Europe is known for an abundance of castles. In my home country, the U.S., we are too new to have participated in the era of castles, so I’m always fascinated to find them in my travels. The concept of the castle is that it protects whoever is lives inside, with thick walls, gates, sometimes a moat, and maybe elements of a fortress. A castle can be a complex of buildings. You can find historic castles in all states of disrepair and restoration and in all sizes. Here are 5 that I have enjoyed exploring — and I think you would, too!
The Tower of London
This castle is likely the most well known real castle in Europe. William the Conqueror built the White Tower after his military victory in 1066. He chose this spot on the Thames River as ideal for a fortress, as well as a residence. A part of the old wall still exists.
The Tower of London has been expanded through the centuries. It’s famous for the prison built near the residence, and for its prisoner Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII, who lost her head in the courtyard. The Crown Jewels are housed here, too. The castle is staffed and guarded by the Beefeaters, who also give informative and funny tours.
Burg Rheinfels, Germany
In contrast to the restored and maintained castles is the ruin of the Rheinfels Castle in Germany. Built in 1275, this castle towers over the tiny town of St. Goar.
It housed Counts and stood for centuries as an impregnable fortress. Finally, in 1796, French troops breached the walls and then blew it up. The outlines of the rock walls stand, and you can wander and climb all you want.
The castle in the old town section of Nuremberg was built in sections from the year 1037 on. German kings traveled from castle to castle, having no permanent residence, so for centuries this castle housed royalty. Much of the castle fell victim to WWII bombs, but it has been rebuilt in the original style. It hugs a section of medieval wall that still circles the town.
Ambras Castle in Innsbruck
This castle and palace complex are not well known, but when we traveled to the delightful city of Innsbruck, we knew we wanted to visit here. This shares the common characteristic of many castles of being built on a hill over a city or river, to get a vantage point for spotting an enemy approach.
It has been restored to its 16th century glory, so you’ll enjoy the elegance of the architecture.
My favorite display is of the armor collected by Archduke Ferdinand II. His motivation was to show the role of the Habsburgs in winning battles. His own private armor is part of the collection. The display rooms in the castle use natural light to show off the collection. The Archduke produced an illustrated inventory of the weapons and armor, which is the first known museum catalogue.
Prague Castle is a sprawling set of buildings set high on the hill above Prague’s Old Town. Royal and religious structures have stood here since the 9th century. Today, it is home to the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. It is guarded much like the Tower of London.
You can climb the many winding steps to the dome that houses the cathedral bells. The view from here takes in the Old Town of Prague, the Vlatava River, and the iconic Charles Bridge. The red roofs of Prague are stunning.
These are some of my favorite castles so far. I plan to tour more this summer! I love seeing the differences among the similarities. How about you? Have a toured a castle that stands out in your mind? What appealed to you most?