TMR’s Top European Castles
Who doesn’t love a good castle? They’re often situated in beautiful locations on hill tops or the bank of a pretty lake. They can be austere and foreboding, magnificently ostentatious, lying in romantic ruins or just fabulously eccentric. They are also endlessly photogenic. Here are just some of our favourites, in no particular order.
Neuschwanstein (nr. Munich, Germany)
Built in honour of composer Richard Wagner as a grandiose retreat by slightly crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein is the ultimate fairytale castle. It’s said to be the inspiration for Disney’s castle and was used in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as yes, you guessed it, the fairytale castle.
As featured in Bavaria in Detail
Bran Castle (nr. Brasov, Romania)
The prize winner in this list (or any list) for the spookiest castle, Bran Castle in Transylvania dates back to the early 13th century and has long been associated with Count Dracula. There’s no evidence that Bram Stoker knew anything about the place and the castle has only tenuous connections with Vlad the Impaler but it’s a good story, and a great castle to visit.
As featured in Transylvania Explorer
Château de Chillon (Montreux, Switzerland)
It’s all location, location, location with this stunning medieval castle built on an island off the eastern shores of Lake Geneva. The exact age of the castle is unknown, but written records date back to 1005 AD. The train line from Geneva and Lausanne passes by here en route to Brig and the Simplon Pass into Italy. Or, if you’re staying in Montreux, you can wander here along the lakefront and get in for free if you have a Swiss Travel Pass.
As featured in Magical Rail Journeys of Switzerland
Edinburgh Castle (Scotland)
The historic fortress standing upon Castle Rock is an iconic part of the Edinburgh skyline. This is the second most visited attraction in the United Kingdom and has played a strategic role in the history of Scotland and the British Isles. The panoramic views over the city and surrounding countryside alone are worth the climb up from the Royal Mile to get there.
As featured in Grand Tour of Great Britain
Hohensalzburg Fortress (Salzburg, Austria)
The imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, offering a wealth of interesting nooks and crannies to explore – along with the views over the rooftops of Salzburg of course. Since 1892, there’s been a funicular railway to take visitors up to the castle. If you’d prefer to walk, you can reward yourself with some coffee and Sachertorte in one of the cafes along the battlements.
As featured in Prague, Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg
Bled Castle (Lake Bled, Slovenia)
You can’t get much more picturesque than Bled Castle, situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the pristinely beautiful lake of the same name. It’s the oldest castle in the country, dating back to the 11th century and has become a national symbol. The views from the top aren’t bad either – but you have to walk up this time!
As featured in Best of Slovenia and Croatia
Castel Sant’Angelo (Rome, Italy)
The oldest castle on this list, the Castel Sant’Angelo in the centre of Rome was was built between 123 and 139 AD at the behest of Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was converted from a mausoleum into a castle in the 14th century and has also been a prison for the Papal State. Opera lovers may recognise the name – Puccini’s Tosca throws herself from the ramparts after her lover is executed here.
As featured in Venice, Florence and Rome
Bodiam Castle (Robertsbridge, UK)
Since the writer of this blog is English, it’s probably a biased view that English castles are the best. But of course, it’s still true. This is a fine example, with all the perfect ingredients: it’s very old, it was built by a knight, it has a moat and a drawbridge AND it’s stunning. The village of Bodiam in East Sussex makes a great day trip from London.
As featured in Grand Tour of Great Britain
Alhambra (Granada, Spain)
Less of a castle and more of a palace complex with attached fortress and formal gardens, the Alhambra stands on a hill above the city of Granada with a breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This is a truly magical place, combining beautiful Islamic architecture with peaceful courtyards, ornate fountains and spectacular scenery. There’s even a flock of resident nightingales.
As featured in Andalucia in Detail
Castello Scagliero (Sirmione, Italy)
Castello Scagliero is one of the most complete and well-preserved castles in Italy with a fabulous location on a peninsula looking out onto Lake Garda. You can wander around the ramparts taking in the wonderful views, but there are quite a lot of steep steps. It can also get very busy so we recommend getting here early.
As featured in Italian Lakes by Rail
Royal Castle (Warsaw, Poland)
Like the rest of Warsaw’s Old Town, the Royal Castle was entirely flattened by Nazi bombardments during World War II. The occupying Soviet Union saw to it that the Old Town was lovingly restored using drawings by landscape artist Bernardo Bellotto. But the Castle was seen as a symbol of national pride, so the people of Warsaw had to wait until the 1970s before this landmark from the 14th century was rebuilt using voluntary contributions.
As featured in Warsaw, Krakow and Prague
Prague Castle (Czech Republic)
Prague Castle has been intrinsic to the history of Central Europe, at one time the seat of Bohemian Kings, Holy Roman Emperors and Czech presidents – though not all at once. Top tip: find the right way out of the castle, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by vineyards with a convenient terrace bar overlooking the city.
As featured in Budapest, Vienna and Prague