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Top 10 Amazing Castles You Can Visit

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
Thanks to Getty Images for the pictures and videos! We can’t all be born royal. But wandering these magnificent castles is the next best thing. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 amazing European castles you can visit. For this list, we're looking at the most grandiose, sumptuous, and otherwise superlative European castles open to visitors.

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Top 10 Amazing European Castles You Can Visit

We can’t all be born royal. But wandering these magnificent castles is the next best thing. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 amazing European castles you can visit. For this list, we're looking at the most grandiose, sumptuous, and otherwise superlative European castles open to visitors.

#10: Palácio da Pena, Portugal

Perched on a hill in the Sintra Mountains, Pena Palace is a blaze of color exploding out of the forest. An exemplar of nineteenth century Romanticism, the palatial fortress is a pastel hodgepodge of architectural styles, in a luxuriant and labyrinthine garden - making it seem more fairytale than reality. The first structure built on the hilltop was a chapel inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary. A monastery followed, and King Ferdinand II had his extravagant summer palace built around the remains. Visitors can still see the original furniture, stuccos, and trompe-l'œil murals in the restored interior.

#9: Burg Hohenwerfen, Austria

From a clifftop roost at the foot of the Alps, ancient Hohenwerfen Castle watches over the sleepy market town Werfen in Salzach Valley. Originally in the eleventh century in a period of political turmoil, the imposing medieval fortress was built by Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg to guard against the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. It was later a prison, and then a hunting retreat, but is now a museum open to sightseers, with a spectacular falconry show complete with historic costumes and hunting music.

#8: Château de Chillon, Switzerland

It’s the castle that launched a thousand postcards. Chillon Castle’s magnificent lakeside setting is memorable enough, but the thirteenth century island fortress also has other claims to fame. In the sixteenth century, it was the prison of Genevan patriot François Bonivard, who had dared defy the encroachments of Charles III, Duke of Savoy. His six year imprisonment, and rescue when the Bernese conquered the castle, were immortalized in Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”. Today, its medieval towers, halls, and dungeons delight visitors instead, just a quick wander down the lakeshore from scenic Montreux.

#7: Bran Castle, Romania

The red rooftops of Bran Castle, nicknamed “Dracula’s Castle”, seem to pierce the sky, daring travelers to approach. Truth to tell, the association with Dracula - either Bram Stoker’s fictional vampire, or Stoker’s inspiration, Vlad the Impaler - rests on shaky historical ground. But the hilltop fortress is nonetheless a spellbinding sight. Built in the fourteenth century to guard the eastern border of Transylvania, the castle thrusts from a towering crag of rock with a strategic view of the surrounding hills. Inside is an atmospheric warren of narrow passageways and royal chambers, decorated with original furniture and fittings.

#6: Tower of London, England

Today, it makes for an odd sight: a medieval Norman fortress in the heart of modern London. The turreted castle comes with a fascinating, albeit bloody, history. Built by William the Conqueror, the White Tower is perhaps best known as the prison of deposed monarchs. The young “Princes in the Tower” Edward V and Richard disappeared inside, while their uncle Richard III took the throne, and Henry VIII’s wives Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were beheaded at its base. The castle’s six resident ravens have become part of the attraction, guardians of the tower whose departure would supposedly herald the fall of Britain.

#5: Prague Castle, Czech Republic

The world’s largest ancient castle has stood on the west bank of the Vltava for over a thousand years, while kings, emperors, and presidents came and went. Over the centuries, it’s been expanded and rebuilt in a profusion of architectural styles, from the romanesque Saint George’s Basilica to the baroque New Royal Palace. Looming over it all is vast Saint Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece overlooking Prague. Somewhere inside the castle, behind a door with seven locks, are the Bohemian Crown Jewels, which include the St. Wenceslas Crown, the Royal Sceptre, and of course the Royal Apple.

#4: Alhambra, Spain

Granada’s Nasrid dynasty architects designed Alhambra to be “paradise on earth”, and the palatial fortress doesn’t disappoint. From the gorgeous garden, where nightingales flitter through the woods, to the magnificent Palacios Nazaries, the Alhambra is a tranquil wonderland. Its principal structures date back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, before the Christian Reconquista in the fifteenth. A masterpiece of Moorish architecture, its intricate geometric carvings, stuccos and mosaics are a feast for the eyes, and today the Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws in thousands of enthralled visitors daily.

#3: Château de Chenonceau, France

Tucked away in France’s lush Loire Valley, the Château de Chenonceau reaches over the shimmering waters of the River Cher. Also known as the “Le Château des Dames”, it owes its unique architecture and reputation to a series of influential proprietresses. In the mid-sixteenth century, Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers had the bridge built over the river. His jilted wife, Catherine de’ Medici, added the gallery on top, after Henry’s death from a jousting injury allowed her to kick out her rival. The effect of the whole is enchanting, with the charming château’s white stone walls and towers reflected in the river below.

#2: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Brooding over Edinburgh’s Old Town, the oft-besieged stronghold rests on a volcanic outcrop of black rock. In some form or another, the foreboding fortress has guarded the city for the better part of a millenia, and played a key role in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Much of the current castle was built in the sixteenth century, after being damaged during the Marian civil war. Nowadays, museums occupy the interior, while on the battlements, the One O’Clock Gun is fired at 1pm, Monday to Saturday except on Good Friday and Christmas.

#1: Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany

Fanciful and majestic, King Ludwig II’s anachronistic medieval castle is a fervent homage to Germanic mythology and the operas of the ruler’s idol Richard Wagner. When his kingdom became part of the newly formed German Empire in 1871, Ludwig withdrew from public life, and poured his passions and fortune into the construction of elaborate Revivalist castles. Romanesque Castle Neuschwanstein, whose name means “New Swanstone Castle,” is the jewel in the crown, boasting dramatic, soaring towers without, and masterful murals and frescoes, depicting mythological scenes, within. It’s the ultimate fairytale fortress, an enduring love letter to a lost age.


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