There’s nothing quite like feeling as though you’re stepping into the pages of a real-life fairytale when you’re traveling. Europe is brimming with gorgeous castles that date back to the Medieval times, most of which are very well preserved, making storybook scenery a very true reality.
From island castles in Ireland to Roman Ruins hidden in regal fortress floors in Italy, Europe has a plethora of ancient structures with their own history and character to discover. Whether you’re interested in uncovering ruins with secrets of a country’s past or climbing unspoiled towers to be rewarded with breaktaking views of the landscape below, there’s an ancient European castle for you.
Get ready to experience magic at some of the best medieval castles in Europe.
Dublin Castle: Dublin, Ireland
A city castle with Irish flair, this important government building holds rich historical, cultural, and political significance. Walk in the same footsteps of the Kings and Lords from long ago as you explore this Medieval site.
Gaze at the Record Tower, the only original tower belonging to the castle, and one of the oldest pieces of architecture still intact in Dublin today. Tour the castle grounds that are now used for state events held by and for the Irish Government. View highlights from the old and newer sections such as the Viking excavation site, Gothic Chapel Royal, Ladies Drawing Room, Throne Room, St. Patrick’s Hall, and the regal State Apartments.
Conwy Castle: Conwy, Wales
Built by King Edward I in the 1200s, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will leave you awestruck. Its location adds to the allure, set in the midst of the walled village of Conwy and adjacent to the river, making for incredible photo opportunities.
Walk the grounds in a total circuit, absorbing the history, architecture, and scenery. The cinematic backdrop is brought full circle with the picturesque Snowdonia Mountains—one of the best hikes in the UK—in the distance.
Castel Nuovo: Naples, Italy
Castel Nuovo (also referred to as Maschio Angioino) in Naples, Italy was constructed in the 13th century. Meaning “New Castle,” you’ll find the castle near the Naples City Hall in front of the Piazza Municipio.
Highlights from a visit to this architectural gem include Roman ruins in the Armoury Hall, original Giotto frescoes, the Palatine Chapel, and two museums that feature a series of Neapolitan paintings dating back to the 17th century.
Take note of the incredible Watch Tower and appreciate the intricate details of the famous Triumphal Arch, which is composed of marble and was built to mark Alfonso I of Aragon’s entry to the city in the mid-1400s.
Akershus Castle: Oslo, Norway
In the Scandinavian city of Oslo lies a castle fit for a Viking dating all the way back to 1299. Its harborside location adds to the postcard-worthy scene, with fantastic views of the city and the Oslo Fjord.
Akershus Castle, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Norway, has endured many sieges over time before being transformed into a royal residence and Renaissance-style castle by King Christian IV in the 16th century. Today, the castle is host to numerous banquets and events and houses government reception rooms, a small church, and the Royal Mausoleum.
Stirling Castle: Glasgow, Scotland
Scotland is known for its wide array of castles. In Glasgow, you’ll find one of the best medieval castles in Europe, Stirling Castle, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Because of its high location perched upon stone walls, views overlooking the battlefields and Stirling Bridge are ready to impress.
On the outside, you can enjoy the panoramic landscape as well as the onsite Queen Anne Gardens. Heading indoors, you’ll explore the Chapel Royal, Stirling Tapestries, Renaissance Palace, and the Great Hall. Here, you’ll experience the golden banquet hall that snags the title of “largest of its kind” ever constructed in the country of Scotland.
Entering the Great Hall, which was originally built for James IV in the early 1500s, will have you imagining the lavish events and feasts that took place in that room long ago.
Ljubljana Castle: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Set on a hill in the middle of Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, Ljubljana Castle is a beautiful and historic monument boasting sprawling views of the city beyond. To reach the castle grounds, walk up a trail right from the city center, or hop on the funicular railway for a quick and scenic ride to the castle.
Take photos from the viewing tower and learn about the castle’s wells. On the walls of Archer’s Tower, admire the special selection of restored paintings created using a particular technique called Sgraffito (“scratch” in Italian). After you’ve explored the castle, stop in one of the onsite restaurants for refreshments.
Cahir Castle: Waterford, Ireland
Situated on the River Suir in Waterford, Cahir Castle is among the country’s biggest castles, making it one of the best places to visit in Ireland. Its position on a rugged rock island gives the impressive stone structure the illusion of emerging from the rock. This important National Monument has been featured as the setting for films and television shows.
The structure is historically known for being ahead of its time in defensive architecture. Touring the grounds will provide a glimpse into the historical and cultural significance throughout the years as you walk spiral staircases to explore the dungeons below the main castle building. Educational plaques explain the extensive backstory of this preserved structure.
Corfe Castle: Dorset, England
Head to the quintessential English countryside in Dorset to explore the ruins of Corfe Castle and estate, which dates back to the 11th century. Historically, it was used to house King John, as a royal treasure shop, and even as a prison on the Isle of Purbeck in Corfe Castle Village.
Corfe Castle was one of the first stone castles built in England, and its position was perfect for guarding the natural route through the Purbeck Hills. Due to conservation efforts, the castle grounds welcome visitors that wish to experience its history and beauty. Make sure to explore the charming village itself, with quaint cafes and a miniature model of the castle at the Corfe Castle Model Village and Gardens.
Bourtzi Castle: Nafplio, Greece
A seaside castle treasure, Bourtzi Castle is set on the Greek islet of Agioi Theodoroi on the Saronic Gulf, in the harbor of the city of Nafplio. Built by the Venetians, it originally protected against attacks by enemy ships and, in the 19th century, was used to house executioners for the nearby Palamidi Prison. The structure was even converted into a luxury hotel and restaurant for a decade in the 1960s.
Now, you can visit the castle grounds from the port by boat, where festivals and events take place throughout the year. Admire the views from the Nafplio promenade and other vantage points along the harbor.
Urquhart Castle: Inverness, Scotland
Northern Scotland is host to the elegant Urquhart Castle, approximately half an hour from the city of Inverness. Set in the Scottish Highlands by Loch Ness, this castle is surrounded by stunning scenery.
Gaze at the water from the castle, which overlooks the country’s second-largest and deepest loch. Uncover the region’s rich history through the castle walls that still remain, which once held a prison cell, a great hall for events and banquets, and an artifact collection which includes a working trebuchet siege engine.
Going up the Grant Tower will gift you views over the adjacent lake as well as the Great Glen landscape. Informational plaques provide key aspects of the castle’s backstory. Many historical reenactment events take place during the summer season, which showcase the castle’s fascinating past.
Trsat Castle: Rijeka, Croatia
Set near the coast in northern Croatia, this fortress was built in the 13th century. Legend has it that the grounds cover an ancient Roman fortress. Perched on a hill above the village of Rijeka, the views from the structure overlook the Rječina Gorge and river. On a clear day, you may even be able to spot the nearby island of Krk.
During warmer months, live music and other events take place on the grounds. The onsite cafe is an idyllic spot to appreciate the stunning scenery. If you’re feeling energetic, try tackling the 538 steps that lead up to the castle from town, known as “Pilgrim’s Way.”
Bled Castle: Bled, Slovenia
For pure fairytale views, Lake Bled in Slovenia’s dramatic Julian Alps is one of the best Medieval castles in Europe. From the famous Bled Castle (Blejski Grad), you’ll have incredible views over one of the best lakes in Europe, as well as the village and a well-known island church. As the oldest castle in the country, this structure is quite striking, as are the 99 steps it takes to reach the ancient cliffside monument.
Two courtyards link the castle buildings, and a 16th-century chapel can be found in one of them. A museum, restaurant, and wine cellar are other popular attractions within the castle. An old printing shop is also located onsite and offers a peek into the traditional art of wood printing with regular demonstrations.
Kolossi Castle: Limassol, Cyprus
On the island of Cyprus, Kolossi Castle played a large part in the export of the region’s crops. Sugar was produced within the castle out of the local sugar cane found on the island, and became one of the main exported goods. In addition, this structure is known to be the origin of the oldest wine in the world, Commandaria. Legend says that Richard the Lionheart toasted with this sweet wine at his wedding in 1191.
Kolossi Castle is even the subject of several novels. Located near Limassol, a visit to this castle will have you appreciating an example of fine military architecture as well as learning about its rich history and unique backstory. Explore the old sugar mill ruins and take in the sprawling views from the tower.
Bellver Castle: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Set in the Balearic Islands of Spain, Bellver Castle is positioned on a hillside overlooking the gorgeous island of Mallorca. This Gothic-style structure was constructed in the 14th century and has an interesting round design. Previous uses of the castle have included a prison and residence for King James II.
One of the most unique places to visit in Europe, the building is currently host to a museum, opened in 1932, which offers historical information about the city as well as art from the Roman, Talaiotic, Arab, and Spanish periods. Walk the moat, explore the courtyards, and absorb the amazing view from the top. Translated from Catalan, the name of the castle means “lovely view.” Visitors can choose to arrive by vehicle or complete the challenge of climbing 450 steps to reach the castle grounds.
If you’re ready to explore all the history and beautiful architecture that the best Medieval castles in Europe have to offer, book a luxury European cruise to access your own travel fairytale.
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