Have you ever dreamt of standing on top of those medieval castles that appear in episodes of series such as Games of Thrones or the Vikings? If the answer is yes, read on to explore the most impressive and romantic castles you can find not just in a medieval cinema, but in real-life across Europe. You will also find all necessary information you need to know before visiting these grand premises.
Mysterious Peles Castle in Romania
Located on the Balkan Peninsula, Romania remains an off-the-beaten-path destinations for travelers to Europe despite the gorgeous landscapes and quirky beauty it has to offer. After wandering through the famous Dracula Castle (Bran Castle) in Brasov, travelers to Romania can visit the 19th century in the Neo-Renaissance Castle of Peles. Located in Prahova County above the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaja, Peles Castle is a grand palace, but it is consistently referred to as a castle. Its stunning architectural style, inspired by a mixture of Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival, resembles the romantic Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. The structure with its 3,200-square-metre (34,444-square-foot) floor plan and over 160 rooms is home to over 4,000 pieces of arms and armour, and thousands of paintings and sculptures. Travel and art enthusiasts would be fascinated to explore Peles Castle’s interior design, with plenty of themes originating from Florentine, Turkish, Moorish, French and Imperial styles. I would recommend spending more time in Peles than in Bran Castle, which seems to offer nothing much except only pieces of the Dracula story.
Peles Castle is located approximately 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Brasov and 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Bucharest, both of which can be accessed by train. There’s also good bus connection between Bran and Peles Castle. Entry to Peles Castle and Castle Pelisor, which is built above the grounds of Peles Castle, is 30 RON (7.50 USD). Other buildings within the property are the Hunting Lodge, the Royal Guard House, the Gardener’s House and the Royal Stables.
Breath-taking Bled Castle in Slovenia
Another lesser-known destination you can enjoy visiting in the Balkans is Slovenia. Most visitors only pass by Slovenia because they want to visit Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary. However, the country deserves more attention by those who love exploring castles and palaces. Let’s pass Ljubljana Castle in the capital city and go straight to the pure countryside landscapes to enjoy the allure and breath-taking view of Bled Castle. Known as the oldest castle in Slovenia, Bled Castle rises 130 meters (427 feet) above the dazzling Lake Bled, which is home to the romantic island with a church in the middle of it. You can stroll around approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) on the surrounding banks to revel in different angles of the castle. The entrance fee is 10 EUR (about 11.40 USD).
Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, Austria
Sitting atop Festungsberg Hill of Salzbug in Northern Austria and near to the border with Germany, Hohensalzburg Castle, meaning High Salzburg Fortress, is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. This 900-year-old fortress consists of various wings and courtyards, with a Krautturm, or powder tower, housing a large aerophone of more than 200 pipes called the Salzburg Bull (Salzburger Stirer), the magnificent Golden Hall with marble pillars, the furnished Golden Chamber of benches decorated with vines, grapes, foliage and animals, and the Chapel of Archbishop and a bedchamber. Nowadays, entrance to the fortress precinct includes the salt storeroom, the torture chamber, the look-out tower, the Salzburg Bull (a mechanical organ), the Fortress Museum, the Rainer Regiment Museum, the Marionette Museum and the Alm Passage (available with a guided tour).
Stand at the Mirabell Garden and Palace or any bridges downtown of Salzburg to get a stunning view of the castle right above your line of vision. Hohensalzburg Fortress can be easily reached on foot from the path up Festungsberg Hill or with a funicular ride. The basic ticket fare, including 2-way funicular rides, a guided tour, and free admission to the state rooms before 10 AM, is 12 EUR (about 13.50 USD).
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Massive Prague Castle in the Czech Republic
Another castle worth checking off your list in Eastern and Central Europe is located in the Czech Republic. Prague Castle is by far the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres (753,473 square feet), according to the Guinness Book of Word Records. Prague Castle represents a wide variety of architectural styles from the last millennium. The complex structure consists of the Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery, palaces, gardens, and defence towers. Nowadays, the castle houses the National Gallery, exhibiting a large collection of Bohemian, baroque, and mannerist art.
The castle can be easily reached on foot or by tram number 22 from Prague’s historic centre. Before entering the castle, you can view Prague from high above. Entrance fees to different sectors of the castle vary from about 70 CZK to 350 CZK (roughly 3 USD to 15 USD).
Colourful Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal
Known as one of most exquisite palaces in Europe and one of the seven wonders of Portugal, Pena National Palace sits on top of a hill above the Sintra Mountains in São Pedro de Penaferrim within Sintra Municipality. The palace is a mixture of architectural styles including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. Its premises can be categorized into four sectors: the foundations and walls, the clock tower, the Arches Yard and the palatial zone with its interiors decorated similar to a cathedral. Surrounding the palace, Pena Park is home to lots of trees from diverse lands from all over the world. Some people describe the palace as a ‘wedding cake’!
Regular entrance for adults to the palace is 13.50 EUR, or about 15.40 USD. The town of Sintra can be easily reached by bus from the capital of Lisbon within 1 hour. You can choose to walk up the hill to the Castle of the Moors (another nearby castle) from the city center, following the free city map given in the train station, and then down to the nearby Pena Palace. Alternatively you can take a bus that goes directly from and to the train station for 3 EUR (3.40 USD) per ride. Bus tickets can be purchased on board from the driver.
A suitable itinerary for lovers of castles and palaces
As the already-mentioned castles are spread all over Europe, the mission to check them off your list takes quite a lot of time and effort. Therefore, I recommend traveling within Austria, Ljubljana and the Czech Republic only for a single itinerary throughout different fairytale castles in Europe. Many dazzling castles are also located in the nearby country of Germany. There are good car, bus and train connections within these countries that are in the central part of Europe.
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