucket list.
Perched high on a craggy cliffside, Predjama Castle has a dark and thrilling history—almost as dark as the depths of the caves upon which it was built.
Predjama Castle can be found in the region of Inner Carniola, south-central Slovenia, sitting half-way up a 123-metre-high cliff face. Despite its seemingly precarious position, the castle is a stronghold that has been standing stoic for over 800 years. The largest cave castle in the world, Predjama Castle hides the entrance to the second biggest cave network in Slovenia, as well as quite a few bat colonies!
The story of the castle is entwined with myths and legend, many of which are based on the story of Erazem of Predjama, a rebellious knight who withheld the imperial army’s siege of the castle for well over a year. Secret passages, doomed love, and medieval knights, the tale has all the components necessary for a compelling story. The castle even mesmerised George R. R. Martin—best-selling author of The Game of Thrones—himself, during a visit to the castle.
Top Tip: If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, check out our blog, Game of Thrones Locations, for our top real-life destinations that could be straight out of Westeros.
Postojna Castle is actually part of the greater Postojna Cave Park. During the summer months, a free shuttle connects Postojna Castle with nearby Postojna Cave, one of Slovenia's top tourist attractions. For an incredible day, explore the magical network of underground passages and stunning natural formations of Postojna Cave before heading to the castle.
Postojna Cave Park can be found near the town of Postojna and is easily accessible by any means of transport. The castle is an ideal day-trip if you are staying in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. Trains run every hour from Ljubljana to Postojna and the journey takes about an hour. Then, from Postojna train station, it’s about a 30-minute walk to the Postojna Cave Park. There are also numerous guided coach tours that operate from Ljubljana.
Airlines fly from across Europe to Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (LJU). Airlines include LOT, EasyJet, Air France, Adria Airways, British Airways. If you’re heading further abroad, a connecting flight might have to be made.
Chillon is an island castle sitting quietly on the tranquil shores of Lake Geneva. Surrounded by alpine forests and snow-capped mountains, all reflected in the mirror surface of the lake, Chillon could be the setting of a story book adventure.
A popular tourist destination and one of the largest lakes in Western Europe, Lake Geneva can be found on the northern side of the Alps and near Switzerland’s border with France. As well as exploring the beautiful lake, visitors can also explore the magical castle complex, which can be found on a rocky outcrop on the lake.
Known to have been occupied since the time of the Bronze Age, Chillon Castle was first built as a Roman outpost, to guard the strategic road through the Alpine passes, before being used as a toll station for the Counts of Savoy. The rich history of the site and the hundreds of years of renovations has resulted in the interesting design that can be found today. Visitors are welcome to explore all 25 buildings and three courtyards that compose the castle complex.
Top sights within the fortified walls of the castle include wall paintings from the 14th century, as well as subterranean vaults and parade halls that date back to the time of Bernese rule. Individual or group tours are available for those who’d like to learn more about the history of the castle. Temporary exhibitions and cultural events are also held throughout the year, to make the most of the castle’s idyllic setting.
You can easily reach Chillon Castle either on foot or via public transport from Montreux, a popular resort town which is found on the shores of Lake Geneva. Just 5 miles (2.7 km), from the castle, Montreux is known for its pretty promenade lined with flowers, sculptures, and Mediterranean trees. Home to boutique hotels and cheaper budget-friendly options, the town is a great base to explore both the castle and surrounding area.
Getting to Chillon Castle is very easy. There is a train station within easy walking distance of the castle, which offers direct trains into Montreux. The nearest major international airport to Montreux is Geneva International Airport (GVA). The airport is 93 km (57 miles) from the center of Montreux and has international flights from destinations across the world.
Fly to Geneva International Airport (GVA) from around the world with airlines including Air France, Alitalia, easyJet, easyJet Switzerland, Emirates, Eurowings, Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, and United Airlines.
The epitome of Romantic design, visitors to Pena Palace will discover a hedonistic cornucopia of ornate embellishment, from grinning gargoyles and opulent turrets to secret terraces and mythical statues.
Palacio Nacional da Pena, or Pena Palace, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal, drawing millions of tourists to Sintra, a resort town on the Portuguese Riviera, each year. Painted in canary yellow and luscious pinks, Pena Palace sits atop a high rocky outcrop, overlooking historic Sinatra town. The castle is almost otherworldly and stands in complete contrast to the dense green forests that surround it.
The stunning castle complex is a prime example of the 19th century’s obsession with exoticiced romantic design. The interior of the palace is fascinating, portraying the palace how it would have looked in 1910, when Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the oncoming revolution. Top sights include sumptuous state rooms, the King’s chambers and the colourful Relógio de Sol (Queen’s Terrace) with beautiful views out over the Sintra region.
But it’s not just the exterior of the palace that is set to amaze—the Romanticism of the era was not limited to interior design, but spreads out into the surrounding forested grounds, where visitors can discover secret pathways, stunning sweeping vistas, and mystical ornaments.
Top Tip: Most visitors choose to day-trip to Sintra village from nearby Lisbon. If you want to fit in as much as possible, a popular day trip route combines Pena Palace with the historic centre of Sinatra, Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sinatra Town Palace) and the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), the ruins of a medieval castle closeby.
It’s easy to get to Sintra Village to start your castle tour! Travel from Lisbon, Portugal’s coastal capital. Trains depart from Rossio station, in Lisbon's city centre, approximately every 30 minutes and take just 40 minutes.
TAP Air Portugal flies to to Lisbon International Airport (LIS) from numerous locations throughout Europe, Asia and America. Other airlines flying to LIS include Ryanair, Air Europa, Beijing Capital Airlines, easyJet, British Airways, and Wizz Air.
For castle lovers, the UK is bursting with historically rich fortresses, from understated Tingagel on the Cornish Coast, steeped in myth and legend, to the towering monument of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. But we’ve chosen to feature Hever Castle, as it’s the perfect day-trip for those visiting London. If you ask a child to draw a castle, it’ll be very likely to look like Hever: moated and haunted, with stone turrets and an exciting history of kings, queens, and armoured knights.
Hever Castle was the backdrop to a sequence of events that ultimately changed the course of Britain’s history, monarchy and religion, and its panelled rooms still portray this torrid history. The castle began as a country house, dating back to the 13th century, and is best known for once being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Discover tapestries, antiques and what is regarded as one of the finest collections of Tudor portraits outside London’s National Portrait Gallery. In the ‘Book of Hours’ Room, you’ll find two prayer books which belonged to Anne Boleyn, who was eventually beheaded by her husband, Henry VIII. The pages are adorned with her drawings, inscriptions and signatures.
Much of what you will find today is the result of the hard work and dedication of William Waldorf Astor, who used his fortune to restore and extend the Castle in the early 20th century. As well as the castle itself, visitors will also discover grand grounds and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Hever Castle is located in the village of Hever, in Kent, just 48 km (30 miles) south-east of London. The castle can be easily reached from central London, by travelling from London Bridge Train Station to Hever, via a direct service which takes about an hour and a half. From Hever Station it’s about a 30 minute walk to reach the castle.
Fly to London Heathrow Airport or London Gatwick Airport, on airlines including Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Flybe, British Airways, American Airlines, Air Canada and Air Lingus.
Magnificent and charming, if you’re after fairy tale castles then not much can beat Neuschwanstein. Straight out of the pages of a story book, the white limestone façade and pointing blue turrets of the fairy tale castle are rumoured to have inspired Walt Disney—who visited the castle with his wife—to create Sleeping Beauty’s castle, that stands at the heart of the Californian theme park Magic Kingdom! If you’re a fan of Disney, you can discover many more fairy tale locations in our blog, 7 Magical Real Life Disney Destinations!
Neuschwanstein Castle is located in the beautiful alpine forests of Bavaria, in Germany, on a hill that overlooks the Hohenschwangau valley. With over 1.4 million visitors each year, Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular castles in Europe. Despite its medieval appearance, the castle was actually built in 1869 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Behind its picture perfect appearance, the castle hides a sad tale. Construction was commissioned by the king after Austria and Bavaria were conquered by Prussia in 1866, effectively stripping Ludwig II of his powers. The king, who mysteriously died before the castle was completed, had a reclusive and eccentric reputation. After the defeat, Ludwig II—who was also known as the ‘Fairytale King’—retreated into a private fantasy world, living out his final years in a dream of sovereignty, with Neuschwanstein the centrepiece of his imagined kingdom.
Ludwig II was a great admirer and close friend with world-renowned composer Richard Wagner, and much of the castle’s interior was inspired by the characters featured in Wagner’s work. ‘Neuschwanstein’ literally translates to ‘New Swan Castle’ in German, which references the ‘the Swan Knight’, who was one of the Wagner’s characters. References to the composer’s work can be found throughout the castle’s grand interior.
Transformed by colourful winter foliage but still offering comfortable mild weather, there is a strong argument for visiting Neuschwanstein Castle during fall. You could even sync your trip to coincide with Munich’s 16-day Oktoberfest celebration, which occurs at the end of September and early October. Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is the ideal base for travelers wanting to explore Neuschwanstein, as well as many other beautiful German castles, including nearby Hohenschwangau Castle.
Top Tip: Discover more travel advice in our Germany Travel Guide!
Many tourists head to the castle from Munich. It isn’t hard to travel from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle, but it will take a little time, as there is no direct connection. Firstly, you need to get from Munich to the town of Füssen (by bus or train). Then, you’ll need to take a bus from Füssen to Schwangau, the village at the foot of Neuschwanstein Castle. Alternatively, there are numerous coach tours that operate day-trips from Munich.
Fly to Munich International Airport from across the globe with airlines including Condor, easyJet, Aer Lingus, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Turkish Airlines, TAROM, South African Airways.
Peles Castle is a unique fortress, as haunting as it is striking. Nestled at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains, the fortress exemplifies new-Renaissance architecture and is considered by many to be one of the most stunning castles in Europe.
When King Carol I of Romania visited the small and remote village of Sinaia in the 1860s, he was captivated by its isolated and scenic location. He commissioned the construction of the castle, which was built between 1873 and 1914, as a summer residence for his royal family. Spreading over 3,200 square meters and housing 160 rooms, from a theatre to a concert hall, the castle has everything a royal family might need. Each room has its own theme and unique character and the sumptuous interior is adorned with European artworks, fine chandeliers, sculptured woodwork and exquisite stained glass windows. The king spared no expense; with its own power-plant, Peles Castle was the first electrified castle in Europe and has been driven by an electric motor and since 1883.
Peles Castle is on a medieval route that links Transylvania and Wallachia, and is a popular for travels on a Transylvanian castle tour. Combine with a trip to Bran castle, otherwise dubbed ‘Dracula’s Castle’, which is just 20 miles north-west. You can spend as little as half a day in Sinaia and visiting the castle, or you could easily spend a few days in the area, and take a cable car up into the mountains for a day or two skiing and hiking.
Sinaia is an easy stop via public transport on the way from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to Brasov, a gothic city in the Transylvania region.
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