Europe is home to some of the most magnificent medieval castles in the world. From towering fortresses to grand palaces, these atmosphere medieval castles in Europe are truly awe-inspiring and not to be missed.
Many of these castles have stood for centuries, withstanding wars, sieges, and the ravages of time. They offer a glimpse into a bygone era when lords and ladies ruled over vast estates and knights rode out to defend their honor. Add these fantastic historic Medieval European Castles to your travel itinerary and let them transport you to the Middle Ages!
Table of Contents
The Middle Ages
As the age of classical antiquity ended with the fall of the Roman Empire, so began Medieval times. The medieval period in Europe, also known as The Middle Ages or the Dark Ages, began in the 5th century (around 476 A.D.) and spanned nearly 1,000 years, ending in the 15th century (between 1400 and 1450 A.D.) By the 16th century Europe had emerged from the dark ages and entered the light of the Renaissance period.
Authentic medieval castles in Europe
Characteristics common to medieval castles in Europe:
- Location: Castles during medieval times were built in a strategic location on hills or near rivers to provide a tactical advantage.
- Living quarters: Castle walls were adorned with tapestries, paintings, shields, weapons and armor. There was a Great Hall for gathering and strategizing. Massive kitchens were equipped with large fireplaces and ovens to cook food for the lord and his guests and were often located in a separate building to prevent fires from spreading to the rest of the castle.
- Built for defense: These castles had thick stone walls, with arrow slits, to withstand invading enemy forces. Moats, drawbridges, and heavily grated iron Portcullis, were all physical deterrents to invaders. Spiral staircases made the castle easier to defend. Towers served both observation and defense purposes.
- Chapels: Many of the medieval castles of Europe had chapels where the lord and his family could attend mass. The chapels were often small and simple, but some were decorated with elaborate carvings and stained glass windows and were home to many holy relics.
Here is a list of 29 historic medieval castles in Europe to visit:
(1) The Castle of Carcassonne (Cité de Carcassonne), France
The 12th century Castle of Carcassonne, located in the city of Carcassonne in France, is one of the most impressive medieval castles in Europe. The massive fortress is the perfect example of medieval military architecture. Builders went to great lengths to keep invaders at bay by adding a moat, drawbridge, not one but two walls, an inner and an outer wall (curtain wall), and 52 towers, which provide visitors stunning views of the city. This castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to explore the narrow streets and alleys of the fortress.
how to see: Castle Carcassonne
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(2) The Tower of London, England United Kingdom
The Tower of London complex, in central London in England, is one of the most famous medieval castles in Europe. This iconic fortress was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and has since served as a royal palace, a state prison for high-profile prisoners like Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh. The tower was also the site of many executions, including those of Queen Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, two of King Henry VIII’s wives. Today, The Tower is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore the royal armory, a torture and execution museum, and the castle’s many exhibits, including the Crown Jewels and the White Tower.
how to see: The Tower of London
(3) Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle, located in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe. The castle sits atop Castle Rock, an extinct volcano turned rocky outcrop and has been a royal residence and military stronghold for centuries. The royal castle of Edinburgh has great historical significance. It was the birthplace of King James VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. Edinburgh Castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels. The castle is located in the middle of one of Europe’s dreamiest cities. The historic buildings in old town Edinburgh are dark, Gothic, and magnificent, it’s a medieval dream!
How to see: Edinburgh Castle
(4) Eilean Donan, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle, is a Scottish Castle located on a small island in Loch Duich in Scottish Highlands, is one of the most iconic and recognizable castles in Scotland. The castle was originally built in the 13th century as a defense against Viking raids. It was partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in the 18th century but was restored in the 20th century. Eilean Donan Castle’s claim to fame is its stunning location and picturesque views. A guided tour provides in-depth information about the castle and its significance.
How to see: Eilean Donan Castle
(5) Burg Eltz Castle, Germany
So many of Europe’s medieval castles have tragically been destroyed by war throughout the centuries. That’s not the case with 9th century Burg Eltz Castle. Its strategic location deep in a dense forest in the Mosel River Valley in Germany, provided protection from invaders. The original castle, built nearly 900 years ago, still stands in this spot. Eltz Castle’s fanciful mix of different architectural styles, a mixture of Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance, makes it a standout among Europe’s medieval castles.
how to see: Burg Eltz Castle
(6) Rock of Cashel, Ireland
Rock of Cashel, also known as Cashel of the Kings and St Patrick’s Rock, is a medieval castle located in County Tipperary Ireland. This iconic Irish landmark has been a symbol of Irish heritage for over a thousand years.
Throughout history this ancient fortress that sits atop a limestone hill, has been a royal residence, as well as an important religious site. The Rock has intriguing connections with St. Patrick and Ireland’s famous High King, Brian Boru. The oldest of the remaining structures is the well-preserved round tower dating from c. 1100. Round towers, a distinctly Irish feature, projectiles glance off of the curved surface better than on square towers.
how to see: Rock of Cashel
(7) Château de Chambord, France
Château de Chambord is a historic French Renaissance palace located in the Loire Valley of France. The castle was built during the 16th century as a hunting lodge for King Francis I of France. The beautiful castle, with notes of classical and Gothic architecture, is surrounded by a moat and beautiful gardens. The castle is home to beautiful gardens and walking trails, a collection of Renaissance art and furniture, as well as a series of ornate staircases and balconies. Visitors are welcome to explore the interior as well as the vast estate.
how to see: Château de Chambord
(8) Windsor Castle, England
Windsor Castle is a royal residence located in the town of Windsor in England and is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. The castle was originally built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, and has been home to the British royal family, who still maintain state apartments in the castle, for over 900 years. The castle was, until her recent death, home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Regal Windsor Castle combines elements of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque style. The historic town of Windsor is located on the River Thames and has a charming town center with cobbled streets, quaint shops, and traditional pubs. A tree-lined avenue leads to the castle. Windsor is a mere 13 km from London Heathrow airport and is an easy day trip from London.
how to see: Windsor Castle
(9) Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Prague Castle is a historic castle complex located in the heart of Prague, Czech Republic. It is one of the largest castle complexes in the world. The castle was originally built in the 9th century and has been a symbol of Czech power and authority for over a thousand years. Its impressive architecture combines elements of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.
Situated on a hill overlooking the city, the castle offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in Europe, known for its stunning Gothic architecture. There are some medieval themed taverns in Prague if you’re looking for a real medieval experience!
How to see: Prague Castle
(10) Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle is a historic 14th century Gothic castle located in the Transylvania region of Romania. Exhibits that make up the castle complex include a torture chamber, the armory with medieval weapons and armor, and the royal apartments. Bram Stoker, the author of the Dracula Novel was inspired by the legends and folklore surrounding the region, which was known for its association with vampires and other supernatural beings. The castle closely matches the description of the castle in Stoker’s novel, and thereby gained the name “Dracula’s Castle.” There is little evidence to suggest that Vlad the Impaler, the real-life figure who inspired Stoker’s character, ever actually lived or visited Bran Castle.
How to see: Bran Castle
(11) Bodiam Castle, England
Bodiam Castle is a 14th-century castle located in East Sussex, England. The castle is surrounded by a large water filled moat that gives the castle the appearance that it is floating on water. The interior of the castle is in ruin, making it all the more atmospheric! This lovely ruined castle will really get your imagination going as you explore spiral staircases, courtyards, towers overlooking the moat, and a wooden portcullis! Also open to visitors, the great hall, a kitchen with a roasting hearth and baking ovens, the Lord and Lady’s Apartments, and chapel.
How to see: Bodiam Castle
(12) Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
Bojnice Castle is located on a travertine hill overlooking the town of Bojnice in central Slovakia. Bojnice Castle has a distinct fairytale castle flare, despite being built in the 12th century at the height of the Dark Ages! It is just simply beautiful, one of the most beautiful castles in the world, giving Neuschwanstein a run for its money! The castle was originally built as a wooden fortress. A cave is located under the ground floor of the castle.
Through the years, expansions added elements of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. Tour the inside of the castle for lavish interiors, and the outside for pristine gardens.
How to see: Bojnice Castle
(13) Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Predjamski Grad is an over 800-year-old cave castle located in the village of Predjama in Slovenia, and is one of the most unique castles in the world. The 13th century Gothic Renaissance castle is known for both its location, built into a Stone Age cave, and it’s fascinating story!
Erazem Lueger, a knight and nobleman lived in the castle during the 15th century. According to legend, in the process of defending a friend’s honor Erazem accidentally killed a relative of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. He fled to Predjama but was pursued by the powerful Habsburgs. Erazem was able to survive a long siege by sneaking out through tunnels in the cave system.
However, he was finally undone when a servant was bribed to disclose when Erazem was in the privy which was housed in one of the more exposed outer rooms of the castle. One fateful day, a lit candle held high by said servant signaled the knight’s location. Canon blasted through the wall of the castle, and Erazem met his end. (this castle is particularly busy in summer months so practice crowd beating tips!)
How to see: Predjama Castle
(14) Corvin Castle (Hunyadi/ Hunedoara/Hunyad Castle), Romania
Corvin Castle is a medieval castle located in the town of Hunedoara in the Transylvania region of Romania. The castle was originally built in the 14th century as a fortress and is one of the largest and most well-preserved in Romania. In fact, it is one of the 7 Wonders of Romania. It is known for its impressive Gothic-Renaissance architecture, which features high walls, towers, and ornate decorations.
How to see: Corvin Castle
(15) Wartburg Castle, Germany
Wartburg castle is situated on a steep rock cliff overlooking the town of Eisenach Germany. An interesting fact about this 11th century Romanesque Gothic castle is that it is the location of where Martin Luther translated the New Testament of the Bible into German in 1521. Wartburg Caste is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Victors can explore the Luther Room, where Martin Luther is said to have worked on his translation of the Bible.
How to see: Wartburg Castle
(16) Segovia Castle, Spain
Alcázar of Segovia is located on a hill above the city of Segovia, in Castile and León, on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain. Home to Spanish monarchs, it has existed since at least the 12th century, and is known for its impressive architecture, which combines elements of Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles. In the castle complex visitors experience the Throne Room, Chapel, and Armory with medieval artifacts and weapons.
Segovia is surrounded by the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountain range. In addition to the Alcázar de Segovia, Spain, Segovia is home to the Aqueduct of Segovia, a stunning Roman aqueduct that was built in the 1st century AD. The city is a popular destination for tourists and is easily accessible from Madrid, making it a great day trip or weekend getaway.
How to see: Segovia Castle
(17) Festung Hohensalzburg Castle, Austria
Hohensalzburg Castle is a 11th century medieval fortress located in Salzburg, Austria. The castle is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city and is one of the largest and best castles in Europe. It has a complex system of courtyards, towers, and rooms, including a chapel, a torture chamber, and a museum. The castle was used as a military barracks and prison in the 19th century. Visitors can take a funicular up to the castle and explore its many rooms and exhibits. Salzburg’s unique architecture is a fanciful mixture of baroque and Gothic, which gives the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town a decidedly ornate appearance.
(18) Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
This massive Gothic Revival fortification is located in the Swabian Alps near Stuttgart in southern Germany. The original 11th century castle was destroyed in 1423, the current structure completed in 1867. With over 350,000 visitors per year, Hohenzollern Castle is one of the most visited castles in Germany. The castle is owned by the Hohenzollern family, who are descendants of the former rulers of Prussia and the German Empire.
How to see: Hohenzollern Castle
(19) Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania
Trakai Island Castle is located on an island in Lake Galvė, near the town of Trakai in Lithuania. It was built in the 14th century and served as the residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The Gothic style castle is surrounded by a moat and is accessible by a wooden bridge. During its history, Trakai Island Castle has been damaged and rebuilt several times. It was abandoned in the 17th century and fell into disrepair. However, in the 20th century, it was restored and became a popular tourist attraction. The castle also hosts education and cultural events throughout the year.
How to see: Trakai Island Castle
(20) Nuremberg Castle, Germany
The Imperial Castle of Nuremberg is a Romanesque style medieval fortress located in the city of Nuremberg, in Bavaria Germany. The castle was originally built in the 11th century as a royal palace for the Holy Roman Emperor and sits on a sandstone ridge overlooking the city. Nuremberg Castle is surrounded by the wonderful medieval town of Nuremberg, one of the most well-preserved Medieval towns in Germany. If you want to take a step back to the Middle Ages, then a trip to Nuremberg is in order!
How to see: Nuremberg Castle
(21) Hochosterwitz Castle, Austria
Hochosterwitz Castle, one of the most famous Austrian landmarks, is a 9th century medieval fortress located in the State of Carinthia. The castle is perched on a 150-meter-high limestone dolomite rock where it stands guard over the valley below. The castle is known for its many gate towers. The Armory has an impressive collection of full body armor (including armor worn by Burghauptmann Schenk whose armor was 2.4 meters or 8 feet tall!) Ride the funicular up to visit this impressive castle and enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside from WAY up there!
How to see: Hochosterwitz Castle
Modern conveniences have been added to many of these ancient castles, such as these handy funiculars that whisk visitors UP to the top of the hill in an instant!
(22) Castello Sforzesco, Italy
Castello Sforzesco is located in the heart of Milan, Italy. It was built in the 15th century in a Renaissance style and features a large central courtyard, several towers, and a series of interconnected buildings. The interior of the castle includes a museum that showcases the art and history of Milan and the surrounding region. The castle’s interior is home to several important works of art, including Michelangelo’s unfinished sculpture of the Pietà Rondanini and Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Trivulzianus manuscript.
How to see: Castello Sforzesco
(23) Castelo de Guimarães, Portugal
Castelo de Guimarães is located in the city of Guimarães, in Portugal and is known as the birthplace of the country. Castelo de Guimarães was Portugal’s first castle. Built in the 10th century, it served as the residence of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. The Romanesque style castle features a series of towers, walls, and a central keep. The interior of the castle has some beautifully decorated rooms and includes a museum that showcases the history and culture of the region.
How to see: Castelo de Guimarães
(24) Château de Pierrefonds, France
Château de Pierrefonds castle is an architectural fanciful delight! The 14th century castle is located in the town of Pierrefonds, in the Oise department of France, and is situated in the heart of the Compiègne forest. The destroyed and abandoned castle was rebuilt in the 19th century in Gothic Revival style. The architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, also worked on other famous French landmarks such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Mont Saint-Michel.
How to see: Château de Pierrefonds
(25) Conwy Castle, Wales
While Germany has the most castles of any country in Europe, it’s Whales that features more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe. Conwy Castle is a Grand medieval fortress located in the walled market town of Conwy in North Wales. The castle was built by King Edward I of England in the late 13th century. It is considered one of the finest examples of medieval military architecture in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle is situated on the shores of the Conwy River and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
How to see: Conwy Castle
(26) Warwick Castle, England
Warwick Castle is a medieval castle developed from a wooden structure fort, originally built by William the Conqueror during 1068. The castle is situated on a hill overlooking River Avon in the town of Warwick, England. The original wooden motte-and-bailey castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century. The castle was originally built in the 11th century as a wooden fort, and is known for its impressive Norman architecture, and medieval interior. Visitors to Warwick Castle can explore the various rooms including the Castle Dungeon, and its collection of medieval artifacts and weapons.
How to see: Warwick Castle
(27) Manzanares el Real Castle
Manzanares el Real Castle is a 15th century castle located in the town of Manzanares el Real, in the province of Madrid, Spain. It is situated at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains range and overlooks the Santillana reservoir. The Gothic castle is notable for its fanciful and ornate architectural details, so it is a bit surprising that it was designed as a defensive fortress and was strategically located to protect the nearby town and surrounding countryside from enemy attacks. It also hosts cultural events throughout the year, such as Renaissance performances, concerts, and exhibitions.
How to see: Manzanares el Real Castle
(28) Malbork Castle, Poland
Malbork Castle, also known as the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, located in the town of Malbork in Poland. Not only is Malbork the largest Medieval castle in Europe, but it is also the largest castle in the world. Considered one of the most impressive and well-preserved castles in Eastern Europe, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The castle was originally built in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, a Germanic military order; it is known for its impressive Gothic architecture. The castle is situated on a hill overlooking the River Nogat and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
How to see: Malbork Castle
(29) The Alhambra, Spain
This stunning palace and fortress complex, architecturally unique from most of the castles on this list, is located in Granada Spain. It was originally built in the 9th century and features beautiful Islamic architecture and intricate tilework. The complex was the last Muslim stronghold in Spain before it was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.
The Alhambra is characterized by its complex network of courtyards, gardens, and buildings. The Generalife gardens are located on the hillside above the Alhambra and are known for their terraced layout and intricate water features. The gardens were originally designed to serve as a retreat for the Muslim rulers of Granada and are a prime example of Islamic garden design.
How to see: Alhambra Castle
map of the best medieval castles in Europe
follow the link to be redirected to an interactive Google map of the best “medieval castles Europe.”
frequently asked questions
Is Neuschwanstein Castle medieval?
No, Neuschwanstein is not medieval. It wasn’t until the 19th century that King Ludwig II of Bavaria built one of the most fanciful fairy tale castles in all of Europe. The castle, possibly the most visited castle in Europe, is located in the Bavarian Alps and although it is one of the most famous castles in Europe, it’s definitely more Walt Disney than Middle Ages.
What is the largest medieval castle in Europe?
We have two contenders here:
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres (about 17.3 acres)
While Prague castle is much older, with a size that encompasses over 44 acres, Malbork is more than double the size of Prague. In fact, Malbork is the largest castle in the entire world. On its completion in 1406, it was the world’s largest brick castle.The castle was expanded several times and soon became the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, so large that it once housed approximately 3,000 “brothers in arms”. The outermost castle walls enclose 21 ha (52 acres.) The developed part of the property, a World Heritage Site, is 44.57 acres.