Last Updated on 2nd March 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Complete with everything from moats to keeps to turrets, France is awash with fairytale châteaux, many of which can still be visited and admired to this day. Here’s your ultimate guide to the most beautiful castles in France (including several you should add to your French bucket list ASAP).
Best castles in France
Château de Versailles
No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the palace of the Sun King. Once home to one of the richest kings in history, Louis XIV commissioned the Palace that would have cost over $2 billion to build in today’s money. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, millions of visitors flock annually to explore the wealth of riches contained within the Château and its surrounding grounds.
In more recent years, the site has been used as a film location for Coppola’s movie ‘Marie Antoinette’ and the backdrop for the Anish Kapoor’s exhibition highlighting chaos amongst the pristine gardens at Versailles. Don’t miss: The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, world-famous landscape gardens and the rest of Versailles town (which is filled with pretty boutiques and delicious eateries).
Château de Vincennes
Situated just ten minutes away from the Centre of Paris via metro, Château de Vincennes was the site of royal residences from the 12th Century up until the 18th century. From then on, it was used as the site for a porcelain factory and finally a state prison.
Today, it is possible to visit the Keep (what was once the prison) and Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes. This is one of only a handful of Sainte-Chapelles remaining in France. Another is in Paris, while yet another still is located in Châteaudun.
The gothic stained glass is worth a look if only to see a well-preserved 14th Century fortified chapel built. Don’t miss: Sainte Chappelle, 300-year-old prisoner graffiti in the Keep that transports you back in time with just one glance.
Château de Chantilly
Of all the fairytale castle day trips from Paris on this list, Chantilly may well be the prettiest! Situated to the North of Paris, the Château at Chantilly was home to French princes for almost two centuries rather than direct French Royalty.
Due to the way it was constructed, the Château at Chantilly comprises of two buildings; one built around the 1560s, the other in the 1870s; the result is an interesting mix of new meets old.
Today, also housed within the castle is The Condé Museum, the second largest painting collection in France after the Louvre. Opened in 1898, it contains plenty of famous masterpieces including three paintings by Rafael and three by Tra Angelico.
Wander around the Domaine of Chantilly’s vast estate, and you’ll also see the original ‘Hameau de la Reine‘. Don’t miss: The hamlet on which Marie Antoinette based her ‘farm’ at Versailles, the second largest art collection in France, the home of Chantilly Cream and Chantilly Lace.
Château de Fontainebleau
‘Versailles without the crowds’ is how this palace is often sold. Fontainebleau began life as a chapel and hunting lodge in the middle of the 12th Century. Every king and queen from Louis VI, the fat (1081-1137) to Napoleon III (1808-1873) spent time here. Napoleon called Château Fontainebleau the ‘House of the Centuries’ and even gave his final salute to his guards at the base of the horseshoe staircase (pictured below).
As is often the case with historic houses, with the arrival of each new owner came the arrival of new trends and fashions; resulting in amendments and extensions to the castle. Of all the fairytale castles on this list, a trip to Château de Fontainebleau certainly won’t dissapoint! Don’t miss: the grand canal, the boudoir of Marie Antoinette and the Papal apartments.
Of all the country houses and palaces on the list, none are quite as neglected, forlorn, or forgotten about in the same was at that of Goussainville. What was once a grand country mansion home is now a crumbling roofless ruin.
Palais des Papes
Of all the places to visit in Avignon, the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) is easily the most famous. As its name would suggest, the fortified residence was the abode of seven successive popes during the 14th-century when the ecclesiastical men fled Rome due to uncertainty in the Middle Ages.
Today, a visit to the Palais des Papes is one of the best things to do in Avignon, even if you only have one day in the Provençal city. Easily one of the most impressive fortified castles in France, a particular highlight of any visit is the rooftop of the complex, which offers fantastic views onto the River Rhône, including of the Pont d’Avignon.
Of all the castles in France included here, one of the most magical and one of the places which springs to mind when it comes to the ‘quintessentially French château’ is that of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Before there was the Sun King’s Palace of Versailles, there was the magnificent mansion of Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte.
A property so lavish, and so luxurious that the King of France himself grew envious of its owner and threw him into jail for the remainder of his life. Today the magnificent Château of Vaux le Vicomte is a fantastic day trip from the city and offers an insight into the original French Baroque.
Sceaux is not only one of the most beautiful castles in Île de France but the entirety of France. Although there has been a chateau on the grounds since the 15th century, little remains of the original structure. Unfortunately, the original Château was destroyed during the turmoil of the French revolution.
The castle was rebuilt in the mid 18th Century, hence the style of architecture. Within the museums collections, are one of the biggest collections of Parisian school painters (so there are always new exhibitions to see within the chateau).
Château de Cassis
Fortified, ancient and dominating over the surrounding town of Cassis, Château de Cassis has been in existence since the 13th Century. Once used as a Carolingian stronghold, the castle is known locally as ‘Castum Carcisis‘…
Three castles of Eguisheim
Dating back well over a thousand years, the romantic ruins are surrounded by lush green forest and offer panoramic views over the endlss vineyards that the Alsace is so well-known for.
Free to visit all year ’round, I would suggest that the best time to visit the three castles of Eguisheim is in the autumn when the fall foliage transforms the surrounding landscape into a pastel picture of golden hues and all the views.
Château de Chambord
Very few places in the world boast the title of ‘likely influenced by Leonardo da Vinci himself‘. And yet, this is exactly the case should you opt to visit Chateau de Chambord, a palatial sized castle of over four hundred rooms in the very heart of the Loire Valley. Today, the castle is one of the top visited attractions in France.
Château des Monthairons
A grand library, spacious dining hall, turrets and oodles of history… This is the reality of Château des Monthairons, a 19th-Century grand mansion just 12km south of Verdun which has since been transformed into a hotel.
Enjoyed reading about the most beautiful and best castles in France? Pin this article now, read it again later:
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Sunday 27th of December 2015
Need to remember those tips. Been to Versailles but not to the other places - YET :))
Wednesday 23rd of December 2015
Beautiful castles, thanks for sharing!