Although we normally associate castles with European history, it is actually an architectural form found all over the world – in nations as varied as Japan and India, Morocco and Mexico.
Many are now centers of living history where modern visitors can watch ancient forms of combat, listen to medieval music or watch artisans demonstrate the arts, crafts and everyday skills of a thousand years ago.
Castles also make great backdrops for outdoor shows, films, theater and military performances, or for filming on-site films and television programs.
See below to find out more about the 10 most beautiful castles in the world, fortified houses that are both a feast for the eyes and a trip back to the past.
1. Aragonese Castle, Italy
This bastion of the island overlooking the Bay of Naples is the oldest castle on our list of most beautiful castles in the world, tracing its roots until the 5th century BC when the Greeks colonized the region.
From Roman legionaries to Napoleon’s troops, many armies have occupied Aragonese over the years. The castle now belongs to the family of an Italian lawyer who bought the fortified island in 1912 and began the restoration of its battlements, churches, convents, crypts and gardens.
In addition to views that extend across the bay to Mt. Vesuvius, the Aragonese Castle has open-air cafes, a bookstore, art exhibitions and open-air films.
2. Amber Fortress, India
Built in the early 17th century by the Mughal ruler of Rajasthan, the Amber Fort crowns a hill near Jaipur, with its solid walls reflected in the waters of Lake Maota. The palace complex inside the walls revolves around courtyards flanked by exquisite examples of Rajput architecture such as the Maharaja Apartments, Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) and Diwan-i-Am (Hall of the Royal Audience).
3. Chambord Castle, Loir-et-Cher, France
There is no better example of the transition from fortified castles from the medieval era to Renaissance palace houses than this huge castle in the Loire Valley. Commissioned as a “hunting hut” by King François I in the early 16th century, the massive structure (440 rooms) took 28 years to build. However, the moat, corner and keep towers are purely decorative. Chambord is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year with a myriad of special events, including an exhibition that addresses the question of whether Leonardo da Vinci designed the castle’s double helix staircase.
4. Bodiam Castle, England
England has much larger castles (Windsor) and others that are more immersed in history (Tower of London). But none has that textbook form of Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. Built in 1385 as the bastion of an ancient royal knight, it is the epitome of a medieval castle – thick battlement walls supported by nine squat towers arranged around a central courtyard and reached by a wooden walkway (a drawbridge in the past).
Among the many summer activities for visitors, there are archery sessions, dressing up in medieval costumes, afternoon tea with cakes and muffins and guided tours. And just seven miles away is where the Battle of Hastings landmark played in 1066, no doubt Bodiam is one of the most beautiful castles in the world.
5. Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England
With 900 years of existence and yet it is one of the most beautiful castles in the world, Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest royal residence on the planet. There Queen Elizabeth II lives and part of her remarkable family.
6. Topkapi Sarayi, Turkey
Although officially called a palace, the extensive Istanbul complex of Topkapi has all the characteristics of a classic castle: defensible location, fortified walls, powerful gates and a royal residence occupied by the Ottoman sultans of the late 15th century, when it was originally built until the 1850s.
Converted into a museum when the Ottoman Empire dissolved after the First World War, the Topkapi offers extensive gardens, wall walks overlooking the Bosphorus, the Ottoman Imperial Harem where the ruler’s concubines resided and the Imperial Treasure with its famous golden dagger emerald encrusted – stolen and finally recovered in the 1964 film “Topkapi”.
7. Neuschwanstein, Germany
Neuschwanstein castle is no doubt one of the most beautiful castles in the world even though many people consider this Bavarian masterpiece the epitome of a German castle, it is a relatively new creation, built in the late 1800s, at the behest of King Ludwig II.
The Bavarian monarch instructed his architects to design something that reflected both Richard Wagner’s operas and the romantic ideals of the Middle Ages – a fantasy as big as Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, but with the snow-covered Alps as a backdrop plains scattered underneath.
Neuschwanstein is also a cinema darling, having appeared in several films over the years, including “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “The Great Escape”.
8. Krak des Chevaliers, Syria
Although it is virtually impossible to visit these days, due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers remains one of the greatest castles in the world and also one of the most beautiful castles in the world – and the only one on our list that has experienced (and fortunately survived) the 21st century war.
Created in the 12th century by the Knights of St. John, the famous Krak is considered the epitome of a crusader castle in the Middle East and one of the greatest statements of medieval military architecture.
The structure features two immense walls separated by a moat on a steep slope between Homs and the Mediterranean Sea. The latest UNESCO report on the castle (2019) states that restoration and archaeological work have started again, but the security situation remains tenuous.
9. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Perched on an ancient volcanic outcrop at the end of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle is considered the “most besieged place” in Britain, with at least 26 major attacks during its 1100-year life. From Mary Queen of Scots to Oliver Cromwell and Sir Walter Raleigh, many famous Britons are indelibly linked to the old building.
Britain’s oldest crown jewels (the Honors of Scotland) are protected within a castle that also provides an incredibly suitable venue for the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Music concerts, living history events and weapon demonstrations are among the many events held throughout the year within the walls. And the military mascots of the past are buried in the castle’s Dog Cemetery.
10. Predjama Castle, Slovenia
What makes this Slovenian castle so special is its stunning location – Predjama is arranged in a cave under a natural stone arch beside a steep cliff. The elevated setting made it practically impregnable when it was built in the 13th century.
Attackers surrounded Predjama on several occasions, but a secret passage (which still exists today) allowed defenders to enter and leave at will. Located 62 kilometers from Ljubljana, the castle and its park-like grounds host the Erasmus Knight’s Tournament, a medieval festival and jousting competition held every July.