For me, visiting a castle is an enchanting treat… and when I say enchanting I mean that I gaze off over the ruined ramparts fantasizing about what it must have been like in its glory, centuries ago. I definitely get my damsel in distress on while I’m at it, Disney princess-style. What horrific, beautiful or heartbreaking stories could these stones tell? Sub question: will a dashing, rugged young prince surprise me with flowers and a song from the far side of that ancient battlement? Perhaps not, but I still love the whimsy and romantic mystery that cling to the crumbled walls and over grown courtyards of the broken castles of Europe.
Urquhart Castle – Scotland
Once one of Scotland’s largest fortresses, these walls date all the way back to the 13th century, with even further whispers of fortifications on the site as early as the 6th century. The remains still stand majestically overlooking Loch Ness. The dark waters of the lake itself lend a certain air of magic to the castle, so it’s no surprise that most claimed Nessie sightings are from here. Imagine Robert the Bruce rallying soldiers in the fight for Scottish freedom from the still standing tower or soak in the whole panorama from the well groomed walking trail.
Spis Castle – Slovakia
Perched atop a perfectly sloped hill above the village of Zehra, Spis Castle is practically part of the geology. Bleached white stones form this ancient Romanesque fortress, one of the largest in Europe. Once a stronghold of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it grew in size and splendor as a palace for royal and noble families, complete with a Gothic basilica, until 1780 when it burned. Now it is a site rich with local archaeology and there is a fascinating museum housed in the restored parts of the castle.
Kyrenia Castle – Cyprus
Standing sentry over the harbor of Kyrenia, this 7th century Byzantine castle is the stuff that fairy tales are made from. King Richard the Lionheart (remember, from Robin Hood?) took this castle during the Crusades, and you can still see how it withstood siege after siege in the centuries following. Thick utilitarian walls, stout towers and narrow archways make this a no frills fortress. You’ll have images of beautiful ladies swathed in silks, nibbling decadent fruits and sipping sweet wine from Rhodes as you lounge in the sun-baked courtyard.
Tintagel Castle – England
Thrust out into the Atlantic Ocean off of Cornwall, Tintagel is enchanting in its windswept ruggedness. Deep with legends of King Arthur dating back to the 12th century and also the supposed setting for the epic love story Tristan and Isolde, the mystical atmosphere is palpable. Though archaeological digs have yet to prove any of the stories, it is still a singular site. Don’t miss Merlin’s cave and the scenic walking trails among the ruined walls.
Heidelberg – Germany
This gorgeous red castle sprawls across the hill above the city of Heidelberg, a relic of forgotten splendor and unimaginable wealth. Built in the 12th century as more of a palace than a bastion, it withstood fires, lighting strikes, pillage and bombings before it was abandoned. Tourists have flocked to behold its weathered shell since then, most prominently, Mark Twain, who said, “Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect.” Take the funicular up from town to see these crumbled walls, ornate spires and once magnificent halls for yourself.
Whether you seek the romance of myths or the history of what’s buried beneath these strongholds, they will wow you with their grand size, sweeping scenery and centuries of secrets.
All photos licensed through Shutterstock
Guest Author Bio
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine. She recommends a car rental in Europe for the castle ruin tour of a lifetime!