If you love to travel, chances are there are a few castles you want to see as you make your way around the world. However, if you visit a country or city that has a castle, you’re likely tempted to pay for the overpriced tour that includes a guide who will tell you all about the historic building. Of course, there’s also a gift shop in the castle for you to purchase souvenirs to take home to your loved ones. Even though it’s highly likely that you’ll spend way more money than you want exploring the castle, you’ll create memories that you won’t soon forget.
While you’re planning your next vacation (or wishing you had the time or money to visit another country), you can take a look at these 12 spectacular castles. The architecture is indicative of the region, and each of the palaces are rich in history and tradition. Chances are you’ll get the traveling bug after looking at just a few of these, so be sure to warn your friends and family that you’re seriously considering taking another trip soon. Since you’ve already seen these beautiful photos of the castles, you may be able to exercise a little more self-control in the palace gift shops. Happy viewing!
12 Malbork Castle
Malbork Castle was declared a World Heritage site in December of 1997. The name of this Prussian castle translates to mean “Mary’s Castle,” and was built by the Knights of the Teutonic Order. Over time, Malbork Castle has undergone a number of expansions and is one of the largest castles in the world by area alone. Malbork is also the largest castle made of brick in the world. It was completed in 1406 as a traditional medieval fortress, and is one of two World Heritage Sites in the area that have connections to the Teutonic Order. The other is the site of Thorn Castle, also known as the “Medieval town of Torun”.
11 Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is located just off the Normandy coast on a very small island. The tides are what makes this castle especially interesting. At high tide, the only way to reach Mont Saint-Michel is to cross the causeway that connects the castle to the mainland, or to swim. At low tide, tourists can arrive at the castle by walking across the sand bars, but this can be very risky, since the tide comes in very quickly. The castle is also impressive in that its structural fortifications have stayed intact since the 8th century, and was built in a way that exemplifies the feudal system of the time.
10 Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle was constructed around 1,000 years ago, when William the Conqueror invaded England. It is the largest castle with occupants on the continent of Europe. The original intent for the construction of Windsor Castle was to protect Norman rule around London’s outskirts, and to oversee part of the River Thames. The castle served as a motte and bailey, and there were three wards around its centrally located mound. Over time, Windsor Castle was replaced with stone fortifications, and survived a lengthy siege during the First Baron’s War. King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth I also used Windsor Castle as a royal court, and entertained dignitaries there.
9 Castel de Monte
Andria, Italy’s Castel de Monte (which is Italian for “Castle of the Mountain”) was built in the 13th century by Roman Emperor Frederick II. The castle was looted several times, and there weren’t much treasures left in it when it was restored by the Italian government in the early 1900s. In the 18th century, the remaining furniture in the castle and the interior marble were removed. Castel de Monte doesn’t have a drawbridge, so some conclude that the castle was never intended for defensive fortress purposes. Archaeological work on the castle, however, reveals that originally, Castel de Monte had a curtain wall. The Enciclopedia Italiana described Castel de Monte as “the most fascinating castle built by Frederick II", and is now a World Heritage Site.
8 Palacio de Pena
Palacio de Pena, also called the Pena National Palace, is situated at the top of a hill, where it overlooks the town of Sintra. When the weather is clear, the palace can be seen from as far as Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. It is a Romanticist palace and a national monument. Pena National Palace is also viewed as one of the foremost architectural expressions of 19th Century Romanticism in the world. It has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. The President of the Portuguese Republic utilizes the palace for special government occasions as well.
7 Predjama Castle
Predjama Castle means “castle in front of a cave.” This alone makes it a fascinating place to visit. The fascinating castle has even been featured in movies, including Armour of God, a Jackie Chan film. Predjama Castle is best known as the seat of Knight Erazem Lueger, who was a robber baron and owner of the castle in the 15th century. The castle was sieged and taken over by the Oberburg family, and was owned by several other owners after the Oberburg takeover. In 1570, Predjama Castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style, and this is the architectural technique that is seen today.
6 Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is one of the most popular historic castles in Japan; it is also one of the oldest structures in the country. It was built to be a “hirajiro,” or a castle on the plains, as opposed to in the mountains, which is often where Asian palaces are located. Matsumoto Castle is also called 'The Crow Castle' because of its striking black exterior. A fort was originally built on the castle site in 1504, and it was called Fukashi Castle. Until the feudal system was abolished 280 years after the castle was built, Matsumoto Castle was inhabited by 23 lords of Matsumoto, who represented six daimyo families.
5 The Citadel of Aleppo
The Citadel of Aleppo has the distinction of being one of the largest and oldest castles in the world. The hill where the castle sits has been in use by the area’s residents for the past 5,000 years. The site is significantly historic, as it is believed that the Biblical prophet Abraham, milked his sheep there. The Citadel of Aleppo is located in Northern Syria, and has been occupied by a number of civilizations, including the Greeks, Mamluks and Byzantines. The Ayyubids also inhabited the castle at one time, and it is believed that much of the current construction comes from the Ayyubid era.
4 Potala Palace
Potala Palace sits high in the Himalayan Mountains in Lhasa, Tibet. It served as the primary residence for the Dalai Lama until the 14th century. During the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, when shells from the Chinese army were launched into the palace windows, the Potala Palace only sustained slight structural damage, which is a testament to the amazing architecture. Potala Palace is made up of the White Castle and the Red Castle. The White Castle served as the Dalai Lama’s living quarters, and the Red Castle was devoted to Buddhist study and prayer. The castle is now a museum and World Heritage Site.
3 Hunyad Castle
Hunyad Castle is located deep within Transylvania and is believed to be the place where Vlad the Impaler was secluded for seven years after his deposition. Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for the fictional character Dracula, which is why Transylvania is often associated with Halloween and all things spooky. The castle is also called Corvin Castle, and is constructed in Gothic Renaissance style. There are tall, strong defense towers around the castle, along with a drawbridge and inner courtyard. The castle underwent renovations in the 17th century for aesthetic and military purposes. A new large palace was built to face the town, which still makes the structure visually appealing.
2 Prague Castle
Prague Castle is actually a castle complex located in the Czech Republic, and is the world’s largest ancient castle. Bohemian kings and Roman Emperors once occupied the space, and even modern-day presidents of the region have held office there. The first walled building of Prague Castle was built back in 870, and was called the Church of the Virgin Mary. Bohemia’s first convent was also founded in Prague Castle. In 1541, most of the castle was destroyed in a fire, and under the Habsburg rule, new buildings in the Renaissance style were built. After WWII, Alexander Dubcek was seen waving to the people of the country on the balcony of Prague Castle as a symbol of the freedom of democracy.
1 Buckingham Palace
Of course, no list of spectacular castles is complete without mentioning Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster. This landmark is the home of Britain’s modern royalty, and has been the focus of the British people during times of both crisis and triumph in the country. The palace was originally called Buckingham House, and was built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. King George III acquired the property in 1761. Many of the 19th century designs that were part of the castle renovations are still intact today, making it an attraction for London tourists today. As part of the Summer Opening for Buckingham Palace, many of the state rooms are open to the public every year for the majority of August and September.