Each year, more than 1.5 million travelers are inspired to make the steep walk or catch a horse-drawn carriage to reach this castle perched on a rocky outcropping in the Bavarian countryside.
“People have always been interested in celebrities and powerful people and their homes,” says Cordula Mauss, PR officer for the Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces. “Immediately after the death of Ludwig II in 1886, the first tourists came and wanted to see what their king had built as his private residence.”
While castles, palaces, and châteaux naturally pique such curiosity, not all have Neuschwanstein’s European fairy-tale looks. Some of the world’s most-visited castles, found across Asia, feature red exteriors, pagodas, and gates.
Consider Bangkok’s gold-spired Grand Palace, where Thai kings lived for 150 years, and where 8 million annual visitors now traipse through ornate rooms, manicured gardens, and temples, including one that houses a revered Buddha carved from a single block of jade.
Other longtime royal residences have been repurposed as museums. St. Petersburg’s riverfront Winter Palace, for instance, is the sixth-most-visited castle, thanks to the appeal of masterworks by Titian and da Vinci along with lavish restored interiors, where Catherine the Great once held court.
America’s closest approximation is California’s Hearst Castle, though it fell short of our top 20 list with only 750,000 annual visitors. And while Windsor Castle squeaked in at No. 19, Buckingham Palace didn’t make the grade (567,613 annual visitors), nor did Romania’s Bran Castle (542,000) or a single Irish castle. Ireland’s most visited, Blarney Castle, welcomed 365,000 in 2013.
That said, there can be a downside to having too many visitors—these are delicate, historic structures that have existed for hundreds of years, and some, like Neuschwanstein, limit the daily entries. But it’s hard to stem curiosity when it comes to the lives of the blue-blooded.
As Mauss puts it: “Who didn’t want to be a prince or a princess or at least a knight when he or she was a child?”
The Methodology: To tally up the world’s most-visited castles, we gathered the most recent data supplied by the attractions themselves or from government agencies, industry reports, and reputable media outlets. In most cases, it was 2013 data.