Built by kings and queens to protect and rule their realms, castles had not only to be able to withstand attack but to project their power and wealth. As such, sturdy keeps and imposing walls were erected alongside marvelous palaces, full of ornate and elaborate chambers and throne rooms.
These castles were often built at strategic and spectacular settings at the mouths of valleys, at the entrance to mountain passes, or on glittering lakeshores. Add in the weight of history, and these amazing structures set amongst breathtaking scenery make for some of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
Number 12. Trakai Island Castle
As the name indicates, this magnificent castle is set upon a small island with the sparkling waters of Lake Galve surrounding it. Located just outside of Vilnius, the imposing red brick fortification was once of the utmost strategic importance to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
First erected in the 14th century, the castle and its magnificent Ducal palace were restored to their original look and style in the 1960s. The Gothic and Romanesque features of the island castle look particularly arresting when viewed from across the shimmering waters of the lake.
Number 11. Corvin Castle
Built in a marvelous Gothic-Renaissance style, Corvin Castle in Transylvania is one of the largest castles in the whole of Europe. Set on a hilltop overlooking a river, the 15th-century fortress proudly boasts a number of lofty towers, as well as impregnable walls and a sturdy drawbridge. Numerous myths and legends swirl around the Romanian castle.
Its attractive and fairytalesque look has seen it featured in numerous television shows and films.
Number 10. Conwy Castle
Located in the north of Wales, Conwy Castle was built all the way back in 1283 by Edward I of England, who was attempting to conquer his unruly neighbors. Set at a strategic spot on the banks of the River Conwy, the imposing castle played a crucial role in many battles and wars for centuries to come.
Featuring not only two hulking barbicans but eight large and impenetrable towers, the castle is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of military architecture in Europe.
Number 9. Swallow’s Nest
The delightfully named Swallow’s Nest can be found perched dramatically on the edge of a clifftop in the Crimean Peninsula. Overlooking the shimmering waters of the Black Sea, the daintily decorated castle was built in 1911 following very romantic Neo-Gothic designs.
Having featured in numerous films in Soviet times, the Swallow’s Nest is now a popular place to visit amongst tourists, who come to ogle at its precarious setting, refined architecture, and the stunning views.
Number 8. Cochem Castle
Set in a scenic spot overlooking the town of Cochem, the castle of the same name is surrounded by rolling greens hills, with lush forests and vineyards all around it. While a castle has stood on the same hilltop since at least the year 1130, the original was destroyed by the marauding troops of Louis IV in 1688.
Restored and rebuilt in a gorgeous Gothic Revival style, the current castle is now a popular tourist attraction in the German Rhineland. While Cochem Castle is fascinating to explore, the views from its turrets and towers of the valley and river below are just as spellbinding.
Number 7. Spis Castle
Located in the northeast of Slovakia, Spis Castle has dominated its surroundings ever since it was built in 1241.
Due to its cultural and political importance to the Kingdom of Hungary, the castle kept growing in size until it became the enormous fortress it is today. Boasting impressive and imposing stone walls and towers, as well as a wonderful Romanesque palace, Spis Castle now serves as an educational museum. With commanding views out over the hills and valleys to be enjoyed from its battlements, this magnificent fort is not to be missed out on when in Slovakia.
Number 6. Hohenzollern Castle
Whether viewed emerging from the treetops which surround it or from amidst the clouds which swirl around its walls, Hohenzollern Castle always makes for an epic sight. Perched atop a prominent mount, the castle and Gothic Revival palace exhibit some beautiful architecture, and the halls and chambers within are just as delightfully decorated.
While the current castle was only completed in 1867, a fortress has stood upon the same mount since at least the 11th century. One of the most visited castles in the whole of Germany, Hohenzollern is still owned by the royal house of the same name.
Number 5. Alcazar of Segovia
Shaped very much like the bow of a ship, the Alcazar of Segovia has long attracted sightseers due to its distinctive design and breathtaking setting. Indeed, the castle’s magnificent keep and slim towers look particularly dashing, considering they are perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the confluence of two rivers.
Located in the center of Spain, its well-preserved palace is full of elegant rooms and halls that are covered in art and fine furnishings. Now a popular museum, the Alcazar of Segovia also has a well-equipped armory and collection of weapons for visitors to peruse.
Number 4. Bran Castle
Commonly known outside of Romania as ‘Dracula’s Castle,’ Bran Castle certainly looks the part. The forbidding fortress lies hidden in a forest in Transylvania. Despite its eerie appearance, however, the castle only has tenuous links at best with the cruel and barbaric 15th-century ruler Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.
Clever marketing ploy aside, Bran Castle is definitely worth visiting for its amazing architecture and beautiful setting in a lush valley.
In addition to this, visitors can now enjoy exploring the castle’s many rooms, which house the extensive art and furniture collection of Queen Marie.
Number 3. Pena Castle
Certainly the brightest and most daringly designed castle on this list, Pena Castle really is as unique as they come.
Awash with color, the vivid yellows and reds of its walls shine forth from its prominent hilltop setting in the Sintra Mountains just outside of Lisbon. Completed in 1854 in a Romanticist style, its imaginative design is a joy to gaze upon, and the views from its ramparts and gardens aren’t half bad either. Taking in all its fantastic features and exotic and extravagant architectural styles is sure to be one of the highlights of any trip to Portugal.
Number 2. Eilean Donan
Located at the point where three lochs meet, Eilean Donan in Scotland is truly blessed when it comes to its spectacular setting. While the original castle is thought to have been built on the small island sometime in the 13th century, the current romanticized and reimagined reincarnation only dates to the 20th century.
Although its crumbling grey walls and undistinguished features may not look quite as impressive as many other castles, it is its gorgeous surroundings that really set it apart. Having featured in countless films and television shows over the decades, Eilean Donan is certainly one of the most famous and recognizable castles in the whole of Europe.
Number 1. Neuschwanstein Castle
Perched atop a forested mount with the majestic Bavarian Alps behind it, Neuschwanstein Castle looks as if it has just emerged from a book of children’s fairytales. Only completed in 1886, the castle’s delightful design draws from both romanticism architecture and Ludwig II’s love and appreciation for the operas of Richard Wagner.
Fittingly, the photogenic palace, with its beautiful towers and glorious entrance, actually served as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland. Full of incredible artworks and precious paintings, the interior of the castle is no less exceptional.