Do you want to visit a great castle?
There is just something that draws me to a great castle. The first place we went to after landing in Munich was Nymphenburg Palace. I remember driving up to it and watching it all come into view. Its red roof towering above it just made me say wow. To this day I still think it is one of the most beautiful castles in Germany that we have visited.
I think that was when my love affair started with them and I have not been to one that has made me love them less. Wherever we are in the world if there is one near we try to go. The girls love them so much as well. I feel sometimes I am not doing us any favours by taking them to visit these magnificent buildings…they get so many ideas on how their bedrooms should look.
So here are my favourite great castles that we have been to. Some are famous castles some not so famous. Some may be a grandly furnished building, some are famous medieval castles and some may be ruins but to me, they are all as majestic as the next, they are all great castles. And I can tell you this was one hard list to put together!
Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany.
Nymphenburg Castle was the first great castle I ever went to and it is my favourite to this day. I loved the beautiful red roof that it has and the white buildings surrounding it. The canal that leads up to it feeds the fountains that are in front of it. You can walk along it and see the ducks and fish in the water. After I had seen it in both autumn and summer the next season was winter and I love it just as much covered in snow. It may not be one of the most famous castles in Germany but it should not be missed if you are in Munich.
The inside was stunning and was so beautifully designed. The amount of gold and the paintings were stunning. Originally built in 1664 it seems that all following Monarchs added more to the original building making it the great castle that it is today. Now the gardens out the back of the Palace are some of the most beautiful castle gardens we have ever seen and you will see joggers, families and just about everyone enjoying them even if the weather is not that great. Some of the outer buildings also now house items that the royal families used to use in their daily lives. The Marstall Museum is not to be missed if you are planning a trip to this beautiful palace.
Visitor Tip: Take your time here! There is so much to see in and around this great castle. If you have kids there is a small ice-cream shop just around the corner from the Palace. (If you are looking down towards the Palace it is on your left, there is a bakery on the corner too) They serve Spaghetti Ice Cream…well worth it!
Oravsky Hrad, Oravský Podzámok, Slovakia.
Now this one was a complete surprise. As we were driving from Zakopane in Poland to Wisla in Poland we stopped off in Slovakia to see this great castle perched high on a hill overlooking just about everything! It was a formidable structure and I can tell you it gave the legs a mighty fine work out. The original Oravsky Hrad was a wooden fortification built in around 1240 and like most great castles, it has a long history of ownership and neglect. This current form was finished in the 16th century but unfortunately, it was burned down in the 1800’s. It was then rebuilt but no longer used as a residence and became a national monument. While not very well known outside of Slovakia it is one of the most famous castles in the country.
After you enter through the first huge and heavy gate you are then met with a small courtyard that leads to a tunnel. Any invading army would have been taken by surprise by this tunnel as it winds around and you can see no end…when you finally do see the end it leads you into a huge courtyard where you would have had absolutely nowhere to hide from the defending army. It is the only tunnel I have ever seen like it and I would have been really scared if I was in the invading army!
The climb to the top can take a while especially if you have little people. It is a real work out as there seem to be a never-ending amount of stairs to get right to the top but once you are there the views are magnificent and definitely well worth the climb. We were on a guided tour of this great castle but unfortunately, the guide did not speak English very well but she did speak Polish so our friend translated for us.
Visitor Tip: As I said above the amount of stairs is absolutley huge and the are steep in sections. Take extra water and something to keep you cool if you have a baby carrier. I found that I got really hot walking up them and so did the girls.
Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
This is a place I think everyone needs to see to understand the absolute brilliance of it. The details, the gardens and the water features all combine to give this Palace a look I have never seen before. It is open and airy, unlike many other famous medieval castles and palaces that we are used to. There are many tiled walls and wherever the garden can be bought into the great castle it is. Again it sits on a high hill with a great vantage point over the city. The original fortress was built in the 8th century over Roman Ruins but was left until around the 13th century where its remains were discovered and the current Palace and walls were built. In 1333 it was officially made into a Royal Residence.
As I wandered its passageways and little courtyards I was so impressed with how it all flowed. Water flowed through nearly all of the rooms in little open irrigation pipes. You do have to be careful though as more than a few people got their feet wet on our tour! You could wander the grounds alone for hours taking in the orange blossom smell that follows you everywhere. There are so many roses as well that I can only imagine what they would smell like when they are all in bloom. I loved the delicate archways that connected the rooms and sometimes led out to a window that had amazing views of the town of Granada or of a garden in a courtyard.
Visitor Tip: Visitor numbers are limited to the Alhambra so you must get your tickets before you go. I suggest putting a whole day aside to visit both the Palace and the Gardens. Get there well before your entry time to the Palace so you can wander the gardens and get some of the most amazing views of Granada.
Neuschwanstein, Bavaria, Germany.
This is one of the most famous castles in the world, one of the most beautiful castles in Germany and you will see it on the TV quite regularly. This is the great castle that Walt Disney modelled Sleeping Beauty’s famous castle on. Originally it was built by King Ludwig II and was opened to the public in 1886 just after his mysterious death. Although it is medieval-looking Neuschwanstein castle it is one of the youngest we have been to! It is an amazing sight, seeing it propped in the mountains looking down on everything. The walk up can be a great way of seeing it rise up before you through the trees. We walked from Hohenschwangau to it which was a nice easy walk between the two and then we got a horse-drawn carriage back down to the town.
The castle is beautiful and I think if it had have been finished before the King’s death it may have been even more magnificent. It was paid for out of Ludwig’s personal money and not out of the Bavarian people’s. Even if you only see the outside of it and not the inside you will still be amazed at it.
You might like our article on how to get to Schloss Neuschwanstein from Munich
Visitor Tip: There is also the great castle of Lugwig’s parents in this town as well and it is really worth the visit. Hohenschwangau was the childhood home of Ludwig and it is magnificent. You can buy a dual ticket for both of the great castles and we highly recommend both!
Conwy Castle, Conwy, Wales.
One of the most famous medieval castles that you will see on the TV! This great castle was built between 1283 and 1289 by the English King Edward I while he was trying to conquer Wales. While it is now a ruined castle you can wander the grounds and imagine what it would have been like inside a medieval castle back when it was built. Mark first visited this great castle on his solo trip in 1999 before he and I met and he always wanted to go back to show me. We got that opportunity in 2015 and we took our daughters as well.
I loved this ruined castle as it had such a history attached to it and all the secrets of the castle will never be known. There were also guide sheets that you could take with you explaining parts of the great castle. The day we visited we got a beautiful Welsh day and it was freezing with a rain that seemed to come from everywhere. We did not spend a lot of time wandering the grounds after it started to rain but we did wander the town on Conwy to get some more angles on the castle.
Visitor Tip: Spend some time in the information shop before you enter and get sone extra information on this huge castle. If you can, walk over the bridge after you have visited to get an amazing shot of the great castle. Unfortunately, we were unable to get that picture.
Rosenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark.
This little piece of magic we just happened to stumble upon while on a hop on, hop off bus tour of Copenhagen. We saw the roof from a distance and looked it up in our guide. We got off the bus at the next stop to see it. The gardens around it were amazing and it felt like you were stepping back in time with the little cottages that were spotted around its grounds. There were three levels of this great castle and everyone was something different. It was originally built in 1606 as a summer residence for the Danish Royal Family and was used as a residence until the early 1700’s. The paintings in it where what really got us. They all looked like they were brand new and they had such details on them too. Some even looked like they were watching everything you did which was a little unnerving! The upper level had the throne room and a lot of items used by the Royals when they lived there.
Underneath in the basement is the Royal Treasury. I was amazing at all that glittered down there. It was amazing to see all the jewels that one family can have. I was especially happy to see the Crowns. I explained to the girls that an Australian Lady (Princess Mary) would one day wear it on her head. They were both very impressed. On our way out I was startled by the changing of the guard out the front of the castle. I was watching but I did not expect a big yell from one of the guards! The ladies in the treasury thought it was hilarious!
Visitor Tip: It has limited hours of operation in the winter so make sure you know the times. We got there just oin time for the last entry time and we did feel rushed around the great castle and the Treasury. Don’t leave the castle without seeing the Treasury though it is amazing.
Tower of London, London, England.
My number 1 bucket list item got ticked off and I was so happy I had been there. I am a big reader of history books and I so badly wanted to see it for myself. When we walked through the gates and up to Tower green I could not believe I was finally here and seeing it. As the Tower loomed over us the devastation that many people had witnessed within the walls was not lost on me. It is here that you realise just how important some of the secrets of the castle and its stories are. The families lives that were made and lost here was something that was hard to explain to the girls. We decided to go into the Tower first and see what was in there. I am so glad we did that as the museum in there was amazing. There was so much to look at that we were worried we would not get to the end in time! The armour in there was fantastic to see and we all wondered how they could get around in it. We then headed over to see the Crown Jewels. Unfortunately, we were unable to get into the Chapel that day as it was closed for a wedding ceremony. Getting married inside the grounds of one of the most famous medieval castles of all time would be amazing.
Visitor Tip: Try to go on one of the free Beefeater Tours around the grounds of the Tower of London. We thought this was a great tour and the information that the Beefeaters have is second to none! We loved our guide and he was so funny.
Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal.
So many times when we post pictures of this castle we are asked if we are at an amusement park or lego land. The bright colours it is painted in not only make it stand out from any other great castle we have seen but they just make it so unique. It had to be one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Bright yellow, red and blue with tiled walls make it just stunning. The fact that it sits high on a hill (Don’t they all?!) overlooking the town of Sintra is not lost on anyone but once you get a quick glimpse of it all you want to do is get there faster to see if it really was real!
Originally a monastery was built on the hill before the great earthquake of 1755 reduced it to ruins. As most places, it was left to decay even more before the idea was hatched to build a grand castle in its place. The area of Sintra was already a summer retreat for the Portuguese Royal Family so another great castle fit in very nicely! Many people do not tour the inside of the castle as there is so much to do in Sintra and its surrounds but it is amazing on the inside as well, just as much colour is used to make the rooms bright and airy. Sitting so high up you really do feel that you are high up in the sky.
Visitor Tip: Getting the train from Lisbon is a great way to visit Sintra. It is an easy trip and transport around the town is very easy.
There is a bus that will take you to all the sites that you want to visit. Get a map, a ticket and get sightseeing! It costs arounf 4.80 Euro per person.
Take some snacks and water with you as one you get up to the great castles and out a little bit from the town they can be hard to get but they are available in places.
Lednice Castle, Lednice, Czech Republic.
Walking through the beautiful high gates to get into the grounds of this castle left you with a great surprise when you did get to it. It is located in what seems like the middle of a large forest but you only realise that after you have spent some time there. The decorative and delicate spires that rise above it are amazing. In some pictures, the building looks white and in others, it looks a dull yellow but either way it looks magnificent.
We did not stay at Lednice for very long as it was closed the day that we visited and getting information about when it was built and by who was difficult as all the information handed out was in Czech!
Visitor Tip: The gardens are beautiful here and they are easy to walk around. You can get some great pictures from walking a bit further away from the castle. Sorry no tips for the inside!
Czocha Zamek, Czocha, Poland.
Now, this is one that has a special place in my heart and will do for a very, very long time. This is the first castle I have ever slept in and I loved every second. Originally it was used as a fort to defend against enemies using the river it sits above to get further into the area. Like most great castles, it was ruined, burnt, rebuilt and conquered many times before becoming what it is today. There are many haunting stories of what happened to previous owners, hidden tunnels that take you all over the castle and a well that even before I knew the story looked like a place we should avoid! We wandered the halls before going on a tour to learn more about the castle and its history.
The rooms are all so beautiful and really make your stay so much better, the ghost stories at Czocha make you want to really snuggle under your sheets at night too!
Visitor Tip: Czocha has a Harry Potter themed weekend at certain times through the year and I think that would be a fantastic time to stay there too!
There is a town quite close by but we ate at the restaurant there and we found it pretty reasonable in price.
If you can go on one of the ghost tours at night! They sounded like a heap of fun but unfortunately we missed the cut off by one night!
So these are my favourites so far and I say so far because I plan to see so many more of these amazing places. As I said above they seem to call to me and every time I set foot in one I am taken away to another time and place. It is one of the biggest reasons that I travel!
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