When I first discovered that the largest castle in the world, Malbork Castle, was just a short train ride away from the city of Gdańsk in Northern Poland, I just knew we had to visit. Red bricked and imposing, the fortified zamek w Malborku lies along the River Nogat and its history dates back hundreds of years…
Malbork Castle: The Biggest Castle in the world?
Let’s just take a moment to retrace our steps and get back to the ‘largest castle in the world’ part. Well, as it turns out, measuring and then deciding what property deserves the title of ‘the biggest castle’ in the world is no easy feat. You have to consider the space the castle covers, both in terms of ground covered and the number of winding passageways inside its interior.
Then, you must decide what the content count might include. Will you include one building or the entire complex? What about history, time spans and extensions? Will they be factored in? Well, for the sake of simplicity’s sake, Malbork Castle is the largest castle in the world when you consider land area! The total area of the castle covers is 143,591 square metres.
And when the castle was completed in the 15th-Century, it was not only the largest castle in the world but the largest brick building in the world too. It held this title for many centuries. Today, the biggest brick building in the world is thought to be the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia in Albi, France.
A very brief history of Malbork Castle
The castle was built by the Teutonic Knights, an order of monks and knights who were known for their might, strength and brutality. The Knights were Germanic Roman Catholic Crusaders, and they spread out far and wide across Europe. Evidence of their power and the castles they constructed can be found as far away as Bran Castle in Romania to the East and Metz in France to the West.
When the Crusades ended in the 12th-Century, the Knights turned to converting ‘pagans’ little closer to home. They plundered Poland and set about converting people to Christianity, often by brute force. On the back of this pillaging, they gathered plenty of wealth; enough to build the largest castle in the world. The castle was built in a prominent position along the River Nogat, a perfect place to control all trade that passed through to the Baltic Sea.
As no paper records survive from the Middle Ages for this part of the world, it’s up to architectural historians to work out various dates of fortress additions, as well as the approximate date for when the castle was actually built! However, what is known is that Malbork Castle existed as early as the later 1200s, and initial completion did not occur until 1406. When it was first constructed, it was known as Marienburg, named for the patron saint of the Teutonic Order, Mary.
At some point during the 1400s, the Teutonic Knights finally lost their grip on the area. They were forced out and for the following centuries, the Germans and the Polish owned Malbork Castle at various points. In WWII, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the castle was used to house Prisoners of War.
You may not know this, but WWII actually started on the 1st September 1939 in nearby Gdańsk. When the Soviets arrived, the fighting that ensued ensured that over half the castle was left in ruin. Today, the castle is a UNESCO world heritage site, has been renovated and welcomes international and local visitors on a daily basis (apart from on Mondays, when Malbork castle is closed).
Must-see sights of Malbork Castle
In order to truly take everything in, I recommend dedicating an entire day to explore the various rooms, towers, and gardens that the castle has to offer. The castle self-guided tour by audioguide is divided into three parts; A, B, and C, each part has a different story to uncover and history to reveal. Due to Malbork’s rich history, there is something to interest everyone:
Armoury: For those who are interested in military history, Malbork Castle has an extensive armoury. Rooms are filled with historical artefacts and the audioguide which is included in your base ticket price includes plenty of descriptions and various anecdotes pertaining to the castle and the region in general.
St Mary’s Church: While most of the castle was badly damaged during WWII, St Mary’s Church was almost entirely decimated. During the War, the ecclesiastical building lost its roof, and most of the elaborately carved statues and walls were damaged. The church is now undergoing an extensive renovation project and is still worth a wander around.
Grand Master’s Palace: After the Teutonic Knights left, the castle was occupied by both Prussian and Polish royalty during various periods. Each era has left its mark on the castle, and a stroll around the Grand Master’s Palace is akin to walking back in time.
The High Castle: One of the highlights of a day trip to Malbork Castle, was seeing the beautifully intricate frescoes and sculptures located within the High Castle.
The view of Malbork Castle from Nogat River: One of the best ways to get an idea of the sheer size of the castle is to stroll across the Nogat River and admire the brick building from afar. Just bring your camera with you, you’ll want to snap a fair few photos of this astonishing view!
How to visit Malbork Castle from Gdańsk
Malbork is situated on the fringes of the polish town of Malbork and is less than an hour away from the beautiful city of Gdańsk (which in my opinion is one of the most underrated cities in Europe). From the Gdansk central station, regular trains run to Malbork. When you’re in Malbork itself, you can’t miss the oversized castle looming up above the town! The walk between the station and the castle takes around ten to fifteen minutes on foot.
Price to visit Malbork Castle: The fastest train between Gdansk and Malbork is around thirty minutes. This is significantly more expensive than the slower train, and as we weren’t pressed for time, we opted for the slower of the two! In terms of tickets to enter the castle, we opted for the cheapest option which includes entry to all three parts of the castle and includes an audioguide. This cost 39,50 zł each (around $12).
Best time to visit Malbork Castle: Although the castle is well worth a visit at any time of the year (prices are cheaper in the winter season), the castle is best enjoyed when there is a festival going on, or the sun is shining (you’ll spend a lot of time walking around the outside of the castle).