25 Most Beautiful Medieval Castles in the World
Despite the Middle Ages also being referred to as the Dark Ages, a period associated with an overall decline after the fall of the Roman Empire, certain beautiful relics, like medieval castles, have survived through the centuries.
All over Europe, you can find these strongholds, each with its unique features. Some perched on top of a mountain, others seemingly floating above water, and some nearly hidden by the leafy cover of trees, medieval castles had to be both functional, durable, and easy on the eyes, considering that many were an escape to the royalty and aristocrats.
Many of Europe’s medieval castles are iconic and easily recognized, while others are off the beaten path. Here is our pick of the 25 most beautiful medieval castles in the world.
1. Eltz Castle, Germany
Eltz Castle has steadily become one of the most-photographed castles on Instagram with many landscape photographers choosing to capture it during the eerie hours of the day.
The castle sits on top of a hill surrounded by a thick forest, adding to the mysterious feel. Located in Rheinland-Palatine, known as the Moselle wine region famous for Riesling wine, due to its secluded position, it feels worlds away.
Just like many medieval castles, Eltz Castle has seen its fair share of conflict but was never destroyed over the centuries. Interestingly, Eltz Family has possession of the castle to this day.
2. Eilean Donan, Scotland
Eilean Donan is perhaps one of the most well-known medieval castles, easily recognized by almost anyone. Partly, thanks to being featured in the 1986 film Highlander, but also as one of the must-see places in the Western Highlands of Scotland. This highland gem is located on an island between three sea lochs – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh.
Historically, it was a stronghold for the Clan Mackenzie and was established in the 13th century. Unfortunately, the original castle suffered destruction in the 18th century during the Jacobite rebellions and was rebuilt in the 20th century.
3. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Another Scottish beauty is the Edinburgh Castle. Sitting on top of Castle Rock, it overlooks the capital of Scotland. Unsurprising, considering the majority of medieval castles had strategic locations; the key was being able to see the enemy and remain difficult to reach.
A dramatic history didn’t spare Edinburgh Castle due to the tensions between England and Scotland. During the First and Second Wars of Scottish Independence, the ownership of the castle changed between the Scottish and the English several times.
To this day, Edinburgh Castle remains a top attraction for anyone visiting the city and tourists can take part in various guided tours and events. And if that’s not your cup of tea, why not simply enjoy the stunning views?
4. Bran Castle, Romania
When talking about medieval castles, mentioning Romania is a must. Most people will immediately think of Dracula and Transylvania. Many consider Bran Castle in Central Romania directly linked to Bram Stoker’s character, however, no direct links to that exist.
Bran Castle sits atop on a former Teutonic Knights stronghold dating back to the early 13th century, but the castle itself first appeared in documents dating back to 1377.
The castle is approximately 2500 feet above the sea level and rises from between surrounding trees. It overlooks the picturesque village of Bran, and the several towers and turrets give it a mysterious mood.
Nowadays tourists can visit the castle and wander through the narrow stairways leading to 60 timbered rooms, interestingly, many of them connected by underground passages.
5. Kilkenny Castle, Ireland
Kilkenny Castle in Ireland is a signature Anglo-Norman stone castle which actually started out as a wooden fort in the second half of the 12th century. Over the centuries the castle has gone through several changes and to this day bears elements of various architectural styles, mainly Gothic Revival.
Its location historically was a strategic point controlling the crossing of River Nore. These days, the castle is surrounded by vast gardens with manicured lawns, where visitors can slowly enjoy and observe the castle. Visitors can also tour the castle interiors and immerse themselves in historic magnificence.
6. Mont-Saint-Michel, France
Few places in the world are as magical as the Mont-Saint-Michel Bay in France. The awe-inspiring island located where Normandy and Brittany meet is otherworldly and unique. Even though not technically a castle, it would be difficult for anyone to deny its magnificence.
What sits on top of the island is a medieval monastery attracting pilgrims for centuries. The legend tells that bishop Aubert from a nearby town was ordered by Archangel Michael himself to build a church on top of the island. Construction of a Benedictine abbey begun in the late 10th century.
The scenery surrounding the island is everchanging as the tides of the bay can recede quickly, revealing a completely different view. During the low tide, the island can be reached on foot, and hundreds of tourists visit each day. Museums, parish church, and the abbey are open for visitors.
7. Windsor Castle, England
Possibly one of the most famous castles in Europe is Windsor Castle in England, which has been the home of British royalty for centuries. Ever since Henry I ruled over England in the 12th century, this Berkshire palace has been used by the reigning monarch and therefore has had the longest occupancy for a palace in Europe.
The castle is surrounded by 13 acres of land and features a fortification, a palace, and a small town. These days the castle features a Georgian and Victorian design based on a medieval structure, with Gothic features.
As you would expect in any home of a monarch, impressive and renowned art pieces feature within the castle.
Being one of the three official residences of the Queen, it is still fully operational and attracting tourists is not its main purpose. Visitors can expect to visit State Apartments as well as the St George’s Chapel and witness changing of the Guard.
8. Castel del Monte, Italy
Not surprisingly, most people expect to see sharp towers rising above treetops when thinking of medieval castles. However, not all fit this description, and Castel del Monte in Southern Italy certainly stands out.
The 13th-century citadel in Apulia region was built by Emperor Frederick II. The ascetic and fortress-like octagon facade features elements from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient and north European Cistercian Gothic.
The castle sits on a rocky peak in a secluded forest, and the building itself has undergone no significant structural changes.
9. Alhambra, Spain
The palace and fortress complex in Andalusia, Spain, known as Alhambra, was built in the 13th century by Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada. Built on top of former Roman fortification ruins, it became a royal palace in 1333, and a century later the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. The legend has it, Christopher Columbus got an endorsement for his expedition there.
Alhambra strongly reflects the Moorish architecture elements signature to the reign of the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula.
The number of visitors allowed to go to Alhambra is highly limited therefore visits should be planned well ahead of time. Alhambra includes the Royal complex, Court of the Myrtles, Hall of the Ambassadors, Hall of the Abencerrajes, a Court of the Lions and fountain and other features.
10. Vianden Castle, Luxembourg
In the small European country of Luxembourg, nestled between France, Germany, and Belgium, there is one of largest fortified castles west of the Rhine – Vianden Castle.
Even though origins date back to the 10th century, the castle was steadily built over three centuries between the 11th and the 14th century. Vianden Castle is an example of the Romanesque style with semi-circular arches, even though there were Gothic additions later on.
Just like many other medieval castles, Vianden Castle lies on top of a hill overlooking the town of Vianden.
Until the early 15th century it was the seat of prominent counts of Vianden with close connections to the Royal Family of France and the German imperial court.
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