I don’t know about you, but I was always obsessed with fairytale castles. Whenever I’m visiting a new destination I always look for castles, there is just something magical about them! There are many beautiful castles scattered around Europe so no matter where you go, you will almost always find a new castle to visit. Here’s a list about the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe you just simply can’t miss!
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Fairytale castles in Germany
1. Neuschwanstein Castle
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
When thinking about fairytale castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle is usually the first one that comes to mind. If it looks familiar to you it’s not a coincidence – legend has it that Neuschwanstein Castle was the main source of inspiration for Walt Disney when creating Cinderella’s castle in the 1950 movie. The castle also looks very similar to the Disney logo shown before every Disney film.
The construction of Neuschwanstein Castle began in 1868 on the request of King Ludwig II. It was originally designed to have more than 200 rooms but when the king died in 1886 the funds of the project were also cut and the castle has never been fully finished. Two months after the king’s death the castle was opened up to the public and it’s been the most visited landmark in Germany ever since.
You can easily visit Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich or Innsbruck as a day trip but you can also spend a few nights around the castle in Schwangau or Hohenschwangau. The castle sits atop a hill in the foot of the Bavarian Alps, it takes around 30-40 minutes to reach the castle by foot. If you’re looking for the best viewpoints at Neuschwanstein Castle, check out Mary’s Bridge (Marienbrücke) where you will get a full panoramic view over the castle.
Although hiking around the castle is completely free, you need to pay 13 EUR (14.5 USD) for a ticket if you want to go inside. It’s important to know that the castle can only be visited with a guided tour and since its construction was never finished, only a couple of rooms can be visited. Even if you decide not to go in, visiting Neuschwanstein Castle and hiking in the area will be a memorable experience!
2. Hohenzollern Castle
A beautiful castle high atop a hill in southern Germany, Hohenzollern Castle is a remarkable and well preserved castle among the beautiful German landscape. The castle was the ancestral seat for the House of Hohenzollern once and it has actually been destroyed and rebuilt several times as it was part of several sieges (it was also a refuge at one point). Hohenzollern castle changed hands a few times over the years and it was also a residence for a crown prince once.
Today, the castle is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Germany and some even speculate that its currently fortified state is among the best, which would align with the fact that the castle was once a fortress. Even though some damage was sustained to the castle during rare earthquakes, the cost of the renovations are able to be paid from admission fees.
To get to Hohenzollern, it is about a 45 minute drive from Stuttgart, which has its own airport and also a major autobahn running south of the city. If you want to visit the castle from Stuttgart, it’s best to drive and park at the lower parking area where you can purchase tickets at the visitor’s center. From there you can walk or take a bus to the top.
Tours are highly recommended in order to be able to get into many of the rooms of the castle. The tours are available in German but they can also be pre-arranged in English. It is best to spend at least a half day at the castle. The views from the castle onto the hills below are quite beautiful and very peaceful for visitors.
3. Burg Eltz
Recommended by Becki from Meet Me In Departures
If you’re looking for the most quintessential fairytale castle, then it’s undoubtedly Burg Eltz. This was by far the favourite castle I visited during my German fairytale castle road trip. Situated in the bottom of a valley (I know right, castles are usually on top of a hill), it’s perched on a rock, surrounded by ancient forests and rolling hills. Honestly, it’s so pretty that it looks like it’s been plucked right out of any fairytale story.
Part of the reason the castle is in a valley and that it has so many original features is that it was never used for defence. It was a home and on the whole, a peaceful place. The castle is over 850 years old and miraculously been in the same family since it was built. Each generation added their own slant on the design, so when you’re looking at the castle you can clearly see the different architecture styles which spread over 500 years. The different styles blend seamlessly together.
To go inside the courtyard and walk around the woodlands surrounding the castle is free, although if you want to go inside the castle you have to pay 11 EUR (12.5 USD) for a ticket. Tours alternate between German and English and they usually take just under an hour. You can easily spend half a day at Burg Eltz, exploring the grounds surrounding the castle and the woodland trails.
For a bit of an insider tip, there are two routes you can take from the car park area to get to the castle. The scenic walk goes through the woods, however, the view of the castle is blocked by trees. The better way to view Eltz Castle is by walking down the tarmac road which the shuttle bus takes. Not so many people take this route, but this is where you get the stunning panoramic view of the castle in the valley.
Fairytale castles in Luxemburg
4. Vianden Castle
Recommended by Margherita from The Crowded Planet
There are many castles in Luxembourg that can be visited, but my favourite is definitely Vianden, located in the town of the same name in the northern part of the country, close to the German border. Out of all the castles I’ve seen in Luxembourg, Vianden is the one that comes closer to the fairytale image that one normally associates with castles.
Vianden is a very elaborate castle, located on a hilltop and built over a period of 300 years. The core of the castle was erected in Romanesque style, with later Gothic additions. The castle’s heyday were the 13th and 14th century, when it was inhabited by wealthy local lords – it then fell into disrepair and was only restorated to its former glory about 30 years ago.
It’s definitely worth visiting outside as well as inside. You can reach it by walking through Vianden and from the top there’s a wonderful view over the town and surrounding hills. The interiors have also been perfectly restored – one of the spaces I liked best was the Byzantine gallery on the second floor, with six beautiful trefoiled windows overlooking the valley.
If you happen to be in Luxembourg in summer, try to visit Vianden Castle in occasion of the Medieval festival – the castle truly comes to life with falconry demonstrations, fire-eaters and other fun performances! It’s worth to dedicate at least half a day to visit the castle, since there’s a lot to explore. It’s about 50 km from Luxembourg city, and you can drive there in about 40 minutes or get there by train and bus in just over an hour.
Fairytale castles in France
5. Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most famous landmarks in France. Visitors are not only drawn to the power and affluence the palace alludes but how well history has been preserved there. The Palace of Versailles started as a small hunting lodge built by King Louis the XIII in late 1623. In 1631, he decided to rebuild the lodge – the construction was completed in 1634 which is the basis of the Palace we know today. The King’s son, Louis XIV extended the palace further when he installed the Court and government there in 1682.
With the detail and conservation of 60,000 artworks, the Palace serves as a museum today and it illustrates 5 centuries of the French History. There are over 2,300 rooms in the Palace and it has been listed as a World Heritage Site for 30 years now. Take your time to explore as many rooms as you can and imagine the opulent life of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were the last Royals to live there before the French Revolution.
When planning your day, make sure to allocate enough time to visit the Estate of Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet as well. It’s worth to spend some time strolling through the monumental and the explicitly well manicured gardens that will allow you to feel like you are in another century surrounded by sculptures and water fountains. To make your visit easier, download the free Palace of Versailles app on your phone!
Visiting the Palace of Versailles is one of the best day trips from Paris as it’s quite close to the city. Trains run frequently between Paris and the Palace of Versailles, the journey takes around 40-45 minutes in one way.
6. Château de Chantilly
Recommended by Chrysoula from Historic European Castles
Château de Chantilly is a fascinating castle for those wishing to visit a fairytale destination while in France and it can easily be reached on a day trip from Paris. Located just 50 km from the city, Château de Chantilly is best reached by train from the central Gare du Nord station with the journey taking around 30 minutes.
Travellers will need to book their ticket from Gare du Nord to the Chantilly-Gouvieux station, from where you will need to walk around 15 minutes to reach the chateau. There are even combi tickets available that offer train tickets plus entrance to the chateau and these can be purchased from one of the ticket offices at the Gare du Nord station.
The original chateau on this site was built for Duke Anne de Montmorency in the 16th century but was unfortunately destroyed during the French Revolution. The site then went through a period of change, with the remains of the castle being repaired by Louis Henri II, then being owned by the English bank Coutts, before finally being entirely rebuilt, between 1875 and 1882, by Henri d’Orléans, Duc d’Aumale.
This last iteration of the Domaine de Chantilly now comprises of Le Petit Château, Le Grand Château, the Musée Condé and the Chantilly Racecourse as well as well-manicured gardens, lakes and walkways which make it a beautiful place to explore.
7. Château de Chambord
Recommended by Christine from French Travel Guides
Among French castles, Château de Chambord stands out as the fanciest and probably the grandest. Unlike most castles that boast of defensive structures and doubles as fortresses, Château Chambord’s features are mostly purely decorative. It is the largest château in the Loire Valley and has quite a fascinating history.
In lieu of fortifications, the castle has manicured gardens, fountains and other decorative features. This Renaissance castle is made with white limestone and surrounded by water on one side. It has beautifully landscaped gardens which is a product of its intriguing history.
One of its architectural highlights though is a double helix staircase supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The castle has 83 more staircases, 800 sculpted columns, 11 different towers, 3 types of chimneys, 440 rooms, and 282 fireplaces. That’s a lot, but those are among the reasons that make Château Chambord one of the best places to visit in Loire Valley.
Inside the castle, the rooms that are open to the public are styled as if it is still inhabited. It features period furniture and decor, that says a lot about the era when it was built. Château de Chambord is one of those castles in France that’s a definite must-visit.
You need to spend at least 3 hours in order to enjoy the castle so if you are taking a day trip from Paris, make sure to arrive before 2 pm so you have ample time before it closes at 5 pm. To get here from Paris, you can take a train (TER 14033 or TER 16813) from Paris Austerlitz to Blois. From Blois, you can take the Remi Bus Line 02 to Chambord Le Marronnier Chateau, then just walk towards the entrance.
8. Château de Fontainebleau
Recommended by Elisa from World in Paris
Château de Fontainebleau is a beautiful castle located in the town of Fontainebleau, 55 km south-east of Paris, and surrounded by the scenic Fontainebleau forest. Built in the 12th century, Fontainebleau was a royal castle, home of the French Kings, and favorite hunting place for 8 centuries. Unlike Château de Versailles, its famous counterpart near Paris, Fontainebleau hosted all the French Kings from Louis VII to the last Kings and Emperors of France.
The current Château de Fontainebleau is a mix of architectural styles, being Renaissance and Classicism the most dominant ones. The castle is a succession of elegant rooms and grand halls with amazing decoration. Take the time to read the information panels, there’s a bit of the history of France in most of these rooms. The most impressive spaces are the Gallery of Francis, the Ballroom, and the Chapel of the Trinity, all richly decorated.
Château de Fontainebleau is also famous for its impressive gardens, with different landscape styles. The Grand Parterre, is the largest in Europe and it was King Louis XIV’s main intervention in Fontainebleau.
Do you need more reasons to visit this fantastic château? The entrance to the castle is free the first Sunday of the month (except the months of July and August) and there are no waiting lines! Also, it is very easy to visit from Paris by train so there are no excuses to go to Fontainebleau.
Fairytale castles in Belgium
9. Gravensteen Castle
Recommended by Babs from Next Stop Belgium
Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium is a pretty spectacular castle thanks to its location straight in the middle of the city centre. As the third-largest city in Belgium, Ghent is well worth a weekend visit or at least a day trip from Brussels, Bruges or Antwerp. There are many things to do and see in this historical university city, but the Gravensteen Castle might be one of the most impressive sights.
Count Philips of Alsace, had the castle built in 1180 to show of his power and keep control over the people. After many centuries of repression and torture, Gravensteen Castle was sold in the late 18th century and turned into a cotton factory, housing about 50 families who worked there. When they left, the castle was ready to be demolished but the tide turned in the early 20th century when the castle was renovated for the 1913 World Expo that was held in Ghent.
Visitors can discover the gatehouse, the keep, the ramparts, the count’s residence and the stables but most noteworthy on a visit to the Gravensteen is the unique collection of torture equipment. The entry to the Gravensteen is 12 EUR per person. Also, make sure to grab the free audio guide (also available in sign language!) where Ghentian comedian Wouter Deprez will tell you more about the castle’s history with some funny anecdotes.
Fairytale castles in the Netherlands
10. Castle de Haar
Recommended by Maartje from The Orange Backpack
Castle De Haar has 200 rooms, making it one of the biggest castles in the Netherlands and also one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe. Much of what’s left today is the work of Etienne van Zuylen who found himself some resources to restore the family heirloom by marrying a wealthy daughter of the De Rothschild family. The couple contracted the famous Dutch architect Cuypers, who also designed the Rijksmuseum and central station in Amsterdam. Cuypers created the impressive Main Hall – it’s style is somewhat different than you might expect from a castle, it’s more like a cathedral with its dramatic Gothic arches and statues.
The Van Zuylen family continued living at the castle, but from the 60s on it was only used during the September months. This month used to be the highlight on the Dutch social calender with the Van Zuylens hosting big parties, entertaining famous guests like Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Yves Saint Laurant and the Dutch royal family. The Van Zuylen family still uses the castle every September, as was stipulated when the castle was handed over to the newly founded Foundation.
When visiting the castle, make sure you have time to visit the landscaped garden as well. The castle grounds are included in your ticket price. De Haar is close to the city of Utrecht which is definitely worth a visit as well with its Amsterdam like canals and architecture. Note that you might come across the names Haarzuylens and Slot Zuylen. Haarzuylens is just another name for De Haar, but Slot Zuylen is another well-known castle in the same area.
Muiderslot is one of the oldest and best preserved medieval castles in the Netherlands. The castle is surrounded with water and gardens, adding further to the fairytale atmosphere when visiting.
The castle was built in 1285 in commision of Count Floris V. When he was murdered in 1296 his castle was destroyed as well, but in 1370 the original Muiderslot was restored and expanded with a residential wing. Since 1878 Muiderslot serves as a national museum – in fact, it was one of the first national museums in the Netherlands.
You should spend at least 3 hours wandering around the castle with a free audioguide to discover how they opposed the enemy and how life was in a castle in general. There’s a special scavenger hunt for kids through the castle and the grounds and in the weekends and on school holidays there’s a falconer, who gives explanations and demonstrations on the mighty birds of prey. You can find many forgotten vegetables and herbs in the beautiful castle gardens as well, which is used for painting, decoration and healing purposes.
Muiderslot is located in the town of Muiden. When arriving by, car take exit 3 Muiden/Weesp on the A1. There are some paid parking spots close to the castle but further away you will find 3 free parking lots as well. You can also take a train from Amsterdam or Utrecht to Weesp Station, from where you can take the bus line 110 which stops at Muiden Centrum. After that you need to walk 10 minutes to reach the castle.
Fairytale castles in England
12. Windsor Castle
Recommended by Stephanie from History Fangirl
Windsor Castle is the longest-inhabited castle in Europe, and it dates all the way back to the Normans who ruled in the 11th and 12th centuries. The castle is one of the main residences of the Queen of England, and it contains absolutely breathtaking treasures of English artwork. You can tell if the queen is in residence by the flag flying above the castle. You might be lucky enough to visit when she’s at home!
Essentially every famous portrait of British monarchs (think the kind that makes the covers of biographies) is hanging on the walls here so you will get to see many of them during your visit. The castle has been home to some significant historic events as well as lighter moments in Royal history, including the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
It’s easy to get to Windsor from London by train, or you can go on a guided tour that includes pickup at your hotel. If you come on your own, make sure to spend time walking around the village. The village grew up around the castle and there are wonderful historic pubs and shops to see in the town as well. You can also walk over to Eton to see the famous school town.
13. Leeds Castle
Recommended by Rob from Roam Yonder
Few castles in England remain as accessible and active as Leeds Castle. Nestled away in the Kent countryside, Leeds Castle is open all year round to visitors whether visiting the castle or enjoying the many walks around the gardens. It also hosts events across the year including a spectacular fireworks show, Christmas Market and a series of summer concerts. The castle and the grounds are also a popular wedding venue.
Leeds Castle has had many identities since its construction was started in 1119. When Eleanor of Castile bought Leeds Castle in 1278 it began both the long royal ownership of the Castle and its association with six different Queens of England. Between 1517-1523 the infamous Henry VIII transformed Leeds Castle from a fortified stronghold to a luxurious palace. In 1552, after nearly 300 years of royal ownership, Leeds Castle was given to Anthony St. Leger by King Edward VI for his service to Henry VIII.
From there the Castle passed around to many different owners until 1823 when it experienced it’s latest reinvention. In 1925 the Castle was bought by Lady Baillie who would become the last owner of Leeds Castle. When war broke out in 1939, Leeds Castle played its role. Many Soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk were sent to recuperate at Leeds Castle. Weapons research was secretly carried out in the grounds, including emergency flame weapons to counter the feared German invasion.
After Lady Baillie passed away in 1974 the Castle passed to the Leeds Castle Foundation. Over the years Leeds Castle became a popular tourist spot welcoming over 600,000 visitors a year. You can visit the castle and walk the surrounding grounds in half a day but to really experience the castle you should visit during one of the special events held throughout the year.
14. Barnard Castle
Recommended by Sarah from A Social Nomad
Sitting high on a rocky outcrop above the River Tees in North East England, Barnard Castle nowadays serves as a market town. The castle was built in the 12th century and was named after its founder, Bernard de Baliol. Today, the castle is a focal point of the town, especially during special events throughout the year. You will find an annual meet during the Whitsunday weekend and an increasingly popular 1940’s themed event at the end of June.
The castle today is mostly ruined, but you can still spot Richard III’s emblem carved into a stone in the castle (he was once an owner). There’s a sensory garden inside the castle and a guide book with further details on its history. Spend perhaps 90 minutes exploring the castle and then take the Blue Plaque walking tour of the town – famous visitors include Oliver Cromwell and Charles Dickens who took inspiration for his novels from here!
Many of the businesses and buildings that surround the castle are built into the walls. Try one of the local pubs with beer gardens that back onto the walls of the castle for a taste of both local food and drink – we particularly recommend the Old Well Pub on the “Bank”.
There is a regular market on Wednesdays in the town and you can also visit the monthly farmers markets. Other great things to do include walking along the River Tees and visiting the stunning Bowes Museum, a French Chateau in the heart of the North East of England that is not to be missed while you are here.
15. Alnwick Castle
Recommended by Vicky from Day Out In England
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland is one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe. It was used in the first and second Harry Potter movies as a filming location – you will recognise the Outer Bailey from Harry’s lesson with Madam Hooch. The courtyards and baileys were also used as a backdrop for some of the school scenes. The most famous scene filmed at Alnwick Castle was the one where Harry and Ron crashed the Weasley’s flying car into the Inner Bailey.
Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, Alnwick Castle is a stunning place to visit. You can wander the state rooms, check out the courtyard and enjoy an afternoon tea on site. Enjoy a tour and see the changing exhibitions too. It’s the second largest inhabited castle in England, so there’s lots to see and do here!
Depending on your interests, you can spend anything from a few hours to all day at the castle. They have a lot of special events here, especially over the summer, so keep an eye on the listings. Unfortunately you can’t stay in the castle, but there are some great hotels within walking distance in Alnwick.
Fairytale castles in Scotland
16. Dunnottar Castle
Recommended by Kathi from Watch Me See
Dunnottar Castle is not only steeped in history, but its breathtaking location also makes it one of the most romantic places to visit Scotland. Located near the picturesque seaside town of Stonehaven on Scotland’s east coast, Dunnottar Castle is the perfect place to watch the sunset as it dips the historic stone walls of the castle in all shades of gold, red and yellow. It’s mesmerising! Many people even come here to renew their vows.
The castle sits atop the tall cliffs of a headland and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. What once fortified the castle to effectively against attackers, now makes for breathtaking views all around and spectacular photo opportunities. Today, visitors can reach the castle via a staircase, first down, then up – it’s hard work, but worth the effort.
Dunnottar Castle is not just pretty to look at, it also has a rich history that is tied up in rivalries and conflicts among ruling families and movements. William Wallace (you know, from Braveheart) stormed the castle in the 13th century and is said to have burnt the English soldiers stationed here alive in the castle chapel. Many centuries later, Mary Queen of Scots visited the beautiful seaside castle, and in the 17th century, the castle became instrumental in the religious-political conflict surrounding the Covenanters.
Dunnottar Castle is a popular stop on the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail as well as the Scottish Castle Trail, which connects 19 fairytale castles in the Aberdeenshire region. I recommend spending at least one day in nearby Stonehaven. Visit the castle during the day, join a boat trip along the coast for a change of perspective, and walk back out to the castle for sunset (takes approx. 40 minutes along a scenic coastal trail, one-way). Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle are also a great day trip from Aberdeen, just 25 km up the coast (by car or by train).
17. Dunrobin Castle
Located in the Scottish Highlands, Dubrobin Castle is over 700 years old and holds a vast and varied history. Dunrobin was built by the Sutherlands – one of the most powerful families in Scotland – and the Duke of Sutherland has lived in the castle since 1235. The family adapted and renovated the castle over time as their wealth and power grow in the land.
The family is known to be responsible for the highland clearances where they forcibly removed highlanders from their homes to make way for sheep. This is a huge part of Scottish history and maybe the reason you have Scottish family connections. The highlanders had to find places to live and they travelled far and wind to do so from America to New Zealand to find a new home.
In 1845, the castle was remodelled by Sir Charles Barry, who was inspired by Queen Victoria’s Residence at Balmoral. The interior of the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1915 so the interior you see today is the work of Sir Robert Lorimer.
The white towering turrets and the gorgeous location makes Dunrobin Castle one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe and you definitely need to visit it if you’re in Scotland! The castle is located outside the village of Golspie, 85 km north of Inverness. There is a train station near the castle but since it’s one of the best scenic drives in Scotland, driving there is the best way to enjoy the scenery on your way to the castle.
Dunrobin offers tours of the castle museum, the gardens and falconry. You will need around 3-4 hours for a full visit to Dunrobin but you can easily spend more time in the beautifully manicured gardens. Don’t forget to visit the tea room for the best in local highland cuisine!
18. Eilean Donan Castle
Recommended by Kat from Wandering Bird
If you’re looking for beautiful castles in Europe, you need to head to Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. This incredible castle stands on the shores of a place where three lochs meet – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. The castle is located in the western Highlands, very close the the bridge which leads to the Isle of Skye, making it one of the most popular stops on a Scotland road trip itinerary.
The nice thing about this castle is you can stop for 10 minutes take some incredible photos and then be on your way (we also recommend the cafe in the lay-by across the bridge, which is perfect for coffee or breakfast). However, if you have more time, you can also stop and see the inside of the castle.
The castle was built in the 13th Century but was destroyed in the 1700s during the Jacobite uprising. It was in ruins for 200 years but it was mostly reconstructed in the early 1900s and is now open to the public almost all year long (it is closed in January and during Christmas.)
If you really want to treat yourself, the castle has beautiful apartments which you can stay in. Who doesn’t want to sleep in a proper castle and enjoy the views over those lochs?
Fairytale castles in Portugal
19. Pena Palace
Recommended by Claire from Tales of a Backpacker
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is a magnificent place, a magical town about an hour outside of Lisbon. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the magnificent Pena Palace, the Palace of Sintra and the Moorish Castle. Pena Palace is the most colourful and famous of the castles in Sintra, and the one you have probably seen on the cover of guide books.
This fairy-tale castle combines brightly coloured red and yellow walls, vault arches, and medieval and Islamic elements and is one of the best examples of 19th Century Romanticist architecture that exists today. The current castle was commissioned by King Ferdinand and built between 1842 and 1854, although a chapel has been on that same site since the Middle Ages. It sits high on a hill above Sintra, visible for miles around, and on clear days you can even spot the colourful towers from Lisbon!
Pena Palace is a popular place to visit, so plan to arrive first thing to avoid the crowds. Most people visit Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon, but there is plenty to do here and you can easily fill two or three days. Spending the extra time here means you can properly explore Pena Palace and the extensive gardens. Bring a picnic and take your time!
You can either buy a ticket to just visit the outside areas of the palace, including the palace terraces and gardens, or pay an extra cost to go inside as well. Personally, I preferred exploring outside, and found more than enough to keep me entertained. Just don’t miss the gorgeous views from the terraces!
20. Belém Tower
The Belém Tower, or Torre de Belém in Portuguese, is one of the most incredible and well-preserved buildings from the medieval period, also a national symbol in Lisbon, Portugal. The construction started in 1514, and finished five years later and it is a masterpiece of the Manueline architectural style.
The tower was used to protect the entrance to Tegu River from the ocean, and with the development of the times, Belém Tower has been used for different purposes. In the next few centuries, it was used as a customs house, a telegraph station, a lighthouse, and a storage room transformed into a dungeon as a prison.
It has 5 floors and you can climb up the 92 steps with shoulder-width narrow to the roof terrace – it even has a green light/red light system to get up and down to help to control the human traffic. The highlight of Belém Tower is the open terrace at the top, with very detailed and unique architecture, besides the beautiful view. The ground floor once housed the tower’s artillery, with cannons aimed out across the river through the narrow window openings.
Although it looks much larger in photos, the tower is quite small and they only admit a maximum of 120 people inside at a time. It closes at 2pm on Sundays and it is closed on Mondays. It is better to visit when it opens, and for pictures, it is best to visit during the high tide so you don’t get pictures of it surrounded by mudflats.
The Tower is very easy to access. You can take the 15 tram or 714/726 bus, but be aware that the trams get very busy and crowded. It is a very nice area wander around the waterfront and the tower is just walking distance from the Discoveries Monument, Jerónimos Monastery, and the famous bakery Pasteis de Belém.
Fairytale castles in Spain
21. Olvera Castle
Recommended by Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Olvera is one of those little hidden places in the South of Spain, a beautiful white town on top of a hill with a gorgeous castle and cathedral dominating the skyline. One of the best things to do in Olvera is visiting the El Castillo Arabe de Olvera, or otherwise known as Olvera Castle.
The castle dates from the 12th century and it was built by the Moors as part of the defence of the Emirate of Granada. Conquered in the 13th century by the Kingdom of Castilla, the castle has been rebuilt by the Christians, in a different style. However, a lot of the Moorish elements still remain, which make the castle a very interesting visit.
A ticket to visit the castle in Olvera costs only 2 EUR (2.2 USD) and provides access to both the building and the museum. The most exciting part of the castle is the tower, reached through a very narrow staircase. From the top you can admire a 360 degrees panorama and you can see for miles the colourful landscape of Andalucia.
The castle has an irregular shape because it has been built on a cliff. It may be a small castle, but it is maintained in a very good shape. The interior yard, inside the castle’s walls, features a medieval well next to the gates for the old prison. Since Olvera is a small town (easy reachable from Malaga), there are no big hotels here, just small individual B&Bs.
Fairytale castles in Switzerland
22. Chillon Castle
Recommended by Nisha from Nerdy Footsteps
Chillon castle stands proudly on a rocky islet the shore of Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Leman. It has been around for over 1000 years and is the most visited castle in Switzerland.
The lake around the castle also makes a natural moat, making it difficult to attack it. It is not surprising that the Chillon Castle is one of the only medieval castles in Europe that was never captured in a seize. Its strategic position on Lake Geneva gave the inhabitants control over important trade routes from Italy through the St. Bernhard’s Pass to the north. The highlight of the castle is its dark dungeons that were used to hold the prisoners.
Fun fact: in spite of the dark history of the castle, Chillon inspired the castle in the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid. Thanks to its cylindrical towers and gorgeous location it’s easy to see why it is one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe!
You should spend at least 2-3 hours at the castle and it’s also worth having a tour or hike on the swiss wine trail through the Lavaux vineyards when visiting the castle, which is one of the local’s favorite things to do in this area.
Chillon Castle is around 40 km east of Lausanne and 3 km east of Montreux. The best way to reach the castle is to take a boat or ferry from Montreaux, Lausanne or Geneva. An alternate would be to have a nice 40 minutes stroll from Montreaux, which is well connected to other neighboring cities like Lausanne, Geneva, and Bern.
23. Thun Castle
Recommended by Carolyn from Holidays to Switzerland
If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland and are looking for a beautiful castle to visit, look no further than Thun Castle. Located in the medieval town of Thun, Thun Castle dates back to the 12th century and is easily recognisable thanks to its four distinct turreted towers.
Built purely as an administrative castle (no one actually lived there), today the castle houses a museum spread over its five floors. As you visit each floor, you’ll learn about the history of Thun thanks to the interesting interactive displays (in English, French and German).
The castle’s interior has been well restored and it really gives you an insight into what life was like for the ruling Dukes in the Middle Ages. The dungeon and medieval Knight’s Hall are two of the highlights and the four corner towers, which can all be climbed, offer breathtaking views of Lake Thun and the Bernese Alps.
Thun is just 25 minutes by train from the Swiss capital, Bern, and 30 minutes from Interlaken, and frequent services operate each day. The castle, which overlooks the city and lake, can be reached on foot from Thun Old Town in around 15 minutes via a footpath and the steep castle stairs. Entry to Thun Castle is just 10 Swiss francs (10.4 USD) and you should allow at least two hours for your visit.
Fairytale castles in Italy
24. Castello Sforzesco
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
Although Milan is mostly famous for the majestic Duomi di Milano (Milan Cathedral) and the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II passage, if you have more than just one day in Milan it’s worth to check out Castello Sforzesco as well.
The castle grounds were once home to a fortification inhabited by the Visconti lords, which was destroyed in the 15th century. A few years later Francesco Sforza decided to turn it into his princely residence and transformed the ruins of the fortress into a magnificent ducal palace. The new castle was decorated by numerous famous Italian artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante. Later on, the castle was used as a military complex during the Spanish domination, then it was completely restored in the 19th century and now it’s housing several museums and libraries.
Castello Sforzesco is connected to Parco Sempione (one of the largest parks in the city) and it’s easily accessible by a 15 minute walk from the Duomo di Milano. Wandering through the castle grounds are completely free but if you want to visit the museums you need to buy an entrance ticket for 5 EUR (5.6 USD).
25. Castel Sant'Angelo
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
Rome is often referred as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe thanks to its majestic historical buildings and amazing landmarks. Located on the northern banks of Tiber River, Castel Sant’Angelo is one of the most interesting sights that’s not to be missed when visiting the Eternal City.
The castle was originally built as a monumental tomb in 123 AD by the famous Roman Emperor, Hadrian. During the centuries the castle had several different roles, first it was turned into a military fortress thanks to its strategic location, then it was used as a state prison multiple times before transforming it into a museum in the 20th century.
Nowadays Castel Sant’Angelo is split into 5 floors, showcasing an extensive collection of weapons, beautifully decorated rooms that functioned as Papal residence and perfectly preserved frescos. You can also find a large terrace on top of the castle from where you can get a great panoramic view over the city.
26. Castello Aragonese
Recommended by Helen from Helen on Her Holidays
Castello Aragonese is on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples and is the most popular attraction on the island. It’s on a natural island, connected to the main island by a bridge. Its natural defences have proved attractive to settlers over the last two thousand years – what visitors to Castello Aragonese see today dates back to the 15th century.
There’s lots to see when you visit Castello Aragonese. After you’ve crossed the bridge, you’ll walk down a tunnel excavated in the rock and then up in a lift to the castle buildings on top of the rock, including a cathedral, several churches, a palace and a prison.
Castello Aragonese was home to a convent of nuns from the order of the Poor Clares for around 200 years. The cloisters are now a pretty garden filled with sculptures, but the nuns’ most interesting legacy is the cemetery. Rather than being buried, their dead bodies were propped up on stone seats underneath the church to decompose. The stone chairs are still there – thankfully the bodies are not!
Elsewhere in the castle you’ll find beautiful gardens, two cafes and stunning views across the island. Most visitors spend around half a day at the castle. Castello Aragonese is in the village of Ischia Ponte, around 3km from the port on Ischia where ferries arrive from Naples and Capri. Taxis are available from the port, or there’s a local bus service between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte which stops at one end of the bridge.
27. Doge's Palace
The Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy is a great place to visit as it’s one of the premier landmarks in Venice and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, visited by 1.3 million people annually. It’s one of the top museums and cultural attractions in Italy, founded in 1340, and located in St. Mark’s square.
The palace was the residence of the Doge of the Venice Republic, the supreme ruler, and hosts artworks such as ‘Paradise’ by Tintoretto and other masterpieces by Veronese, Hieronymus Bosch and Vittore Carpaccio. It was also the center of Government of the Venice Republic and also where death sentences were announced!
It’s best to spend a couple of hours here to really absorb the architecture, art and history of this iconic building with either a guided tour or a self-guided walk to take it all in. The best way to get here is by foot as it’s as central as it gets, being in St Mark’s square, but be sure to book online first to reserve your ticket.
Fairytale castles in Slovenia
28. Predjama Castle
Recommended by Dhara from It’s Not About The Miles
Planning a trip to Slovenia? If you enjoy touring old castles, put Predjama Castle on your Slovenia itinerary! You will find Predjama Castle in the Slovenian Karst countryside, under one hour by car from Ljubljana. Along with the nearby Postojna Cave or Skocjan Caves, Predjama Castle makes for a wonderful Caves and Castles day out from Ljubljana or the Slovenian coast.
Predjama Castle is famous as the largest cave castle on the planet. Built into the mouth of a huge cave, part way up a mountain face, the castle defies your imagination as you try to figure out how they could have built it in that impossible place all those years ago.
The castle has a fascinating history as well. In the 15th century, a robber baron called Erazem used the castle as a hidey-hole while he plundered the wealthy estates in the area. After a long siege by government officials in the area, Erazem was ultimately killed, because one of his servants betrayed his exact location (the bathroom!) to his enemies one day.
You can tour the castle with an admission fee and in the summer months, you can also tour some of the cave tunnels behind the castle. The views from the castle are amazing as well, and the castle makes a great backdrop for amazing photos! A car or a guided tour are the most convenient options for visiting the castle. In season, a shuttle runs between Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle, and you can travel by bus to Postojna Cave from other parts of Slovenia.
29. Ljubljana Castle
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
Standing on a hill in the heart of the city, Ljubljana Castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Slovenian capital. The 900 year old castle has been renovated multiple times through the centuries and is now used as a cultural center boosting several museums, art exhibitions, historical rooms, a puppet theatre and a cafe.
Since it’s located in the middle of the city, Ljubljana Castle is easily accessible. You can choose to take the funicular railway which takes you up to the castle in minutes or you can walk up on the winding staircases surrounding the castle. Once you’re there, don’t forget to check out the Outlook Tower which offers the most beautiful views of Ljubljana!
The castle is open every day with various opening hours during each season. An adult ticket costs 10 EUR (11 USD) without the funicular and 13 EUR (15 USD) including a return funicular fare.
Fairytale castles in Austria
30. Hohensalzburg Fortress
Recommended by Vrushali from Couple of Journeys
Visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress is one of the best things to do in Salzburg. It stands tall on a cliff-top and can be easily spotted from almost every area of the Old Town of Salzburg. The reason why this fortress is so popular is that the appearance of this fortress has remained unchanged as it has never been conquered or attacked. The 900 year old castle prides itself in being the only fully-preserved castle in all of Central Europe.
The Hohensalzburg Fortress was originally built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard I. However, at that time it was a simple building. This building took the form of the enormous fort as it stands today between in the 15th century under Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach.
Today, the fortress is open to tourists all round the year. There are 3 museums in the fortress area and a typical visit to the Hohensalzburg Fortress could take about 2-3 hours. In addition to the museums, the terrace area of the fortress is a great place to click some stunning panoramic pictures of the city of Salzburg.
The base area of the fortress is situated right in the middle of the Old Town. To reach the fortress, one can either embark on a steep twenty-minute climb or simply take a 1-minute fun ride on the 19th century funicular. The ticket desk at the base of the fortress can get pretty crowded, therefore it is best to buy the ticket online.
Fairytale castles in Hungary
31. Buda Castle
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
Located on the Buda side of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, Buda Castle is one of the most important historical buildings in Hungary. The construction of the castle started in the 14th century but shortly after it was completed it suffered major damages during the Turkish occupation in the 15-16th century. The rebuilding and restoration of the castle was only completed in the 19th century by 2 famous Hungarian architects: Miklos Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann.
The castle building that was once home for the Hungarian kings is now housing two museums: the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. It’s worth to take a stroll around the castle even if you’re not a museum person as you can get an amazing panoramic view over the city. In fact, Buda Castle is one of the best Instagram spots in Budapest where you can take many amazing photos!
Since Budapest is a very walkable city, the castle can be easily reached from practically everywhere. You can either walk up to the castle or take the funicular that costs 1,200 HUF (4 USD) for one way and 1,800 HUF (6 USD) for a round trip. Although it’s a great experience, I would still recommend walking as it takes only like 10 minutes and you can get a pretty amazing view during the walk.
32. Vajdahunyad Castle
Recommended by Kriszti from She Wanders Abroad
Although Vajdahunyad Castle looks like a medieval castle at first glance, it has actually only been built over a 100 years ago for the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian State. Just like Vajdahunyad Castle, during the celebration many new attractions have been built as part of the Millennial Exhibition, such as the Heroes Square or the infamous lookout tower on the Buda side of the city, the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Located in the City Park (the biggest park in Budapest), Vajdahunyad Castle is sort of a hidden gem that not so many tourists know about. If you have at least a weekend in Budapest, make sure to include a visit to this beautiful castle and the surrounding park as well! Vajdahunyad Castle is home to the Hungarian Agricultural Museum and if you’re lucky, you can also catch one of the several festivals or concerts organized in the castle.
Fairytale castles in Romania
33. Bran Castle
Bran Castle, often referred to as Dracula’s Castle, has been the centerpiece of many legends and served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Located in the heart of Transylvania, that location alone conjures up thoughts of vampires and mystical creatures. The mythic version of Transylvania provides entertainment and will pique people’s interest when you mention that you’re visiting, but the reality is a beautiful countryside with an incredibly well preserved medieval castle in the midst of a small, although touristy, Romanian village.
Perched up high on a hill over the village of Bran, the castle served as a fortress, border and customs checkpoint for Transylvania in the 1300s before becoming a residence of many royals, including the infamous Vlad the Impaler. It has had many uses throughout history, but is currently a museum attracting visitors from around the world.
In addition to the interesting history of Bran Castle, it boasts beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and a uniquely Transylvanian architecture. The small town of Bran leans into the lore of Dracula with the entrance to the castle filled with vendors selling all types of vampire related memorabilia, but after entering the grounds, you will find a quiet park, small pond, and path up the hill to the castle entrance. There’s plenty of room to spread out, let children play, enjoy the castle view, and grab a bite to eat from the snack shop.
Once inside, 30 minutes to an hour should be more than enough time to explore all of the rooms. However, make sure to plan a little extra time to enjoy the grounds as well as to wait at the entrance. Bran Castle is world famous and can get quite busy, especially in high season.
34. Peleș Castle
Recommended by Melissa from High Heels & Backpack
Peleș Castle in Romania looks like something straight out of a fairytale. Visitors to the castle will envisage Princesses dashing around the grounds in flowing gowns, and magical beings frequenting the halls a la Beauty and the Beast. The castle is nestled in the Carpathian mountains close to Sinaia. Dracula’s Castle at Bran may be the most famous castle in Transylvania, but Peleș certainly holds the crown for the most beautiful.
This ornate building was built in Neo-Renaissance style and dates back to 1873. The castle’s construction was funded by King Carol I who advised the builders and architects not to spare any expense. The interiors are lavish and boast Murano crystal chandeliers, colorful stained glass windows, decadent furnishings, and beautiful artwork pieces sourced from across the globe.
It is free to stroll through the grounds of the castle and to admire the various sculptures and flower arrangements that encompass it. If you want to explore the interior, a full admission ticket costs 60 RON (14 USD).
You can easily reach Peleș Castle on foot or by taxi from Sinaia. It is worth basing yourself here for a day or two during your Romania itinerary as there are many charming restaurants and coffee shops in the area. Hotels in Sinaia are very affordable and the rooms start from around 12 EUR (13.5 USD) a night.
Fairytale castles in the Czech Republic
35. Prague Castle
Recommended by Veronika from Travel Geekery
The Prague Castle located in the Czech Capital right above the Vltava River is officially the largest ancient castle complex in the world. It was built in the 9th century and throughout centuries, more structures were added. Nowadays the UNESCO-listed site is made up of palaces and churches of varying architectural styles.
The most striking of them all is the monumental St. Vitus Cathedral located in the center of the castle complex. Its Gothic style and the sheer size leave visitors awestruck. The Golden Lane is also a popular sight within the Castle grounds. Made up of little houses, this quarter was originally built for castle guards but was used mainly for local craftsmen.
Prague Castle is the official seat of the Czech president and in the past Czech rulers used to inhabit it, except the period of the Hussite Wars and a few decades after (beginning of the 15th century). You can easily walk to the Castle from the Old Town. Alternatively, make use of the tram – no. 22/23 will take you the closest.
You can spend an hour or several hours in the Prague Castle, depending on how interested you are in all the expositions. Walking through the complex without entering any of the buildings would take about half an hour. Please note there are security frames upon entry, so at peak times long lines can form, especially if you visit Prague in summer.
36. Karlštejn Castle
Recommended by Adriana from Czech The World
Karlštejn is a majestic Gothic castle, strategically placed on a hill overlooking the beautiful Czech forests. Karlštejn holds an exceptional position among Czech castles. It was founded in 1348 by the Czech king and Roman Emperor Charles IV as a private residence and a safe place for the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. You can still find the replica of St. Wenceslas crown of Czech kings there. The Chapel of the Holy Cross holds a world unique paint collection of Master Theodoric, the court painter of Charles IV.
The castle is an ideal destination for a day trip from Prague as it can be easily reached from Prague Main Station by train in only 40 minutes. Karlštejn can be visited every day except for Mondays and there are several guided tours depending on your interest and preferences. To find out more practical information about the castle and how to get there, read this insider’s guide to Karlštejn Castle.
Karlštejn town offers several accommodation options. The most popular and best rated is Hotel Karlštejn with a swimming pool and a beautiful view of the castle. For those, who are searching for a campsite, there is one by the Berounka river called Autokemp Karlštejn.
Fairytale castles in Poland
37. Ksiaz Castle
There are many beautiful castles in the world but few have the colourful history that surrounds Ksiaz Castle in Poland. As you drive through the thick forest that surrounds one of the most colourful castles in Europe, you can only get a small, quick glimpse of it. The colours of the outer walls rival Pena Palace in Sintra.
Ksiaz Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the mighty river below it, the perfect position to see anyone coming to invade. Once just a fortification, it is now a magnificent castle fit for any Royal family. Many different owners have made their mark on the castle and it is evident that one thing has always remained, the lavish design throughout. Gold trimmed walls, marble floors and beautiful furniture remind you this was once the home to Polish Royalty.
Ksiaz Castle was another castle that was owned, destroyed, taken over and then restored throughout its lifetime. Ksiaz was looted of its glorious treasures many times over its life and was also a place in WWII where some senior Nazi officers spent time. Hidden passageways and underground tunnels were built by prisoners from nearby concentration camps adding to its dark history. It was rumoured that here was the famous ‘Nazi Gold Train’ somewhere within the castle grounds or very close to it but as we toured the castle it was constantly said to us that although there are passages under the castle, no gold train had been found.
With all of the looting and destruction in the castle, most has been painstakingly restored or re-made so Ksiaz Castle can be as close to the Royal residence as it was for many years, but this does not take away its history and its absolute beauty.
38. Malbork Castle
Recommended by Reshma from The Solo Globetrotter
Malbork Castle, located on the banks of the River Nogat in Malbork town, is one of the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage site should undoubtedly be one of your day trips from Gdansk for more than one reason. Malbork is the largest castle in the world by area, and also the most massive brick structure in the world. Yes, while it is common to find fairytale stone castles, this red beauty is all brick.
The full name of the castle is the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork. It was built by the Teutonic Knights, a German Roman Catholic religious order and served as a fortress and monastery for the knights. During the Nazi regime, it was centre for military groups. Most of the sections of the castle were heavily destroyed during WWII bombings. The present structure was reconstructed in the 1940s.
The old church, grand hall, long corridors and royal rooms are among the highlights of the castle. Also, check out the well-kept courtyards and the garden.
The best way to reach Malbork Castle from Gdansk is by train. You have 3 to 4 trains per day leaving from Gdansk Glowny every day, and takes about 1 hour to reach Malbork station. The castle is about 2km from the station. You can take a cab or reach on foot.
It is best to base yourself in Gdansk town, which has plenty of accommodation options. You can spend around a half-day, which is the least time recommended, especially to visit all the sections of the castle.
39. Lazienki Palace
Recommended by Holly from Four Around The World
Lazienki Palace, also known as Palace on the Isle, is located in central Warsaw, within the sprawling Royal Lazienki Park. The park is the largest in Warsaw and offers many points of interest and historical structures as you wander through but it’s the Palace on the Isle that really makes an impact. Once a baroque bathhouse, it was transformed into Palace on the Isle during the late 1700s, upon being purchased by King Stanislaw August when seeking a summer residence.
The palace sits facing a lake and each season of the year offers a beautiful view. In winter, the lake turns to ice, creating an icy fairytale scene. In the warmer months, you can see ducks and swans swimming through the lake. The palace gardens are home to peacocks, who wander freely around the palace, adding to it’s regal appearance.
You can reach Lazienki Palace easily on foot from central Warsaw, or catch public transport to the park entrance. A tour through the palace will tell you more of the history and give you a peek at its historic glory. Afterwards, enjoy a walk through the gardens, where you will find many other points of interest, such as the Orangery and The Royal Theatre. If visiting in summer or spring, you may be lucky enough to enjoy an outdoor concert in the gardens as well.
Fairytale castles in Finland
40. Olavinlinna Castle
Recommended by Josh from The Lost Passport
Commonly known as St Olaf’s Castle, Olavinlinna Castle is the most northern medieval stone fortress that remains standing, and one of the top places to visit in Finland. The castle dates to the 13th century and was originally constructed by the Swedish Kingdom to protect them from the Russians who were attacking from the east. Over the past few centuries, the castle has changed occupation from Swedish to Russian and finally to Finnish after a number of battles we fought.
Olavinlinna Castle is located in the city of Savonlinna, in Finland’s central Saimaa Lakes region. Savonlinna is about 4 hour from Helsinki by car, bus, or train. The castle itself is an easy 10 to 15 minute walk from the town centre along the waterfront, where you will also pass through the old streets of Savonlinna and its harbour.
The castle is open daily from 11am to 6pm. Guided tours run each hour for about one hour in duration and are well worth joining. These tours will give you a good understanding of the history and point of plenty of things you would not have otherwise realised. It is also possible to explore the castle at your own leisure, however, without the guided tour access is not permitted to the upper levels of the castle.
Fairytale castles in Europe - On the map
Europe is home to countless gorgeous and romantic medieval castles so if you’re a castle lover like me, you will have plenty of options to include some castle hunting in your Europe itinerary. I hope you liked this post about the most beautiful fairytale castles in Europe and you managed to find some new castles in this article to put on your travel bucket list.
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Do you know some other great fairytale castles in Europe that you would like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!