The most famous fairytale castles are probably the ones that originate from legends and myths. Well known examples are King Arthur’s Camelot and the Cinderella and Sleeping Beaty castles that can be found in several theme parks around the world. This list contains their real world counterparts and source of inspiration. These real fairytale castles are just as magical and most are associated with stories and fairy tales of their own.
Note: More info and images of other castles can be found in our list of largest castles in the world.
12. Qasr Kharana
Qasr Kharana is one of the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. Built sometime before the early 8th century, it is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in the region.
Having a limited water supply it is probable that Qasr Kharana sustained only temporary usage and there are different theories concerning the function of the castle, it may have been a fortress or a meeting place for Bedouins.
11. Conwy Castle
Conwy Castle was built between 1283 and 1289 during King Edward I’s second campaign in North Wales. Six years later the castle was besieged by the last native Prince of Wales. The siege lasted for several months and supplies ran low.
However the castle and town were not captured. An estimated £15,000 (the equivalent of £162 million in 2009) was spent building the castle and the town’s defences. The cost of all of his five major castles in Wales was around £60,000. The total cost to Edward for his Welsh campaigns and castle building was in the region of a third of a million pounds. More than ten times his annual income.
10. Bran Castle
Located in Romania, Bran Castle is commonly referred to as “Dracula’s Castle” although Vlad Tepes never called this castle his home. The castle was first used in 1378 in defence against the Ottoman Empire, and later became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia.
While Vlad Tepes, the historical figure that was used in Bram Stoker’s vampire novel, did not actually live in Bran Castle, he did spent two days locked in the dungeon while the Ottomans controlled Transylvania.
9. Heidelberg Castle
The castle is located 80 meters (260 ft) up the northern part of a hillside, and dominates the view of the old center of the Germany city of Heidelberg. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps.
It has had a long and turbulent history since the earliest castle structure was built in the 13th century. Having been totally destroyed during the Thirty Years War, and later by the French in the 17th century, the castle was struck by lightning in 1764 and even its stones were taken to build new houses in Heidelberg. All this rebuilding has led to a variety of architectural styles which adds to the castle’s charm.
8. Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
The château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is nestled at a strategic location on a high hill overlooking the Alsatian plain in the Vosges mountains, France. It was used by successive powers from the Middle Ages until the Thirty Years’ War when the castle was burned and pillaged by Swedish troops after a 52-day siege. After this the Château was left unused for a few hundred years and became overgrown by forest.
In 1899 it was given to the German emperor Wilhelm II and rebuilt as it was on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War. When the French confiscated the castle after WWI it was considered fashionable to sneer at the castle because of its links to the emperor. Many considered it to be nothing more than a fairytale castle.
7. Chateau de Chillon
Located in a beautiful setting, between the shores of Lake Geneva and the Alps, Château de Chillon is Switzerland’s most visited historic monument. The castle consists of 100 independent buildings that were gradually connected and now form a single whole.
From the mid 12th century, the castle was home to the Counts of Savoy, and it was greatly expanded in the 13th century. The castle was never taken in a siege, but did change hands through treaties.
6. Matsumoto Castle
Built in the 16th century, Matsumoto Castle is considered one of Japan’s most famous castles. It is a flatland castle because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. The castle’s complete defences included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats and gatehouses.
During the Edo period, the castle was ruled by the 23 lords of Matsumoto representing 6 different daimyo families. In this period the stronghold was also known as Crow Castle because its black walls and roofs looked like spreading wings.
5. Burg Eltz
Burg Eltz is a medieval castle nestled in the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier, in Germany. It is still owned by a branch of the Eltz family that lived there in the 12th century, 33 generations ago. The Rübenach and Rodendorf families’ homes in the castle are open to the public, while the Kempenich branch of the family uses the other third of the castle.
4. Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Since its construction in the 11th century, the castle has undergone structural changes with additions of towers and redesigned residential buildings. Originally a wooden structure, it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century.
During the Hundred Years War, the facade opposite the town was refortified, resulting in one of the most recognisable examples of 14th century military architecture. In 2001, Warwick Castle was named one of Britain’s “Top 10 historic houses and monuments” by the British Tourist Authority and is among the most popular tourist attractions in England.
3. Krak des Chevaliers
Krak des Chevaliers is widely recognised as the archetypal Crusader castle. The word Krak coming from the Syriac karak, meaning fortress. Described by Lawrence of Arabia as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”, this somewhat isolated site is located magnificently atop a 650 meter (2130 ft) high hill and is, indeed, extremely well-preserved.
The original fortress at the location had been built in 1031 for the emir of Aleppo and captured during the First Crusade. It was by the Knights Hospitaller as their headquarters. The castle was expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison of 2,000. Today it represents one of the premier tourist attractions in Syria.
2. Alcazar of Segovia
Rising out on a rocky crag above the confluence of the rivers Eresma and Clamores in Segovia, the Alcázar is one of Spain’s most famous castles. The Alcázar was originally built as an Arab fort but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then.
During the Middle Ages it was one of the favorite residences of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Castile and a key fortress in the defense of the kingdom. It was during this period a majority of the current building was constructed.
The ultimate fairytale castle, Neuschwanstein is situated on a rugged hill near Füssen in southwest Bavaria. It was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castles in the Disneyland parks. The castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner.
The castle was near completion in 1886 when, in 1886, the King was declared insane by a state commission and found dead a few days later. Since then over 50 million people have visited Neuschwanstein. It is the most photographed building in Germany and is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.