If there’s any continent associated with knights, kings and castles, it has to be Europe. There is nothing that quite characterizes this ancient continent as well as the castles in Europe.
Europe has had a rather turbulent history of wars, territorial disputes and conquests. All this mostly took place in the Middle Ages, a time characterized by feudalism and constant tension between nations, regions, kingdoms and even cities. This led up to the construction of strongholds and fortresses, whether within cities to protect the rulers and offer refuge to the citizens or at strategic locations in the countryside.
Later on, starting approximately when the Renaissance came about, some of those mighty bulwarks were renovated and transformed into palaces by wealthy noblemen and royalty. Additionally, imposing châteaux were constructed from scratch as well.
Nowadays, there are thousands upon thousands of châteaux, palaces, fortresses and castles in Europe (even Belgium, one of Europe’s smallest countries, has more than 3,000 of them!). Let’s throw them all under the same category of “castle” for the sake of convenience and take a look at the top 10 most impressive castles in Europe, to visit on your holiday.
Top 10 Most Impressive Castles in Europe
10. Windsor Castle, England
Nearly 1,000 years old, Windsor Castle is both the largest and oldest occupied castle in Europe—even in the world. This magnificent castle is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen of England and has been the home of the English royalty for almost a millennium. Parts of the castle are open to the public.
9. Castle of the Counts, Belgium
The Castle of the Counts stands in the heart of the historic city center of Ghent, Belgium. This once-mighty fortress was built by count Philip of Alsace in 1180, designed after the typical crusader castles the count saw during the Second Crusade. It was the seat of the Counts of Flanders until sometime in the 13th century, after which it served as a prison and courthouse. Nowadays, it houses a fantastic medieval museum, including a fascinating, yet a bit macabre, exhibit of torture devices.
8. Alcazar of Segovia, Spain
The Alcazar of Segovia, which means Castle of Segovia in English, is a stone stronghold in the ancient city of Segovia. Located on an outcrop of rocks at the confluence of two rivers, this imposing castle distinguishes itself from the rest of the castles in Europe by its specific shape. Because of its setting atop a long and narrow spur, it looks somewhat like the bow of an enormous ship. Constructed as a strategic fortress, the Alcazar of Segovia also served as a prison, a royal palace and a military school.
7. Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Located deep in the Highlands of Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle is your quintessential Scottish castle. It occupies a tiny tidal island at the meeting points of three lochs—Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh. Founded in the 13th century, this stronghold was the base of the Clan Mackenzie and their allied clans. It is easily one of the most picturesque of the top 10 most impressive castles in Europe.
6. Conwy Castle, Wales
This impressive fortification on the north coast of Wales was built during Edward I’s conquest of Wales, which lasted from 1283 to 1289. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy Castle is the main stronghold in the walled town of Conwy, which is a major attraction in this corner of the United Kingdom.
5. Prague Castle, Czech Republic
The vast complex of buildings that makes up Prague Castle in the capital of the Czech Republic dates from as early as the 9th century. This is effectively the largest castle in the entire world, occupied no less than 70,000 square meters. Various parts of the castle can be visited.
4. Bran Castle, Romania
Situated on the border between Wallachia and Transylvania in the heart of Romania, Bran Castle is one of the most iconic castles in this part of Europe. This intriguing, maybe even mythical, castle is said to have been the “home of Count Dracula” in Bram Stoker’s classic book. Although there is no evidence that Stoker was actually inspired by it, or that he even knew about it, Bran Castle has long been associated with Dracula. No matter the stories surrounding this castle, it is an exceptionally beautiful and scenic building.
3. Ashford Castle, Ireland
Located amid the wild landscapes of Connemara in western Ireland, Ashford Castle is arguably one of the most striking castles in Europe. This huge castle dates back to 1228 and has functioned as a fortress and a private estate. Now, Ashford Castle is a five-star luxury hotel—considered to be one of the world’s greatest hotels.
2. Château of Chambord, France
The Château of Chambord is one of the most famous castles in Europe. Easily recognizable because of its typical French Renaissance design, this majestic structure was built for King François I. Even though it is the largest château in the entire Loire Valley, also known as “the valley of the kings”, the Château of Chambord was merely a hunting lodge, as King François I lived in his other châteaux in Amboise and Blois.
1. Neuschwanstein, Germany
Constructed for the rather erratic and flamboyant Bavarian king Ludwig II in the 19th century, Neuschwanstein Castle was meant to be a private retreat, a refuge of some sorts for this shy king. It was, however, opened to the public immediately after the king’s death. It’s an extravagant castle, featuring an abundance of leaf-gold and other expensive decorations. Its sheer beauty is why it served as inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.