The World’s Most Outrageous Modern and Medieval Castles

Forget fairy tales: These fortresses are more likely to be creepy, haunted, or just over-the-top extravagant.

By Jackie Middleton

1. Bran Castle - Bran, Transylvania, Romania

Romania's Bran Castle is often associated with the fictional tale of Count Dracula. Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia–otherwise known as Vlad III Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler–is thought to be the real life inspiration for the imaginary protagonist in Bram Stoker’s best-selling 1897 novel, Dracula. Dracula fans flock to Bran Castle and other Romanian sites to walk in the fabled footsteps of the fictional Count as well as the notorious real-life Prince.

2. Tower of London - London, England

One of England’s most notorious castles, the Tower of London boasts a chilling history. In the 1070s, England’s new king William the Conqueror had a vision to create an imposing royal residence, fortress and prison on the north bank of the River Thames. The resulting Tower of London struck fear and submission into the hearts of its citizens. Individuals deemed guilty of crimes–both real and imagined–were locked up and made to endure cruel punishment. By the 19th century, the Tower’s gruesome past was put to rest and the property opened to the curious public. It’s estimated that over two million people visit each year.

3. Egeskov Castle - Funen, Denmark

Built in the middle of a lake in 1554 with the original purpose to keep enemies at bay. With its surrounding moat, drawbridge and battlements, Egeskov Castle was a difficult fortress to crack. Today, Egeskov Castle is a peaceful destination. The grounds play host to mazes, extravagant gardens and a wealth of museums, including collections devoted to vintage motorbikes and cars. And kids of all ages will fall in love with Titania’s Palace, arguably the most impressive dollhouse in the world. Handmade in Ireland, the intricate mini castle features 18 elaborate rooms filled with handcrafted mahogany furniture and 3,000 tiny works of art.

4. Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle is a romantic escape straight out of a fairy tale. The castle was commissioned by Ludwig II, the King of Bavaria, as his personal retreat in 1869. Despite holding no real powers, Ludwig II clung to a romantic view of what a king should be. He fantasized about living as a recluse in a grand, mountain top palace surrounded by inspirational art and stunning architecture. As a result, Neuschwanstein Castle was born. In 1886, ‘The Fairy Tale King’ drowned mysteriously, but his treasured castle lives on in the hearts of the millions of admirers who visit each year. One such fan, Walt Disney, was so enamored with Neuschwanstein Castle that it’s believed that he modeled Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle on its magnificent design.

5. Hearst Castle - San Simeon, California, U.S.A.

Looking out to the Pacific Ocean, Hearst Castle has a star-studded history. Built by publishing czar William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan, the immense grounds and castle took almost 30 years (1919 to 1947) to complete. Formally named ‘the Enchanted Hill,’ Hearst’s complex included 165 rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, an airstrip, a zoo, a movie theater, and tennis courts. Hearst’s grand masterpiece quickly became a magnet for the rich and famous. Hollywood stars, world leaders and VIPs of the day including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Winston Churchill, Howard Hughes, and Amelia Earhart were among Hearst’s A-list visitors. Today, Hearst Castle is a State Historical Monument and is open for public tours.

6. Swallow's Nest, Yalta, Ukraine

Perched precariously on a steep cliff overlooking the Black Sea, the Swallow’s Nest was commissioned in 1911 by German oil magnate, Baron von Steingel. According to local legend, a smitten von Steingel had the mini Neo-Gothic castle created for his rumored mistress, a ballerina. Today, the "Castle of Love" with its sweeping view of the sea has become one of southern Ukraine’s most popular tourist attractions.

7. Predjama Castle - Slovenia

Castles are typically found atop mountains or beside lakes–it’s not often that you discover one tucked into the mouth of a cave. Predjama Castle in southwestern Slovenia offers such an incredible sight. It’s not surprising that this prime piece of real estate with its nearly impenetrable cave didn’t remain undeveloped for long. The renaissance-style castle seen today was constructed in 1583. After centuries of conflict, Predjama Castle has a much calmer existence today as a tourist attraction.

8. Boldt Castle - 1000 Islands, New York, U.S.A.

Love and loss heavily influenced the creation of Boldt Castle. In 1900, George C. Boldt–the millionaire proprietor of Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel–hired over 300 workers to build a six story, 120-room castle. Boldt wanted to showcase his love for his wife Louise with this extravagant, private residence built in her honor. But in 1904 before the castle was completed, Louise died suddenly. Bolt, overwhelmed by his loss, ordered all construction to cease. The millionaire never returned to his St. Lawrence River getaway and Boldt Castle was left unfinished and abandoned. In 1977, the Thousand Island Bridge Authority purchased the property, and opened Heart Island to the public.

9. Hochosterwitz Castle - Carinthia, Austria

Castles are famous for their security features–moats, drawbridges, lakeside locations. But here’s a medieval castle that took defense to a whole new level. Hochosterwitz Castle has the rare distinction that it was never invaded. The secret to its security success? In 1570, the steep pathway winding upwards to the castle’s entrance was fitted with 14 treacherous gates. Each elaborate gate presented a unique–and dangerous–obstacle to its intruders: drawbridges, concealed spikes, hidden archers, even chutes that would spew boiling hot oil. Today, tourists are welcome to visit Hochosterwitz Castle during the summer months.

10. Urquhart Castle - Drumnad, Scotland

Other castles may be more extravagant, or in better shape, but Urquhart Castle is notorious for its history and a famous elusive neighbor. Built in the 13th century on the banks of Loch Ness, the highland castle spent 500 years deeply embroiled in several bloody battles. Its formidable tower, lakeside location and size–it was once one of Scotland’s largest castles - made it an appealing target for both English and Scottish forces. After centuries of turmoil, Urquhart was finally abandoned in 1692. Fearing that enemies would seize Urquhart, fleeing soldiers blew up part of the castle to render it uninhabitable. What remains today is a beautiful ruin with a picture postcard vantage point of Loch Ness and the mysterious sea monster that’s said to lurk beneath its dark waters.

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