Ten of the World’s Most Amazing (and Surprising!) Castles inner banner

Ten of the World’s Most Amazing (and Surprising!) Castles

Who doesn't love visiting a castle while on holiday? Drop the drawbridge and swing by these dinosaur-sized dream homes of yesteryear.
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

A person’s home is their castle, as the saying goes — but it takes on new meaning if you do actually live in a whopping stone fortress with towers and a moat!

Once essential for keeping the noble personage out of harm’s way, today castles are a tangible link with the past and the source of endless fascination for travellers the world over. They’ve played key roles in history, hosted important world events, and seen battles and political intrigue aplenty. And many are now open to the public to help fund their maintenance in the modern era.

Here are ten incredible structures of old that should be on the radar of every confirmed castle-phile. If you’re jetting off to check them out and need airport parking for your carriage, head to the Parkos website.


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1. Windsor Castle, England

While the British royals have any number of portcullised properties at their disposal, none is more synonymous with the first family than Windsor Castle. Situated 160 kilometres to the west of London on the River Thames, and much loved by the late monarch Queen Elizabeth II, Windsor has a history dating back almost a thousand years. Must-sees include St George’s Chapel, the State Apartments, the Moat Room, and the changing of the guard ceremony (which takes place on selected days). Many of the priceless works of art and French furnishings on display were acquired by avid collector King George IV (1762 to 1830), who also shaped much of the Windsor Castle we see today.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Windsor Castle, England

2. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Moody, mysterious, and rooted in the Middle Ages, Edinburgh Castle served as the home of Scottish royalty for several centuries. Its position high up on Castle Rock proved an imposing line of defence against invading armies, although the castle was conquered on several occasions (including by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 during the English Civil War). Today it’s besieged by tourists on a daily basis, but is well worth braving the throng to see. Edinburgh Castle houses Scotland’s Crown Jewels, along with the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny) — upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned from 840 AD. The Stone has played a ceremonial role in English/British coronations since the 1300s.

3. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

If you were to visualise the castle of your childhood fascination, it would probably look surprisingly like 19th-century Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavaria region of southern Germany. Reason being that this glorious edifice framed by the Alps is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. However, Neuschwanstein’s construction was no fairy-tale for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who fell into bankruptcy over the project and died in mysterious circumstances prior to its completion. The castle embodies the design and architectural principles of the Romanticism movement, and is breathtaking in its nuanced proportions. It attracts more than a million visitors annually.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

4. Château de Chambord, France

France’s Loire Valley is heaven for castle hoppers, with more than 300 whimsical chateaux dotted across the landscape — some dating back centuries, but most constructed during the Renaissance period. But there are chateaus, and there’s the Château de Chambord! This literal forest of towers, turrets, domes, and dormers was built by flamboyant 16th century French monarch François I — primarily as a hunting lodge, but with the wider purpose of displaying his wealth and power to the other sovereigns of Europe. The mind-bending central double helix staircase was possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci, although this has never been proved.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Château de Chambord, France

5. Prague Castle, Czech Republic

Steeped in more than a thousand years of history and holding a working role in the modern Czech State (it’s the office of the president of the Czech Republic), Prague Castle is officially recognised as the largest castle complex in the world. Overlooking the Vltava River and UNESCO World Heritage-listed old centre of Prague, this sprawling citadel encircles St Vitus Cathedral and has evolved over time, with sections harking back to different eras, rulers, and historical influences. The Old Royal Palace was first constructed for the dukes of Bohemia in the 10th century; note the vaulted ceiling in Vladislav Hall, which is thought to be around 500 years old.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Prague Castle, Czech Republic

6. Bran Castle, Romania

Castles do, of course, have a somewhat eerie side, as anyone who watched the 1992 film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula will attest. Based on the tale of a Transylvanian vampire written in 1897, it’s hard to shake the shot from the film of the toothy Count scuttling down the wall of Dracula Castle like a giant lizard in the dead of night. Situated in central Romania, the real-life Transylvania region’s imposing Bran Castle is widely believed to be the setting for Stoker’s Gothic horror novel — but there’s no actual evidence to suggest the author penned his gory prose with this castle in mind. That said, the supposed connection draws plenty of visitors through the gates of Bran, which was built in the 1300s and served as a military garrison/then royal residence up until the mid-20th century. It opened as a museum in 1993.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Bran Castle, Romania

7. Alhambra, Spain

Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Spanish region of Andalusia, the city of Granada is a time capsule of remnants from the country’s Arabic past. Muslim forces conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 700s and ruled until the fall of Granada in 1492. The city’s World Heritage-listed Alhambra citadel — parts of which came into being in the 9th century — is the only preserved royal complex from the Islamic era in existence. It’s soaring red ramparts house an incredible cache of work by master Moorish builders and craftsmen, including hydraulics, irrigation systems, intricate tilework, stuccoing, and wood carving. Alhambra is open to the public daily and a guided tour will help you get the most from your visit.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Alhambra, Spain

8. Bodiam Castle, England

Back we go to Blighty — and while there are bigger and more impressive castles in the UK (as we’ve seen), nowhere screams ‘ye olde medieval stronghold’ quite like Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. This quadrangular-style bastion, complete with crenellated corner towers, arrowslits, and a full moat (but interestingly, no keep) was built in the 14th century — possibly to protect south-east England from French attack. While the inside is a ruin, the exterior certainly fulfils the popular notion of exactly how a castle should look. Keep an eye out for the crest of Sir Edward Dallingridge (the knight and Member of Parliament who built the castle) on the gatehouse, along with the original outer portcullis. Bodiam is owned and maintained by the National Trust, and is generally open daily.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Bodiam Castle, England

9. Wawel Royal Castle, Poland

Castles and dragons have a certain synergy, but there are few monarchal fortifications that can boast a physical collection of dragon bones. Legend has it that a dragon once lived in a cave under Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow. The bones of this mythical creature hang above the entrance to Wawel Cathedral (part of the castle complex) to this very day and draw plenty of attention from tourists. The conventional wisdom is that the bones are actually those of a whale or mammoth. Wawel Castle in its present form dates back to the 16th century, but there is evidence of construction on Wawel Hill as early as the 11th century. The castle is open to visitors and houses a wonderful collection of art and military artefacts.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Royal Wawel Castle, Poland

10. Camelot, Australia, and Larnach Castle, New Zealand

Castles are — as you would expect — a little thin on the ground closer to home. That said, there are some stately homes that come close to qualifying as bona fide bulwarks (for show at least!). In the Sydney suburb of Kirkham stands heritage-listed Camelot — a profusion of towers and turrets, constructed in 1888 on the site of an old mill and reputedly financed with winnings from the Melbourne Cup! Camelot is a popular wedding venue and there are plans to open it to the public at some point.

Ten of the world’s most amazing castles
Ten of the world’s most amazing castles: Larnach Castle, New Zealand

Over on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, the city of Dunedin is home to a wealth of Georgian and Victorian architecture, including Larnach Castle — a 43-room Victorian mansion built by banker and politician William Larnach. The home is open to visitors and  features an exquisite collection of period furniture, paintings, and sculptures. Head up to the top of the single central tower for spectacular views across the Otago Peninsula.

This post was published thanks to Parkos.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the world’s most amazing castles? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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