With Europe’s distinguished military history, tense border conflicts and opulent royals, it’s no surprise that the continent is scattered with some of the most stunning castles in the world. From Windsor Castle to the medieval ruins of Trakai Castle in Lithuania, here are some of the most interesting.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
We begin with one of our very own, Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall. According to 12th century spin doctor ol’ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tintagel was where the legendary wizard Merlin transformed King Uther Pendragon into the likeness of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. This was so he could sneak in and have his way with the Duke’s wife Ingraine. The child they produced was none other than King Arthur, says the legend. Geoff’s story was so popular that the general public believed it, and the legend of King Arthur and Merlin the wizard was born.
The castle is home to both Merlin’s Cave and King Arthur’s footprint, a hollow in the rock at the highest part of southern Tintagel Island. The imprint is not entirely natural and was shaped by human hands at some point. It was also potentially used for the inauguration of kings of chieftains as far back as the Dark Ages.
Trakai Castle, Lithuania
Sitting atop Trakai Island in Lake Galve is the 14th century solitary castle of Trakai. An important military stronghold, it was briefly a prison before falling into disrepair after the 17th century wars. In the 1950s, it was fully restored in the 15th century style.
The castle is not only historically and culturally significant, it’s also in a beautiful location. The natural landscape is stunning during the opulent summer months when boats sail through the moat. It’s also amazing in deepest winter, when the lake freezes and the castle turrets top with snow.
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Standing imposingly high on the cliffs, Bamburgh Castle has protected this northern shoreline for 1,400 years. Built in AD547, Anglo-Saxon kings made Bamburgh their stronghold only for it to fall into disrepair after savage Viking attacks in 933.
From 1006 until 1016 the castle was owned by the famous warrior Uhtred the Bold, ealdorman of all Northumbria . While very little is known about Uhtred’s character, many historical events in the book in which he plays a major role were real. He was certainly Saxon born but later forged Viking allies.
Mont St Michel, France
This beautiful island castle was the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Rapunzel film Tangled. With a population of just 50, the town was originally built out to sea so that the incoming tide might drown anybody wishing to invade. This defensive plan was so successful that it even survived the Hundred Year’s War.
Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
This fairytale castle in Slovakia is one of the most visited in Central Europe. With its blushing sandstone turrets and surrounding moat, visitors can go on a spooky tour inside during its annual International Festival of Ghosts and Monsters in May.
The castle houses many significant artefacts from Slovakia’s history including stunning furniture, paintings, and a secret stalactite cave connected to a 26 metre well.
Pena Palace, Portugal
The beautiful Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle in São Pedro de Penaferrim on the Portuguese Riviera, and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
Originally a chapel then a monastery, the site was destroyed by lightening in the 18th century and the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. It remained a ruin until King Consort Ferdinand II purchased the site to transform it into a royal summer palace. The King suggested vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements as well as designing an ornate window for the main façade.
Windsor Castle, Windsor
Windsor Castle is one of the largest and oldest still lived-in castles in the world. It’s a favourite weekend residence of our current Queen Elizabeth II.
Founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the imposing castle is brimming with royal artefacts and history. It’s been home to 39 monarchs including Henry VIII, his daughter Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
A wonderous sight to behold, Predjama Castle is the largest cave castle in the world. Perched in the middle of a 123-metre cliff for over 800 years, this fairytale castle brings together natural and manmade elements.
This romantic castle embodies the legends of the rebellious Knight Ezarem, who withstood the imperial army’s siege of the castle for over a year. The story also includes a network of secret tunnels and a love interest — the perfect romantic action story.
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Built in 1385 by cantankerous Knight Edward Dalyngrigge, this castle is potentially the most castle-y looking castle on the list. In a quadrangle plan with the corners and entrance marked by towers, and an artificial moat making it difficult to attack, the castle defended Sussex against the French in the Hundred Years War.
The National Trust bought the castle after it fell into ruin and restored it in the 1970s. You may recognise it from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as ‘Swamp Castle’ and the 1983 Doctor Who episode The King’s Demons.
Kilchurn Castle, Scotland
Sitting strong in the stunning Scottish valleys is Castle Kilchurn — one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.
The castle, now in ruins, cuts a dramatic profile on its rocky peninsula. On clear days visitors can stand on the tower house’s battlements and gaze out over Loch Awe, taking in the green hills and the impressive Loch.
It was once the powerbase of the mighty Campbell Clan — one of the largest and most powerful Highland Scottish clans. The family of Colin Campbell went on to become firm supporters of King Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence. They benefitted from his success with grants of lands, titles and good marriages.
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