K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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If you’re not part of the very small percentage on this planet that can afford to buy your own castle, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a night or two in one. There are many castles across Europe that have been transformed into magical hotels, often surrounded by picturesque countryside that makes them appear if they’ve stepped out of the pages of a fairytale.
One of the top castles in Ireland, Ashford Castle is a 5-star luxury hotel set on a sprawling 350-acre estate gazing out onto the glistening blue waters of Lough Corrib. Originally built in 1228, the estate gone through a number of owners, including the Guinness family, along with several transformations, adding protective fortifications in 1589 and a French-style chateau wing in 1715. In 1939, Ernest Guinness sold the estate to the Irish government. Not long after the castle was doubled in size and became a renowned hotel, noted for its upscale accommodations along with activities like horse riding, lake cruising, fishing, golf, archer and more. It also features and indulgent spa and award-winning gourmet fare at its George V and Connaught Room Restaurants. Over the years, Ashford has hosted quite a few royals and big-name celebrities including Brad Pitt, Ronald Regan, Princess Grace, Mary Queen of Scots and author Oscar Wilde.
A magnificent seaside castle, Culzean clings to a cliff in the Scottish countryside, providing amazing views across the water to the mountains on the island of Arran. It dates back to the 1500s, with the Kennedy family erecting a central tower here that was eventually expanded in 1772 to the current castle that stands today. In 1945, the Kennedys donated the castle to the Scottish Land Trust and gave the entire top floor to General Eisenhower as a gift to thank him for America’s efforts in World War II. After becoming the President of the U.S., Eisenhower frequently used the castle as a retreat. Today, the top floor apartments have been turned into lavish accommodations, with six suites available to rent on a per night basis.
Thornbury Castle sits at the edge of the picturesque Cotswolds, previously owned by the famous Tudor dynasty which ruled Ireland, the United Kingdom and France over periods between 1485 and 1603. It once played host to King Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Before the current castle was built in the 16th century, William the Conqueror’s wife Matilda of Flanors had an 11th-century manor, Turneberie that sat on its grounds. Today, it’s the only Tudor castle to be open as a hotel, allowing anyone to enjoy the splendor of its roaring fires, fantastic cuisine and magnificent bedchambers with exposed stone walls, canopy beds and aged tapestries.
This beautiful medieval castle allows guests to travel back in time to the Middle Ages, with its centuries of history standing atop a promontory, watching over the town of Cardona. The first fort was built on the site in 800 AD, with its Minyona Tower and a church dating back to the 11th century. Though the castle has been restored, it retains its historic charm through décor, fosses, walls and towers, featuring gothic elements throughout. Spectacular views of the town and countryside, including the winding Cardoner River, can be seen from any point within the castle. It includes 53 luxurious guest rooms, a fitness room, a sauna and an impressive medieval-style dining room.
Dromoland Castle Hotel, sometimes referred to as the “hotel of dreams,” dates back to the 5th century, though it was transformed into a hotel just a little more than 50 years ago. It’s the ancestral home of one of the few families of true Irish royalty, direct descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002 to 1014. It remained in the ancestral ownership of the King until 1962 when it was renovated into a striking, high end hotel that appears obviously owned by royalty from the moment you step onto the meticulously-groomed 375-acre estate. The façade and powerful towers, added in the 1830s, are reminiscent of knights and dragoons, while rooms feature elegant touches throughout. In addition to 5-star accommodations, guests enjoy a wealth of fresh, locally sourced produce and an extensive selection of dining options along with a spa, golf course, award-winning falconry school and activities like horse riding, fishing, clay shooting and archery.
Burg Altena, built by the Counts of Berg in 1108, was the seat of the influential House of Marck. It became the world’s first youth hostel a century ago, paving the way for Europe’s modern hostel system. It offers an affordable opportunity for just about anyone to stay in a castle, with five hostel rooms in the castle itself and another five found in a guesthouse near its main entrance. The castle also houses two museums, the World Youth Hostels Museum and the Museum of the County of Mark.
Kinnettles Castle, located on a 44-acre estate of picturesque grounds and gardens amid the rolling Scottish countryside near Dundee, is a romantic baronial castle that appears as if it’s stepped from the pages of a classic medieval romance. Built in 1864, this boutique castle hotel comes with a modern Scottish twist with grand fireplaces and ornate plasterwork combined with unique contemporary furniture and design. It features a drawing room, dining room, two games rooms and a billiard room as well as a host of activities including everything from woodland walks and horse riding to clay pigeon shooting, fly fishing and much more.
Château de Brissac is situated just south of the city of Angers in the Loire River Valley of France. Known as the country’s tallest castle with seven stories and 204 rooms, it’s also referred to as “The Giant of the Loire Valley.” The original structure was built in the 11th century, but four centuries later, the Duke of Brissac took ownership and tore it down, replacing it with the new Renaissance-style castle, though the twin medieval towers were left intact. The castle’s surrounding park offers beautiful views, while its interior features magnificent ceilings, elegant period furnishings and an impressive theater, Belle Epoque, dedicated to opera.
This stunning hotel is set in the heart of the medieval citadel of Carcassone, overlooking the fairytale city with amazing panoramic views of the city walls. It’s the only hotel set within a UNESCO World Heritage site, and when the countless day-trippers depart, you’re likely to have the place practically all to yourself. You’ll be greeted at the foot of the medieval city, crossing Pont Levis before entering the fortress with its grand entrance featuring beautiful wooden fresco depicting historical and influential figures from the local area. Enjoy an aperitif on the terrace while the sun sinks below the horizon, followed by a dinner that’s fit for a king (or queen) in the Michelin-starred restaurant and then return to your opulent room, like the Neo-Gothic or The Viollet le Duc suite.
Abbeyglen Castle Hotel is one of the younger castles on this list, built in 1932. Its setting among picturesque gardens in the heart of Connemara’s Twelve Bens provides gorgeous views overlooking the town of Clifden along with understated elegance, peace and tranquility, makes it a standout among castle hotels. Abbeyglen is renowned for its luxurious accommodations that include four-poster beds, fireplaces and an award-winning restaurant featuring the best local seafood and Connemara lamb.
Hotel Schloss Mönchstein, rising above the center of town at the north end of a large city park, was first documented in 1350 AD as the Tetelheimer Tower, built by the archbishops of Salzburg until it became the estate for St. Peter’s monastery in 1654, for “educated professors” to “recover from difficult mental work.” It was transformed into a hotel in 1948 featuring 11 double rooms and 13 suites– what is now the tower room was formerly used as an astronomical observatory. The unique exterior features towers and step gables covered by clinging ivy, while the elegant, refined interiors reflect attention to detail in priceless antiques and carefully selected materials, including leaded windows, crystal chandeliers and Oriental carpets. Its new spa features a steam bath and a sauna, as well as a wide range of massage, beauty and spa treatments, while the onsite restaurant serves traditional Austrian cuisine, international dishes and an extensive selection of fine wines along with impressive views of Salzburg from its terrace.
Swinton Park, the ancestral home of the Cunliffe-Lister family, was transformed into a 31-bedroom luxury hotel set among 200 acres of parkland, complete with turrets, long echoing corridors and massive staircases leading up to the huge, individually decorated and designed bedrooms. A family home since the late 1800s, the earliest part of the castle dates back two centuries earlier, extended castellated and furnished during both the Georgian and Victorian eras. The castle is surrounded by the family estate which gives guests access to the picturesque Yorkshire countryside, rivers, reservoirs and moorland. It also features a spa with a variety of treatments as well as a new Canadian cedar hot tub which offers an oasis of calm that guests can enjoy in total privacy.
Pousada Castelo Óbidos, considered one of the 7 wonders of Portugal and under consideration to become one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage sites, is set within the city walls of Obidos. The castle was built by the Moors in 713, but in 1148 the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, conquered the town and its castle. It went through a number of transformations throughout the years, including being remodeled in the late 13th and early 14th century, while the keep was built some 100 years later. By the 20th century, it was in ruin, but the government repaired it, maintaining much of its unique medieval design, and converting it into one of the country’s finest hotels. Pousada de Obidos was one of the first to become a pousada – a traditional Portuguese hotel. It offers an intimate experience with just nine rooms – you’ll need to book well in advance, but you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the ultimate medieval romance, particularly when stepping outside to find the walls floodlit and the narrow alleys brightened by the moonlight.
This medieval castle also has a very long history that dates all the way back to Henry 1 in 1100 AD. With a working portcullis, surrounded by nearly 60-foot high curtain walls and featuring storybook battlement towers, it’s weathered the attacks of enemies and time itself. Amberley is one of England’s best, filled with ancient artifacts and luxurious, elegant rooms. Each one offers a distinct design, with four-poster beds, lavish drapes and picturesque vistas of the Sussex countryside, known as the “Garden of England.”
Château de Bagnols is everything you envision a castle to be, complete with a drawbridge, moat and towers with cruciform arrow holes – surrounded by vineyards, forests and lush, green hills in the heart of the Beaujolais countryside. It’s also a lavish five-star hotel with luxurious interiors, including 21 rooms and eight apartments, uniquely decorated with antiques and works of art. Dating from the 13th century, the chateau is also one of the nation’s major historic monuments. It was discovered nearly three decades ago in a derelict state by Lady Hamlyn, who painstakingly restored the chateau to its former glory, revealing Renaissance wall and ceiling paintings created during its finest period when nearby Lyon was one of Europe’s great Renaissance cities.
The impressive Zamek Reszel Hotel was once home to the Teutonic Knights and also has a rich artistic history. Today, it houses the Warmia Gallery of Modern Art in addition to accommodating guests who are searching for a unique castle experience. While its walls are medieval, it offers all the comforts of the modern world, including some of the finest local cuisines in the area and the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities like horse riding, sailing, cycling tours and fishing.
Ruthin Castle, located near the town of Ruthin in the Vale of Clwyd among expansive park and woodlands, offers the chance to live out your King Arthur fantasies. The castle’s rather gory history comes complete with its own dungeon, drowning pool and whipping pit, but today, it’s really all about romance and medieval banquets where guests can feast like Henry VIII, who owned the castle at one point. You can also unwind in the spa before retreating to a luxurious bed, worthy of any Prince or Princess.