12 European Castles Where You Can Live Out Your Fairytale Dream
Come and vanquish that dragon...
We take our daydreaming very seriously. Very seriously indeed. And luckily, Europe has some of the best spots for it.
With all of its gorgeous castles, you only really need a touch of imagination (and, okay, maybe fancy dress) to lose yourself in a whole new world of adventure.
So for those in dire need of a little bit of magic (or still grieving after the Game of Thrones finale) feast your eyes on these twelve real-life wonders below.
Pena Palace, Portugal
Pena Palace was the labour of love of kooky King Ferdinand II who, let’s face it, had interesting taste.
Once you’ve marched through its orange gates, you can expect fantastical statues, bold interiors, and a whole lot more wacky towers.
If the whole place doesn’t make you feel like you’re in Oz, we don’t know what will.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Neuschwanstein is pretty much the 19th century equivalent of Cumberbatch fan art.
Let us explain.
King Ludwig II was a total romantic and a liiiittle obsessed with the composer Wagner. Reaching peak fandom, he created a whole palace inspired by the man’s dreamy operas.
It’s no wonder the castle looks like it’s right out of a fairytale: it’s literally designed to be that way (and it’s even got magical grottoes and everything).
And now the gorgeous cluster of towers in the midst of the German Alps still stands for our swooning delight.
Malbork Castle, Poland
Malbork Castle once housed the Teutonic order - a group of actual knights who fought in the crusades.
At its peak, up to 3,000 ‘brothers-in-arms’ are said to have resided there, and yes, you’re not the only one thinking that this sounds like one heck of a dorm.
Now the lovely spot still counts as one of the biggest castles in Europe (it’s four times the enclosed area of Windsor) and hosts a medieval fair.
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Sure, its name is a mouthful, but everything about Hohenzollern shouts fantasy perfection.
The magical chateau was built by Frederick William IV, who wanted to have a not-so-small memorial to his ancestors. (And here we were, feeling good about dropping our grandparents a whatsapp every week.)
Now it’s gorgeous and Hollywood can’t help but agree. Hohenzollern has served as the backdrop of a whole bunch of films, including more recently, A Cure for Wellness.
Alcázar of Segovia, Spain
The Alcazar (which means fort in Spanish) is one impressive sight. Perched on a forested cliff, it overlooks the confluence of two rivers, and is shaped kinda like the bow of a ship. It was a royal palace back in the good old 1400s, until the monarchs scooted over to Madrid.
The building was then converted into a state prison - and you can find out all about the juicy details during your visit.
While you’re there, make sure to also strut your stuff in the sumptuous throne room - and consider adding your name (but really please don’t) to the grand frieze of all the country’s Kings and Queens.
Corvin Castle, Romania
There are a whole bunch of castles in Romania that claim to be associated with the infamous Dracula - and out of them, Corvin might just be our favourite. Nestled in the heart of Transylvania, it once served as home to John Hunyadi, none other than the regent of Hungary circa 1446.
While the association with our favourite vampire is at best circumstantial (Bram Stoker apparently never heard of the place) it’s full of mysterious legends of its own. There’s a cursed well and rumours of ghosts. Plus, that dramatic drawbridge is simply begging to be instagrammed.
The Swallow’s Nest, Ukraine
The Swallow’s Nest looks like it’s about to fall over any minute, and that’s all part of the fun. These days it hosts a restaurant which serves delicious Italian food - if you can stomach the terrifying views.
Once you’ve trembled by the edge of the cliff getting that selfie, you can also retrace the Romanov family’s steps on the magical “Tsar’s path” next door. The 6km walk is full of majestic greenery and dramatic monuments - and you might just hear whispers from the former royals.
St Hilarion Castle, Cyprus
These mysterious ruins once served as a defence against pirates, and the visit is still an adventure in itself.
There are no modern amenities here: you’ll have to follow a scrappy path along the mountain to access the palace’s quarters.
Though trust us, it’s well worth the effort on your poor legs. At the very top are the breathtaking overgrown royal apartments, which look like they’re straight out of some Elfin kingdom from Lord of the Rings.
Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland
Oberhofen castle is so damn charming that it’s hard to believe that its existence isn’t just a major photoshop scam. The waters it overlooks are a pristine turquoise and its adorable tower jutting out onto Lake Thun definitely holds a Prince hostage (with a terrifying water creature keeping watch).
Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
These digs are one of Slovenia’s most adored attractions, and looking at these pictures, we can’t say that we’re surprised.
But it’s what’s inside that counts. Enter the gates and you’ll find yourself contemplating King Matthias’ legendary 600-year-old tree, cruising through a stalactite cave - or even celebrating the Ghosts and Spooks Festival, which is held there every year.
Chateau de Chambord, France
You’ll get dizzy trying to figure out how the majestic Chambord Chateau works (believe us, we’ve tried). For starters, its dozens of turrets, towers and chimneys seem to all come from nowhere (and to keep moving around).
When you get lording around indoors, you’ll likely get equally befuddled. There’s a wicked double spiral staircase, and each of its sets of steps go up three floors intertwining but without ever meeting. Is this place French Hogwarts? Just possibly.
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, England
A few hundred years ago, George, Prince of Wales took a liking to Brighton - and decided to build himself an (ahem) modest seaside holiday home.
From there emerged the dream that is the Royal Pavilion, which we’re convinced has floated straight out of Arabian Nights. The interiors, which you can still visit, are decked out to match, with a blend of colourful Indian and Chinese styles.
Interestingly, even the kitchen features mock palm trees, so at least the staff got to partake in the fantasy too.
By Marion Koob