Europe’s variety and history will charm anyone. With so much crammed into such a small geographical area, it’s any traveller’s idea of heaven. If it’s castles that you’re fantasizing about, this is the continent for you. From fairytale castles perching on hills that are something right out of Frozen, to fortified strongholds that were built with more practicality in mind, we’re not short of a castle or two in Europe.
Whilst there’s plenty to see beyond castles, planning a tour of some of Europe’s finest fortifications makes for an incredible trip.
It wasn’t easy to narrow them down, but here are my top 5 castles you just can’t miss.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Have you ever seen the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? The impossibly beautiful castle that is the home of the child-hating count. That castle is Neuschwanstein Castle and was the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty too. The stuff that fairy-tales are made of.
It was built in the mid-1800s and intended as a home for Ludvig II of Bavaria, but when he died in 1886 it was soon opened to the public, and it remains a total honeypot, with more than 1.3 million people making the trip annually.
That means that during the summer, in peak season, you’ll need to book in advance, as you can only see it by guided tour.
2. Bodiam Castle, England
This castle couldn’t be much more classic, surrounded by a moat, and has a rich history. It’s in the county of East Sussex in the south of the country and was built in the 14th century by Edward Dalyngrigge, to protect against French invasion.
It was passed from hand to hand as a result of the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, and eventually dismantled, but later restored. It’s now a National Trust property, open to the public, and appears to be floating in the middle of its artificial lake.
3. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Our first offering that’s in a city, and what a city! Edinburgh is beautiful and its castle is its crowing-glory, perched high on a hill in the city centre.
It’s not cheap to get in but it’s worth splashing out on for the views from the windows and the insight into the history of the fascinating Scottish capital. You can easily picture the castle being laid siege to by the English in days gone by.
On New Year’s Eve the famous Hogmanay celebrations take place on the parade ground just outside the castle, bagpipes galore.
4. Blarney Castle, Ireland
Ireland is excellent castle hunting territory, but Blarney is one of the best, and the most legendary. It was built nearly 600 years ago by Cormac MacCarthy, an infamous Irish chieftain.
The biggest attraction of this castle in County Cork in the south of the country is the Blarney stone, also known as the Stone of Eloquence. The legend goes that if you kiss it, it will give you the famous Irish gift of the gab. You have to lean backwards out over a sheer drop to do so, but that doesn’t put off the tourists! Rent a car to get here, and make the most of it by taking a road trip to a few other of Ireland’s most famous sites whilst you’re at it.
5. Miramare Castle, Italy
Our offerings so far have been pretty concentrated in Northern Europe, but the warmer parts of the continent do castles pretty well too. Miramare means Sea View, and the views from the windows of this castle are something else.
It’s a 19th-century castle perched on the shores of the Adriatic, for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife Charlotte of Belgium, who were later to rule Mexico. It’s set in a sprawling park along the seashore which you can wander around.
This castle is right up in the North-Eastern corner of the country, near Trieste, but also isn’t too far from the beguiling city of Venice, making a great day trip with a beautiful drive along the Adriatic coast.
6.Sao Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal
For another castle in the heart of a capital city, with views very different from but equally impressive as those you’ll see from Edinburgh, Sao Jorge castle set high on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, and you can see for miles, right over the city and the River Tagus.
The first fortifications on this strategic site dated from 2nd century BC, and many groups used the hill as a stronghold, but the first true castle was built by the Moors in the 10th century. Delve into the rich history of this fascinating place.
Be sure to take plenty of water and a hat if you’re visiting in the summer, as it gets extremely hot up there.
7. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
No list of European castles would be complete without the Alhambra, a sprawling hill-top collection of palaces and fortifications built by the city’s Moorish rulers and then taken over by the Christians once they had regained control of the area.
It began with a small fortress built in the 9th century on Roman ruins, but was built on such a grand scale from the 13th century onwards.
The views are, yet again, breathtaking, and the architecture and surviving decorations fascinating. One of the most enchanting aspects is the way that channels of water run throughout the old city, an ingenious form of air conditioning.
You can spend hours discovering its many corners, and you can always find a quiet spot for reflection, despite the crowds of tourists. Be sure to book in advance during the summer!