8 most jaw-dropping castles in Europe
While Switzerland has many of its own great castles, there are plenty of other stunning and dramatic fortresses across the continent that can be explored. With Europe’s diverse landscapes and rich history, there are castles-a-plenty, with everything from hill-top palaces to moat-surrounded fortresses. There’s something for everyone to enjoy, and some of them you don’t even have to travel very far to visit!
These are the eight most beautiful castles in Europe
Europe is home to some extraordinarily famous castles, but there are also some incredible forts, palaces and fortresses that you might never have heard of which are definitely worth a visit. Here are some of our favourites!
1. In Love with the Wind, Bulgaria
Awarded the prize for the number one tourist attraction in the world in 2016, In Love with the Wind, near Sozopol in Bulgaria, is a castle you really don't want to miss!
The medieval style might throw you off, but construction on this castle only started about 25 years ago when architect Georgi Kostadinov decided to bring his childhood dream of a fairytale castle to life. Built with 20.000 tons of marble from the Strandzha Mountains, the micro-traces of diamond in the rock make the castle change colour in the light.
On a visit to In Love with the Wind, also known as the Ravadinovo Castle, you can enjoy the chapel which features an art gallery and a wine cellar, the beautiful castle gardens, a petting zoo and, in the warmer months, the summer cinema.
2. Pena Palace, Portugal
This eye-catching red and yellow Romanticist castle is located near Sintra in Portugal and dates back to the 1850s. The bright facades make this palace truly unique, while its position on the top of the hill means it also has quite an imposing and impressive presence in the area. The palace was designed this way to ensure it could be seen from every point throughout the Pena Park, the 200-hectare parkland that surrounds the palace.
The palace sits atop a hill in the Sintra Mountains, and is classified as a national monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, AND is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It is only about 35 kilometres outside of Lisbon, and on a clear day can be seen all the way from the Portuguese capital.
3. Mont Saint-Michel, France
Mont St Michel is a truly iconic palace located in Normandy, France. Though it's technically an abbey, not a castle, its astonishing appearance certainly makes it look like a castle. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a population of fewer than 50 people and is visited by more than 3 million tourists every year.
The “castle” is actually an 11th-century abbey and can be found on a tidal island approximately one kilometre off the coast of Normandy. The island was founded by an Irish hermit in the sixth century and has been used as a significant military and religious site throughout its history. The abbey has been added to numerous times throughout the last thousand years, but the main section of the church is medieval, with the transept crossing built rather daringly right at the top of the mount.
Mont St Michel features in the Bayeux Tapestry (scenes 16 and 17), and has served as inspiration for a number of films, including Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Gondor’s capital city, Minas Tirith, was modelled on the island), and Disney’s 2010 animated film Tangled.
4. Hohenwerfen, Austria
Hohenwerfen in Austria has a million stories to tell, having been used as a military base, a hunting retreat, a state prison, a Nazi education camp, a set for the popular film Where Eagles Dare and a training camp for the Austrian rural police (Gendarmerie). This intimidating castle dates all the way back to 1078, when Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg built a number of fortresses and castles to secure parts of Austria from King Henry IV of Germany.
Now, though, the castle houses an impressive and extensive weapon collection, and the Falconry Centre and museum. The Falconry Centre is popular with visitors, hosting daily flight demonstrations with various birds of prey, including eagles, falcons, hawks and vultures.
Hohenwerfen, situated approximately 40 kilometres south of Salzburg, sits atop a 623-metre high precipice and is surrounded by the Berchtesgaden Alps and the Tennen Mountains. Between the grand height and dramatic history, this castle is definitely one to be reckoned with.
5. Alcázar of Seville, Spain
In Spain, the 700-year-old royal palace in Seville offers visitors stunning scenery, architecture and gardens. The Alcázar was built on the site of an Abbadid Muslim alcazar (residential fortress), which was destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville. The upper floor of the building is still occupied by the Spanish royal family whenever they are in the city.
The castle’s construction took around 500 years in total, so the building features a variety of different architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque elements. The Alcázar is renowned for its tile decoration and is a leading example of Mudéjar architecture.
Does the Alcázar look a little familiar, but you just can’t quite place it? Well, it’s possible you saw it in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia? No? Well, maybe you recognise it because it was used as the set for the seat of House Martell in Dorne, in the TV show Game of Thrones!
6. Castel del Monte, Italy
Castel del Monte has no moat or drawbridge, no gilded towers, no stained glass windows - but the geometric and symmetrical nature of the building means it is still rather fascinating. The castle is a 13th-century citadel and castle, perched on a hill in Andria, Italy. Built during the 1240s by Emperor Frederick II, construction was never fully completed, but the castle has still been labelled by the Italian Encyclopaedia as the most fascinating castle built by emperor.
Sadly, the castle has fallen into disrepair. The eight towers are believed to have originally been five metres higher than they currently stand, and there may have originally been a third floor to the octagonal building. In the 18th century, the castle was stripped of its interior marble walls and columns and remaining furnishings.
The original purpose of the castle remains unknown. Many believe it was never intended as a defensive fortress, but archaeological digs have suggested that the building once had a curtain wall for fortification. It may once have been a citadel or even a hunting lodge, but was turned into a prison in the second half of the 1200s.
7. Moritzburg Castle, Germany
Germany is renowned for its abundance of beautiful and historic castles (experts think there are over 20.000 castles in Germany), so saying it’s difficult to choose just one is a massive understatement. While Moritzburg Castle is not as well-known as some of its German counterparts, it is definitely one of the most striking since it is surrounded by water.
The castle has four large round towers, lies on a perfectly symmetrical artificial island (in the middle of Castle Lake, of course), and is surrounded by woodland. The original Moritzburg was built in the 1540s, but the building and its surrounding area have been extended a handful of times since then, to add a chapel, a formal park, and the Little Pheasant Castle.
Moritzburg is just as impressive inside as out. The walls are covered in 17th century gold-gilded leather, and the castle is home to an impressive collection of red deer antlers. Some of the antlers are 400 years old, and the heaviest red deer antler in the world, weighing approximately 20 kilograms and spanning almost two metres, can be found in the castle’s dining room.
8. Peleș Castle, Romania
Built by King Carol I of Romania in the 1870s, after he fell in love with the magnificent mountain scenery, the castle (technically a palace) was used as a summer residence by the Romanian royal family up until 1947. Peleș has a 3.200-square-metre floor plan with over 170 rooms, many styled in specific and dedicated themes from world cultures. It also features a collection of arms and armour which totals more than 4.000 pieces spanning over four centuries of history, with almost 2.000 pieces of art. The castle is open to the public and is home to the Peleș National Museum.
While maybe not quite as sinister as the famous Dracula stories, Peleș Castle has featured in some well-loved stories and films too. In 2009, it was used in the film The Brothers Bloom, and more recently, Peleș featured in the Netflix original film A Christmas Prince (and both its sequels) as the home of the Aldovian royal family.
Most dramatic castles and palaces in Europe
While travelling is fun, you don’t have to travel too far to enjoy some of the greatest castles one can see, right here in Europe! Let these eight dramatic castles inspire you to pack your bags for a trip to one of these great sights!
What are some of your favourite castles and palaces? Let us know in the comments below!
This article first appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.
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