Whether they’re fairy-tale fantasies with slender towers and crenellated walls, impregnable-looking fortresses designed for warfare, or spooky ruins evoking vanished kingdoms, castles are fascinating places. Some are perched on steep cliffs, others are lakeside or built on islands; some are in the flatlands, commanding the countryside. Each has its own kind of beauty, whether it’s delicate or foreboding, complex or simple. (Here are some beautiful places to visit instead of overcrowded tourist destinations.)
A thousand years old or dating from the 20th century, castles are imbued with history, almost by definition. They’ve been home to monarchs and noble families, strategic outposts to defend against invaders, repositories of some of the world’s greatest treasures.
Exactly what constitutes a castle can be debated. It’s something big, to be sure, and was almost always constructed as a residence or retreatfor kings or the nobility. It is usually architecturally distinctive and inevitably built to withstand attack. (They didn’t all live in castles, but these are the 50 most powerful leaders of all time.)
Scholars may argue the difference between castles and fortresses (the latter being generally more strongly fortified), citadels (fortresses usually overlooking a town), châteaux (often — though not always — smaller and less protected than castles or fortresses), and palaces (almost never fortified), but all speak to the past and stir the imagination.
To assemble a list of Europe’s most beautiful castles, 24/7 Tempo consulted numerous travel sites, including Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Historic European Castles, European Best Destinations, Culture Tourist, Travel Channel, and Amazing Places, as well as numerous official regional and national tourism sites from around Europe.
24/7 Tempo has put together an album of images of the most beautiful castles in Europe, covering examples from some 22 countries.
Note that virtually every castle on the list has been renovated and expanded over the centuries and many were destroyed in whole or in part and restored or rebuilt hundreds of years after they first arose. The centuries given are those of the original construction.