Whether fairytale fantasies with soaring towers and crenellated walls, impregnable fortresses designed for war or spooky ruins reminiscent of vanished kingdoms, castles are fascinating places. Some are perched on sheer cliffs, others are on the edge of a lake or built on islands; some are in the plains, overlooking the countryside. Each has its own beauty, whether delicate or disturbing, complex or simple. (Here are some beautiful places to visit instead of overcrowded tourist destinations.)
A thousand years old or dating from the 20th century, castles are steeped in history, almost by definition. They housed monarchs and noble families, strategic outposts for defending against invaders, custodians of some of the world’s greatest treasures.
What exactly constitutes a castle can be debated. It’s something big, of course, and has almost always been built as a residence or retreat for kings or nobility. It is usually architecturally distinctive and inevitably built to withstand attack. (They weren’t all living in castles, but they are the 50 most powerful rulers of all time..)
Scholars can argue the difference between castles and fortresses (the latter usually being more heavily fortified), citadels (fortresses usually overlooking a city), castles (often – but not always – smaller and less protected than castles). or fortresses) and palaces (hardly ever fortified), but all speak to the past and awaken the imagination.
Click here to see the most beautiful castles in Europe
To compile a list of the most beautiful castles in Europe, 24/7 Tempo consulted many travel sites, including Condé Nast Traveler, Travel and leisure, European historic castles, Best European destinations, Cultural tourist, Travel channel, and Extraordinary places, as well as many official regional and national tourist sites across Europe.
24/7 Tempo has put together an album of images of the most beautiful castles in Europe, covering examples from some 22 countries.
Note that virtually all of the castles on the list have been renovated and enlarged over the centuries, and many have been destroyed in whole or in part and restored or rebuilt hundreds of years after their appearance. The centuries given are those of the original construction.