10 Real-Life Fairy Tale Castles

Aerial view of Neuschwanstein Castle surrounded by mountains and lush, green foliage
Nestled in the hills of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle looks like a medieval castle but was built in the 19th century.

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While castles are often romanticized in fairy tales, many castles were built more for fortification and functionality than for beauty. This changed over time as thick castle walls became obsolete. During the Renaissance, builders focused on beauty instead of protection. The results were castles that would be right at home on the pages of a storybook. Some fit the part because of their architecture, others because of their history.

Here are 10 castles that pass the fairy tale test and the test of time.

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Belém Tower

Belem Tower, on the banks of the Tangus River, under a clear blue sky

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The Torre de Belém, Belém Tower, sits on the bank of the Tagus River in Lisbon. The bastion and 100-foot-tall tower are made from local limestone. The structure's interior is characterized by ribbed vaulting which defines the "Manueline" architectural style that was popular in Portugal in the 16th century.

The tower is considered a gateway to Lisbon and a symbol of the legendary explorers, like Vasco de Gama, who made Portugal one of the world’s most powerful empires in the 16th century. Together with the nearby Jeronimos (Hieronymites) Monastery, which also commemorates Portugal's prolific sailors, the tower is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tower, which is accessible by pedestrian bridge, appears to be floating on water.

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Bobolice Castle

View of a ramp leading up to Bobolice Castle surrounded by green grass, trees, and a bright blue sky

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Originally built in the 1300s, Bobolice Castle now stands in its namesake village. The castle was initially constructed as part of a network of fortifications that protected Poland's border in the 14th century. Bobolice sustained extensive damage in the 17th century and was reconstructed in the 20th century. The cylindrical towers give the structure a fairy-tale appearance, but the real story of Bobolice is more interesting.

The castle changed hands numerous times, and a treasure was reportedly found in the cellars and tunnels under the castle in the 19th century. The history of Bobolice has inspired legends and stories about hidden gold, star-crossed lovers, and the ghosts of past inhabitants.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

View of Neuschwanstein Castle surrounded by trees in autumn shades of red, orange, and yellow, under a clear blue sky with fields of grass and a river in the distance.

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Built in Germany in the latter half of the 19th century, this castle is an example of the Romanesque Revival style. Neuschwanstein has a real connection to the world of fairy tales: It was reportedly the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Despite the "Sleeping Beauty" connection, the real history of Neuschwanstein Castle is not very fairy tale-like. The castle was commissioned by the intensely private Bavarian king Ludwig II—a place where he hoped to hide from public life. Ironically, the castle was not fully completed until after his death and Ludwig spent only a handful of nights on the property. Not long after he died, his estate opened the castle to the public.

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Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz, a castle on a hill surrounded by lush green foliage under a blue sky with white clouds

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Burg Eltz, or Eltz Castle in English, is located in Germany not far from the city of Trier. Originally constructed during the 12th century, portions may date to a time several hundred years earlier. The castle has been added to and renovated over the centuries, but one thing remains the same: The descendants of the Eltz family, the same one that originally built the castle, still own and live on the property.

The Moselle River Valley, where the structure is located, is known for its scenery, and the castle, which features 100-foot towers, is visually stunning. The interior contains artifacts from the last 800 years.

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St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael's Mount, an elevated castle surrounded by lush green trees and water under a clear blue sky

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This castle in Cornwall, England sits atop St. Michael's Mount, a tidal island. The island is connected to the mainland by a cobbled walkway that is passable during mid and low tide. When the tide is too high, visitors must travel by boat to reach the island. The earliest buildings on the island date to the 1100s, and the castle's residents, from the Saint Aubyn family, have lived there since the 17th century.

Surrounding the castle is a terraced garden. St. Michael's Mount and its castle are overseen by the National Trust.

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Alcázar of Segovia

View of Alcazar de Segovia castle illuminated on the front and left sides at twilight under a clear blue sky

Fernando García / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Alcázars are fortifications and palaces built during Moorish rule on the Iberian Peninsula. The Alcázar of Segovia is one of the most visually stunning of these structures. This Alcázar, which sits on a rock above a river valley, is shaped like the bow of a ship. The castle was featured in the 1960s musical "Camelot" and is said to have also inspired the design of Disney's Cinderella castle.

Its circular towers make it seem like a fitting royal residence. Rulers, including Queen Isabella I, had traditionally lived there, but the royal court eventually moved to Madrid, and the Alcázar was converted into a prison. Two centuries later, in 1762, it became a military academy. The Old Town of Segovia, including the Alcázar, a cathedral, and the Roman aqueduct of Segovia, is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Château de Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau on the River Cher under a clear blue sky at twilight

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The Chateau de Chenonceau is not the kind of towering structure usually associated with fairy tale palaces. The castle sits over the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire River in France. Arches allow the water to pass underneath the structure. The architecture is a mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance design. The castle is surrounded by several formal gardens and an Italian maze.

The interior of Chenonceau includes colorful decorations, period furnishings, and detailed paintings that have all been carefully preserved.

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Doune Castle

View of Doune Castle on a grass hill framed by green trees under a gray, overcast sky

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The majority of Doune Castle in Stirling, Scotland has stood since the 14th century. This well preserved castle was constructed in a single phase with minimal modification over time. Portions of the castle that were built in the late 13th century were incorporated into the 14th century construction. The exterior of Doune is somewhat weathered, but the interior halls have been well preserved.

The castle, which has a rural setting, was used extensively during the filming of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

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Matsumoto Castle

View of Matsumoto Castle from across a small waterway under a sunny, clear blue sky

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Built in the 16th century, Matsumoto Castle is located in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. It's unique in that it was built on a plain instead of in the surrounding mountains. A series of moats, gates, and a towering keep were used to provide protection. This design now serves to create an attractive landscape around the castle.

Matsumoto stands out because its wooden interior remains largely intact. The outer gardens feature cherry blossom trees that flower in the springtime. The grounds also play host to torchlight "Takigi Noh" plays and traditional Taiko drum festivals.

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Swallow's Nest

Swallow's Nest castle perched on Aurora Cliff under a clear blue sky

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The Swallow's Nest was designed specifically to catch visitors' attention with its fairy tale appearance. The small, neo-Gothic decorative castle sits on the 130-foot tall Aurora Cliff above the Black Sea.

Located in a resort town near Yalta on the Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the castle was built in the early 20th century. The building is only 60 feet by 33 feet in size; it replaced a wooden structure that had previously sat on the edge of the cliff.