travel and tourism

Must-visit castles and palaces in Europe

Joshua Berida

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Must-visit castles and palaces in Europe

Caserta Palace in Italy.

Photo by Joshua Berida

Europe is home to numerous castles and palaces, which elicit a sense of awe and nostalgia for a bygone epoch

Europe is home to numerous castles and palaces across the continent. These elicit a sense of awe and nostalgia for a bygone epoch. It also draws out your inner child when you used to read and watch fairy tales. The times of kings, queens, princes, and princesses may be over, but you can still get a glimpse of the life of the imperial court when you visit these castles and palaces turned into museums.

These are some of the castles and palaces you can add to your itinerary during your trip around Europe:

Peles Castle
Peles Castle was built in the 19th century. Photo by Joshua Berida

Carol I, the King of Romania, had Peles Castle built in the 19th century. Inside you’ll find elaborate and furnished rooms that showcase the lavish lifestyle of the royal family. It has more than a hundred rooms that follow a theme from different cultures in the world. Depending on your interests, you can visit several rooms in one day. I only visited one floor during my visit.

Bran Castle
If you’ve read Dracula, you might want to add Bran Castle to your Romania itinerary. Photo by Joshua Berida

Bran Castle is closely associated with the fictional residence of Dracula. However, there’s no account of Bram Stoker ever going to Romania. The castle’s striking exterior makes for great photos regardless of the season. This castle is a possible day trip from Brasov.

Prague Castle
Prague Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

This castle in Czechia’s capital towers over the city. It’s a huge complex with buildings that are centuries old. You can spend an entire day here after exploring the old town. The castle dates to the 9th century and has expanded over the years. St. Vitus Cathedral is a prominent fixture within the castle complex.

Cesky Krumlov Castle
After exploring the quaint old town, head on over to Cesky Krumlov Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

This huge castle towers over the UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center of Cesky Krumlov’s old town. This centuries old structure used to be the residence of the members of the royal family such as the Rosenbergs, Witigonens, Eggensbergs, and the Schwarzenbergs. It combines different architectural elements such as Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic. The location of the castle provides visitors with beautiful vantage points overlooking the town. After exploring the castle, spend time wandering around the old town’s narrow pathways.

Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, Photo by Joshua Berida

This UNESCO World Heritage Site used to be a private retreat and hunting lodge built for Louis XIII. Louis XIV expanded the complex and turned it into a lavish and elegant residence surrounded by gardens. As you explore the palace, you’ll make your way through rooms and halls elaborately decorated. The most popular (and most photographed) room is the Hall of Mirrors. After half a day exploring the rooms, you can spend the other half wandering in the gardens.

Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace. Photo by Joshua Berida

Located in Vienna, this Rococo-style palace has more than a thousand rooms and served as the summer residence of the Habsburgs. It’s impossible to see all the rooms in one day. However, you can only see a fraction of the rooms inside this elaborate palace. Like Versailles, Schönbrunn has a vast garden that can also take more than an hour to explore.

Neuschwanstein Castle
The fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

The Bavarian King Louis II or also referred to as Mad King Ludwig, had this castle built in the late 1860s. However, it wasn’t completed even after his death. Fast forward to today, it’s now a famous tourist destination because of its picturesque exterior amid the mountains. Its fairy tale-like appearance draws tourists from around the world. The look of a Disney castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein. 

Caserta Palace
Caserta Palace. Photo by Joshua Berida

This huge castle complex is a popular day trip from Naples or Roma, Italy. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates to the 18th century. King Charles of Naples commissioned architect Luigi Vanvitelli to implement and design his vision, the Royal Palace of Caserta. The palace has more than a thousand rooms, over a thousand windows, and has a park that covers 123 hectares. Inside you’ll find elaborate halls and rooms, grand staircases, the Palatine Chapel, and others.

Bled Castle
Bled Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

This castle located in Lake Bled dates to 1004 when the Romanesque tower was the only prominent feature. The bishops of the time had fortifications built to defend against possible invaders. The castle underwent renovations from 1951-1961. Today, it’s a popular destination that provides visitors with beautiful overlooking views of the lake.  

Doge’s Palace
Doge’s Palace. Photo by Joshua Berida

This Venetian Gothic palace was where the ruler of Venice (called the Doge) resided. Its original foundations date to the 14th century and has undergone Renaissance and Mannerist architectural additions over the centuries. Inside you’ll find the Courtyard, Armoury, the Doge’s Apartments, Great Council Hall, and the Chamber of the Council of Ten. These display the wealth and influence of the Doge during ancient times. Visitors include a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Square before or after exploring the Doge’s Palace.

Buda Castle
Buda Castle in the evening. Photo by Joshua Berida

Located in Budapest, this centuries-old structure dates to the 13th century. This complex used to be the home of Hungarian kings. The Budapest Historical Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery now occupy it. The castle is a popular tourist attraction for visitors who want to catch a glimpse of the city’s vibrant past. It’s combined with a trip to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church.

Hohensalzburg Fortress
The Hohensalzburg Fortress located in Salzburg dates to 1077. Photo by Joshua Berida

This fortress/castle located in Salzburg dates to 1077 when Archbishop Gebhard had it built. Succeeding archbishops enlarged the fort over the centuries. Its strategic location over the city and fortifications protected it from foreign troops that tried to storm and take it. Its location has made it the ideal spot to get beautiful overlooking views of the city.

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

This castle is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list as part of the Historic Centre of Krakow. Poland’s kings resided in the castle for centuries. Fast forward to today, it’s now one of the most popular attractions/museums in the city. The nearby Wawel Cathedral is where you’ll find the tombs of some of the country’s kings and prominent people.

The Alhambra
The Alhambra. Photo by Joshua Berida

This huge complex towers over Granada, Spain. The founder of the Nasrid Dynasty Ibn al-Ahmar had the Alhambra built during his reign. After the Moors were expelled in the 1490s, Charles V who was the ruler of Spain as Charles I had some sections of the complex renovated in the Renaissance style. The Alhambra underwent many repairs and reconstructions over the centuries. The highlights of a visit include the Nasrid Palaces, Patio de Los Leones, Palace of Charles V, Alcazaba, and the Patio de los Arrayanes.

Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle. Photo by Joshua Berida

This castle in Slovakia’s capital dominates the skyline. This centuries old complex has undergone renovations from Gothic to Renaissance to baroque architectural style. In the 15h century, it served as a fort to thwart anti-Hussite forces. It’s now the home of the Slovak National Museum.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle. Photo courtesy of Ken Ecalne

The castle has a history that dates to the 11th century. The reigning monarchs have lived in Windsor Castle for centuries. It’s located in Berkshire County in England. You can spend an entire day just seeing the highlights such as State Apartments, St. George’s Chapel, Albert Memorial Chapel, Semi-State Rooms, and the cloisters. You can walk around the gardens after touring the main attractions.

Chepstow Castle 
Chepstow Castle. Photo courtesy of Jose J.J. Gepanaga

It is located in Monmouthshire, Wales. It was built by the Normans in 1067, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, making it one of the oldest surviving stone castles in Britain. The castle stands on a cliff overlooking the River Wye and played a crucial defensive role throughout medieval history. It features the oldest surviving castle doors in Europe, dating back to the early 12th century.

Edinbugh Castle 
Edinburgh Castle. Photo courtesy Jose J.J. Gepanaga

This castle is a historic fortress that dominates the skyline of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position on Castle Rock. Archaeological evidence suggests the site has been occupied since the Iron Age, making it one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. The castle has played a significant role in Scotland’s history, serving as a royal residence, military stronghold, and symbol of Scottish power. It houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny, which are used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs. Edinburgh Castle is also home to St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating back to the 12th century.

The continent is home to several other palaces and castles you might want to visit. The ones mentioned here are just a few you can consider when you go. 

What other castles and palaces have you been to in Europe? –

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