From romantic ruins to Renaissance architecture, and from medieval fortresses to gothic palaces, there is no shortage of impressive (and often magical) castles dotted throughout the European landscape. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture or simply want to see a little fairytale magic for yourself, here are the most beautiful and best castles in Europe:
Malbork Castle, Poland
If you’re looking for the largest castle in the world, then you can’t miss it if you head to Malbork, a small city just an hour’s train ride away from Gdansk in Northern Poland. Built by the Teutonic Knights, this castle is not only the largest castle in the world but also the biggest building built entirely from bricks. If you plan to visit the castle, then make sure you allocate plenty of time to see its many exhibitions, green spaces and turrets.
Read more: Best cities for a European autumnal getaway.
Palace of Pena, Portugal
Pretty in Portugal, the Palace of Pena is impossibly beautiful and located in the very heart of the Sintra mountains above the equally beautiful town of Sintra. When the weather is clear, the castle can be seen from as far away as Lisbon. This UNESCO world heritage site was built during the middle ages and many parts of the palace still date back to this period. In the 19th-Century Romantic style additions were added, meaning that it easily wins a place in the best castles in Europe.
Palace of Pena, via Flickr
Vianden Castle, Luxembourg
If you’re looking for the best castles in Europe, then you should totally head to Luxembourg. After all, Luxembourg is full of beautiful castles, many of which are open to the public. And in the north of Luxembourg, a small Grand Duchy sandwiched between France and Germany, you’ll find the fairytale-like town and castle of Vianden.
While the town itself is well worth a visit, if only to wander its cobbled lanes and storybook houses, the real attraction is the imposing castle set high above the River Our. Vianden Castle started out as a Gallo-Roman castle and gradual additions over the centuries and the castle served various functions over the years- including a stint at housing royalty. By the 19th Century, the castle had fallen into ruin and was eventually restored to its former glory in the 1970s by the Luxembourg government.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
If you’ve spent any time looking for fairytale castles on Instagram (raises hand!), then no doubt you’ll have come across the insta-famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. Known in English as ‘new Swanstone Castle’, this 19th-Century castle was built in the Romanesque revival style for Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Although the castle, built in homage to iconic composer Richard Wagner, was intended to be a home of Ludwig, the King sadly died just a few years after its completion. Shortly after Ludwig’s death, the castle was opened to the public and has been open to visit ever since. Also, make sure to here if you love Disney as Walt Disney cited Neuschwanstein Castle as his inspiration for the Magic Kingdom!
Neuschwanstein Castle, via Flickr
Château de Chambord, France
Of all the best castles in Europe, Château de Chambord is easily one of my favourites. Located in the Loire Valley, it’s thought that parts of Château de Chambord were designed by Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci himself. One visit here, and it’s clear to see why many people think this- the architecture is incredibly advanced considering that Chambord was built during the 16th-Century.
Read more: Loire Valley road trip from Paris.
Raglan Castle, Wales
Ancient, enticing and medieval, Raglan Castle is the kind of place you’ll want to wander around for hours. Located at the midway point between the ancient towns of Abergavenny and Monmouth, the ruins of this fortified castle date all the way back to the 15th-Century (although a grand manor house had been on site for a few centuries prior). Make sure to head here if you love history, photography and British culture!
Craigmillar Castle, Scotland
Often referred to as Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’, Craigmillar is located just a few miles outside of the Scottish capital. The ruins of this medieval castle date all the way back to the 14th-century and are well worth a walk around, if only for a few hours. Craigmillar is one of the best preserved medieval castles in all of Scotland and even has links to royalty- it’s thought that Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here on at least one extended occasion.
France is the land of castles. And the Île de France region (where Paris is based) is no exception. Versailles is not only one of the best castles in Europe, but one of the most famous palaces in the entire world. Each year, over six million people head to the palace to soak up some history and see the Sun King’s (Louis XIV) creation for themselves. While at Versailles, make sure you don’t miss the rest of the town (full of cafés, museums and boutiques) and the Hameau de la Reine (where Marie Antoinette headed to play dress up on a farm with her ladies in waiting).
Read more: Versailles: the perfect day trip from Paris.
Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
The fairytale-like turrets of Lichtenstein rise up from the rocks in an almost impossible way. Situated on the very edge of a jagged gorge, Lichtenstein Castle is easily one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, if not all of Europe. Built in the Gothic Revival style, this 19th-century castle is often referred to as the ‘fairytale castle of Würtemberg’ and ‘Lichtenstein’ is quite literally translated as ‘shining stone’.
Lichtenstein castle, via Flickr
Bran Castle, Romania
In the very heart of the Transylvanian mountains, high up in the misty slopes, you’ll find Bran Castle, legendary home of Dracula. Although it’s thought that Bram Stoker probably never even heard of Bran when he imagined his legendary figure (loosely based on Wallachian Prince, Vlad the Impaler), the spooky castle is still well worth a visit!
Read more: A visit to Dracula’s Castle, Transylvania.
Clervaux Castle, Luxembourg
The magical castle of Clervaux dates all the way back to the 12th-Century and is overlooked by a large church and ancient monastery. Although much of the castle was tragically destroyed by a fire during WWII, Clervaux has now been restored to its former glory and contains three museums. The most famous of the three museums is that of the Family of Man, a moving and incredible collection of portraits taken all over the world during the 1950s.
Read more: How to spend three days in Luxembourg.
Château de Chantilly, France
And of course, no post about fairytale castles in Europe would be complete without a quick mention of my favourite one of all, that of Chantilly in the Picardie region of France. Although this French château (located just half an hour from Paris’ Gare du Nord) was never inhabited by royalty, it is nevertheless impressive.
Construction of the château began in the 14th century and gradual additions were made right up until the 19th century. Today, the castle is home to Musée Condé (one of the largest art collections in France- second only to the Louvre) and the hamlet which inspired Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine at Versailles.