When we think of Europe and castles, immediately Versailles, Neuschwanstein, Schönbrunn, and Windsor come to mind. Truth to be told, there are so many other castles in Europe that listing them all is almost impossible. They stand in thousands, as the eternal memory of a glorious past, surrounded by natural or urban landscapes. Which of them is worth a visit?
This is one of the largest private residences of England. Howard Castle stands 15 miles north of York, surrounded by green parks and flourishing garden populated by peacocks. It has served as a country house for the Carlisle branch of the Howard Family for three hundred years before it became part of the Treasure Houses of England group of heritage houses. It is considered one of the masterpieces of English baroque architecture; its gardens host the beautiful Temple of the Four Winds and the Mausoleum.
Castel del Monte
This 13th-century citadel castle and Unesco World Heritage Site is the 30th most visited site in Italy. Its building was issued by Emperor Frederick II and during the centuries it has served as a prison, a refuge and a residence. Its characteristic is the repetition of the octagonal shape into its footprint and single elements. This choice seems to be motivated by a precise symbolism: the octagon represented in Medieval times the union of Heaven – whose geometric shape was the circle – and Earth – the square.
This castle is located atop Hohenzollern Berg, which stands at 855 meters above sea level. It stands on the ruins of two prior castles: the first dates back to the 11th century, while the second has served as a refuge for the Hohenzollern family during the Thirty Years’ War. This fact has most likely been the reason for King William IV’s choice to name it Hohenzollern Burg after rebuilding it. It is an extraordinary example of Gothic Revival Architecture and holds various Prussian historical artifacts, among which the Crown of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Also known as the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo –the Tsar’s village – Catherine Palace is an astonishing rococo flamboyant residence, designed by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Its most famous features are the 325 meters long façade – which was gilded with more than 100 kilograms of gold until 1773, – the Hermitage, located in the French Gardens and, on the bank of the Great Pond, the Grotto pavilion.
It’s a Neo-Renaissance castle located on the Carpathian Mount, on a medieval route connecting the Transylvanian and Wallachian regions. Peles Castle’s building, as described by Charles I of Romania’s wife Elizabeth of Wied, resulted from a joining of forces and cultures: «Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were coolies. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes».
The castle of Edinburgh dominates the city from Castle Rock, a volcanic plug in the middle of the city. Human occupation of the castle traces back to the 9th century. History has walked through its corridors, from Saint Margaret of Scotland to Mary Stuart. Long considered to be an unattainable fortress, it is now Edinburgh’s most visited site. It owes part of its fame to J.K. Rowling’s story on the origins of Harry Potter: she created Hogwarts by watching the castle from the windows of the Elephant Coffee House.
Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord is the largest castle of the Loire valley. It has served as a hunting lodge for the French kings, from Francis I to Louis XIV. It’s easily recognizable thanks to its unique profile and it’s seen as one of the highest expression of French Renaissance architecture. Francis I issued the slate decorations of the roof, which are meant to give the impression of marble. In the inner court, during the reign of Louis XIV, Molière played one of his masterpieces, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.
Alcazar of Segovia
The Alcazar of Segovia is a Muslim era fort supposedly built on Roman ruins. With its thirteen towers and secret passages leading to the river, it has been the main inspiration for Walt Disney’s Snow White Castle. It is a World Heritage Site, as well as Segovia City Symbol.
The 9th century Pražský Hrad, with its 70,000 square meters’ area, is the largest ancient castle in the world. It is has been a seat of power for the country since its foundation: from the kings of Bohemia to the Holy Roman Emperors, from the Habsburg to the presidents of Czechoslovakia.
At an elevation of 1,4600 meters above sea level, Rocca Calascio is the highest mountaintop fortress in the Apennines. Issued by Roger of Hauteville, this astonishing white stone rocca dominates the town of Calascio. Although frequent earthquakes have both badly damaged the fortress and caused the abandonment of the higher part of the village, Calascio is still inhabited to these days.
Standing on a fording-point of river Nore, Kilkenny Castle is a symbol of the Norman occupation of Ireland. The castle has been home to the Butlers of Ormonde until 1935 when the family left it. In 1967 the last living member of the Butler family sold it to the city for 50£. When asked about the reasons for this choice, he answered: « The people of Kilkenny, as well as myself and my family, feel a great pride in the Castle, and we have not liked to see this deterioration. We determined that it should not be allowed to fall into ruins. There are already too many ruins in Ireland.»
Chosen by Shakespeare as the setting for his Hamlet, this beautiful stronghold stands on the narrowest point of the sound between Denmark and Sweden. Here the distance between the countries measures only four kilometers. This castle hosts the statue of Holger the Dane, a hero of the Arthurian myth: the legend says he is sleeping in the castle and will wake to save Denmark when needed.
A rock medieval castle, Hohenwerfen is located 40 kilometers south of Salzburg, nestled between the Berchtesgaden Alps and the Tennen Mounts. It was built in the 13th Century during the Imperial Investiture Controversy to serve as a strategic bulwark. Hohenwerfen was featured in many movies: Where Eagles Dare, Just Married and The Sound of Music, to name a few.
Located in the eastern part of Lake Geneva, between Villeneuve and Montreux, Chillon Castle has resulted from the combination of 100 independent structures. The first written record of Chillon dates back to the 9th century. Home to the Duke of Savoy, the best view of this gothic-romanesque island is at sunset: the artificial lamps light up the castle, standing above orange and pink waters, reflecting the shifting colors of the sky.
Standing on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, Bran Castle has served as a source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle. Erected in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, it has occasionally been inhabited by Vlad the Impaler, the historical figure that most likely inspired Stoker’s tale. In 1920 it became the official residence of the Romanian Royal Family before they were overthrown and exiled by Communists in 1948. The castle was then occupied by the family’s servitude.