20 Famous Castles Everyone Should Visit at Least Once
Millions of tourists flock to famous castles around the world every year to take a peek into the lives of royalty. Whether you're visiting the picturesque Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany or Bangkok’s gold-spired Grand Palace, there's something about wandering through manicured gardens, temples, and ornate rooms that makes visitors return year after year.
We've rounded up 20 famous castles around the world that are worth visiting at least once — some are museums now, while others still house royalty on occasion.
Related: More landmarks and monuments to visit
The Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Each day, tens of thousands of visitors pour through the Forbidden City to see the 180-acre walled compound that once shielded the Imperial Palace from public view — while housing Chinese emperors and their extensive entourages. Bright red buildings topped with golden pagodas exemplify traditional Chinese architecture, while the Palace Museum showcases art, furniture, and more.
The Louvre Museum, Paris, France
The largest and most famous museum in the world — displaying masterpieces like La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace — got its start as a palace. The U-shaped Louvre housed generations of French kings and emperors beginning in the 12th century, and the remnants of the original fortress that occupied the site (built for King Philippe II in 1190) can be seen in the basement of the museum. The building was extended and renovated many times. Head to the decorative arts wing for a glimpse of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie’s opulent state apartments, built between 1854 and 1861.
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Royal offices are still used within the Grand Palace, and state visits and royal ceremonies are held there each year. This was also the official residence of Thai kings from 1782 to 1925, with numerous buildings, halls, and pavilions set around open lawns and manicured gardens. The palace’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha is considered one of the most sacred sites in Thailand. Its Buddha was carved from a single block of stone, and his garments, made of pure gold, are changed in a royal ceremony three times a year to reflect the Thai seasons.
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Topkapi Palace was a royal residence for about 400 years until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s. Look for the Privy Chamber with its gilded fireplace and walls decorated with blue, white, and coral Iznik tiles from the 16th century. The complex also includes courtyards, gazebos, gardens, and the Imperial Treasury.
Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France
When Louis XIV built Versailles in the late 1600s, it became the envy of other European monarchs, and the opulent estate retains an unmistakable allure. Versailles gets many more visitors than any other château in France (apart from the Louvre); it helps that it’s easily accessible from Paris. No other palace in the world can match the grandeur of Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors, dripping with chandeliers, and Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, decorated with hand-stitched flowers. The vast grounds are free most days and an attraction in themselves, with 50 water fountains, a parterre (formal garden), a grand canal, and other sites like the Grand Trianon, built for Louis XIV as a refuge from court life, and Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon.
The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Catherine the Great and Nicholas I are among the Russian royals who occupied this green-and-white baroque palace along the Neva River from 1762 to 1917. Today, the palace is a museum with one of the finest collections in Europe, including works by Titian, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. Much of the palace was destroyed by fire in 1837, but the beautifully-restored interiors speak to the opulent tastes of the Russian elite. St. George Hall (a large throne room) features two tiers of windows, double Corinthian pink marble columns, patterned parquet floors, and gilt bronze details.
Tower of London, London, England
This medieval fortress on the north bank of the River Thames was built to intimidate Londoners and keep out foreign invaders. The oldest part of the structure, the White Tower, dates back to the 12th century. While it originally served as a royal residence, the tower has become notorious for its use as a prison and the site of executions that included Henry VI and Lady Jane Grey. Millions flock to the tower today to see historical reenactments as well as the British Crown Jewels, among them, the Sovereign’s Sceptre containing the Great Star of Africa, the largest colorless cut diamond in the world.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria
Austria’s most-visited site is this Rococo palace, a summer retreat for Hapsburg emperors from the 1700s until 1918. Of the 1,441 rooms, the most famous is the Mirror Room, with white and gold Rococo decoration and crystal mirrors, where Mozart is said to have performed his first concert at age six. The Grand Tour provides access to all 40 rooms open to the public, including the Gobelin Salon with tapestries from Brussels and the Millions Room, an office paneled in rare rosewood.
Shuri Castle, Naha, Japan
Shuri Castle was the seat of the kings of Ryukyu for more than 400 years. The castle was completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, and reconstruction work was only completed in the early 1990s. The historic castle was partially destroyed again in 2019 because of a fire, but reconstruction efforts are underway, so it is currently closed to visitors.
Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Refined and expanded over centuries, this hilltop palace and fortress complex combines fortifications, gardens, churches, and several palaces, notably the Alhambra, and the Generalife, the country estate of the kings of Grenada and Andalusia. Both are remarkable examples of Islamic architecture from Spain’s medieval period. Expect intricate arabesques, honeycomb vaunted ceilings, and courtyards with pools and fountains. Generalife’s Moorish gardens feature large boxwood trees, rosebushes, willows, and cypresses. Numbers swell in the spring and summer; to beat the crowds, consider a January visit.
Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic
The Czech president lives in Prague Castle these days, yet most areas are open to tourists, who stroll through the palace, buildings, and museums like the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. The castle, with history dating back to the 800s, still guards the Bohemian Crown Jewels, notably, the St. Wenceslas Crown, made of pure gold and decorated with pearls and precious stones. At 753,474 square feet, Prague Castle counts as the largest ancient castle in the world.
Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto, Japan
A 17th-century feudal lord outfitted this castle with 44-foot-high outward curving stone walls intended to repel invaders. Many of the castle buildings were destroyed by fire during the Seinan War of 1877. The Main Tower was rebuilt in 1960 using original materials and methods. It now features a museum with displays on the castle’s history and construction as well as a collection of weapons, armor, and furniture. Time your visit to spring to catch the surrounding cherry trees in pinkest bloom.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
This looks like the ultimate fairy-tale castle, though its backstory is anything but. Reclusive King Ludwig II was declared insane and deposed before the castle was completed; he died shortly thereafter of mysterious causes. Neuschwanstein Castle stands as a testament to his vision, with a two-story throne room inspired by Byzantine churches and a bedroom decorated with murals depicting the legend of Tristan and Isolde and furnished with an ornately-carved oak bed covered in blue silk.
Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan
Skyscrapers encroach on this 16th-century castle, but thanks to 15 acres of parkland, it remains an oasis complete with cherry trees and waterways. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a politician and lord regarded as one of Japan’s great unifiers, built Osaka Castle, which was a seat of power until the mid 1800s. Ravaged by war and fire, the castle has been reconstructed many times, most recently in the 1990s. The five-story-tall donjon, built on a stone foundation to protect it from attackers, now displays art and armor from the 16th century.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
This historic stronghold sheltered Scottish monarchs like Queen Margaret and Mary, Queen of Scots during times of unrest. The castle became a military base in the 1600s, serving as a jail for prisoners of war. The imposing fortress on Castle Rock dominates the Edinburgh skyline. Like the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle’s history is tumultuous and bloody — hundreds of supposed witches were burnt at the stake where the esplanade is today. Visitors who enter will see the Great Hall, with its medieval wooden roof, the alleged biblical relic, the Stone of Destiny, and the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Nagoya Castle, Nagoya, Japan
Golden dolphins, believed to be able to summon water, spring from the roof of Nagoya Castle, built in 1612 on the orders of general Ieyasu Tokugawa to ward off attacks from Osaka. It flourished until the late 1800s, even serving as a temporary residence for the Emperor of Japan. During World War II, many of the buildings were burned down in air raids; the iconic main tower was reconstructed in 1959, but it's currently closed due to structural issues. Hommaru Palace’s entrance hall, adorned with black lacquer and ornate metal fixtures, and main hall, with tiger screen paintings, reopened to the public in 2013; restoration work continues across the estate.
Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
A summer residence for Russian tsars, this palace southeast of St. Petersburg is named for the wife of Peter the Great, Catherine I, who ruled Russia for two years after his death. But credit for its lavish Rococo style goes to daughter Empress Elizabeth, who ordered her imperial architect to renovate it on a scale to rival Versailles. The palace stretches more than half a mile in circumference and is elaborately decorated with a blue and white façade with gilded reliefs. It’s most famous for the Amber Room, a chamber made completely of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors.
Windsor Castle, Windsor, England
Thirty-nine British kings and queens have stayed in Windsor Castle, the longest-occupied palace in Europe. In the 1600s, Charles II set out to rival the achievements of his cousin, Louis XIV, at Versailles by modernizing the 11th-century castle’s interiors with painted ceilings and ornate wood carvings. The colossal Waterloo Chamber celebrates the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, while the State Apartments are furnished with some of the finest art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Canaletto.
Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan
Most castles in Japan were built from the late 1500s to early 1600s, when there were many warring city-states — and Nijo Castle is no exception. Ieyasu Tokugawa ordered the construction of this flatland castle in 1603, consisting of two rings of fortifications, with two palaces eventually added. Ninomaru Palace’s five buildings encompass 33 rooms, including a waiting room with intricate wall paintings of tigers and leopards, and a hall where the 15th Shogun (military governor) announced the restoration of imperial rule in 1867.
Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy
When Venice was a powerful city-state, its highest official was the doge, and he lived in this pink-and-white marble palace, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture right by St. Mark’s Basilica. The structure standing today has been remodeled and expanded over the years (the oldest section dates back to 1340). The doge’s apartments are as ornate as any sovereign’s, with marble fireplaces, painted friezes, and ornate stucco work. This palace was also the seat of government, featuring council chambers and two prisons connected by the famed Bridge of Sighs.