We all grew up reading about castles in the history books and we don’t know about you, but we think these are some of the most amazing buildings in the world, looking spectacular and being filled with history. But what exactly are castles? The word comes from the Latin word “castellum”, a diminutive of “castrum” (firtified place) and most accepted definition is that of a “private fortified residence”. The first castles were built in Europe starting with the 9th century and served as residential places for feudal lords or monarchs, the oldest standing castle being Chateaux Doue-la-Fontaine in France, built around 950.
Though often featuring different sorts of defensive structures such as towers, the castle’s main purpose was residential, unlike fortresses or hill forts that were built for military purposes. Also, castles were usually built in areas providing natural defense elements, such as being surrounded by water or built on high cliffs, but this also served as a symbol of power and allowed nobles to impress guests or the population they controlled.
Like we said before, castles originated in Europe, so you can imagine some of the most amazing castles are here. With hundreds of castles, most of them very well preserved, it was a hard task choosing only ten, but we’ll probably write more posts about these fascinating structures. So here it goes:
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Located 75 miles (120 km) away from Munich, near the Hohenschwangau village in Bavaria, Germany, the Neuschwanstein Castle was built in the 19th century by the Bavarian king Ludwig II. Known as a quite eccentric personality, Ludwig II ordered the construction of several fantasy castles, the most famous being, without a doubt, the Neuschwanstein.
The castle’s construction started in 1868 and Ludwig meant it to be his residence, far away from the urban Munich and also an homage to famous composer Richard Wagner. Unfortunately, due to serious financial problems, the castle’s design was seriously simplified and it was finished in 1892. Though it was meant to be the king’s residence and not available to the public, only six weeks after his death, in 1886, the first visitors were allowed to enter. During World War II, the castle was robbed by Nazi troops and only luck saved it when the SS tried to blow it up to prevent it from falling into Allies hands.
Today, the Neuschwanstein castle is probably one of the best known castles in the world, especially after being the inspiration source for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and more than 1.3 million people visiting it in each year, generation an income of 6.5 million Euros. The site was also in the finalists list for the New 7 Wonders of the World list.
To find a hotel near the Neuschwanstein Castle click here.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
One of the most beautiful countries in the world, Scotland, is home to several magnificent castles and on the most famous is the Eilean Donan, located near the Dornie village in the western Highlands. Meaning “the island of Donnan” after the Celtic saint Donnan of Eigg, the castle was built in the 13th century as a stronghold against Viking raids. The castle was demolished in 1719 by the Royal Navy, after defeating several Spanish troops occupying it.
The ruins were left there for two centuries, until Lt.Col. John Macrae-Gilstrap started restoration work that lasted between 1911 and 1932, adding an arched bridge for easier access, a World War I memorial and a fountain honoring the Macrae clan members who died in the war.
Today, the castle is a very popular tourist destination, is also available for weddings and is considered one of the most popular filming locations, plenty of movies being shot here, including the 1999 James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough”.
To find a hotel near the Eilean Donan click here.
Hunyad Castle, Romania
Located in the city of Hunedoara, in Transylvania, Romania, the Hunyad Castle was given to the Hunyad family in 1409 and the most important transformation took place during John Hunyadi, between 1446 and 1453.
Benefiting from a strategic position, surrounded by a natural water moat, plus the tall and strong towers and the beautiful Gothic architecture, the castle is very impressive and during John Hunyad’s reign it became a very important strategic point. Also, with John Hunyadi being considered one of the greatest Medieval military leaders, the castle got an important historical significance.
Also, though not as famous and marketed as the Bran Castle, the Hunyad Castle is often associated with the Dracula legend. And while Dracula’s links to the Bran Castle is only tangential, the Hunyad Castle is more present in the legend, the Romanian voivode Vlad the Impaler on which the character is based, being held prisoner here for 7 years.
To find a hotel near the Hunyad Castle click here.
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
The Hohenzollern Castle is located 30 miles south of Stuttgart, Germany, on top of the 2,805 ft Mount Hohenzollern and is the place that gave its name to the Hohenzollern dynasty, one of the most important royal families in history, members of this dynasty wearing the crown in Prussia, Germany and Romania.
The castle was built in the 11th century, but has a very restless history. Three centuries after its completion it was completely destroyed, in 1423, after a long siege by the Swabian army (a branch of the Hohenzollern family), but it was rebuilt from 1454 to 1461. However, in time, the castle lost its strategic importance and it was abandoned, many parts of it disappearing. The castle we see today was built under the rule of Frederick William IV of Prussia, between 1846 and 1867, with only the chapel remaining from the old medieval castle.
Besides its splendid position and beautiful architecture, the Hohenzollern Castle also features the Prussian king’s crown, one of Frederick the Great’s uniforms and plenty of art pieces and artifacts belonging to the Hohenzollern family. This makes it one of the most popular castles in Germany, being visited by more than 300,000 tourists every year.
To find a hotel near the Hohenzollern Castle click here.
Guaita Castle, San Marino
While its not actually a castle, but more of a fortress, the Guaita is a beautiful tower in San Marino. Also called “Rocca” or “The First Tower”, it is one of the three towers located above the city of San Marino and it was built in the 11th century by the first inhabitants of Mount Titano. While there was some restoration work done in the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle we see today is pretty similar to the original one.
Though it provided cover in dangerous times, the Guaita’s main purpose was as a strategic point and reports also indicate it was used mainly as a prison, especially in the Middle Age. The castle was opened to public in the 1930′s, after a serious restoration process.
To find a hotel near the Guaita Castle click here.
Chateau de Chambord, France
No castle list would be complete without taking a look at the beautiful Loire valley in France, which is filled with history and features plenty of splendid castles and perhaps the most famous is the Chateau de Chambord. Though there is some controversy regarding who designed the castle, what we know for sure is that construction started in 1519 and it lasted a long time due to financial problems. With the large rooms and windows that made heating almost impossible and with no village close to provide food, the castle was impractical as a residence, its main purpose being that of a hunting lodge for the royal family.
Due to the castle’s huge size and difficult maintenance, in the following centuries it was furnished, emptied and abandoned several times and it was also used as a field hospital during the Franco-Prussian war in the second part of the 19th century and it was also a safe-keeping place for art collections (including the Mona Lisa painting and the Venus de Milo statue) during World War II.
After the war, the castle was restored and transformed into a tourist attraction, being one of the most visited places in France. The Chambord castle also inspired the Beast’s castle from Disney’s animated movie Beauty and the Beast.
To find a hotel near the Chateau de Chambord click here.
Chateau de Chillon, Switzerland
Located in a beautiful spot on the Lake Geneva shore in western Switzerland, the Chateau de Chillon is, according to their official website, “Switzerland’s most visited historic monument”. Built somewhere around the 11th-12th century, the first reference of the castle mentions the year 1150, when the Counts of Savoy gained control of it. According to archaeologists, they found evidence that the site has been inhabited since the Bronze Age.
The castle features around 100 buildings that were connected throughout the years to form the impressive castle we see now and which was made famous by several mentions in literature, including the works of Lord Byron and Henry James.
To find a hotel near the Chateau de Chillon click here.
Malbork Castle, Poland
Located in northern Poland, the Malbork Castle was built at the end of the 13th century by the Teutonic Order to increase their control of the area. Several expansions were done, due to the increasing number of Teutonic Knights and today is the world’s largest castle by area.
Though the castle was victim of several attacks and sieges during its history, no major damages were made until the World War II, when a large part of it (more than half) was destroyed. There are some parts of the castle that still haven’t been repaired, such as the main cathedral, but ongoing restoration work began in 1962 and a large part of the castle has been reconstructed.
To find a hotel near the Malbork Castle click here.
Warwick Castle, England
Located in the central part of England, on the river Avon, the Warwick Castle is one of the most visited English castles and also one of the most important historical sites.
Built in the 11th century, by William the Conqueror, the castle held an important military role, especially after its defenses were seriously improved in the 14th century. But later the castle was somehow neglected and fell into disrepair, until the 17th century, when Sir Fulke Greville invested a lot of money into restoring the castle. In the following centuries, other members of the Greville family made important improvements to the castle, making it one of the most beautiful in England.
In 1978, the Warwick Castle was bought by Tussauds and since then the castle has been a major tourist attraction in England. Today, the castle grounds featuring 690 acres of gardens, a beautiful lake which transforms into an ice rink in winter, the largest working siege engine, a 59 ft trebuchet and several seasonal shows like a bird show with eaches, archery shows and jousting.
To find a hotel near the Warwick Castle click here.
Like we said in the beginning of this article, a proper list with the most beautiful castles in Europe would have to be huge to have all the amazing castle on the Old Continent, but we really liked these ones and would love to hear your opinion. Did you visit any of these? How was your experience? And if not, which one would you like to see first? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section below.