12 of the Most Impressive Castles in the World

12 of the Most Impressive Castles in the World

Our pick of the world's most stunning castles

1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, Neuschwanstein Castle was home to 'mad King Ludwig' of Bavaria - though he slept just 11 nights in the castle. Also known as the Fairytale King, Ludwig immersed himself in the construction of perfect fantasy castles. Built in the 19th century, the castle serves no defensive purpose at all, and was designed by Christian Jank - a theatrical set designer by trade, rather than an architect. The castle was in many ways a homage to the German composer Wagner, with many rooms themed around his operas, and the name of the castle itself meaning "New Swan Stone", deriving from Wagner's Swan Knight character. Sadly, Wagner died before the castle was completed and he never had the chance to visit.

2. Castle Eltz, Germany

This atmospheric and perfectly preserved castle is found in a small, wooded valley near the Rhine river in Germany. It's still owned - and lived in - by a branch of the same Eltz family that lived there in the 12th century, though parts of the castle stretch back even further, to the 9th century.

3. Bran Castle, Romania

Bran Castle is famous as Dracula's Castle, as it bears something of a resemblance to that described in Bram Stoker's novel, and may have briefly housed Vlad the Impaler - a real life inspiration for Dracula.

In more moderm times, the castle was home to a Queen's heart - separated from her remains and encased in a silver casket. The heart belonged to Queen Marie, one of the most beloved members of Romania's royal family, who renovated the castle in the early 20th century to add modern conveniences like an elevator, telephone lines, and a playroom for the children - modern-day visitors are often somewhat surprised at finding comfortable furnishings rather than more traditional vampire trappings. Something of a philanthropist, the Queen was involved in many charitable works, and upon her death made the rather odd request that her heart be kept at the castle for anyone to approach for advice and support. The heart has since been moved to the National Museum of History in Bucharest.

4. Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel is one of the most visited attractions in France, with over three million visitors each year, and was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, back in 1979. This walled medieval city rises dramatically from the flat surrounding estuary of the river Couesnon, and can only be visited at low tide. At high tide the city, and its 50 residents, are completely cut off, and the French poet Victor Hugo described the tides changing "à la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" ("as swiftly as a galloping horse") - so take care not to get trapped.

5. Windsor Castle, England

Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, originally built by William the Conqueror in 1070. The castle was first constructed from wood, and later upgraded to stone by a succession of King Henrys. As an active royal home today (the current Queen, Elizabeth II, stays at the castle most private weekends and for a month in spring), the castle requires a full time staff of 150 - including 66 in the Great Kitchen alone, the oldest working kitchen in the country.

Though the castle survived World War 2 unscathed - and secretly housed the royal family in the process - a massive fire in 1992 did tremendous damage to the castle, destroying around 20%, and taking 15 hours to put out. The subsequent restoration project cost £37 million.

6. Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

A large medieval fortified citadel in northern Syria, Aleppo is one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Much of the citadel was constructed in the 12th century, and it's built on an imposing natural limestone outcrop rising 100 feet from the flat surrounding plain and dominating the city's skyline. Sadly, untold amounts of the citadel have been destroyed in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

7. Matsumoto Castle, Japan

Japan's oldest and most complete castle, Matsumoto is also known as 'Crow Castle' due to its black exterior. It started life as a fort in 1504 and was greatly expanded over the next century, with additional turrets added for defence, and one for moon viewings.

8. Swallow's Nest, Ukraine

The humble beginnings of the Swallow's Nest start in 1877, when a wounded general, awarded a small plot of land by the sea for his heroism in the Crimean war, created a wooden cottage cliffside getaway that he romantically named "The Castle of Love". This sweet cottage was torn down in 1911 by Baron von Steingel, a wealthy oil magnate who bought the site and erected the tiny decorative stone castle that now stands. After a huge earthquake in 1927, most of the Neo-Gothic castle's gardens collapsed into the sea, and the castle remained closed for years until its restoration in the 1970s. With stunning views over the Black Sea, it's now one of the most popular attractions in Crimea.

9. Burg Kreuzenstein, Austria

Though its origins date back to the 12th century, most of what you see now in Kreuzenstein is the result of a rebuild in the 19th century, which actually took sections of medieval buildings from all over Europe to create an authentically medieval look. The rebuild was conducted by Johann Wilczek, something of an obsessive, whose personal art collection contained more than 100,000 objects and Austria's largest collection of weapons in private hands. Sadly the collection was to endure several depredations in the subsequent years, including a devastating fire caused by a lightning strike in 1915, and a bombardment of 250 artillery shells at the end of World War 2 (the castle wasn't the target, it was simply in the way). The castle has been restored since, but much of Wilczek's precious collection has been lost.

10. Hohenzollern, Germany

Perched pictureseqly atop the 855m Mount Hohenzollern in the Swabian Alps, the castle has been destroyed twice in its history, and the version you see now was created in the 19th century. With over 300,000 visitors per year it's one of the most visited castles in Germany.

11. Kyrenia Castle, Cyprus

Excavations around the castle reveal that it originally dates back to the Romans, but it was rebuilt by the Byzantines around 700 AD, and again by the Venetians in the 16th century. The castle was never taken by force, fending off attacks by the Genoese in 1374, and Egyptians in 1426. However, it was taken in 1570, after the Ottomans sent the castle's Venetian defenders a present - the severed heads of Venetian commanders of fallen Nicosia. The defenders were suitably persuaded, and opened their gates. The castle was used as the setting for the PSP game Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines.

12. Rosenborg Castle, Denmark

Christian IV, king of Denmark for 59 years and an ambitious and prolific constructor, had Rosenborg made as a summer pleasure palace in 1606. He became so enamored of his construction that he had it extensively remodelled over the years, and on his deathbed he commanded that he be transported by sleigh to Rosenborg to end his life there. It's now one of Denmark's most popular attractions.

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