Where can you find the world's best castles?
A fairy-tale castle built for an introverted and reclusive king, Neuschwanstein Castle’s idyllic mountainous setting attracts millions of tourists. Rather than being a copy of any specific medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is an excellent example of historicism and combines many different architectural and decorative motifs, culminating in this beautiful, idealistic and extravagant monument to ‘Mad’ King Ludwig and justifying its position as one of the most photographed buildings in the world. The many rooms inside the castle reflect Ludwig’s passion for medieval kingship, such as the Throne Hall, which through its depiction of medieval poets and sagas exalts Christian kingship and absolute monarchy. Today, Neuschwanstein boasts over one million visitors a year making it one of the most heavily visited castles in Europe.
The Alcazar of Segovia is an imposing medieval fortress which embodies much of what one would consider to be the ideal vision of a fairytale castle, complete with picturesque turrets and cliff-top location. Having started life as an Arab fort, in the thirteenth century, the Alcazar of Segovia made the transition from military stronghold to palatial residence and was slowly renovated in a gothic style, with further changes made in the sixteenth century. The interior of the Alcazar of Segovia doesn’t disappoint and visitors can tour this magnificent site as well as climbing to its towers for great views of the town.
Balmoral Castle has been the official Highlands home of the British royal family since the reign of Queen Victoria. Having fallen in love with the Highlands after their first visit in 1842, it was in fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who built Balmoral Castle between 1853 and 1856. Today, parts of Balmoral Castle and its grounds are open to the public, with audio guides available (included in the admission price) detailing the workings of the estate and its history. There are also a series of exhibitions at Balmoral Castle related to the royal family.
Perhaps one of the world’s most picturesque castles, Bodiam Castle was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in 1385 and is now a popular tourist attraction operated by the National Trust. The castle itself, of quadrangular design, is characterised by a great moat and courtyard. The living quarters were built into the walls, which surround an open courtyard. Today, visitors are invited to explore this beatiful castle and its surrounding grounds. Families and school children are also welcome, and there are a wide range of events and activities taking place throughout the year. For a full calendar of events check out the National Trust Bodiam Castle events page.
Caerlaverock Castle is an impressive a medieval fortress which stands out for its unique triangular design and picturesque location, ensuring it ranks among Scotland’s most remarkable castles. Today Caerlaverock stands in the centre of picturesque countryside and the surrounding land is even protected and celebrated for its natural beauty. The imposing moat, once a fearsome deterrent to attackers and important strategic tool against the undermining of enemies, is now a highlight for visitors and a stunning site all year round – reflecting the glistening sunlight in summer or laced with ice and snow during the winter months. A trip to Caerlaverock offers a lesson in siege warfare and there are many interesting reconstructions of medieval siege engines; exciting educational tools that instantly transport visitors to the battlefield. For families, there’s a castle-themed adventure park to provide extra entertainment for children, ensuring there always lots to see and do at Caerlaverock!
Schwerin Castle is a picturesque palace which seemingly floats upon Schwerin Lake. Whilst it is thought that there was a fort on this location as early as the tenth century, the beginnings of Schwerin Castle date back to 1160, when Henry the Lion built a castle there. It was only from around 1843 that Schwerin Castle began to take the form we see today. Vast renovation of the building took place, with only some of its older parts having been kept. Schwerin is now both the seat of the local government and an art museum displaying pieces ranging from the ancient to the twentieth century. Some of the most important pieces at Schwerin’s museum are its seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish paintings.
Castel del Monte in Italy is a medieval palace originally built as a hunting lodge by the Emperor Frederick II and later used as his seat of power. With its set of perfectly octagonal towers, it was also a great example of symmetry in medieval building. The castle is not only extremely well defended, with thick limestone walls, but it blends the influences of the cultures to which Frederick II had been exposed and had learned about. After the death of Frederick II, the fortress served primarily as a stronghold and military base until the nineteenth century. Visitors to Castel del Monte can tour its two floors. Much of the original splendour, such as its marble walls, has now disappeared, but traces appear here and there.
Close to the Itz River around 100km north of Nuremberg is Coburg Castle, the former seat of the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and one of Germany’s largest and most impressive surviving medieval fortress complexes. Dominating the town of Coburg in Upper Franconia, it was first mentioned as ‘Koburk’ in a document from 1056 and the self-styled ‘Fränkische Krone’ or Franconian Crown is both a stunning castle as well as being home to one of the most important art and cultural history collections in Germany. Today, visits to the castle take in centuries’ worth of architecture and meticulous restoration and highlights include the Heated Stone Chamber, the Memorial Room, the 19th century Lutherkapelle and the Bear Enclosures. There are works by old German masters Cranach, Dürer, Grünewald and Holbein; stunning collections of Venetian glassware and sculptures from prolific 15th and 16th century sculptor and woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider.
9. Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle was originally constructed as a fortification in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur, a lord under William the Conqueror. In 1278, Leeds Castle took on a different role, as a royal palace to King Edward I, who expanded it, adding further elements such as an impressive barbican. Today, Leeds Castle is a leisure facility, housing an aviary and a maze along with a dog collar museum. Guided tours are available for groups and schools and audio tours are also available.
Carcassonne, known as “La Cite” is a fortified town in southern France whose important strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic led to it being inhabited since before the Ancient Roman era. Throughout its history, Carcassonne has been considered untouchable. Even before its walls were built it was the subject of two failed sieges in the thirteenth century and, during the Hundred Years’ War, an attack was never even attempted. There is much to see at Carcassonne, including its incredible double fortified 3 km walls and 52 towers. There are audio guided tours of the majestic citadel and visitors can explore the cathedral, both built by the then ruling Trencavels.