My inner princess never thought this was possible. My own country has a history of around 150 settled human years, so the magic of walking through thousands of years of Euopean history never quite loses the unique frisson of delight. This selection is my top 10 of the best castles in the world (well, in my honest opinion anyway!)
Suits of armour that tell tales of bravery and hardship, kitchen hearths that fed hundreds of (in)famous dignitaries and hard-working servants, windows that saw enemy arches living up their longbows and sighing maidens dreaming of their loves, moats that were filled with all sorts of exotic contents and drafty castles walls that witnessed history that changed the lives of nations.
Yeah, I’ve got the castle wandering bug bad. If there is a castle or palace near where we are (and by near I mean within 2 hours train ride) you can guarantee that I’ll be making my way there, scheming how to get closer or researching ways to sleep there (Prince Harry, watch out).
Buckingham Palace, London, England
Known by locals as ‘Buck House’ the home of our Commonwealth Queen was everything thing I thought it would be – ostentatious, sumptuous and amazing. Just what a Palace should be. As important to the British psyche as Tea, wellies and apologising for other people bumping into you, the Royal family is an institution. Britain (/England/the United Kingdom/whatever) simply wouldn’t be the same without the bastion of the eccentric royal family: the Queen’s imperious waves, Prince Philips gaffes, Charles & Camilla’s love affair and Kate and Williams rock-star icon just adds such a soupcon to the mystique of Britain.
Pena Palace, Sintra Portugal
Quirkily gorgeous, the Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture with a twist of sheer imagination. The curiously crenellated collection of beautiful rooms crest a collection of beautiful palaces in the town of Sintra.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany.
On our visit, leaving behind the crowds in the busy parking lot (there are a couple of family castles that can also be visited) we walked up the hill towards Neuschwanstein. Leaving Mr Kiwi to enjoy the fresh mountain air, I took in the guided tour through the unique rooms created solely for Ludwig’s use – even the servants had separate hallways running alongside. From an ornately carved bedroom to a man-made cave and private theatre room, the castle that inspire Walt Disney’s cartoon glory was curious to say the least…
Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), Highclere, England
They say never meet your heroes as you’ll only be disappointed when their humanity is revealed, but I say ignore that entirely. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to get on that train, walk through those gates and simply revel in the crazy amazingness that is England. Case in point – Downton Abbey. Wait, I mean Highclere Castle…
Winchester Castle, Winchester, England
Housing the Arthurian Round Table of myth and legend (though sadly actually slightly more modern in construction – only commissioned by King Henry in the 13th Century, rather than 6th as they originally thought) Winchester Cathedral is well worth a wander – especially in winter…
Strawberry Hill House, Richmond, London
Hidden in the opulent suburb of Twickenham, (aka Surrey) a gothic castle of dreamy spires quietly rests. Each new room seemed like walking into a fairytale princess’ room – in fact my friend struggled the whole way round to choose just the one she would have as her bedroom…
Eilean Donan, Highlands, Scotland
You can name almost any of the residences of royal kilt wearers (a personal favourite is Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh), but the most famous in the Highlands is the beautiful and mysterious Eilean Donan, which means ‘Island of Donnan’. Found on a a small tidal island located in the western Highlands of Scotland, the castle was first founded in the 13th century and after extensive 20th Century work now features in a litany of movies and TV shows (including a Monty Python cameo).
Kidwelly Castle/Castell Cydwell, Carmanthenshire, Wales
Known best for featuring in the establishing shot of Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail (aka one of the best comic films ever) this castle is a treasure of the Welsh countryside.
Eltham Palace, Eltham, England
First mentioned in the Doomsday book, Eltham Estate was presented to King Edward II in 1305 and developed into one of the most favoured royal palaces with 1,000 acres of deer park on its doorstep. #swoon
Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland
Quite simply, that’s how Mr Kiwi and I came to find ourselves being pushed (by some bloke) over a parapet, backwards, whilst holding on to a couple of sturdy steel supports. Kissing the Blarney Stone was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments that blew my tiny little mind, and it was well worth the journey. (Will I ever become vaguely eloquent? Probably not, and I’m ok with that.)
What would make your top 10 castles in the world list? (Real or fiction…)
(PS. pin me!)