Fairytales come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the real life castles of our fairytale dreams. Do you like dark fairytales of evil witches who eat children, or kings plotting dastardly plans? Perhaps a crumbling medieval manse will do for you. Do you love tales of the Crusades or chivalric knights? Have we got some spots for you! Do you love a good princess tale, handsome princes and fairy godmothers and all? There are so many palaces in France and Germany that could host these princess yarns.
Of all of these castles and fortifications and ruins, only some look how they did in their heyday. Some no longer resemble castles and require an extra dose of imagination to picture them as homes or active military fortifications. Some have been renovated to fit a romantic fairytale ideal. We've put together a list of all of these fairytale palaces for you to visit or daydream about.
25 Castle Frankenstein - Germany
This haunting manor on a hill is not as abandoned as the others on this list, but it has a dark and mysterious past that cannot be overlooked. Castle Frankenstein does not have an official connection to the Mary Shelley novel that she ever acknowledged, according to the BBC, but the name and the building’s alchemist past keep interest in this particular Castle Frankenstein alive. Alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel was born there in 1673 and later conducted all sorts of experiments strange and macabre within its walls. According to the BBC, he attempted to concoct an elixir of life, succeeding eventually in creating Dippel’s Oil, a tincture of horns, blood, leather, and ivory that he claimed could cure any ailment and provide immortality. His 1735 passing proved otherwise, but his legacy lives on in his abandoned castle home and the folklore surrounding it.
24 can actually visit: Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is quite possibly the most fairytale-esque castle there ever was. Unlike most of the palaces on this list, Neuschwanstein is less than 200 years old. According to Travel + Leisure, the construction of this lush mountain idyll was ordered by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1868. In 1866, Ludwig was effectively stripped of power by the Prussian takeover of Bavaria and he retreated into his own fantasy world, which happened to include constructing lavish fairytale-inspired castles. Ludwig passed suddenly in 1888, four years before the final towers were constructed. Neuschwanstein immediately became a visitor destination, according to Travel + Leisure, although only 14 rooms were ever finished and remain on view today.
23 Fort Alexander - Russia
Rising like a time-blackened Kraken from the Gulf of Finland, Fort Alexander was built in the 1800s to fortify St. Petersburg. That is, after the seafloor was fortified to be able to hold it. According to Atlas Obscura, there is no island for the fort to rest on, so beams were drilled into a concrete foundation laid on the seafloor.The exterior wall was tricked out with cannons and advantageous shooting outlooks.The fort never saw military action and by 1900 was being used as an infectious disease research facility, Atlas Obscura says. The site was abandoned in the 1980s, though it played host to some illegal raves.
22 Ballycarbery Castle, Ireland
Ballycarbery Castle is a moss-covered ghost of a castle in the Irish countryside. Built in the 16th century, it was the subject of many familial disputes between the Brownes and the McCarthy Mores, according to Megalithic Ireland. This building, too, was damaged by the ravaging of Oliver Cromwell’s canons in the Civil War. This cannonfire destroyed significant parts of the structure, which today remains an abandoned ruin. What remains of Ballycarbery Castle is eery and inspires the imagination to picture what it may have looked like.
21 We can actually visit: Hohenzollern Castle - Germany
Any of the Grimm brothers’ wicked queens, fair princesses, or brave princes could have been at home at the truly majestic Hohenzollern Castle. A structure has existed on the site since the 11th century, but the current castle was built in 1454 and renovated in 1819 by the then Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia, according to the Burg Hohenzollern website, who expressed a wish to restore his ancestral home to former glory. It was finished in 1850. The castle is open in all its majesty today for visitors.
20 Castle Mont Rouge - North Carolina
Castle Mont Rouge was built by the artist Robert Mihaly as a home and studio. This whimsical structure in the woods of North Carolina is built in a style that mimics European, Middle Eastern, and Russian architecture with its many towers, minarets, and turrets, according to Atlas Obscura. Mihaly never finished the interior of the building and abandoned it after he and his wife divorced, although it is rumored that he still visits or uses the space as a studio (Atlas Obscura). Vandalized, graffitied, and rotting, this castle is off-limits, but still haunts the skyline.
19 We can actually visit: The Sparrow's Nest - Crimea
The Sparrow’s Nest is a magical Neo-Gothic, diminutive castle perched precariously on a cliff high above the Crimean Sea. Like so many other castles, this structure started as a wooden shack, until Baron von Steingel purchased it and built the lavish and showy castle on the cliff with patios that extend across the cliff’s edge. The structure survived a strong earthquake in 1927, but the earthquake shuttered the building for decades because of the damage done to the cliff it sits on. It was later reinforced and the building was declared safe for visitors. An Italian restaurant opened there in 1975 that still operates.
18 Kilchurn Castle - Scotland
Kilchurn Castle is a hollowed out castle ruin that looks as though a dragon took a large bite out of it. Although Kilchurn Castle never actually saw the likes of a dragon, the structure stood the test of time. Chartered in 1449, the Campbell family built the castle, using it first as a residence and as a garrison by the 1600s, according to Visit Scotland. As a garrison, it was used to house soldiers during the Jacobite Rebellion. It was abandoned in the 1700s.
17 Tully Castle - Ireland
This now-crumbling castle on the edge of Lower Lough Erne in Ireland has a past that is both unusual and tragic. According to Castles.nl, the castle once had a thatched roof—which is not quite the image of a “once upon a time” castle. The resident Hume family and local Protestants took refuge in the castle during the 1641 Rebellion and the attacking Maguires sacked the castle on Christmas Day and massacred everyone except the members of the Hume family, then burned Tully Castle. The castle was never renovated and still stand today as a memory of the tragedy that happened within its walls.
16 Gwrych Castle - Wales
The lands of Gwrych Castle have held a castle since the days of knights and fairytales. According to Britain Express, the first fortress on this spot, built during the days of the Norman Conquest, looked much less like a regal abode and more like a log cabin. It was rebuilt as a stone fortress shortly thereafter in 1170, but was destroyed in the aftermath of the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century. The current structure according to the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, the stuff of Victorian gothic dreams, was built in 1812 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, finished in 1822, and expanded throughout the nineteenth century. During WWII, Gwrych Castle was a refuge for Jewish refugees and later a popular site of Renaissance fairs. The castle was abandoned in the mid 1980s, though efforts in the last decade have been made to restore this haunting beauty on the hill.
15 Dunnottar Castle - Scotland
Perched on a green-swathed cliff above the North Sea sits the windswept medieval fortress of Dunnottar Castle. One look at this castle brings to mind fateful witches and their bubbles, toils, and troubles. The powerful family of the Earls Marischal lived here for centuries, according to Visit Scotland, and while there were no actual witches, it was the site of battle and intrigue: the castle served as a garrison against Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War and saved the Scottish crown jewels from destruction. Even more intriguing, important people such as William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose, and the future King Charles II came to call at Dunnottar in their time (Visit Scotland).
14 Bannerman Castle - Pollepel Island, New York
There are fairytale castles in America, too, and they exist outside of Disney World. This skeleton built on Pollepel Island in the Hudson River was not built to be a lavish abode, but as a fortress to house one man’s artillery collection, according to Historic Hudson River Towns. The castle was built by Frank Bannerman VI, who bought the Pollepel Island in 1900. Bannerman was a successful army surplus supplier who, according to Atlas Obscura, sold everything from cannons used at the Battle of Yorktown to the supplies needed to furnish entire US battalions in WWI. At the close of the Spanish-American War, according to Atlas Obscura, Bannerman bought 90% of the US military’s surplus and needed somewhere to put it all. So after purchasing the island, he had a castle stronghold built as his arsenal, as well as a summer home. The island has been languishing since the 1930s when the family left the island.
13 Château Gaillard - France
Château Gaillard, or “the saucy castle,” was built by the English Richard the Lionheart to defy the French in the twelfth century, in a time when England and France were frequently at odds and war (Encyclopedia Britannica). Saucy, indeed. According to ThoughtCo, it was built very quickly and was considered one of the strongest fortifications of its day, though King Philip of France sieged and conquered the château after the passing of Richard. It changed hands over the centuries, housing the exiled King David II of Scotland and Marguerite de Bourgogne, the unfaithful wife of King Louis X who banished her to the stronghold, according to Thought Co. Château Gaillard was partially demolished in the 1500s and is today owned by the French government. The story of this ruin is more of a ghost story than a fairy tale.
12 Muromtzevo Castle - Russia
This abandoned castle in the forests of Russia is a monument to hubris and the greatness of Russia. According to Atlas Obscura, in the late nineteenth century Russian nobleman Vladimir Khrapovitsky got into an argument with a Frenchman while traveling there about whose country was better. Khrapovitsky bragged that he could build a castle in Russia as grand as any in France, and went home to start construction on Muromtzevo Castle. Atlas Obscura calls the palace mostly German in style, with a hint of French architecture, an overall style that Atlas Obscura noted was out of place in Russia. Khrapovitsky was forced to flee his abode during the Russian Revolution. Muromtzevo Castle moonlighted as a college and a hospital for a time, but it has largely stood empty for decades.
11 Said Halim Pasha Palace - Egypt
This once-regal home takes up one city block in the middle of Cairo, Egypt. According to Urban Ghosts, the home was most famously the residence of Said Halim Pasha, statesman of the Ottoman empire and the grandson of Muhammad Ali, the founding leader of modern Egypt (not the American boxer). The building was designed by Antonio Lasciac, Egypt’s premier architect, in the early 1990s and built with materials imported from Italy. Following World War I, Said Halim’s assets were seized by the British and he was exiled. The building was turned into the prestigious El Nasriya School for Boys, according to Urban Ghosts, and has now stood empty for over a decade. It still stands, decaying in the middle of a vibrant city, a sort of modern fairytale of what wealth can buy, and destroy.
10 Cambusnethan House - Scotland
The abandoned Cambusnethan House looms large with its Gothic spires over the countryside of Wishaw. It was a perfect country home built for the Lockhart family in 1820 by James Gillespie Graham; it was tailor-made for them down to the Lockhart family crest carved over the front doorway and throughout the house, according to the Huffington Post. HuffPo also notes that it is one of few remaining Scottish examples of the Neo-Gothic style so popular during the period. The building was abandoned in 1984 and has since fallen prey to vandals and age.
9 Pidhirtsi Castle - Ukraine
Pidhirtsi Castle in Ukraine is a fairy tale of seventeenth luxury. It was built between 1635 and 1640 by the Italian architect Andrea dell'Acqua for the Cossack chief of the Polish crown, according to the World Monuments Fund. It is a grand country palace that is very different from similar buildings of the era; a handsome prince could have wooed his princess from those very halls. It was a house of luxury; its owners amassed an impressive collection of art and sculpture and maintained French and English gardens, according to World Monuments Fund. In the twentieth century, the castle suffered destruction after destruction and is currently in a state of disrepair.
8 Beaumaris Castle - Wales
If Welsh Beaumaris Castle doesn’t look like it could have been the castle at Camelot, I don’t know what does. This weathered fortress is complete with a moat and a well-preserved example of the concentric tower construction of the thirteenth century. This stronghold was begun in 1295 as part of Edward I’s campaign to take over Wales and fortify it. The castle was never fully finished, but was successfully used as a military stronghold to hold out against siege over the centuries.
7 We can actually visit: Predjama Castle - Slovenia
Folktales of all kinds surround this castle in a cave that seems to have been built by magic. The original structure was built in the 12th century, although the existing building was built in 1570, according to Unusual Places. The castle’s most famous inhabitant was the robber Baron Erazem Lueger, who provoked the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III by taking out a member of the Royal Family, according to Atlas Obscura. Using a secret tunnel from the castle to the Postojna Cave nearby, Lueger hid and avoided capture for over a year. Today, you can tour the castle and the secret passages through the cave. No one but a colony of bats inhabit the caves or castle today – although Lueger’s ghost is still rumored to roam its halls.
6 We can actually visit: Warwick Castle - United Kingdom
Warwick Castle has stood on the banks of the River Avon since 914 and definitely played host to knights and royal courts of myth. The original wood fortress built on the site by William the Conqueror in 1068, according to Famous Castles, was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, and later served as an important stronghold during the Hundred Years War. It was the private residence of the various Earls of Warwick and their families for centuries until 1978. Today you can tour the castle and the grounds and you may even catch sight of the ghost of the deceased Sir Fulke Greville in the aptly named Ghost Tower.
5 We can actually visit: Bran Castle - Romania
High in the Romanian mountains, a red-peaked fortress called Bran Castle with roof tiles like dragonhide watches over the countryside. Commonly referred to as “Dracula’s Castle”, it certainly looks the part of the home of Bram Stoker’s infamous fiend. And his supposed historical precursor, Vlad the Impaler, is often associated with Bran Castle. According to Atlas Obscura, he passed through the area several times, but there is no record of him being in the castle. Queen Marie, unifier of Romania, owned the castle after 1920 and is still owned by her family today, who operates it as a museum.
4 Matsumoto Castle - Japan
Surrounded by cherry blossoms and reflective water, Matsumoto Castle (Matsumotojō) is a beautifully preserved piece of Japan’s architectural heritage. It is a “hirajiro”, a castle built on a plain. According to Japan Guide, construction of the main building started in 1592 and completely finished in 1635 when a third turret was added specifically for moon observation. The majestic black castle is also known as “Crow Castle” and was home to 23 different rulers and their families, according to History Hub.
3 We can actually visit: Alcázar de Segovia - Spain
If you’ve ever seen a Disney film, Alcázar de Segovia may look a little familiar. See it yet? This sprawling palace was one of the primary references and inspirations behind Disney’s Cinderella’s castle, according to Travel + Leisure. If you squint, Segovia Castle is also reminiscent of Hogwarts. Like most of the European fortifications on this list, a building was first erected on this spot in the 12th century (an Arab fort), and it was later built up to a castle, housing kings and later educating soldiers (Travel + Leisure). In 1862, much of the upper portion of the castle, including turrets and roofs, were reconstructed, following a fire, in an exaggerated Romantic style, according to Exploring Castles. The new, more whimsical style of the castle made it famous.
2 We can actually visit: Krak des Chevaliers - Syria
This Crusade-era fortification is straight out of the King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table kind of folktales. The Crusades were the campaigns led by European knights between 1100 and 1300 to “reclaim” the Holy Land from Muslims for Christianity (Ancient History Encyclopedia). The invading forces built themselves strongholds throughout the Middle East and the Krak de Chevaliers (also Cracs des Chevaliers or the Arabic Hisn al-Akrad) is one of the best-preserved examples, according to Ancient History Encyclopedia. The Knights Hospitaller (a Catholic military force in the Crusades) acquired and expanded the fortress in 1144. Military was housed there and ruled the surrounding conquered lands from the Krak. The castle was back under Muslim control by the end of the Crusades and was largely neglected after that, though today it is a UNESCO Heritage site.
1 We can actually visit: Château de Chenonceau - France
Is there anything more whimsical than a fairytale castle on a river? There are few things more whimsical, then, than the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley of France. The present château is the third such palace built on the site, constructed in the early 1500s by the nobleman Thomas Bohier, according to Famous Castles. The château is the kind of decadent Renaissance style that could easily be the site of a magical ball or similar fairytale soiree. According to Famous Castles, it is the second-most visited castle in France, after the Palace of Versailles.
References: Travel + Leisure; Visit Scotland; Famous Castles; Explore Castles; Atlas Obscura