Legend has it that kissing the Blarney Stone, which can be reached by leaning backward over a parapet, will grant you the gift of gab. The stone is housed within the medieval fortifications of Blarney Castle, built almost 600 years ago by chieftain Cormac MacCarthy and rife with superstitions. Blarney, Cork; 011-353-21-438-5252; blarneycastle.ie; admission, $17*
Dominating the city skyline, Edinburgh Castle rests atop an extinct volcanic crag. Some sections of the castle are almost a millennium old, and it changed hands many times as the English and Scots fought over the territory. Among its treasures? The crown jewels of Scotland. Castlehill, Edinburgh; 011-44-0131-225-9846; edinburghcastle.gov.uk; admission, $22
The popularity of the 1,000-year-old castle has soared in recent years, as fans of the Harry Potter movies flock to where Hogwarts was shot for the first two films. Parts of the Norman castle are still occupied by the Duke of Northumberland, but much of it is open to the public, including an art collection with pieces by Titian and Van Dyck, and sumptuous staterooms filled with antiques amassed over hundreds of years. Alnwick, Northumberland; 011-44-01665-511-100; alnwickcastle.com; admission, $20
Château de Chambord
Europe’s largest enclosed forest park surrounds this magnificent 440-room French Renaissance château in the Loire Valley. Tour the ballrooms, check out the hunting museum, or climb the stairs up to the roof, where guests once watched the hunt below. Chambord, Loir-et-Cher; 011-33-02-54-50-40-00; chambord.org; admission, $14
The unassuming village of Hohenschwangau sits below the sheer rock walls, soaring turrets, and elegant spires of this 19th-century castle, dreamed up by Ludwig II as an homage to the operas of Richard Wagner, themselves based on medieval legends. With a backdrop of Bavarian forest, lakes, and the Alpsee Valley, the castle is right out of a fairy tale. Hohenschwangau, Allgäu; 011-49-8362-930830; neuschwanstein.de; admission, $14
Although not technically a castle, because it lacks defensive fortifications, this 18th-century palace makes the list for being a rococo masterpiece. Once the summer residence of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great and empress of Russia from 1725 until her death, in 1727, the Catherine Palace owes its flair to her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who redid the exterior in robin’s-egg blue and 220 pounds of gold leaf. The glowing Amber Room—originally decorated with six tons of amber then carefully re-created after looting by the Nazis—is its crown jewel. Pushkin, St. Petersburg; 011-7-812-465-20-24; tzar.ru; admission, $12
The pet project of media magnate William Randolph Hearst sits halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Designed in the Mediterranean-revival style by Julia Morgan, its 165 rooms were built both to showcase Hearst’s museum-quality art collection and to house celebrity guests such as the Marx Brothers and Greta Garbo. With views of the Pacific Ocean, indoor and outdoor pools, and luxurious living spaces, the castle is a tribute to midcentury high society. San Simeon; 1-800-444-4445; hearstcastle.org; admission, $25
This fortress city, raised in the 16th and 17th centuries, is often called the Camelot of Africa. Made up of a complex of castles, churches, and other buildings, it’s one of the continent’s most astonishing sights. Once the residence of Fasilides, the Ethiopian emperor after whom it was named, Fasil Ghebbi is a medley of Arab, Hindu, and Baroque architectural influences. The main castle, with its massive towers and battlements, appears to have been transplanted from medieval Europe. Gondar; whc.unesco.org; admission, $9
Osaka Castle has gone through several iterations over the centuries, as fire or war damaged previous versions. Currently, the gorgeous main building, a stack of pagoda-style peaked and tiled roofs, dates to 1931, while the enormous moats and hefty stone walls, along with gates and turrets, remain from the Edo period. Six hundred cherry trees fill the Nishinomaru Garden and draw crowds each spring. Osaka; 011-81-6-6941-3044; osakacastle.net; admission, $5
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: May 2017