Finding the world’s largest castle isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds.
If you want to visit the largest castle in the world, start traveling east and bring a dictionary: you’ll need to spend some time parsing definitions. Guinness World Records lists Prague Castle, in the Czech capital, as the largest ancient castle in the world—but don’t take that at face value, because it depends what you consider ancient, and how you define castle.
Without a doubt, Prague Castle deserves attention. Spanning 18 acres, the castle was built in the 9th century, and modified in both the 10th and 14th centuries. It’s a striking mash-up of Romanesque and Gothic-style construction. Walking over the Vltava River on the Charles Bridge at night, it’s hard not to be impressed by the castle’s grandeur. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually the world’s largest castle.
A bit further east, in Beijing, the Forbidden City—once the Imperial Palace—covers a whopping 178 acres. It was built in the early 1400s, and today, after reconstruction, has nearly 1,000 buildings and 8,886 rooms. Guinness World Records hasn’t left out the Imperial Palace. It’s taken the prize of largest palace.
So what’s the difference? Oxford defines a castle as a “large building, typically of the medieval period, fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and often a moat.”
A palace, on the other hand, is “a large and impressive building forming the official residence of a ruler, pope, archbishop, etc.”
If we decide to exclude palaces, you may think we’ve landed on Prague Castle—but there’s another possible contender for the title of world’s largest castle. The largest castle in the world falls somewhere in between the Imperial Palace and the Prague Castle, both in terms of size as well as geographic location. Less than an hour train ride from Gdansk, Poland, is Malbork Castle. Built in the 13th century, it doesn’t compete with Prague Castle in age, but at over 44 acres, it’s more than double the size.
Originally, the castle served as a fortified monastery for the knights of the Teutonic order, and was expanded in 1309 when the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order relocated to Malbork from Venice. The Medieval brick castle fell into disrepair, before it was restored in the 19th and early 20th centuries,
Malbork Castle was seriously damaged again in World War II, and had to be repaired for a second time. It now has a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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Though there are organized tours, you can easily visit the castle by taking the train from Gdansk. Take the local train to Malbork Kaldow, where you can enjoy excellent views of the castle from across the Nogat River.
Between mid-April and September, the castle is open between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you visit in July, you might be lucky enough to catch a battle re-enactment of the Siege of Malbork, which took place in 1454 during a war between the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Poland.
In the winter the visiting hours are much shorter, but seeing a medieval castle in the snow is worth the trip in and of itself.