The world’s most opulent castles
Throughout history, castles have not only served as pleasure palaces for some of the world’s most powerful rulers, but as fortifications against war, artillery fire, siege, and natural disasters.
While some of these castles are a far cry from our modern homes in terms of comfort (no electric heating or air conditioning, plenty of hard beds and drafty corridors), to all who entered, they signified power and opulence through architectural detail, artistry, and sheer size.
Here are some of the grandest castles in all the world.
Windsor Castle, England
This list wouldn’t be complete without Windsor Castle, which has been a continuous residence since the 11th century when it was founded by William the Conqueror. It has counted 39 monarchs as residents, including the reigning Queen Elizabeth II, who stays there on weekends and uses Windsor Castle to host state visits.
Luxembourg Palace, France
The visual drama of stunning Luxembourg Palace is matched only by its history. Built in 1625 by Salomon de Brosse as a hotel and residence for Queen Marie of Medicis, it housed royal family members and was briefly a museum until the French Revolution in the late 1700s when it became a prison.
Centuries later, it stands proud, overlooking the marvellous Luxembourg Gardens. The palace currently houses the French Senate.
The Amber Fort, India
Located in Jaipur, the stunning Amber Fort was built in the 16th century by Maharaja Man Singh as his private residence and combines Muslim and Hindu design styles to create a totally unique and opulent palace featuring honey and rose-coloured stone and gilt accents, intricate mosaics, marble-panelled rooms, and a network of gardens and archways criss-crossing the fort.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Known as the Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle was built on an extinct volcano and has a history dating back to at least the 2nd century AD. It was the home of Queen Margaret, who died there in 1093.
Home to royals and prisoners alike (albeit in different areas of the sprawling fortress), the castle is now largely a tourist attraction, though parts of it are reserved for military use.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria
The inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, Neuschwanstein Castle has a more sinister history than its fairytale appearance would suggest. Its founding resident, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, began building his dream castle perched above the German Alps after the Austro-Prussian war cost him his power.
After 10 years of construction, the king finally took up residence in 1886. Weeks later, however, he was mysteriously found dead in his home. Since then, no further residents have lived at the castle.
Glamis Castle, Ireland
The inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Glamis Castle has a long and interesting history. Esteemed residents have been executed on charges of witchcraft. Mary Queen of Scots visited often, and untold numbers of prisoners were held in secret rooms.
For a while no one lived there at all, as its owners deemed it too drafty and isolated. While not exactly the definition of luxury, Glamis Castle remains rich in history.
Château de Chambord, France
Built in 1519 as a Renaissance-style hunting lodge for the Valois King Francis I, the Château de Chambord remains the largest chateau in the Loire Valley. It contains a whopping 426 rooms, 77 staircases, and over 800 sculpted columns.
Though the original king only spent about 72 days at his beloved hunting lodge, the chateau did count nobility such as Stanislaus Leszczynski, the former king of Poland, Maurice de Saxe, and the Comte de Chambord, the last Bourbon, among its esteemed residents.
Incredible, sprawling Prague Castle was built around 870 but has undergone several major renovations and additions through the ages: First, St. Wenceslas (the good king of Christmas carol lore) added a basilica and cathedral to the grounds not long after the initial construction.
Since then, palaces have been added, including the New Royal Palace, which is still home to the president of the Czech Republic. The castle and surrounding grounds have outlasted fires and several wars, the most recent being the German occupation in 1939.
Enormous Leeds Castle sits on 500 acres of manicured landscapes, lush gardens. and vineyards and features original Norman stone masonry. King Henry VIII (infamous for his multiple spousal beheadings) and his first wife Catherine of Aragon (with whom he simply annulled his marriage) lived there.
Six medieval queens also passed through Leeds Castle. Henry III’s daughter, Elizabeth I, for example, was imprisoned at the castle before her coronation.
The resplendently white Himeji Castle was completed in 1609 and has proven itself impermeable to earthquakes, war, and fire. Located in the city of Kyoto, the castle comprises eighty buildings with over 30 turrets connected by majestic courtyards and paths lined with cherry trees.
From its pristine setting and castle moats to its elegant wood-panelled interior, elements of stone, wood, and water populate the grounds to illustrate humankind’s relationship with nature.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, Greece
Erected in the 14th century not by any ruling nobility, but rather a celibate brotherhood of the Knights Hospitaller and the Grand Master whom they served, the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes served as a medieval fortress and governmental headquarters. In the 20th century, Benito Mussolini used it briefly as a vacation home.
A gleaming example of Gothic stone architecture, the castle has been operating as a museum since 1947.
Alcazar of Segovia, Spain
Built upon a granite rock in Segovia, Spain, the Alcazar (or imperial palace) is one of the most famous castles in Spain for its romantic, fairy-tale setting.
Located in the Guadarrama Mountains above the confluence of the Esrema and Clamores rivers, its unique mix of architectural and interior design styles include an Islamic-style ceiling, Moorish gardens, and Romanesque turrets and spiral towers.
Pena Palace, Portugal
High atop the Sintra Mountains in Portugal, this eye-catching castle has charmed such historic figures such as Hans Christian Andersen, composer Richard Strauss, and others during its four centuries.
Featuring bright splashes of yellow cladding, red brick, and grey-blue stone, this mixture of 19th-century architectural styles is surrounded by a garden of exotic plants and trees from around the world. Pena Palace is a sheer delight in which to wander with startling new elements every step of the way.
Schloss Vianden, Luxembourg
Constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries, Vianden Castle housed generations of Luxembourg counts until 1530. In 1820, King William I of Holland auctioned off pieces of the castle until it was reduced to a pile of ruins. Happily, the castle was faithfully restored between 1978 and 1992 after it was remanded to the state.
It now stands as one of the most popular tourist spots in Luxembourg and a testament to the region’s complicated history.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Puerto Rico
The Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly referred to as El Morro, was built in the 1500s. After the Spanish entered Puerto Rico, the fortress was constructed to protect the Spanish colony from naval attack by pirates and opposing countries. A majestic lighthouse was built in the 1800s and bunkers, observation towers, and modern artillery quickly followed.
To this day, the castle stands as a shining example of military fortitude and features a vibrant yellow plaza surrounded by military barracks, a chapel, and other communal spaces.
Bodiam Castle, UK
Towering over the mist rising off a serene moat, the 14th-century Bodiam Castle is a prime example of medieval architecture in East Sussex, UK. Unlike many castles, the entire structure was built at the same time and displays a consistent architectural style throughout with high towers serving as lookout points.
Innovative at the time, the moat also acted as a sewage system for the 30 latrines throughout the castle grounds.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
Nestled at the mouth of a cliffside cave, Slovenia’s Predjama Castle is a stunning Gothic fortification built sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries. It was once home to Erazem Lueger, a knight and robber baron commonly compared to Robin Hood, who later died by cannon fire after being betrayed by one of his aides.
One of the more unique and romantic features of the castle is an underground passageway from the castle through the cave.
Castello Aragonese, Italy
Built on an island of trachytic rock off the coast of Naples, Castello Aragonese is a medieval fortress that traces its roots back to the 5th century BC when Hiero of Syracuse built the first village on the castle grounds.
Houses were built on the fortification walls and by the 15th century, the castle was serving the dual function as a stronghold during war and a royal residence during peaceful periods.
Castle of Pierrefonds, France
Known as “the romantic folly of the emperor,” the Castle of Pierrefonds, located 80 kilometres from Paris, dates back to 12th century, but the ensuing centuries and wars decimated the castle by the 18th century.
The ruins were purchased by Napoleon I and ambitiously restored with less of a keen eye towards historical medieval accuracy than the whims of an emperor, luxuriously referencing styles from other castles of the day and medieval architecture.
Gravensteen Castle, Belgium
Built in the 12th century, Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium, has had multiple lives as a grand, imposing residence for a vain count; a prison; a courthouse; a 19th century cotton mill; and now a museum.
When it was a courthouse, criminals were often brutally tortured in the dungeons below the castle. As evidence, the instruments of torture remain at the castle to this date.
Citadel of Carcassonne, France
The incredibly vast citadel of Carcassonne, also known as la Cité, wasn’t just a residence for the ruling class, but a whole town surrounded by three kilometres of ramparts. The fortifications predate Roman times and were a military stronghold until the 17th century.
The biggest walled city in Europe, la Cité encompasses 52 defensive towers and even an inner castle with its own fortifications and moat.
Boldt Castle, United States
Located on an island in the St. Lawrence River, Boldt Castle was built as a monument to the love between the millionaire hotelier George C. Boldt (owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York) and his wife, Louise.
Three hundred carpenters, stonemasons, artists, and other workers started building this luxury estate featuring 120 rooms with tunnels, a medieval-style clock tower, manicured Italian gardens, and even a drawbridge.
Four years after construction began, however, Boldt’s beloved Louise died suddenly, and he halted all construction immediately, leaving the castle to the elements.
Dublin Castle, Ireland
Dublin Castle continuously operated as a government centre as well as the residence of the Viceroy of Ireland from 1204 until 1922, often playing host to exorbitant state visits, balls, and banquets.
Once a medieval fortress, the latter years of the castle welcomed visitors such as Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, and Benjamin Franklin. Today, it serves as a government complex.
Hearst Castle, United States
Hearst Castle was not erected by a reigning monarch, but was built by William Randolph Hearst, a media titan (and inspiration for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane) on land purchased by his father, land prospector-turned-senator George Hearst in 1865.
This truly opulent pleasure palace comprises 165 rooms and over 100 acres of lush gardens, sparkling pools, and Roman-style walkways.
In its heyday, it counted some of the world’s greatest politicians and Hollywood icons among its esteemed guests, including Barbara Stanwyck, Harold Lloyd, Louis B. Mayer, and Winston Churchill.
Dar Al Hajar, Yemen
A relatively new construction by castle standards, the Dar Al Hajar was built in 1930 by an Islamic spiritual leader as a summer home. The castle is a marvel to behold.
Built on top of a natural rock high above the valley floor in Shibam, Yemen, the castle was only used as a residence until 1948 when the owner of the castle was assassinated. It was later transformed into a museum.
Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland
Any true Game of Thrones fan will recognize Dunluce Castle, located at Northern Ireland’s most northern tip, as the House of Greyjoy. While digitally restored in post-production for the show, the actual castle ruins date back to the medieval period.
It was abandoned in 1636 by its residents, the 2nd Earl of Antrim and his wife, after the castle’s original kitchen, along with the kitchen staff, fell into the sea below.
Despite its obvious safety issues, Dunluce Castle still cuts an imposing figure from its lofty cliffside perch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Castle of Usse, France
A charming country chateau, the Castle of Usse in the Loire Valley in France was built in the latter half of the 15th century.
Its white brick exterior and soaring narrow blue-grey spires are rumoured to be the inspiration for Charles Perreault’s tale of Sleeping Beauty as well as Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World.
Bannerman Castle, USA
Located on an island in the Hudson River, Bannerman Castle was the dream of Francis Bannerman VI, a Scottish-American arms dealer with grand ambitions for storing his munitions.
He began building his castle in 1900, incorporating medieval towers, borrowing from Moorish, Scottish and Belgian architecture, and kitting it out with cannons and artillery.
Shortly after Bannerman died in 1918, the island’s powder house blew up, and the castle was abandoned until 1992 when a group of volunteers began cleaning up the island, leading group tours, and hosting public events.
The Kremlin, Russia
Russian icon, the Kremlin was built in 1156 and served as the official royal residence until Peter the Great’s reign. Well known as the current headquarters of the Russian government, the massive complex (encompassing a whopping 27.7 hectares along the banks of the Moskva River) withstood the bloody Bolshevik uprising and the Soviet period.
It has been the residence of the president of Russia since 1991.
Hohensalzburg Fortress, Austria
The Hohensalzburg Fortress in Vienna is one of the best preserved 11th-century castles in Europe, likely because it has never faced siege, artillery fire, or attack of any kind.
The castle, overlooking Mozart’s picturesque hometown of Salzburg, was finished in 1500 and hasn’t been changed since. Generations of Salzburg’s archbishops called it home before it eventually became a tourist attraction.
Malbork Castle, Poland
Built by the Teutonic Knights in the late 13th century, this red brick castle in what is now Malbork, Poland, is reportedly the largest brick building in the world, enclosing approximately 52 acres of land.
The former home of the Grand Master and roughly 3,000 knights, the castle features three distinct sections connected by dry moats and towers.
The castle was abandoned by the order in 1456, and World War II destroyed over half of it. Restoration has been ongoing since 1962.
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