8 coolest castles in Europe
Who doesn’t love a good castle? With Europe’s diverse landscapes and rich history, there are castles-a-plenty on this continent, everything from hill-top palaces to moat-surrounded fortresses. There’s something for everyone to enjoy, and some of them you don’t even have to travel very far to visit!
Let’s take a look at the eight best castles in Europe
While we might all be familiar with Windsor Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle, there are some great and gorgeous obscure beauties that you might never have heard of, but are definitely worth a visit.
1. Pena Palace, Portugal
Pena Palace is eye-catching, to say the least. This colourful Romanticist castle is located near Sintra, and dates back to the 1850s. The bright yellow and red facades make this palace truly unique, while its position on the top of the hill means it also has quite an imposing and impressive presence in the area. The palace was designed this way to ensure it could be seen from every point throughout the Pena Park, the 200-hectare parkland that surrounds the palace.
The palace sits atop a hill in the Sintra Mountains, is classified as a national monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, AND is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It is only about 35 kilometres outside of Lisbon, and on a clear day can be seen all the way from the Portuguese capital. Definitely very cool.
2. Hohenwerfen, Austria
This intimidating castle dates all the way back to 1078, when Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg built a number of fortresses and castles to secure parts of Austria from King Henry IV of Germany. Throughout its history, Hohenwerfen has been used as a military base, a hunting retreat, a state prison, a Nazi education camp, and a training camp for the Austrian rural police (Gendarmerie).
Now, though, the castle houses an impressive and extensive weapon collection, and the Falconry Centre and museum. The Falconry Centre is popular with visitors, hosting daily flight demonstrations with various birds of prey, including eagles, falcons, hawks and vultures.
Hohenwerfen, situated approximately 40 kilometres south of Salzburg, sits atop a 623-metre high precipice and is surrounded by the Berchtesgaden Alps and the Tennen Mountains. Between the grand height and dramatic history, this castle is definitely one to be reckoned with.
3. In Love with the Wind, Bulgaria
Situated just a few kilometres from the town Sozopol in Bulgaria, In Love with the Wind won the prize for the number one tourist attraction in the world in 2016. You don’t want to miss this one!
The medieval style might throw you off, but construction on this castle only started about 25 years ago, when architect Georgi Kostadinov decided to bring his childhood dream of a fairytale castle to life. Built with 20.000 tons of marble from the Strandzha Mountains, the micro-traces of diamond in the rock make the castle change colour in the light.
On a visit to In Love with the Wind, also known as the Ravadinovo Castle, you can enjoy the chapel which features an art gallery and a wine cellar, the beautiful castle gardens, a petting zoo and, in the warmer months, the summer cinema.
Video: The Castle of Ravadinovo.
4. Mont St Michel, France
While technically not officially a castle, this is probably the most recognisable and well-known entry on the list. Mont St Michel is truly iconic, and its astonishing appearance certainly gives off a castle vibe. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a population of fewer than 50 people and is visited by more than 3 million tourists every year.
The “castle” is actually an 11th-century abbey and can be found on a tidal island approximately one kilometre off the coast of Normandy. The island was founded by an Irish hermit in the sixth century and has been used as a significant military and religious site throughout its full history. The abbey has been added to numerous times throughout the last thousand years, but the main section of the church is medieval, with the transept crossing built rather daringly right at the top of the mount.
Mont St Michel features in the Bayeux Tapestry (scenes 16 and 17), and has served as inspiration for a number of films, including Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Gondor’s capital city, Minas Tirith, was modelled on the island), and Disney’s 2010 animated film Tangled.
Video: Wanaii films.
5. Alcázar of Seville, Spain
The Alcázar of Seville is a 700-year-old royal palace in Seville, Spain. The Alcázar was built on the site of an Abbadid Muslim alcazar (residential fortress), which was destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville. The upper floor of the building is still occupied by the Spanish royal family whenever they are in Seville.
The castle’s construction took around 500 years in total, so the building features a variety of different architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque elements. The Alcázar is renowned for its tile decoration and is a leading example of Mudéjar architecture.
Does the Alcázar look a little familiar, but you just can’t quite place it? Well, it’s possible you saw it in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia? No? Well, maybe you recognise it because it was used as the set for the seat of House Martell in Dorne, in the TV show Game of Thrones!
Source: Turismo Junta de Andalucía.
6. Peleș Castle, Romania
The castle in Romania that gets all the attention is Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, and renowned for its status as the home of the vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, Peleș is just as impressive!
Built by King Carol I of Romania in the 1870s after he fell in love with the magnificent mountain scenery, the castle (technically a palace) was used as a summer residence by the Romanian royal family up until 1947. Peleș has a 3.200-square-metre floor plan with over 170 rooms, many styled in specific and dedicated themes from world cultures. It also features a collection of arms and armour which totals more than 4.000 pieces spanning over four centuries of history and almost 2.000 pieces of art. The castle is open to the public and is home to the Peleș National Museum.
While maybe not quite as sinister as the famous Dracula stories, Peleș Castle has featured in some well-loved stories and films too. In 2009, it was used in the film The Brothers Bloom, and more recently, Peleș featured in the Netflix original film A Christmas Prince (and both its sequels) as the home of the Aldovian royal family.
7. Castel del Monte, Italy
Castel del Monte is one of the smaller castles on this list, but its unusual design means it can definitely be classified as cool. The castle is a 13-century citadel and castle, perched on a hill in Andria, Italy. It stands at an altitude of about 540 metres.
It isn’t very ornate, or particularly breathtaking - Castel del Monte has no moat or drawbridge, no gilded towers, no stained glass windows - but the geometric and symmetrical nature of the building means it is still rather fascinating. Built during the 1240s by Emperor Frederick II, construction was never fully completed, but the castle has been labelled by the Italian Encyclopaedia (Enciclopedia Italiana) as the most fascinating castle built by Frederick II.
Sadly, the castle has fallen into disrepair. The eight towers are believed to have originally been five metres higher than they currently stand, and that there may have originally been a third floor to the octagonal building. In the 18th century, the castle was stripped of its interior marble walls and columns and remaining furnishings.
The original purpose of the castle remains unknown. Many believe it was never intended as a defensive fortress, but archaeological digs have suggested that the building once has a curtain wall for fortification. It may once have been a citadel or even a hunting lodge, but was turned into a prison in the second half of the 1200s.
8. Moritzburg Castle, Germany
Any list of the coolest castles in Europe would be incomplete without (at least) one iconic German castle. Germany is renowned for its abundance of beautiful and historic castles (experts think there are over 20.000 castles in Germany), so saying it’s difficult to choose just one is a massive understatement.
But here it is: Moritzburg Castle might not be as well-known as some of its German counterparts, but it is definitely one of the most striking! Instead of being perched atop a hill a la Neuschwanstein or Hohenzollern, Moritzburg is surrounded by water.
The castle has four large round towers, lies on a perfectly symmetrical artificial island (in the middle of Castle Lake, of course), and is surrounded by woodland. The original Moritzburg was built in the 1540s, but the building and its surrounding area have been extended a handful of times since then, to add a chapel, a formal park, and the Little Pheasant Castle.
Moritzburg is just as impressive inside as out. The walls are covered in 17th century gold-gilded leather, and the castle is home to an impressive collection of red deer antlers. Some of the antlers are 400 years old, and the heaviest red deer antler in the world, weighing approximately 20 kilograms and spanning almost two metres, can be found in the castle’s dining room.
Source: Schlösserland Sachsen.
Europe's best castles and palaces
You don’t have to travel too far to enjoy some of what Europe has to offer (or to find the perfect stop to pretend you’re a Disney princess - we won’t judge), so it’s worth keeping these places in mind when you’re next planning a holiday.
What are some of your favourite castles and palaces? Let us know in the comments!
This article first appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.