Those fairytale castles we grew up watching on TV and reading weren’t just conjured out of thin air – most of them were based on the real deal. Europe is bursting with regal residences, complete with colourful turrets, rapunzel towers and lofty spires. Looking to live out your royal fantasies? From hilltop Cinderella castles to medieval fortresses, we’ve rounded up 10 fairytale European castles you can actually visit.
Add these palaces to your Europe bucket list for a trip to remember…
Beautiful castles in Europe:
Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany)
Possibly the most famous fairytale castle on the list, Neuschwanstein Castle is located above the village of Hohenschwangau, near Fussen in southwest Bavaria. Between its turrets, towers and mountain-top location, it looks like it could’ve been plucked straight out of a fairytale. Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria built the castle in 1868 as a private refuge.
Think it looks familiar? It featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and likely provided Walt Disney with the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle too. Today you can take a tour of the palace, including the spectacular Throne Room. It’s one of the most beautiful European castles by far.
The Palace of Pena (Portugal)
Sitting atop the Sintra hills, the Pena Palace is one of Portugal’s most iconic landmarks. Its canary-yellow walls and hilltop perch are the epitome of a fairytale. German Baron von Eschwege built the palace in the Romanticist style on the remains of a monastery in the 1840s. Outside it’s all swirling domes and towers, while inside you’ll find sumptuous furniture, paintings and ornate statues.
Visitors can explore the interiors, as well as the 200 hectares (495 acres) of forest grounds that make up Pena Park. This is a lovely day trip from the nearby town of Cascais.
Mont Saint-Michel (France)
Rising dramatically out of the sea, Mont Saint-Michel is a medieval monastery set on an isolated island. It’s located on a mesmerising bay shared by Normandy and Brittany. Most of the time it’s surrounded by vast sandbanks but when the tides are high it becomes a magical island. It’s easy enough to visit, but you’ll need to check the tide times before making the journey. There’s plenty of tours that you can enjoy here.
Miramare Castle (Italy)
This majestic white castle boasts sparkling sea views and an idyllic bayside location in Trieste. It was once home to Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian of Habsburg and his wife Charlotte of Belgium. Today, you can explore the museum, where you’ll find original furniture and decor, as well as the sprawling 54-acre park.
The Instagram-worthy views are a big draw, but many come to the castle to investigate the ‘Miramare Castle Curse’. Maximilian and his wife were murdered before the age of 34. Legend has it that anyone who lives in the castle will perish too. Do you dare to visit?
Peles Castle (Romania)
Nestled into the Bucegi Mountains, Peles Castle is widely considered to be one of the most stunning castles in Europe. King Carol I commissioned the castle in 1873 as the summer residence for the royal family. It would have been the ultimate palace getaway in the nineteenth century! It was the first European to have electricity, central heating, and hot and cold running water. Not too bad, right?
Inside, its 160 rooms are sumptuously decorated with Cordoba leather-covered walls and handmade silk embroidered ceilings. It even has a 60-seat theatre with a royal box too.
By far the newest castle on the list, Ravadinovo Castle was only built around 20 years ago. Architect and developer Georgi Tumpalov manifested his childhood dream into a modern-day fairytale palace, fitting it out with turrets, lakes and marble sculptures. Outside, the gardens feature a mini zoo with peacocks, ponies and tropical parrots too. The building is in a cross shape. This is an official symbol of love and donation.
The walls also contain traces of micro diamonds, which gives the palace a pink hue in the morning and a luminous white glow when there’s a full moon. The castle’s official name is ‘In Love with the Wind’. Perfect for a romantic tour.
Château de Chambord (France)
France isn’t short on fairytale palaces, but Chambord Castle is one of its largest and most majestic. King Francis I built the castle in 1515 but he only stayed here for 50 days. Its grandiose architecture could rival Versailles, with huge winding staircases, palatial rooms with high vaulted ceilings and a collection of 4,500 objet d’arte. The Loire Valley gardens amount to an impressive 5,440 hectares – larger than the whole of inner Paris! It’s a real showstopper.
Alcázar of Segovia (Spain)
This fort-turned-castle has quite the history. Initially built by the Romans, it’s been an Ottoman fort, a royal palace, a state prison and a military academy. The current palace is actually a reconstruction, built in the mid-nineteenth century. It’s the classic fairy tale castle, said to have inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s not hard to believe, with its rapunzel towers and witches’ hat turrets. A dozen of the rooms are open to the public, including the two main courtyards.
Located in Prievidza, also known as ‘the Green City’, Bojnice is a medieval castle that dates back to the 12th century. Hungarian aristocracy have lived here for centuries. The last of them, Count Ján Pálfi, redesigned the structure in the 19th century. The steep roofs, towers and 26-metre castle-well are pure princess vibes. Tickets include admission to the castle and the beautiful gardens.
The best time to visit is at the end of April. This is when the International Festival of Ghosts and Spooks is on, and the whole castle transforms into a haunted house.
Warwick Castle (UK)
Once a formidable fortress, Warwick Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in 1068. It may not have colourful turrets or even a grand staircase, but it’s still very handsome. It has a pretty location by the River Avon too. Not only can you visit, you can sleep in it too. There are three different types of accommodation: themed woodland lodges, medieval glamping on the riverbank and private floor suites in the 14th-century tower. This is a charming weekend escape!
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