Are you a history buff or simply someone who loves the grandeur and magnificence of European castles? Europe boasts some of the world’s most impressive and jaw-dropping castles, each with its unique architecture, stories, and legends.
From dreamy palaces to imposing fortresses atop hills, there is something for everyone. If you are planning your next travel adventure, these European Castles will leave you spellbound!
Quick, what’s the difference between a Palace and a castle?
When it comes to visiting Europe, European castles and palaces are often at the top of people’s lists. However, there is a difference between the two that many may not realize.
European Castles were built primarily for military purposes, with thick walls and defensive features. These structures were meant to protect their inhabitants from enemy attacks.
Palaces, on the other hand, were built as luxurious homes for royalty or nobility. While both castles and palaces can be impressive, they serve different purposes and tell different stories about history. I have listed them both.
Best Castles to Visit in Europe
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle, located in the breathtaking German Alps, is a true marvel of architectural beauty. Built by King Ludwig II in the late 1800s, this castle was meant to reflect his love for music and art. It’s no wonder Neuschwanstein has become one of Germany’s most visited landmarks, and quite honestly the most famous castle in Europe.
If you want to experience a full view of the castle, I suggest hiking up to the Marienbrücke Bridge. The hike takes about 35 minutes from the parking spot and offers panoramic views of the surrounding lush green mountainside.
Fun fact: Neuschwanstein Castle served as inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Resort. This enchanting castle is truly a must-see on any European castle tour!
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Perched high atop a hill in the Swabian Alps, Hohenzollern Castle is an exquisite sight to behold. This majestic fortress dates back to the 11th century. It has been rebuilt multiple times over the centuries due to wars and fires. Today, it stands as a magnificent example of neo-Gothic architecture.
Peleș Castle, Romania
In my humble opinion, the Peleș Castlen, located in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. This stunning Neo-Renaissance castle nestles on an important medieval road connecting Transylvania and Wallachia.
Plus, it’s one of the least visited yet coolest castles in Europe, due to its off-the-beaten-path location. One more reason to include this hidden gem on your European castle’s travel list before it gains more attention!
Eltz Castle, Germany
Eltz Castle is the masterpiece out of all medieval castles located in the heart of Germany. This stunning castle has stood for over 850 years, surviving wars and natural disasters that have left other castles in ruins. The castle’s unique design features an impressive array of towers and turrets, each with its distinct character.
The view from atop an adjacent hill offers a mesmerizing panorama of this majestic fortress nestled amidst ethereal forests. In fall, the forest comes alive with various hues of orange, while fog envelops the castle during winter.
Bran Castle, Romania
Despite being called “Dracula’s Castle,” there is no actual evidence linking Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) to Bran Castle. It’s likely that he only stayed here briefly.
Regardless of its legend, the castle still exudes a creepy aura. Its placement in the foggy heights of Romania makes it one of the most atmospheric castles in Eastern Europe.
Hohenschwangau, located in the picturesque region of Bavaria, Germany, is a castle that truly takes your breath away. During his childhood, the south of Germany was home to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He resided in this 19th-century palace and went on to build a castle near Neuschwanstein afterward.
The surrounding landscape provides numerous outdoor activities such as hiking through lush forests or taking boat rides on crystal-clear lakes. For those seeking cultural experiences, Hohenschwangau also offers medieval festivals and concerts which draw thousands every year.
Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
The Alcázar of Segovia is a magnificent castle that sits atop a rocky hill overlooking the city of Segovia in Spain. Its distinctive shape, reminiscent of the bow of a ship, has made it one of the most famous landmarks in Spain.
Pena Palace, Portugal
Overlooking the stunning town of Sintra, Portugal, lies one of the most colorful castles in all of Europe: Pena Palace. Built-in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, this unique palace boasts a mishmash of eclectic styles. Inside the palace, you’ll find an impressive collection of artwork and furnishings from its golden age.
Chillon Castle, Switzerland
The highlight of Chillon Castle is undoubtedly its underground chambers where prisoners were kept captive hundreds of years ago. These dark dungeons are eerie yet fascinating at the same time, providing visitors with an insight into medieval prison life. The castle also boasts panoramic views across Lake Geneva from its towers.
Nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle is one of Switzerland’s most iconic landmarks. Built-in the 12th century, this medieval fortress boasts a rich history that dates back to Roman times.
Three Castles of Bellinzona, Switzerland
The Three Castles of Bellinzona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is a must-visit for any castle enthusiast. The Castlegrande castle and its matching restaurant offer the most incredible view of the surrounding area. The Montebello Castle has an interesting history as it was once used as a prison. Finally, the Sasso Corbaro Castle has a well-preserved medieval architecture.
What makes these castles even more intriguing is their unique history. The castles were originally built by different factions battling for control over Bellinzona. Eventually, they were all united under one ruler. Today, they stand to symbolize both conflict and unity in Swiss history. Want to read more on the Bellinzona region? Click here.
Wawel Royal Castle, Poland
Built high on a hill overlooking the city of Krakow, this castle has been shaped by different styles over centuries.
Inside the castle walls are treasures that tell stories about Poland’s rich history and its kings and queens. There are priceless works of art, ancient tapestries, and a treasury brimming with jewels and precious objects.
Best Chateaux and Palaces
Château Villandry, France
Château Villandry is a picturesque castle located in the Loire Valley of France. The castle’s stunning Renaissance architecture, beautiful gardens, and rich history make it one of the must-visit European castles. You can explore the castle’s main rooms, including a kitchen filled with authentic medieval cookware.
Versailles Palace, France
Versailles, France is the epitome of royal grandeur and extravagance. The breathtaking Palace de Versailles served as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII in 1624. But it wasn’t until his successor, Louis XIV came along that the palace came to life. He transformed it into what may be one of the most magnificent palaces in the world.
With its iconic Hall of Mirrors, stunning gardens, and ornate sculptures, Versailles is the best palace castle to visit in Europe.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
The Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and design. Built-in the 18th century, this palace was once a summer residence for the Habsburg emperors. Today, it serves as one of Austria’s most popular tourist attractions.
The palace boasts over 1,400 rooms, each adorned with elegant furnishings and stunning artwork. Perhaps the most iconic feature of Schönbrunn Palace is its impressive Great Gallery. This enormous room measures almost 50 meters long and features intricate frescoes that depict scenes from ancient mythology.
Château de Chambord, France
Château de Chambord located in the Loire Valley is one of the most impressive and grandiose European castles. This stunning palace, owned by French King Francis I, boasts over 400 rooms and a rooftop terrace with spectacular views of its elaborate gardens.
The chateau’s most distinguishing feature is its double helix staircase, designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself.
There are plenty of unique opportunities like horseback riding or hot air balloon rides over the Loire Valley countryside. If you visit during summer, you can catch a live performance inside or outside in their beautiful garden overlooking North Facade.
Technically not a castle, but I had to include Mont-Saint-Michel to the list. It’s one of the most magical places in Europe.
The abbey at the top of the hill is accessible via narrow streets that wind through medieval buildings. The climb to the top is steep but worth it for dramatic views of sweeping sandbanks and far-reaching ocean vistas.
Mont-Saint-Michel was built as a monastery. Eventually, it turned into a fortress to defend against British attacks during the Hundred Years’ War. Even during World War II when German troops were occupying France; they never took control of Mont-Saint-Michel.
Visit the best castles in Europe
Europe is home to a vast array of castles, and these are some of the best tourist attractions to visit. Visiting European castles is the perfect way to explore and travel through Europe’s rich history. Whether you’re looking for ancient castles or intricate architecture, there are plenty of fascinating places to explore in Europe.