The continent of Europe is an amazing amalgamation of 50 counties and many diverse peoples. It has a wonderful history with monuments and artwork going back to the Stone Age. Its architecture, both modern and historical, reflects the diverse nature of the cultures and civilizations that have developed within its borders and of the people that have traveled there to call Europe home.
Some of the most mesmerizing and memorable buildings across the European continent are its castles. While some of the early ones are little more than piles of stones and preserved ruins, there are many fine examples that have stood the test of time. They attract visitors from across the world, inspire movies, and create a sense of wonder and amazement in those that see them.
Here we explore 15 castles across Europe that are definitely worth the drive to see them. Each has its own unique history and ongoing story. Some you will recognize from movies, others you will need your car GPS to find, but all are worth the journey.
Situated on an island just off the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island has a population of around 50 people and is visited by more than three million people each year. The fortification has been around since at the 8th Century and as well as being home to a monastic community, it has had great strategic significance many times during its long history. It was one of the few places in France to remain impenetrable during the Hundred Years’ War. Until the building of the bridge to the mainland in 2014, the island could only be reached safely at low tide.
Address: Mont Saint-Michel, 50170, France
GPS coordinates: Latitude: 48.636 Longitude: -1.5121
Bran Castle is most well known as the fictional home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The national monument is situated in Romania and began life as a Teutonic fortress. The castle as it is known today was completed in 1388 and continued to act as a fortress against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler on who the myth of Dracula is based, began his association with the castle in 1448. Much later the castle became the summer residence for the Romanian royal family, a museum during the communist rule, and in 2009 was returned to the remaining heirs of Princess Ileana of Romania.
Address: Strada General Traian Mosoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania
GPS coordinates: N45.515178 E 25.367044
Neuschwanstein castle is one of the most recognizable castles in Europe. Situated in Germany, around a two-hour drive outside Munich, the castle is believed to be the architectural inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. The castle was commissioned in 1869 by Ludwig II of Bavaria as his personal retreat. It was opened to the public on his death in 1886. It attracts over 1.4 million visitors every year and has featured in many movies including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and The Monuments Men (2014).
Address: Neuschwansteinstraβe 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
GPS coordinates: N 47.5576 E 10.7498
Situated on Castle Rock in Edinburgh, Scotland, Edinburgh Castle sits on the site of Bronze Age ruins believed to date back to around 900 BC. By 100 AD the site was a thriving Iron Age hill fort. Castle Rock continued to be significant in the Centuries that followed, and St Margaret’s Chapel was built on the site in around 1130, it is believed to be the oldest building in Edinburgh and therefore the oldest building on the castle grounds, the Great Hall wasn’t completed until around 1511. Ownership of the castle has changed hands between the English and the Scots several times during its history, rarely without bloodshed. Cromwell and the Jacobites also fought for control of the castle for its strategic significance.
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Address: Castle Hill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG, United Kingdom
GPS coordinates: N 55.9486 W 3.1999
The spectacular Bojnice castle in Slovakia stands on the site of the original medieval castle built in the 11th Century. The castle was reconstructed at the end of the 19th Century to reflect the romantic notion and image of medieval castles that was prevalent at the time. The reconstruction included the steep roofs of the towers, chapel and main palace. The castle houses a museum and large artistic collection. The castle’s hidden gems include the dripstone cave that it sits above and a 600-year-old lime tree that sits at the castle entrance. The castle hosts the international festival of ghosts and spooks every year at the end of April.
Address: Trenciansky Kraj, okres Prievidza, Bojnice
GPS coordinates: N 48.4648 E 18.3440
Set in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, Peles Castle seamlessly blends Gothic and Neo-Renaissance architectural styles across its exterior. Its interior, however, features handcrafted fabrics and hand-carved woods inspired by Baroque architecture. The mix of styles adds to the intrigue and appeal of the castle that was commissioned in 1873 by King Carol I. It served as a summer residence for the royal family until 1947 and was one of the first European castles lit entirely by electrical current.
Address: Aleea Pelesului 2, Sinaia 106100, Romania
GPS coordinates: N 45.3600 E 25.5426
Prague Castle in the Czech Republic is the largest castle in the world. The castle grounds cover over 750,000 square feet and include four palaces, four churches, and five botanical gardens. The first buildings on the site are thought to have been founded around 880 AD. The architectural styles used in the buildings cover at least the last 2000 years and the site contains Romanesque-style remains from the 10th Century alongside gothic modifications that date from the 14th Century. The castle has continued to undergo reconstructions and repairs since the Velvet Revolution and is home to the Czech Crown Jewels which are the fourth oldest crown jewels in Europe.
Address: 119 08 Prague 1, Czech Republic
GPS coordinates: N 50.0911 E 14.4016
Conwy Castle in Wales was built by King Edward I and played an important role in his conquest of the country. The castle is seen as one of the finest examples of 13th to 14th Century architecture in Europe by UNESCO and while little of the interior of the castle remains, it is considered to have one of the best preserved medieval royal chambers in Wales and England.
Address: Rose Hill Street, Conwy, LL32 8AY, United Kingdom
GPS coordinates: N 53.2801 W 3.8256
Miramare Castle in Italy was built by the younger brother of Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph. Its architecture shows a strong Austrian influence, while also combining styles from England and Germany. One of the many attractions the castle offers visitors is its cliff-side park. The 55-acre park is home to many species of tropical trees and plants.
Address: Viale Miramare, 34151 Trieste, Italy
GPS coordinates: N 45.7025 E 13.7124
Pena Palace sits at the top of the Sintra Mountains and is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a superb example of how several architectural styles can be brought together. Its yellow, grey, and clay-colored façade is instantly recognizable along with its neo-renaissance and neo-gothic features. The interior of the palace has been restored to reflect the palace’s glory in 1910 before the royal family fled to Brazil.
Address: Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal
GPS coordinates: N 38.7876 W 9.3906
Alnwick Castle’s most recent claim to fame is its use during the filming of the Harry Potter series of movies. Both the interior and exterior of the castle feature in the movies. Historically, the first mention of the castle dates back to 1136, when it was captured by King David I of Scotland. Now the family home of the 12th Duke of Northumberland, the castle has been the scene of many sieges through its history. Among its many attractions, the castle boasts frescos from Pompeii and ancient relics from Egypt.
Address: Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ, United Kingdom
GPS coordinates: N 55.4156 W 1.7059
Kronborg Castle is most well known as the inspiration for Elsinore, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play is performed on occasion in the castle, using the courtyard and other fortifications. In its heyday, around the late 1500s, Kronborg was used to collect dues from sailors passing up the river. The castle becomes increasingly lavish over this time before a fire in 1629 devoured most of the paintings, furnishing, and other precious objects. The castle was occupied by Karl Gustav, the Swedish King, in 1658 and was used to plunder Kronborg. The castle later became barracks for the Danish army before being returned to a castle and a visitor attraction.
Address: Kronborg 2C, 3000 Helsingør, Denmark
GPS coordinates: N 56.0390 E 12.6212
Schwerin Castle in Germany dates back to 973 AD. Now a museum and the seat of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommen State Parliament, the castle was once home to the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg and has a long and complex history. Visitors are often drawn to the castle in search of the legendary ‘Little Peterman’ ghost that is said to roam its halls.
Address: Lennestraβe 1, 19053 Schwerin, Germany
GPS coordinates: N 53.6247 E 11.4182
Château De Vincennes
Château De Vincennes was originally constructed by Louis VII as a hunting lodge and it remains a wonderful example of medieval architecture. Situated in the town of Vincennes, which is now a Parisian suburb, the Château also served as a wedding venue for both Philippe III and Philippe IV. The castle was once the seat of the French Monarchy before it moved to Versailles under Louis XIV. Among its many other uses, the Chateau has been a prison and once held the Marquis de Sade. The building became barracks and an arsenal under Napoleon and helped to protect Paris from the invasions of the 19th Century. The building façade has been slightly updated over the years but retains its character and history throughout. The building was extensively damaged during the Second World War and is now a place of national remembrance as well as a visitor attraction.
Address: Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes, France
GPS coordinates: N 48.8426 E 2.4355
Castel Sant’Angelo is a unique cylindrical structure located in Parco Adriano, Rome. The fortress is just a short distance from Vatican City and sits on the right bank of the river Tiber. It was originally created as the mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. The castle was completed in 139 AD and soon after became a military building. The angel statue was added in 590 AD after Pope Gregory I had a vision of Saint Michael announcing the end of the plague that has devastated the city. A fortified corridor between the castle and Vatican City was added in 1277 and the castle provided safe exit and refuge for several popes during times of unrest. Today the castle is home to a museum.
Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma, Italy
GPS coordinates: N 41.9031 E 12.4663
If you are considering a trip to Europe, then the castles on our list are a must. Regardless of whether you want to engage with their history, see the truth behind the myths and stories, or are entranced by changing architecture, there is something here for you. Before you set off on your journey to any of our castles take a moment to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road in that specific country. Remember Europe is a group of countries all with their own specific rules and regulations, including speed limits. Ensure that you have the correct emergency kit in your car and invest in a high-quality car GPS. While some of our castles are well signposted and easy to find others are not quite as easy and getting lost in a country you are unfamiliar with is not fun.
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