Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
Step into the great halls of some of the grandest European castles and travel back into history: walk the halls that Kings and Queens once did, and experience the history where wars once took place between stunning castle walls. These 8 European castles are picture-perfect, accessible, and should be on your travel bucket list for your next Europe vacation.
From popular and at the front of guidebooks to the lesser-known, these castles are magical and full of stories. Here’s my list of the 8 castles that should be on your must-see list:
1. Neuschwanstein Castle: Germany
Nestled between the Alpine foothills in southwest Bavaria, Germany, is Neuschwanstein Castle. A perfect fairytale castle, Disney’s Cinderella castle was modeled after this stunning landmark. Neuschwanstein was built in the late 1860s and 70s for King Ludwig II to begin ruling the area through his own kingdom, after losing a war to Prussia. Today, you can tour the medieval castle and see servants’ rooms, state rooms of the king, and walk the exterior for an up-close view of one of the most romantic buildings in Europe. Visit Neuschwanstein on your next Germany vacation and take a guided tour…it’s a must-do!
2. Swallow’s Nest Castle: Ukraine
Look up…way up. Balanced on a cliff 130 feet above the Black Sea, near Yalta, Ukraine, is the Swallow’s Nest Castle. Built in 1912, this castle is tiny in comparison to grand castles overlooking towns and villages in other parts of Europe, but its beauty and location is what brought it to the top of my list. The Swallow’s Nest Castle is beautiful from a distance with the sea in the background, or up close for a walk around the observation deck outside the castle.
3. Prague Castle: Czech Republic
Overlooking the Vltava river and the city as a whole, the Prague castle complex needs to be on your list of castles in Europe to visit. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest coherent castle complex in the world; its grandeur and the stunning architecture alone makes it worth visiting. The castle is still under construction, after being founded in 880AD, and the entire complex includes the famous St. Vitus Cathedral, seven palaces, royal gardens, several other churches, a monastery, and several office complexes including that of the Czech President. Don’t miss the changing of the guard and special noon parade after hiking up to the castle and enjoying the lookout over the city.
4. Kylemore Abbey: Ireland
Visit the Emerald Isle and find Kylemore Abbey nestled amongst a forested area and Victorian gardens. In County Galway, Kylemore Abbey was founded for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in the First World War: the castle still includes the Abbey’s gardens, and Cathedral. The Benedictine Nuns remain in residence at Kylemore, but the charming castle and surrounding grounds are open for visitors to explore the Abbey, church, woodland walks and trails, walled Victorian garden stretching 6-acres, and a restaurant and teahouse. Take in the serene landscape and the arched ceilings of the castle and church; Kylemore Abbey is the number one tourist destination in western Ireland for a reason!
5. Chambord Castle: France
Study the extensive French Renaissance architecture at the Chambord Castle, or Chateau de Chambord, in Loir-et-Cher, France. Built in 1519 by Francois I, the castle was built to show the king’s power and would only be lived in a few weeks each year. Now, visit Chambord Castle, two hours south of Paris, and see its position amid the Sologne forest. Visit specific exhibitions on display in the castle, or walk the grounds within Chambord Park: 5,440 hectares of walled forest (the largest enclosed forest in Europe!). Beautiful, isn’t it?
6. Windsor Castle: England
Imagine yourself as British royalty on a trip to Windsor Castle, one of the most well-known European castles. In the English county of Berkshire, Windsor Castle is known for its association with the British royal family, and its beautiful architecture. With 13 acres, including a fortification, palace, and small town, the Georgian and Victorian architectural design and Gothic features give Windsor Castle a modern and unique style you’ll want to see. As the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, the castle includes The Drawings Gallery with changing exhibitions. Visit to see the Changing of the Guard (weather permitting), or roam the castle halls and explore the stunning details. (Keep your eyes peeled for your own prince charming or princess!)
7. Eilean Donan Castle: Scotland
Experience the charm and stunning Scottish beauty and visit the Eilean Donan Castle; a landmark in the Scottish countryside. Located on a small island where three lochs meet, walk up stone staircases and around the stone castle and imagine standing ground at this European castle during the 1719 Jacobite war, which saw the castle temporarily destroyed. Time your vacation right and watch demonstrations and re-enactments at the castle, or look over the list of names on the Clan Macrae Roll of Honour inside the castle.
8. Mont Saint Michel: France
Visit the island commune of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France, and explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and site of former fortifications dating back to ancient times. Visit this stunning European castle perched on its island hill and visit the abbey, museums, and parish church and see medieval architecture and stunning views of the surrounding coastline. For a special trip to Mont Saint Michel, sit in on a Mass, held every day except Monday. As one of France’s most iconic images, visiting the towering Mont Saint Michel needs to be on your travel-to list for visiting European castles.
Which of these European castles is on your travel bucket list? Comment below and let us know!