A castle can turn even the most serious of adults into an excitable child. There’s a magic to the idea of a castle, something that only exists in fairytales for many people, immediately conjuring up memories of adventure and excitement. And then you become an adult and realise that you need to deal with all those things such as getting a job and paying the bills and so you don’t get to play in castles (even imaginary ones). Most people don’t have the luxury of being able to see a castle or palace each day, and this is why many cities in Europe don’t know how lucky they are. They simply walk past a magnificent castle each day on their way to one of those job things, barely taking the time to look up and appreciate its beauty. Doesn’t your inner child deserve a visit to these 5 magnificent fairytale castles?
- The Pastel Palace (Sintra, Portugal)
If you catch a train out of Lisbon, you’ll pass some rather uninspiring sights. There are mammoth, dishevelled tower blocks, as far as the eye can see. Eventually these fall away and the train goes through a tunnel, and get your hands ready to catch your jaw as it drops to the floor. The town of Sintra is a revelation, and the fact that you go through a tunnel in order to get there adds to the fairytale magic. The dramatic slopes are covered in lush greenery, and you’ll already be able to see a few of the castles and palaces that are in the town, perched atop those hills. The Castle of the Moors is the most imposing, and you can climb its crumbling stones in a tourist attraction that feels amazingly unsafe. The jewel in the crown is the Pena Palace (and you can see its glistening golden dome from Lisbon itself). This pastel-colored palace is like something out of a dream.
- Castles upon Castles (Hohenzollern Mountain, Germany)
Many visitors to the Baden-Württemberg region of southern Germany come just to see Hohenzollern Castle in the foothills of the Swabian Alps. It feels like a bit of a cheat to learn that the castle was only completed in 1867, but like many European castles, the current construction was built over the top of an older fortress (and in this case there has been a fortress on the hill since the 11th century). It is still owned by the Prussian “Royal” family, who would be the monarchs of Germany if the monarchy hadn’t been dissolved after WW1. The design of the castle is utterly romantic, and it really is the sort of place that inspires fairytales
- Bears and Vampires (Arefu, Romania)
There are a number of castles across Romania that are connected to the story of Dracula (or they made up a connection to boost tourist numbers, but no judgement). Poenari Castle is not even in Transylvania but perhaps has the most legitimate connection to the legend as it was one of the main strongholds of Vlad the Impaler, the bloodthirsty tyrant whose brutal exploits inspired the modern concept of the vampire. The castle is now largely in ruins and you need to climb some 1480 steps to get there, but it’s worth it. The place has a fairytale quality, although a dark one. Do some research before you go, since the place is sometimes closed when there are known to be protective mother brown bears in the area (generally in Spring).
- Protecting the Harbor (Havana, Cuba)
Morro Castle Havana is surprisingly ingenious. It was built for a specific protective purpose, since Havana was the pride of the new world after Spanish colonisation. A number of other countries (and countless pirates) wanted to share in the wealth, meaning that the sight of enemy boats approaching the mouth of the harbor was a common one. The city needed a first line of defense, and so Morro Castle was built in 1589 with numerous upgrades over the following centuries. It’s a fantastic spot to visit when in Havana, both for the castle itself and the view back towards the city. Its ingenuity is shared with a fortress called La Punta, on the other side of the harbor entrance. A chain could actually be suspended between these two fortresses, essentially closing the harbor.
- Splendor and Ceremony (Versailles, France)
The granddaddy of all the fairytale castles and palaces in the world can be found just out of Paris. The actual palace of Versailles is a sprawling compound, and it can be difficult to gain a sense of it until you have actually walked around its exterior. The interior is nothing short of a revelation as well, and it’s profoundly odd to think that this sumptuous luxury was everyday and ordinary to the French royals and members of their court. Versailles perhaps takes on an extra level of intrigue when you consider the fates of its final residents; a fate that was met under the blade of the guillotine.