Wondering what must-see castles in the world you should go see? The thought of Castles transports me back to centuries past, where I imagine the grandeur and magnificence of these castles which were inhabited by kings and queens, princes and princesses! Today, some of these castles have either become UNESCO World Heritage Sights, converted to training schools, conference and graduation venues, specialist hotels or museums, while others have turned to ruins and forgotten. However, there are still a handful of castles occupied today – Windsor Castle, England comes easily to mind. But many of these beautiful castles that do exist around the world have been maintained over the centuries, used as filming locations and are luckily open to visitors!
Majority of the castles are mainly found in Europe, while a few like the Noor Mahal and Catherine’s Palace are located in the Asian continent. Finding the most beautiful castles around the world was a tough task, however, here is my list of the 10 must-see famous castles around the world.
1) Alnwick Castle - England
Topping our list of must-see castles is the Alnwick Castle located in Northumberland, this castle was built in the 11th Century and is the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. Today too, the current Duke and his family reside in part of the Castle, while part of it is used as a branch campus for an international university. The castle also is used a venue for weddings, corporate events and other special events. Alnwick Castle was also used to showcase the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. After Windsor Castle, it is the second largest inhabited castle in England.
The castle is open to the public for a fee throughout the summer (March to October) from 10.00 am to 05.30 pm; where special exhibitions are shown in three of the castle's perimeter towers.
2) Kilkenny Castle - Ireland
Another gorgeous castle from around the world that must be visited is located in Kilkenny, Ireland. Built in 1195, this castle was a symbol of Norman occupation and the residence of the Earls of Pembroke and the Butler Dynasty. In the middle of the 20th century, the last member of the Butler family sold the castle to the local Castle Restoration Committee for £50. Today, the building have been refurbished and opened to visitors under the care of the Office of Public Works, where many important programs of archaeological excavation and conservation, and restoration have been carried out.
Today, the Castle’s Parade Tower Wing which incorporates the entire west wing and two of the Castle's medieval towers is used as a multi-purpose venue for conferences, receptions, product launches, gala dinners, intimate wedding ceremonies and cultural and artistic events.
The castle is open to visitors for a fee and opening hours are from 09.30 am to 05.30 pm every day except as specified by the castle management in the Kilkenny Castle website.
3) Château de Versailles - France
Located approximately 20 kms from the French capital Paris, this beautiful castle has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites for the past 30 years. From its initial use as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge built in 1624, it was expanded and transformed by Louis XIV and used as the seat of power until the French Revolution. Since the 19th Century this castle has been transformed to a Museum of the History of France. Today, as one of the largest palaces of the world, Château de Versailles offers visitors a chance to stroll through its extensive gardens, hall of mirrors, king’s grand apartments while take in the architecture and art of the Kings and Queens long gone.
Visitors can explore on their own or take in guided tours for a fee. The Palace is open every day except Mondays, and opening hours vary depending on the season. On your next visit to France, take a day to visit this gorgeous castle that makes my list of famous castles around the world.
4) Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany
Located on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, this 19th century castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as his personal refuge. The castle was opened to the public seven weeks after his death in 1886. The castle has prominently been featured in movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Great Escape. It is also the inspiration on which Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle is based. The castle is visited by more than 1.3 million people annually and is situated on the edge of the Ammergebirge nature reserve and has a hiking trail through the Pöllat Gorge.
The castle can only be visited within a guided tour every day from 09.00 am to 06.00 pm from April to 15th October, and from 10.00 am to 04.00 pm from 16th October to March, except on special declared holidays. Entrance tickets are only sold at the ticket counter below the castle in the village of Hohenschwangau. Tickets can be reserved for an additional charge two days in advance. Dependent on weather, the castle’s bridge over the Pollät Gorge may be closed during the winter months.
5) Malbork Castle - Poland
Located in the Polish town of Malbork, this castle has the largest land area of any castle in the world and is renowned as the largest brick building in Europe. Having originally been built in the 13th Century by the Teutonic Knights, it was substantially enlarged and embellished after 1309. The castle has been mostly reconstructed and restored since a fire broke out in 1959 and again after World War II which caused much damage. This ‘Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork’ was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1997. Malbork Castle which is also one of Poland's official national historic monuments is maintained by the National Heritage Board of Poland.
Today, the castle is maintained as a Museum and is open to visitors every Tuesday to Sunday except on designated holidays. However, the castle grounds are open to visitors even if the Museum is closed. Opening hours is dependent on the season.
6) Castle De Haar - Netherlands
Located in the center of The Netherlands, near Haarzuilens in the province of Utrecht, the Castle De Haar is easy to reach by car and has ample parking space. Considered the biggest and most luxurious castle in The Netherlands, the castle is one of the top European historic houses. The interior of the castle is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, which reminds one of the interior of a Roman Catholic church and takes you back to a time of luxury and breathtaking splendour that surrounded the international rich and famous in the early 20th century. The park and gardens surrounding De Haar Castle - covering over 135 acres of land, consists a Rose Garden, a Roman Garden, ponds and canals, as well as the many bridges, romantic vistas and impressive avenues where visitors can go on long walks or enjoy a picnic at. De Haar Castle which dates back to the 13th century has been in the De Haar family and even today, the family resides in the castle for one month (September) a year as has been tradition for over a century.
The castle Museum is maintained by a private foundation and is open to visitors every day of the week except during Christmas and the New Year when it is closed. The regular visiting hours of the park is from 09.00 am to 05.00 pm, and the castle 11.00 am to 05.00 pm; unless special tours are being conducted in which case the castle closes early to the general public. The castle also hold a country and Christmas fair during the last week of November and is thus closed for regular visits.
7) Burg Hochosterwitz - Austria
Located east of the town of Sankt Veit an der Glan in Carinthia, the castle, first mentioned in 860, is considered to be one of Austria’s most impressive medieval fortress and stronghold. It is built on top of a 172-meter Dolomite rock and is 664 meters (2,178 ft) above sea level and can be seen from as far as 30 kms. The castle, since the 16th century has remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family and has had no major changes. Sometimes called the ‘rock castle’, visitors are allowed to walk the 620-meter (2,030 ft) long pathway through the 14 gates up to the castle, where some parts of the castle is open to the public and showcases a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor.
The castle is open to visitors for a fee from March to October from 10.00 am to 05.00 pm, except from May to 15th September when it is open from 09.00 am to 06.00 pm.
8) Bran Castle, Romania
Dracula has always been a mythical interest of mine, and hence the reason that Bran Castle is included in my list of must-see castles from around the world. Located near Bran and in the vicinity of Braşov, the castle lies on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle is often associated with the Dracula legend. Initially built as a wooden castle at the entrance to the mountain pass used by traders for more than a millennium, the castle was destroyed in 1242. Nearly a century later, Bran Castle was rebuilt in stone by the Saxons of Kronstadt. It was thereafter used as a military post and later as a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. Over the years the castle has seen many different owners and uses until in the 20th century, the citizens of Bran gifted the castle to the Queen of Romania, who bequeathed the castle to Princess Ileana upon her death. However, in the mid-20th century, Princess Ileana was exiled when the communist regime came into power at which time the castle was converted to a museum. Today, Bran Castle has been reinstated to the legal heirs of Princess Ileana and continues to function as a museum.
Bran Castle is open every from 09.00 am; except Mondays when it opens at 12.00 pm. The castle also organizes special events which can be attended by the public for a special fee. The castle and/or its grounds also can be rented for special private events.
9) Frederiksborg Castle - Denmark
Located in situated in Hillerød, north of Copenhagen, the castle was built in the 17th century as a royal residence for King Christian IV. The castle showcases impressive Renaissance architecture and craftsmanship and is situated on three islets on the Castle Lake. Since 1887, the Frederiksborg Castle has housed the Museum of National History.
A tour through the beautiful rooms of the museum will take you through 500 years of Danish history seen through paintings, furniture and art, as well as special exhibits. The castle is a unique place for cultural experiences, scenic walks and boat tours.
The castle and museum is open every day from 10.00 am to 05.00 pm during April to October, and 11.00 am to 03.00 pm from November to March where guided tours are also available. Visitors can use public transport to reach the castle or their personal vehicles as the castle offers parking facilities.
10) Matsumoto Castle - Japan
The Matsumo Castle is certainly not located in Europe, but I felt that it merited being a part of my list of the world's 10 best castles. Located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture, the castle is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail. Matsumoto Castle, also known as the “Crow Castle” because of its black exterior, is one of Japan’s premier historic castles, along with Himeji Castle and Kumamoto Castle. Completed in the 16th Century, the castle maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework and is today listed as a National Treasure of Japan. The castle features a gun room on the second floor and festivals like the Taiko Drum Festival and a Takigi Noh (a play performed by torch light) festival are held at the castle site. Matsumoto castle is also famous for its cherry blossoms in April. A Moon Viewing Party is also held every autumn on the grounds in the specially built moon viewing room of the castle.
The castle is open every day from 08.30 am to 05.30 pm. It is very crowded during the peak season from late April to early May Golden Week and during the mid-August summer holidays.