From the quintessential medieval fairy tale setting in Germany to a meticulously decorated Moorish palace in Spain, here's the can't-miss castles and palaces across Europe.Less
France’s most famous and grand château, this is the palace against which all others are measured. Situated in the leafy, bourgeois suburb of Versailles, 22km southwest of central Paris, the palace was the kingdom’s political capital and the seat of the royal court from 1682 up until the revolution of 1789. The opulence reaches its peak in the 75-meters-long Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors).
Appearing through the Bavarian mountaintops like a mirage, Germany's Schloss Neuschwanstein was the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. King Ludwig II planned this fairy-tale himself, with the help of a stage designer rather than an architect. Work started in 1869 and, like so many of Ludwig’s grand schemes, was never finished, with the king spending just over 170 days in residence. But it's open now for travelers to gawk at intricate decorations inside and jaw-dropping views outside.
This stunning mint-green, white and gold profusion of columns, windows and recesses, with its roof topped by rows of classical statues, was commissioned in St. Petersburg from Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1754 by the Russian Empress Elizabeth. Remodelled in a classical style by 1837, it remained an imperial home until 1917. Today you can tour the palace's grand reception halls and chambers, and wander gallery after gallery stuffed with antiquities, paintings, sculptures, and decorative art works.
Perched on a rocky promontory, Transylvania's Bran Castle holds visitors in thrall. An entire industry has sprouted around describing it as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, though connections to either the historical Vlad Ţepeş or Bram Stoker’s fictional vampire are thin. The liberties taken with Bran’s reputation are soon forgotten on a visit: you’ll climb up its conical towers, admiring views over thick forest, and stroll through creaky-floored rooms furnished with bearskin rugs and 19th-century antiques.
The Alhambra is Granada’s – and Europe’s – love letter to Moorish culture. Set against the brooding Sierra Nevada peaks, this fortified palace started life as a walled citadel before becoming the opulent seat of Granada’s Nasrid emirs. Their showpiece palaces are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe and, together with the Generalife gardens, form the Alhambra's great headline act. Tickets sell out, so book ahead; you’ll have to choose a time to enter the palace.
Flanders’ quintessential 12th-century stone castle comes complete with moat, turrets and arrow slits. It’s all the more remarkable considering that during the 19th century the site was converted into a cotton mill. Meticulously restored since, the interior sports the odd suit of armour, a guillotine, and torture devices. The relative lack of furnishings is compensated for with a handheld movie guide, which sets a tongue-in-cheek historical costumed drama in the castle.
The world’s largest and oldest continuously occupied fortress, Britain's Windsor Castle is a majestic vision of battlements and towers. Used for state occasions, it’s one of the Queen’s principal residences; when she’s at home, the Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower.
Topkapı Palace in Istanbul is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines, and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace's opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.