These Hidden Castles in Europe Are Straight Out of a Fairy Tale
The castles dotting the European landscape are each worthy of their very own fairytale. These magnificent structures have survived wars, fires, dozens of generations, and stood the test of time.
From the Greek Islands to the rocky cliffs of Scotland, each castle brings with it hundreds of years of human history, and perhaps a ghost story or two. And while most are built with brick and stone, their individual stories are all unique and intriguing for visitors from the world over to enjoy.
Step back in time by visiting any one of these romantic homes that kings and queens once called home to feel like a royal, even just for a day. Here are 20 lesser-known castles scattered throughout Europe that belong on every traveler’s itinerary.
The Palace of Pena, Sintra Portugal
The colorful castle sits high in the hills above the town of Sintra, Portugal. Built in 1854, the castle is still often used by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials. The castle is also surrounded by a vast forest with plants from around the world, just the way King Ferdinand II wanted it.
The Alcazar, Segovia Spain
The Alcázar of Segovia, located 53 miles northwest of Madrid, was originally built as a fortress on a hillside between two rivers, but also served as a royal palace, a state prison, and a military academy. Though the true age of the castle is unknown, the earliest documentation of the Alcázar dates back to the early 12th century. Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the “Tower of Juan,” where they can take in breathtaking views of the community below.
Castle of Astypalaia, Greece
The Venetian Castle of Querini in Chora, Greece sits atop the entire community, with its black stone exterior starkly contrasting to the traditionally whitewashed Greek town. The castle, originally constructed by John Querini in 1204 as a shelter against pirates, now invites travellers the world over to come and spend a little time. All you need to do is hike to the top of the mini-mountain it calls home first.
Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria
Hohenwerfen Castle in Austria is a stunning structure dating back more than 900 years. The castle will leave many visitors breathless, literally, as it sits more than 2,000 feet above sea level. The fortress is now a museum and offers daily guided tours of its extensive weapons collection, as well as the historical Salzburg Falconry, which has daily flight demonstrations using various birds of prey.
Dunnottar Castle, Scotland
The clifftop fortress known as Dunnottar Castle is believed to have been first built in Scotland in the Early Middle Ages. Steeped in history, the castle’s remains still include its 14th-century tower house as well as its 16th-century palace and was once home to the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scottish history. The castle offers daily tours, though it does operate on a seasonal schedule and closes for inclement weather.
Kasteel de Haar, Netherlands
Though Kasteel de Haar’s foundation dates back to 1391, the site was fully rebuilt in 1892 and now displays all the grandeur of the early 20th century. The interior of the castle is filled with ornate wood carvings, plush furniture, and old porcelain from Japan and China. The castle’s owners, the Van Zuylen van Nijevelt family, continue to reside in the home for one month each year, as they have done for over a century.
Castello del Monte, Italy
Castel del Monte in Puglia, Italy may look familiar and with good reason: The castle is featured on the backside of the Italian 1 Euro Cent piece. The castle’s construction was completed in 1240 by Fredrick II of Hohenstaufen, whose love of science is clearly evident in the building’s unique octagonal shape. Visitors can explore the castle and its grounds year-round except for Christmas and New Year's day.
Chillon Castle, Switzerland
Chillon Castle is located on the rocky shores of Lake Geneva, near the border of Switzerland and France. The building as it currently stands is the result of hundreds of years of renovations, though the site has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Tourists are welcome to roam the castle and its grounds, but from June to October visitors can also experience something extra special by renting out the small stretch of discreetly hidden beach along Chillon’s shores.
Gripsholm Castle, Sweden
Gripsholm Castle, which sits on the banks of Lake Mälaren, was built in 1537 and maintains all of its old world charm and royal luxury. Visitors of the castle are invited to take a leisurely stroll through the castle grounds, visit the castle’s theater within one of the round towers built in 1780 by King Gustav III, or meet the royal deer at the Hjorthagen nature reserve.
Peles Castle, Romania
Peles Castle is tucked at the base of the Bucegi Mountains in the small town of Sinaia, Romania. Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883, the castle’s vibrant and colorful exterior make it the perfect storybook travel destination. Each of its 160 rooms are decorated with European art, German stained-glass windows, and leather walls. Though not as famous as Bran Castle, aka the home of Dracula located 30 miles away, Peles Castle should still be on everyone’s Romanian itinerary.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Like many fortresses, Neuschwanstein Castle was built on rugged terrain as a safe retreat. The picturesque Bavarian white castle was meant to be the personal home of Ludwig II of Bavaria but was opened to the public immediately after his death in the late 1800s. The home, however, is not fairing as well as others. The harsh area climate has had a detrimental effect on the limestone facades, which will be renovated section by section over the next few years. The interior, however, remains as charming as ever, adorned with white swans denoting the Christian symbol of the "purity," which Ludwig allegedly strived to be.
Chenonceau Castle, France
Chenonceau Castle near the small village of Chenonceaux, France spans the River Cher and was built sometime around the 11th century. The mix of late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture gives the castle a unique look. The castle made it through both World Wars, acting as a hospital ward in the first and survived a bombing by the Germans in June 1940.
Castle in Malbork, Poland
The Castle in Malbork is a 13th-century fortified monastery belonging to the Teutonic Order. The medieval brick castle is an officially designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Poland's national Historic Monuments. The meticulously restored castle, which was once home to Polish kings, welcomes visitors year-round to visit both the grounds and its spectacular interior.
Kylemore Abbey, Ireland
Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden is just one hour from Galway, Ireland. The elaborate castle was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry MP, a liberal businessman who wanted the estate to boast “all the innovations of the modern age.” The castle covers approximately 40,000 square feet and has more than 70 rooms. Visitors are invited to history talks that take place three times a day in the Abbey. Tours of the Walled Garden take place throughout the summer.
Caerlaverock Castle, Scotland
Caerlaverock Castle is exactly where you’d want to be if you needed to escape an enemy. The castle’s thick sandstone walls, moat, and unique triangular shape make it the perfect stronghold. Built in the late 13th century, the home is open to the public and is often used for siege warfare exhibitions. The castle also maintains a nature trail that connects with other walking routes created by the estate.
Örebro Castle, Sweden
Örebro Castle is situated on an island in the river Svartån. The building has a rich history in Sweden, including the fact that the country’s first Parliament Act was adopted here. In the summer, visitors are welcome to come to the castle for daily tours to learn about the nobility, prisoners, servants, and well-known events that took place within the castle walls. For those looking for a little fright, the castle invites visitors to ‘Witch Week’ at Easter and a ‘Ghost Week’ around Halloween for tours and adventures in the middle of the night.
Trakošćan Castle, Croatia
Trakošćan Castle, located in northern Croatia, is somehow considered a “small” observation fortress. The building dates back to the 13th century and was taken over by Croatian Ban Juraj Draskovic for his personal use. It stayed within the Draskovic until World War II. Inside, the castle contains examples of baroque furniture and different weapons used from 15th to 19th century. Outside, stunning gardens and a large lake welcome visitors year-round.
In Love with the Wind, Bulgaria
“In Love with the Wind” is a contemporary castle built in 1996 by Georgi Kostadinov Tumpalov to fulfill his childhood dream. The building was constructed using 20,000 tons of stone extracted from the Strandzha Mountains, and comes with equally extravagant gardens, an artificial lake and more. The castle is open to visitors daily.
Tintagel Castle, Tintagel England
Tintagel Castle is so old its history remains a bit of a mystery. The large castle that once stood is now reduced to ruins, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. The Castle has reportedly been inhabited since the late Roman period but gained most of its fame in the 12th century when Geoffrey of Monmouth named it as the place where King Arthur was conceived. Dive into history by visiting the site’s exhibits, walk its many paths and explore the rock pools at the beach below.
The Eltz Castle, Germany
Eltz castle is a striking structure rising from the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier, Germany. The medieval castle is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived there in the 12th century. The castle has stood as is for more than 850 years. Count and Countess Eltz, the current owners of the castle, invite guests to visit daily to roam the interior, see furnishings of the past eight centuries, and hike through the serene nature reserve surrounding the property.