Sometimes the crumbling facades of castles fallen back into nature’s grasp are more fascinating than the well-preserved destinations painted on the covers of tourism brochures. Each fortress is a one-of-a-kind time capsule, some which have remained relatively untouched since their last siege or noteworthy inhabitants’ desertion.
Many of the world’s forgotten castles are shrouded in mystery, abandoned for reasons beyond explanation and boarded up with all their secrets. Some are still as grand as they once were, the dilapidation somehow charming, while now being the sources of local legends of hauntings and ghost sightings. When we visit these mansions and castles, we don’t just think about who was there and what happened while the building was in use, but who is still there and why they haven’t left.
If you’re tired of the yearly Halloween party and the same old costumes, try taking a trip to one of these world-famous forgotten castles. Though they’re equally as magical the rest of the year, there’s just a special air about abandoned places around the time when ghouls come out to play. So, pack your history books and superstitions and head to a world of yesteryear at one of these 25 unique holiday destinations.
25 Château de Noisy- This Heritage Castle Met A Tragic End
Château Miranda, otherwise known as the quirky Châteaude Noisy, was a neo-Gothic castle in Celles, Belgium. The English architect Edward Milner was commissioned by the prominent Liedekerke-Beaufort family in 1866 to build a summer castle on the property.
The iconic clock tower was built at 183 feet tall and was one of the final constructions of the castle. The castle was privately owned until WWII, when it was briefly occupied by German soldiers.
The last owners of Noisy refused to sell the crumbling mansion, and despite offers from the government and public outcry, requested that the castle be demolished, which was granted and completed in 2017.
24 Château Gaillard- The Otherworldly Home Of Richard The Lionheart
In the late 12th century, Château Gaillard would have been a magnificent architectural feat, its construction completed in 2 years from 1196-1198. It was a military stronghold ordered by Richard the Lionheart, the English king who wanted to protect his lands in Normandy from King Philippe Auguste, his rival in France.
The castle changed owners a handful of times during the Hundred Years’ War as a powerful fortress, but it was demolished and abandoned in the 16th century. Today, the thick, round, rampart still stands, blanketed by exotic flora brought back from the Crusades hundreds of years ago.
23 Dunnottar Castle- A History Intertwined With William Wallace
The clifftop castle at Dunnottar is evocative of any number of Scottish legends, the most famous of which revolves around freedom fighter William Wallace. The bluff, just 30 minutes’ drive south of Aberdeen has been inhabited since the 3rd century, first by a Pictish settlement, followed by a religious site, and then by the behemoth that partially stands today.
After William Wallace destroyed the previous castle, the tower house that still stands was built in the 14th century and has been visited by nearly every major member of the Scottish nobility, including Mary I of Scotland and James VI.
22 Kilchurn Castle- Once The Ultimate Symbol Of Scottish Power
On the banks of serene Loch Awe sits the quiet ruins of Kilchurn castle, the former home of one of the most powerful families in Scotland. The Campbells of Glenorchy established their residence here in the 15th century, planting themselves in the area for the next 150 years.
After the first Jacobite Rising, the grounds were used as a barracks, which lasted until the next century, after which it fell out of use and was deserted. Today, the castle is blocked off except in the summer months, when you can visit independently or as part of an organised tour
21 Château de Valgros- All Hope Is Not Yet Lost For This Charming Château
Newly abandoned in Bram, France, Château de Valgros is one of the least explored ruined castles. It had a relatively short life, being constructed in 1870 as a family residence and was enjoyed as such until the 1980s, when it was sold to a Dutch company with plans to convert it into a luxury apartment building.
Nothing became of these plans, and a fire in 2005 devastated the building, leaving an ornate outer shell with little inside. Fortunately, there are talks of a buyer interested in the property, so this beautiful château may not have met its end yet.
20 Golconda Fort- A Prime Example Of A Medieval Indian Castle
Golconda fort is a prime example of an eastern castle, from a time when many thought the castle was an exclusively European construction. The site was the home of the medieval Qutb Shahi dynasty and mines in the surrounding area produced a number of famous gems, including the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond.
There are still many buildings and ruins standing from the Qutb Shah era, but Golconda fort is one of the most impressive masterpieces. It’s said that the site was chosen because a shepherd boy discovered an idol of a god on the hill, blessing it with abundance for the royal family.
19 Loarre Castle- This Fortress Has Seen 1,000 Years Of Spanish History
One of the oldest castles in Spain, Loarre Castle is a remarkably well-preserved castle turned monastery. Of all of Aragon’s sites, Loarre has the most dynamic history, which is easily seen within the castle’s walls.
The original construction started in the early 11th century, and soon after the Augustinian order was placed at the castle. As a whole, Loarre has changed very little from its initial plans, aside from the outer wall being built in the 12th century. Its Romanesque style has given it UNESCO World Heritage status, and despite some crumbling within, is like a trip to the past.
18 Masada Castle- Experience Herod's Palace
Approaching this mountain-top fortification, you might think you’ve stepped into a science fiction film. Alas, you’re just a two-hour trip from the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv, at an ancient castle founded by Herod the Great in the 30s BCE.
Herod’s strategic fortress secured the plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and was used for many years against invading Roman armies, but the most famous incident occurring at the site was the Siege of Masada, when the Romans captured Masada.
17 Ballycarbery Castle- The Ruined Home Of A Once Prominent Clan
Ireland has no shortage of ivy-covered abandoned buildings, but Ballycarbery Castle in County Kerry has a particularly ominous presence. The shell of the tower house is the only part that remains, yet it stands tall over the nearby town of Cahirciveen.
It was home to the McCarthy clan in the 15th or 16th century, and as there was little written record of that part of Ireland then, we don’t know much about the castle’s history or its occupants. It was left in a state of disrepair in the 20th century, and very little has been done for the castle’s upkeep since.
16 Fort San Lorenzo- One Of Few Existing European Castles In The New World
The last place you’ll think to find castle ruins is in Central America, but with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, there are quite a few old settlements in the region. Fort San Lorenzo in Panama is one of these original structures, left consumed by the surrounding jungle when its purpose was served.
Fort San Lorenzo was founded as a protective fort against raiding pirates in the late 1500s, but it didn’t hold up—just 100 years later, buccaneer Henry Morgan attacked the fort and it fell to his forces. Now, the fort and surrounding village, Chagres, are deserted, free for modern exploration.
15 Craig-E-Clair- A Fairytale Castle Buried In The Catskills
Another bizarre spot to build a castle, you’ll find Craig-E-Clair, also called Dundas Castle, in the Catskills of New York. Its background is probably the most mysterious you’ll find, since no one knows which parts of the story are true.
A lodge was likely built on the site in the 1800s, but the property changed owners a few times before coming into the hands of Ralph Wurts-Dundas, who never lived to see the castle completed. His wife and daughter were both committed to asylums, and eventually the castle was sold to the Freemasons, who still own it. They say the property is haunted by Mrs. Wurts-Dundas, though nobody can explain why.
14 Mortella Tower- The Inspiration For Martello Towers
This stumpy ruined tower in Corsica might not look like much else, but during its occupation saw attacks from armies ranging from pirates to the British. It was a Genoese fortress, part of a network of outlooks to discourage piracy in the area in the 16th century, but its real enemy proved to be the British army, who took the tower and demolished it, leaving it in its present state.
Still, the British admired the design and the effectiveness of the tower, and it inspired the Martello towers built across the British Empire in the 19th century, some of which can still be seen today, reminiscent of the glory of Mortella Tower.
13 Altenstein- A Shadow Of Its Former Glory
The ruins of Altenstein Castle sit atop a hill overlooking a medieval village, but unlike its namesake village, the castle has been forgotten over the centuries. Though what’s left is hardly recognisable, the ruins were once a great medieval castle built by the family of lords Stein zu Altenstein, and when the line fell out in the 19th century, their home was left to rot.
For 700 years, Altenstein Castle was the seat of governance in the Lower Franconia region of modern Germany, though all that’s left of their greatness is the crumbling walls of their palace.
12 Fort St-Elme- France's Most Foreboding Fortress
Perhaps not the most beautiful of old fortresses, Fort St-Elme's appearance reflects its purpose—intimidation and fortification. Though the current building is a product of Charles V in the 16th century, the site’s history dates to the 8th century, when Arab armies invaded the area.
Since the 20th century, the land the fort is on has changed owners and abandoned a few times, none of which had carried out restorations on it until 2004. Though a private museum since 2008, visitors can see the many years of abandonment weighed upon the castle.
11 Krak des Chevaliers- The Crusader's Perfect Fortress
Now here’s the perfect Crusader castle—it established the Christian presence in the Holy Land and demonstrated their power, mostly through intimidation. It was so flawlessly constructed that it survives in almost perfect condition from the 12th century.
Krak des Chevaliers is one of the best examples of medieval military architecture, and undoubtedly the best from the Knights Hospitallers. Unfortunately, its location in Syria renders it inaccessible at the present time due to the country’s political climate, but if it has survived a millennium of war, it’ll survive this one.
10 Menlo Castle- The Peaceful Ruin With A Fiery Past
This unassuming little tower house on the banks of Ireland’s Corrib River might not catch the casual onlooker’s eye at first, but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find a ruined castle that welcomes any curious visitor.
Menlo Castle is located at the edge of Galway city, and was once owned by the city’s richest family, the Blakes, from the 17th to early 20th centuries. They constructed a revival tower house late in the 17th century, the only part of the castle still standing. Tragedy struck in 1910, when a fire burned down the castle, trapping the Blakes’ daughter inside forever.
9 Olsztyn Castle- Straddling Borders Throughout History
What's more ominous than a castle ruin carved into a hilltop in southern Poland and abandoned for hundreds of years? Olsztyn Castle was built as part of a series of castles called the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests, which once protected the southern border of the Kingdom of Poland.
Casimir the Great ordered the Eagles’ Nest castles to protect from the armies of Czechs that desperately fought for the territory. Once an imposing Gothic castle, the only structure still standing is the impressive 114-foot tower, surviving from the 13th century.
8 Carew Castle- From Nobility To Families Of Bats
Wales arguably has some of the most picture-perfect castles in the world, and the remains of Carew Castle most certainly fall into the category of picturesque ruins. Occupied by Iron Age settlers to Romans, the site of Carew was well trodden by the time the stone military fortress was erected in the 12th century.
Later, it was converted into an Elizabethan manor and acquired by the Carew family during the English Civil War. It was abandoned in the late 17th century and left to ruin by Parliamentarians until the late 20th century, when it was preserved for its history and impressive bat population.
7 Beta Castle- Every Girl's Dream Boarding School
Beta castle is one of the hardest to track castles on this list, as it wasn’t even very well-known during its lifetime. Just a little way outside Washington, D.C., in Silver Spring, MD, are the abandoned grounds of National Park Seminary School, a prestigious girls’ finishing school during the first half of the 20th century.
Each student joined a sorority, and each sorority house was modeled after an eclectic building, from a Japanese pagoda, Greek temple, Dutch windmill, and, of course, an English castle. The castle is across the glen and harder to access than some of the other buildings, as its bridge was demolished by the 1960s.
6 Spiš Castle- Feared By Eastern And Western
The Spiš Castle that stands now is a 12th-century reconstruction of an older castle that was sacked and demolished, and despite being left in ruins, what remains is one of the largest castle sites in Europe to date.
In 1241, Spiš Castle was one of the few fortresses to resist the attacks by Mongol hordes, and for 500 years, it steadily grew into an extremely powerful seat of governance. Unfortunately, like many castles, it suffered a fate engulfed in flames and was abandoned in the 1700s.
For nearly 300 years, it was left in ruins, until it achieved recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1990s.
5 Fort de Malamot- Not For Those With A Fear Of Heights
An Alpine bluff isn’t the most inviting place for a king’s grand palace, but it’s a strategic outpost for the military. Located in the Alps of southeastern France, the fort was an Italian innovation in the late 19th century that could house 200 soldiers, and the road leading to it was an equally brilliant engineering masterpiece.
In modern times, the road is barricaded most of the year due to snowdrifts, and forces visitors to climb a 9,400-foot ascent up the Mont Malamot pass. It’s a popular spot for mountain biking, but make sure you’re properly trained before attempting this slope.
4 Rocca Calascio- No, It's Not A Hollywood Film Set
What looks like one of Hollywood’s fantasy depictions of a castle is actually an old Italian watchtower and military post, with its earliest foundations dating to the 10th century. Like most of Italy, it came to be owned by the powerful Medici family during the Renaissance, and was used to control the trading industry through Florence.
Early in the 18th century, an earthquake had damaged the tower beyond repair, and it has been left in abandonment ever since, without much organised interest in preserving or protecting what remains of the tower.
3 Château de Quéribus- Sits Like A Falcon Watching Over The Prey Below
You'll see Château de Quéribus rising over the hills long before you reach it. It stands, tall and proud, the highest point in sight, once a menacing figure to outsiders. Along with four other castles, Quéribus was one of the Five Sons of Carcassonne, which protected the former French border from the Spanish.
What was once a treacherous journey to the isolated castle has since been restored and is relatively easy to ascend, but the last way to the entrance of the castle is steep, so come prepared with shoes suited to medieval architecture.
2 Bannerman Castle- Not Your Average Mansion
What is possibly the most famous US castle sits quietly on Pollepel Island in the Hudson River, a massive natural moat around this fairytale revival castle. Built by Francis Bannerman, who arrived in the U.S. from Scotland at the age of three, it was the base for Bannerman’s military surplus company.
With Bannerman’s death in 1918 came the start of the abandonment of his castle, and while his son and groundskeepers worked for a while to keep the business and residence afloat, by the 1950s the castle was deserted. The castle itself is in various states of decay but there are tours to the island during the summer months.
1 Dunluce Castle- This Sturdy Ruin's Windswept History
It's a wonder this castle hasn’t yet completely dropped into the sea in 800 years of existence. It’s perched on a steep bluff at the top of Northern Ireland, the ruins of its towers cutting a jagged line across the sky.
First owned by the McQuillan clan, it was lost when they were defeated by the MacDonnells, who later swore allegiance to Elizabeth I. It then was the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the MacDonnell Clan fell after the Battle of the Boyne.
Since then, the residence has been left to the mercy of the stormy seas it watches over.