Built to protect and entertain royalty, ancient castles naturally possess a lasting beauty. But unlike the gated compounds of yesteryear, modern travellers can now step inside their historic gates.
It is the quintessential Moorish architecture that draws crowds to Granada, but the most memorable feature just might be the heavenly Mediterranean gardens.
2. Alnwick Castle, England
This British estate is still home to the current Duke of Northumberland, but it has also stood in for two fictional forts: Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies and Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey.
Walk up the ramparts (alongside Asian elephants) to take in the carved panels and mirrored ceilings of this sandstone palace.
After a 2003 earthquake caused large parts of the mud-brick compound to collapse, the Unesco World Heritage site is slowly being restored.
5. Blarney Castle, Ireland
If you haven’t already heard of the Blarney Stone, Irish legend claims that kissing the rock grants instant eloquence.
6. Bran Castle, Romania
Deep out in the Transylvanian countryside, this spooky 12th-century fortress purportedly provided the setting for Bram Stoker’s horror novel, Dracula. Today, you can actually visit the hilltop home of the world’s most famous vampire.
7. Cairo Citadel, Egypt
The Islamic fort housed Egyptian rulers for 700 years, but its three mosques and several palaces are now open to visitors.
8. Castello di Sammezzano, Italy
Originally built in the 17th century, the Moorish castle underwent a colourful makeover in the 1800s. The regal interior now features intricate wall carvings and tiled floors, but it has sadly been abandoned for over two decades.
9. Château de Chambord, France
With distinctive French Renaissance architecture, this noble residence is perhaps the world’s most recognisable château. The Loire Valley estate served as a hunting lodge for French kings in the 16th century.
10. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Perched atop Castle Rock, the famous Scottish fort has withstood 26 sieges throughout its 1,100-year history.
11. Himeji Castle, Japan
The feudal-era complex is also called Shirasagi-jo, or ‘White Heron Castle’, because it is said to resemble the bird taking flight.
12. Hohensalzburg Castle, Austria
Austrian prince-bishops lived in this mountaintop fortress in 1077, expanding the formidable walls for the next 500 years. Tourists can trek up the steep footpath (or take a much more convenient funicular) to reach the peak.
13. Kronborg Castle, Denmark
In honour of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing, Denmark is renting out a room in the King’s Tower for the first time in over a century. The Helsingor castle is known as the setting for the Bard’s revenge-themed tragedy, Hamlet.
14. Moscow Kremlin, Russia
‘Kremlin’ literally means ‘fortress inside a city’, and the Russian capital’s compound is the perfect example. The stone walls encircle a whopping five palaces and four cathedrals, not to mention the presidential residence.
15. Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Built on flat land, Matsumoto previously used an extensive system of walls and moats for defence. But the building’s unusual black exterior is its most famous feature, earning it the nickname ‘Crow Castle’.
16. Mont-Saint-Michel, France
Divine intervention supposedly led to the construction of this commune atop a rocky islet. Pilgrims originally could only walk out to the monastery at low tide, but modern tourists can take advantage of a recently built bridge.
17. Prague Castle, Czech Republic
This building, which holds the title for the largest ancient castle in the world, occupies more than 17 hilltop acres overlooking the Bohemian city.
18. Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany
Bavaria’s Ludwing II commissioned his palatial retreat after he lost sovereignty to Germany, earning him the nickname: the ‘Fairytale King’. Fittingly, the romantic architecture inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle decades later.
19. Schloss Schwerin, Germany
Built out onto a lake, the man-made island boasts famous gardens just as dreamy as the views. Schwerin is also known as the ‘Neuschwanstein of the North’.
20. Windsor Castle, England
It is the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle, hosting its first British monarch back in 1121 and serving as Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite weekend home today.