Top Castles of the World

10. Bojnice Castle (Slovakia)

Bojnice Castle Slovakia

Speaking of romantic, this castle in Bojnice, Slovakia allows people to get married within its halls. For different rates, one can hold functions either in its opulent Golden Hall or the larger Hunady Hall. Contemporary balls are held in this well-maintained structure, as well as fashion shows and banquets. As a testament to its fairy tale ambiance, locals say that California Disneyland's replica castle was inspired by the one in Bojnice. Several fantasy themed movies have been shot there as well, making it one of the liveliest royal destinations of the world.

The Bojnice Castle is one of the most notable memorials of Slovakia. Dating back to 1113, the Zobor Abbey writ mentions the existence of the castle. It was originally a wooden fortress which was slowly fortified with stone shaped according to the land's uneven terrain. As time passed by, ownership was transferred between several Hungarian royals including King Matthias Corvinus and King Ladislaus V of Hungary. Eventually the fortress was reconstructed into a Renaissance castle by the Pálffys, one of the most influential Hungarian families from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The romantic makeover of the structure is the project of its last noble owner, Count János Ferenc Pálffy. Aside from having it remade, he had a hand at designing the look and architecture of the castle. Having one of the wealthiest nobles of his time, the Count had an impressive collection of antiques, paintings and sculptures. Before his death, he requested that the castle be open to the public so that they may also view his accumulated treasure and share his love for the arts.

Today, Bojnice castle houses the Slovak National Museum and hosts a Summer Music Festival as well as the International Festival of Ghosts. Surrounding the castle are numerous tree species including the Linden Tree of King Matthias, which is about seven hundred years old.

9. Bran Castle (Romania)

Bran Castle Romania

From the romantic flair of the Bojnice Castle, we now head over to the majestic, yet mysterious Bran Castle. It's not that the structure is intimidating. With its lofty spires, the castle itself is really quite breathtaking. What gives the place an air of mystery is its association with the chilling legend of Count Dracula.

Bran Castle is located right on the border between Wallachia and Transylvania. As a fortress, the structure played a significant role in protecting Hungarian royalty against the invading forces of the Ottomans. Through the years, the stonework was retained though some work was done to upgrade the tower to what it is today. This includes turning the structure's fire holes into windows, changing the roof shingles into tiles, updating the stoves within as well as adding new towers and floors.

As for its ties with the legend of the vampire Count, Bram Stoker did not actually visit Transylvania. His is more of a research-based work, which led to the myths surrounding the castle and the Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes. A member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad Tepes (also called Vlad the Impaler) was a brutal defender, successfully fighting against the Ottoman Empire and ruling with an iron fist. The name "Dracula" was derived from the Prince's adopted nickname "Dracul", which means dragon or devil in Romanian.

Aside from the vampire myths surrounding it, the castle also served as a residence for royalty. In particular, the stay Queen Marie of Romania gave the castle a classic, fairytale-esque character. Honoring the gift of the Brasov locals, the Queen stayed in the castle from 1920 up to 1957. Many of her collected furniture and art remained in the castle.

Nowadays, Bran castle serves as a museum and is considered a beloved national landmark. While the legends of the Count are more fantasy than fact, this destination is perfect for anyone who wants to know more about the country as well as fans of stunning Gothic architecture.

8. Edinburgh Castle (Scotland)

Edinburgh Castle

Completing Edinburgh's skyline is the stunning, iconic beauty of the Edinburgh Castle. Behind the face of this magnificent fortress lies a colorful history full of courageous battles, sieges and generations of royalty residing within its walls. Based in its capital city, Edinburgh Castle serves as Scotland's national symbol.

Dubbed the "Maiden Castle", it is said that the powerful fortress housed groups such as the "Cult of the Nine Maidens" aside from royalty. Arthurian legends also suggest that the castle grounds once held a shrine dedicated to Morgan Le Fay who was also among the nine sisters. Another interpretation of the name states that it may simply refer to the fact that the castle has never been forcefully taken or that its fabled founder, Ebraucus, was said to have twenty wives.

Another famous legend that is related to the castle is the "Lone Piper". Supposedly an intricate maze of tunnels runs right underneath Edinburgh Castle. The locals, curious as to where it led, sent a young boy to see where the passages led. In order to let the others know of his whereabouts underneath, the boy played his pipes as he walked along the path. Without explanation, the music stopped altogether and nobody found out what happened to the lad. The original tunnels are said to have been blocked up and so they were never found, though legend says that the ghost of the young boy still plays his pipes in forgotten passages sealed underground. A modern tunnel was dug since and it is used by military vehicles to avoid the tourists passing through the castle's drawbridge.

Speaking of the military, Edinburgh Castle is among the few ancient fortresses in Britain to have its own military garrison. This is mostly a ceremonial, symbolic post which serves as the Regimental Headquarters. Along with the administrative offices, the castle has museums as well, namely, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum and the Royal Scots Museum.

7. Palace of Versailles (France)

Palace of Versailles

The palace, referred to as the Chateau de Versailles in French, was the country's center of government in the 1600s. It was used as a royal abode, counting none other than the Sun King, Louis XIV among those that resided within its walls. The Palace is considered to be a symbol of absolute monarchy due to the fact that while staying in Versailles, Louis XIV revolutionized how ruling bodies exercised their power. In this system, the king all power is given to the king and he entrusts chosen men to enact his laws. The whole ruling system, namely, the king, the government and the court are also together in a single location, ensuring that the king is privy to each and every decision.

The original structure was not actually a palace. Instead, it was merely Louis XIII's private retreat and hunting lodge. Louis XIV transformed it into the immense complex that it is today. Its gardens are stylized, showing a mix of English and French influences and featuring the rarest of trees. Furthermore, there is an array of exquisite works of art which adorn the Hall of Mirrors as well as the king's Great Apartment. It is possible for the public to view the royal collections, akin to our modern day museums. The king held processions daily, which was the time for his people to deliver their written requests to be answered by the minister. Grand celebrations were held at the Great Apartment while the gardens were used for lush summer festivities.

You may view the Grand Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors as well as the King's Bed-chamber and have a glimpse of the cultured life at Versailles by visiting the palace yourself. Events such as the Musical Garden and Fountain Show are held during select months so you may want to plan your trip to accommodate the scheduled festivities. After you view the castle proper, you may want to finish off the lovely tour with a visit to Marie-Antoinette's estate nearby.

6. Himeji Castle (Japan)

Himeji Castle

Located at the heart of Himeji City, Himeji Castle is one of the most visited tourist spots in Japan. Being well-preserved, its beauty is unparalleled and is considered to be among the country's national treasures. Instead of stone, the castle walls are wooden so it was covered in plaster due to the material's fireproofing property. This gave the structure its magnificent white colored walls and thus was nicknamed the "White Heron" castle.

The main tower, built on top of Himeyama Hill, towers 302 feet (92 meters) above sea level. Aside from this impressive tower, the castle grounds boast a formidable labyrinth-like defensive design. This famous feature was built so that attackers would get lost in the maze of paths, giving castle defenders time to pick them off with arrows.

Construction of the castle was initiated by the ruler of the Himeji District, Norimura Akamatsu. It began as a fort until one of Japan's great unifiers; Hideyoshi Toyotomi built a three-storied castle. Terumasa Ikeda, son-in-law of Ieyasu Tokugawa, remade the main tower into a five-storied structure and added three smaller towers. As a testament to the effectivity of these defensive constructs, Himeji castle has withstood the test of time without suffering damages due to warfare. With its original form being intact for almost 400 years, the worth of the wooden castle is beyond compare.

Currently, the castle keep may be viewed via observation deck while other parts of the grounds are accessible to tourists. Exhibitions are available as well, detailing the history and characteristics of the structure. Relevant displays such as architectural motifs, suits of armor and local artistic works may also be viewed to complete the experience.

5. Pembroke Castle (Wales)

Pembroke Castle

Situated beside the River Cleddau, the mighty Pembroke Castle is the birthplace of King Henry VII and was the Earldom of Pembroke's original family seat. Its Great Keep is a towering 75 feet high and it features a fortified natural cave known as the Wogan Cavern. Tourists may descend a 55-step staircase in order to view the limestone cave for themselves. The outer ward uses an impressive twin-towered gatehouse, fortified outposts as well as several additional round towers for the castle's defense. With its magnificent, aged stone walls, the castle exudes a certain air of grandeur.

The castle began as a fort, with wood and earth being its primary building material. William Marshal then turned it into a stone fortress in 1189 with the inner ward being constructed first. The inner ward contains the Earl Marshal's Great Hall as well as a few private apartments. A new Great Hall was constructed later on, with the Wogan Cavern being fortified by adding a barred gateway, a wall and a number of arrow loops. In 1648, the castle was taken after a seven week siege and was, as a result, abandoned. Rebuilding the ruins started in 1880 and was continued by Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps in 1928. This extensive restoration lasted until after his death and became a joint project between the Pembroke Town council and the Philipps family. After it was restored, the structure was used as the set of King Miraz's castle in BBC's adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989).

Today, Pembroke Castle is open for the public. A myriad of wonderful events are held throughout the year, with guided tours held daily. This includes battle reenactments, storytelling, falconry displays and dragon parades to entertain visitors of all ages. Exhibition rooms filled with lifelike sculpted figures, beautiful mural paintings, as well as masterfully crafted set work deliver a story about key moments in the castle's history.

4. Wartburg Castle (Germany)

Wartburg Castle

Overlooking the Thuringian Forest, Wartburg Castle is among Germany's oldest and most well-loved cultural treasures. The picture of a fairy tale castle, the structure is superbly preserved and is the site for several historically significant events. It is renowned for being the place wherein Christian theologian Martin Luther finished his translation of the Bible into German in a mere eleven weeks. Included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, it's not only considered to be a national treasure but a globally valued architectural monument as well.

Aside from it being Martin Luther's refuge from the Inquisition, Wartburg Castle was also home to St. Elisabeth of Hungary from 1211 to 1228. Prior to becoming the consort of Ludwig IV of Thuringia, St. Elisabeth was well-known for her charitable work even at a very young age.

The Hall of the Minstrels located within the castle's Romanesque Great Hall was immortalized by Richard Wagner's opera, Tannhäuser. The story goes that as a patron of the arts, Count Hermann I of Thuringia and Saxony brought together the best poet-musicians of the land. He then held a macabre competition wherein the consequence for the losing individual was death. The esteemed German composer and theater director, Wagner, is said to have been inspired by this fabled Contest of the Minstrels.

An exhibit showcasing over 900 years of German history now resides within the walls of Wartburg Castle. The museum displays world famous art collections, medieval musical instruments as well as a historic cutlery collection. Joining the castle tour will allow you to view Martin Luther's cell. Who knows, you may just catch a glimpse of the ink stain caused by Luther's inkwell when he threw it at the devil.

3. Prague Castle (Czech Republic)

Prague Castle

When it comes to sheer size, Prague Castle is at the top of the list. The Guinness World Records declared it as the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area close to seventy thousand square meters. That being said, the size of the structure is only one of its charms. Rich in history, Prague Castle is also the site where the Holy Roman Emperors, Princes and Kings of Bohemia as well as Czechoslovakian officials have resided. Numerous architectural details and works of art adorn its eclectic collection of buildings which have retained their exquisite beauty throughout a millennium. 

Those who visit the castle are bound to marvel at the assortment of styles represented by each of its individual buildings. For instance, the Basilica of St. George features Romanesque architecture while the St. Vitus Cathedral is more Gothic in its design. The second oldest church in Bohemia, the Church of the Virgin Mary is the first stone walled building in Prague Castle. Remnants of this historical structure still exist within the massive castle grounds.

You may take a peek into the country's rich history by visiting the various museums and art exhibitions within the castle grounds. Included is the National Gallery which contains a wide array of precious baroque artworks. Prague Castle's Toy Museum holds many exhibit pieces from all over the world spanning the ancient Greek period up to the present. An underground prison features many medieval weapons and torture equipment.

Aside from the art exhibitions, there are several events worth taking into account if you are planning a trip to Prague Castle. Regular events include the ceremonial Changing of the Guard which is held daily at 12:00, the Summer Shakespeare Festival in the courtyard of the Burgrave Palace, as well as yearly fairs and festivals. For those who wish to enjoy the castle's marvelous gardens, they may be visited freely during the summer tourist season.

2. Malbork Castle (Poland)

Malbork Castle

Synonymous with the Teutonic Order and the Kings of Poland, Malbork Castle (Marienburg or "Mary's Castle") is the world's largest castle. The grand medieval fortress is an excellent example of a Gothic, brick walled castle. Its unique architectural style is attributed to its builders, the German military-religious Order of the Teutonic Knights.

The castle was built in order to strengthen the Teutonic Order's control of the area after the Prussian Crusade. Though the castle was established earlier, the elaborate complex was not completed until Grand Master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen transferred his office to Malbork from Venice in 1309. Promoted to such an important status, an expansion lasting nearly forty years took place in order to accommodate the castle's new functions.

The administrative office and residence of the Grand Master of the Order was located at the Fore Castle. To the north, the Great Refectory was used for royal events and feasts. A wing in the Middle Castle housed the hospital while a mausoleum for the Grand Masters can be found underneath St. Anne's Chapel.

To celebrate its vibrant history, a festival called the “Siege of the Malbork Castle” takes place every summer. Contests of skill such as shooting competitions, knight tournaments and night battles are performed for visitors. Fire spectacles as well as numerous plays are also held yearly. To catch a glimpse of the Teutonic way of life, weapons, armor and room sets are available as exhibits to visitors.

1. Warwick Castle (England)

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle was not actually made of stone when it was first built. Rather, it was a wooden Motte-and-bailey fort built under the command of William the Conqueror in 1068. It sits on a bend of the River Avon and utilizes the river as part of its natural defense. The structure was rebuilt in stone in 1260 and its facade was refortified during the Hundred Years War. Used as a fort, a home for nobility and even a prison, Warwick Castle has a remarkable history filled with heroic battles.

The castle grounds were turned into an enchanting English landscape garden in the 17th century. Its design was simple yet elegant, with the sloping lawn giving a natural flow towards the connected riverbank. To immortalize the spectacular sight, the Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) was commissioned to paint different views of the castle in 1747. Canaletto completed three drawings and five paintings of Warwick Castle, making it his most often painted British building.

From the 17th century onwards, Warwick Castle has been open to visitors, noble and commoner alike. After Queen Elizabeth I's four night stay in 1572, Queen Victoria also visited the castle in 1858.

Today, the castle is bustling with wonderful events for the whole family. Visitors can look forward to seasonal activities such as jousting, archery displays, historical reenactments and the Flight of the Eagles show. The castle's arms and armor collection remain to be one of the most extensive, second only to the one in the Tower of London. If you are curious about how the pieces were actually used, there are workshops and interactive activities wherein you may try on and handle reproductions of the historical pieces.

For those who are interested in medieval sieges, the firing of the castle's Trebuchet is an event not to be missed. It happens to be the largest working Trebuchet in the world and is loaded with a fireball at night.

What medieval experience is complete without banquets and fine entertainment? Warwick Castle holds scrumptious feasts complete with barmaids, minstrels even an occasional Highwayman. This multi course meal takes place in various areas of the castle and may include a tour of the dungeons depending on the current theme of course. The dress code is smart casual, though there is an option to dine in traditional costume for those who want to make the most out of their experience.