Doesn’t a castle just seem to be the coolest possible place to hang out in and explore? It’s sometimes hard to believe that so many people lived in them – much less currently reside in them!
When visiting Europe, there’s certainly no shortage of the impressive structures, but which ones are actually worth discovering. We’ve done the hard work for you, creating this carefully-curated guide of the best castle tours out there!
Hours of Operation:
Sunday – Monday: 10:00 am – 5:15 pm
Tuesday – Wednesday: Closed
Thursday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:15 pm
Originally built in the 11th century, the Windsor Castle was intended to guard the western approach to London. The first king to live in the castle was Henry I, and is known to be the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. When Queen Elizabeth was alive, it was her official residence.
Before this, however, Windsor Castle survived many attacks during the English Civil War, the Luftwaffe bombing campaigns of WWII, and a fire in 1992. The architecture is simply exquisite, combining features of a traditional fort, palace, and a village. It’s overwhelmingly a Georgian/Victorian design, with notably Gothic additions.
Tips for Visiting Windsor Castle:
1. Purchase in Advance – Make sure to get your tickets online beforehand, as they often sell out. If you want to have a seamless, convenient travel experience along with a private guide, we recommend doing one of popular Windsor Castle Tours.
2. There is an Unofficial Dress Code – Online, you’ll see that there isn’t an official dress code. However, they do not allow anyone inside wearing what could be deemed as “sports attire”. That means that if you’re wearing jeans and sneakers, you’ll not be allowed in.
3. Try to Avoid Sunday Visits – St. George’s Chapel (which you have to see at Windsor) isn’t open aside from an evening service at 5:15 pm.
4. No Photography Allowed – Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside the State Apartments or St. George’s Chapel.
5. Changing of the Guards – If you want to see the Changing of the Guards, make sure you’re at the castle by 11:00 am.
Most Popular Pieces:
– Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (1921 – 1924)
– Apollo and Diana (c. 1526)
– Portrait of Margherita Paleologo (c. 1531)
– Candle and Perfume Vase (1770 – 1771)
– George IV (1826)
– Philip II (1527 – 1598)
– Horseman’s Parade Mace
Hours of Operation:
Every Day: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
You may know Blarney Castle from its famous “Blarney Stone” and the gift of flattery and eloquence you receive upon kissing it (according to legend). However, this Medieval castle dating back to 1200 has quite the history aside from that.
Unfortunately, the original castle was destroyed in 1446 and rebuilt not long after, by Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, King of Munster. They weren’t messing around when the dynasty built it, either. In some places, the castle walls are a whopping 18 feet thick – offering protection from invaders during battle.
Today, the surrounding Blarney Village constructed to house castle workers, is one of the last estate villages to remain standing.
Tips for Visiting Blarney Castle:
1. Don’t Expect Much Art Inside – This castle is quite different than many of the other top tourist sites in Europe, in that the rooms are basically empty.
2. Not Ideal for Claustrophobes – Making your journey to the top and getting back down from the Blarney Stone can be quite a tight fit with the narrow, small, circular staircases and high quantity of visitors.
3. Kissing the Blarney Stone – It’s not as easy as walking up to the stone and giving it a quick smooch. Due to being located a bit off and lowered from the edge of the floor outside, you’ll have to lie on your back and be held as the attendant makes sure you’re safely lowered enough to kiss the stone upside-down and pull you back to safety.
4. The Grounds – The Grounds are very interesting, too, with a manor house, various gardens, and much more.
5. It’s a Big Tourist Destination – If you want to best avoid crowds and have the castle to yourself, make it easy on yourself and book one of skip-the-line guided Blarney Castle Tours.
Most Popular Pieces:
Nothing, aside from the Blarney Stone, itself.
Hours of Operation:
November to March: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
April, May, June, September: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm
October: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
July – August: 9:30 am – 7:00 pm
Mont-Saint-Michel is that island that looks like something out of Myst, starting in the 8th-century when the bishop of Avranches constructed an oratory there after a vision he had about the archangel St. Michael.
Quickly, it transformed into an important center of pilgrimage in the Christian West and in 966, Benedictine monks settled there and the abbey was built.
Quickly after, the Abbey became a center of medieval culture where many manuscripts were written and kept safe. It was soon given the nickname “City of the Books”, and was visited by countless pilgrims over hundreds of years – including various kings!
Architectural aficionados will fall in love with this monument, which features various styles. This is due to the various restorations which took place over 10 centuries, influencing the methods and design used. However, thanks to the highly effective location and structure, it resisted attacks for 30 years.
Tips for Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel:
1. It’s Crowded – If you’d like to avoid crowds (and high tide) as much as possible, we recommend making it easy and just booking one of guided Mont-Saint-Michel tours.
2. Plan to Stay the Night – It’s not just the Abbey on the island. There are a few charming little hotels, though don’t expect a massive luxury accommodation like the Four Seasons. It’s a small enough location that you can see everything in a day and night, so it’s perfect!
3. It’s Noisy – It may look calm and serene, and it is…but there’s a lot of “atmosphere”. I mean, you are surrounded by water half the time. Not to mention, there are birds chirping, lots of people around, and the cobblestone streets aren’t the quietest.
4. Tide – This is obviously pretty important, unless you feel like practicing your backstroke. When the tide is low, you can walk around St. Michel. Just be aware of possible quicksand and tide, as it can rise quickly.
5. There Are Lots of Stairs – No need for a Stairmaster on St. Michel! The abbey is at the very top, and you’ll only be able to arrive by steep stairs and cobblestone pathways. Our recommendation? Pack some comfy shoes and clothing.
Top Sights to See:
– Famous Omelets at Historic La Mère Poulard
– Explore Le Grande Rue
– Walk the Walls
Loire Valley is known for its dry white wines, like Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Chenin Blanc. However, it’s also a hotbed of some of the most interesting, beautiful castles or chateaux in the country. In fact, there are a whopping 300 or so in just this area alone!
This is thanks to the coincidence of geographical location, military battles, and the patronage of royal families. However, it’s highly unlikely anyone is able to visit all of these castles – much less in one visit. Here are the 10 most popular chateaux in the Loire Valley:
1. Chateau de Chambord – Undoubtedly the most opulent, this castle was constructed by King Francois I in the early 1500s as a hunting lodge. Overwhelmingly “French Renaissance” in style, it’s famous for its incredibly double-helix staircase!
2. Chateau de Chenonceau – Built over the River Cher, this beautiful fusion of Renaissance and Gothic architecture was built in the early 1500s. The guards’ room is perhaps the most famous site, with a 16th-century fireplace, tapestries, and the “C” for Catherine de Medici.
3. Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire – This fairy tale-esque chateau was rebuilt after Louis XI had it burned to the ground in 1465. You can explore its art gallery, wonderful gardens, model farm, and much more.
4. Chateau de Cheverny – This picturesque castle was built in the 1600s by Jacques Bougier who became renowned for the unique French style created under the lover of all things grandiose – Louis XIV. Its collection of furniture, tapestries, and art are impressive, too!
5. Chateau of Amboise – Overlooking the River Loire, this castle makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. From fortress to royal residence, its serene and simply beautiful.
6. Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire – This castle has dealt with quite a few changes over the years: numerous reconstructions, wars, fires – even German occupation during WWII!
7. Chateau de Villandry – This chateau is known for being the most “family-friendly”, with world-class gardens and a vast play area for children.
8. Chateau de Clos Lucé – Known for where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years, this castle is currently a museum with 40 models of machines designed by the artist.
Tips for Visiting the Loire Valley:
1. Get a Guide – Take one of the guided Loire Valley tours from Paris in order to see the most popular chateaux in one day. Your transportation will be included, so you can enjoy delicious wines, breathtaking architecture, and gorgeous landscapes
2. Spring and Summer Are the Best Times to Visit – While winter will bring less crowds, spring and summer mean you get to experience the flowers in full bloom (plus more pleasant weather).
3. Try the Wine – As we mentioned just a moment ago, this region is known for some of the best dry white wines in the world!
Neuschwanstein Castle Tours
Seeing as it’s literally the castle that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was based on, you could say Neuschwanstein evokes feelings of being in a fairytale. With delicate turrets, romantic views, and cylindrical towers all surrounded by picturesque nature, it makes sense that it’s one of the most popular castles in the world to visit.
Compared to many of the Loire Valley castles, this one is rather new – with the foundation stone laid in 1869. Built for Ludwig II of Bavaria, he was appropriately deemed the “fairytale king”. The castle was built to be used as a private residence for the king, which visitors can explore today.
Tips for Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle:
1. Go with Private Transportation – It’s inevitable – there will pretty much always be large crowds of people at Neuschwanstein. If you do a private guided Neuschwanstein Castle tour, you can typically skip the massive lines and head straight up. This could save you easily over an hour.
2. Book Ahead of Time – This kind of goes hand-in-hand with our last tip, but oftentimes tickets are sold out if you don’t.
3. Take the Shuttle Bus – Once you arrive to the ticket center, you still need to make the journey up to the castle, itself. You can do this with their shuttle bus, by walking, or in a horse-drawn carriage. Unless you need to get some steps in, we recommend the first option.
Most Popular Sites:
– The cave-like grotto
– The King’s bedroom
– Singer’s Hall
– Marienbrücke (for amazing photos)