Built to protect and entertain royalty, ancient castles naturally possess a lasting beauty. But unlike the gated compounds of yesteryear, modern travelers can now step inside their historic gates.
It's the quintessential Moorish architecture that draws crowds to Granada, but the most memorable feature just might be the heavenly Mediterranean gardens.
This British estate is still home sweet home to the current Duke of Northumberland, but it's also stood in for two fictional forts: Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies and Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey.
Walk up the ramparts (alongside Asian elephants!) to take in the carved panels and mirrored ceilings of this sandstone palace.
While a 2003 earthquake caused large parts of the mud-brick compound to collapse, the UNESCO World Heritage site is slowly being restored.
If you haven't already heard of the Blarney Stone, Irish legend claims that kissing the rock grants instant eloquence.
Deep out in the Transylvanian countryside, this spooky 12th-century fortress purportedly provided the setting for Bram Stoker's horror novel, Dracula. Today, you can actually visit the hilltop home of the world's most famous vampire.
The Islamic fort housed Egyptian rulers for 700 years, but its three mosques and several palaces are now open to visitors.
Originally built in the 17th century, the Moorish castle underwent a colorful makeover in the 1800s. The regal interior now features intricate wall-carvings and tiled floors, but it's sadly been abandoned for over two decades.
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With distinctive French Renaissance architecture, this noble residence is perhaps the world's most recognizable chateau. The Loire Valley estate served as a hunting lodge for French kings starting in the 16th century.
Perched atop Castle Rock, the famous Scottish fort has withstood 26 sieges throughout its 1,100-year history.
The feudal-era complex is also called Shirasagijo, or "White Heron Castle," because it's said to resemble the bird taking flight.
Austrian prince-bishops lived in this mountaintop fortress beginning in 1077, expanding the formidable walls for the next 500 years. Tourists can trek up the steep footpath (or take a much more convenient funicular) to reach the peak.
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's passing, Denmark is renting out a room in the King's Tower for the first time in over a century. The Helsingor castle is known as the setting for the Bard's revenge-themed tragedy, Hamlet.
Kremlin literally means "fortress inside a city," and the Russian capital's compound is the perfect example. The stone walls encircle a whopping five palaces and four cathedrals, not to mention the presidential residence.
Built on flat land, Matsumoto previously used an extensive system of walls and moats for defense. But the building's unusual paint job is its most famous feature — the black exterior has earned the nickname "Crow Castle."
Divine intervention supposedly led to the construction of this commune atop a rocky islet. Pilgrims originally could only walk out to the monastery at low tide, but modern tourists can take advantage of a recently-built bridge.
Holding the title of the largest ancient castle in the world, Prague Castle occupies more than 17 hilltop acres overlooking the Bohemian city.
Bavaria's Ludwing II commissioned his palatial retreat after he lost sovereignty to Germany, earning him the nickname of the "Fairytale King." Fittingly, the romantic architecture inspired Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle decades later.
Built out onto a lake, the manmade island boasts famous gardens just as dreamy as the views. Schwerin is also known as the "Neuschwanstein of the North."
It's the world's oldest and largest inhabited castle, hosting its first British monarch back in 1121 and serving as Queen Elizabeth II's favorite "weekend home" today.