With its tumultuous history of feuding Royals and battling troops, its no surprise that Europe harbors an impressive array of castles and palaces, many of which boast spectacular locations. From the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to the real-life Sleeping Beauty Castle, here are 12 of the most beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe.
1. Chambord Castle, France
Standing proud in the picturesque Loire Valley, the royal Château de Chambord is a striking example of a French renaissance castle with its elaborate frontage sheltering equally exquisite interiors. Guests can tour the castle and its grounds, as well as taking a peek into the royal apartments of François I and Louis XIV.
2. Neuschwanstein, Germany
A 19th century fairytale castle built as a refuge for King Ludwig and opened to the public after his death in 1886, Neuschwanstein famously inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle with its dreamy spires and snow-capped mountain backdrop. A popular day trip from Munich, visiting the castle is possible by guided tour.
3. Pena National Palace, Portugal
Perched on a hilltop in the central Portuguese municipality of Sintra, the eye-catching Pena National Palace (often nicknamed Sintra Castle) originated in the 15th century, first as a monastery and later as a summer palace. An easy train ride from the capital, the UNESCO World Heritage site makes a popular day trip for those visiting Lisbon.
4. De Haar Castle, Netherlands
Casting a dazzling reflection in its surrounding canal ways, the Netherlands’ De Haar Castle is an unmissable feat of neo-gothic architecture. The current structure dates back to the 18th century and makes a popular excursion from nearby Amsterdam, with guided tours offering a thorough exploration of the draw-bridged fortress.
5. Windsor Castle, England
The world’s oldest and largest occupied castle, Windsor Castle is not only one of the most popular tourist attractions in England but it’s the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen and used for a number of British Royal functions. As well as exploring the 13-acre stately grounds, visitors can tour the resplendent State Apartments, the much-celebrated St George’s Chapel and the famous Queen Mary’s Doll House.
6. Prague Castle
Claiming the title of the world’s largest castle, Prague Castle was first erected in the 9th century, although its imposing Gothic façade dates back to the 14th century. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle is not only an iconic landmark of the Czech capital, but houses the Czech Crown Jewels.
7. Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania
Dominating the skyline of Sinaia, the mountaintop Peles Castle makes an impressive detour from Bucharest, tucked away in the remote Carpathian Mountains. A mishmash of German Renaissance, Gothic and French Rococo architectural styles, the castle grounds and a number of its 160 rooms, including the armory, are open to the public.
8. Dunrobin Castle, Scotland
Scotland’s most fairytale-esque castle, with its wistful spires and romantic flower gardens, Dunrobin Castle is one of the country’s most exquisite stately homes, dating back to the 13th century. Visitors to the castle, nestled in the Scottish Highlands around an hour’s drive from Inverness, can explore the castle museum, formal gardens, falconry and lavishly decorated interiors.
9. Coca Castle, Spain
One of the continent’s most unique castles with its distinctive crenellated frontage, the 15th-century Coca Castle is fashioned entirely from sand-colored brick. Lying on the site of ancient Cauca, the birthplace of the Roman emperor Theodosius, the acclaimed Mudéjar castle is one of the most prominent landmarks of the central Segovia province.
10. Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland
In its tranquil setting on the banks of Lake Thun, Oberhofen Castle is one of Europe’s most romantic castles, dating back to the 13th century. A popular day trip for visitors to central Switzerland, guests can marvel at the medieval keep, explore the castle museum and take in the views from the Lake Tower.
11. Ksiaz Castle, Poland
The landmark Ksiaz Castle turns heads with its attractive color palette and medley of architectural styles, poised on a cliff top overlooking the Pelcznica River. Dating back to the 13th century, the magnificent fortress lies on the periphery of Walbrzych and makes a popular pilgrimage for walkers in the surrounding nature reserve.
12. Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania
Marooned on an island on Lake Galve in Trakai, just 20km from the Lithuanian capital, Trakai Island Castle is one of Eastern Europe’s most unique castles, a beautifully restored redbrick Gothic structure. The island castle now houses an impressive archeological museum, as well as hosting summer music concerts and events in its atmospheric courtyard.
– Zoë Smith