World's Extreme Castles

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Castles generally aren’t something you’d call run-of-the-mill, but some of the world’s historic castles take things to extremes. Here’s a tour of some of the most notable castles you’ll find — no castle-storming needed.

No place symbolizes the extremes of the romantic, fantastical castle ideal like Neuschwanstein Castle, rising from the hills near Germany’s border with Austria. The brainchild of Ludwig II of Bavaria — who also built several other extravagant castles, and left behind plans for still more — the 19th-century castle is a turret-bedecked, theatrically ornate confection that seems made for a fairy tale. No wonder Neuschwanstein reportedly served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Bounded by water on all sides, Eilean Donan Castle commands a dramatic landscape from a small island in the Scottish Highlands. In the castle’s early days, waterways were the main transit arteries in this inlet-filled region, and the castle — perched at the convergence of three sea lochs — was perfectly situated for defense. First built in the early 13th century as protection against marauding Vikings, Eilean Donan Castle has been associated with the Clan MacRae for centuries.
Predjama Castle, Slovenia
A castle on an island is one thing, but a castle in a cave? Slovenia has just that in the form of Predjama Castle, built in the mouth of Postojna Cave, about 100 miles east of Venice, Italy. The in-cave location provided excellent defensive capabilities for the castle, whose history goes back at least to the 13th century; these days, cave tours are popular with visitors to the castle.
Windsor Castle, England
Just west of London, Windsor Castle is huge, and it’s hugely old, too. According to the British government, Windsor Castle — one of Queen Elizabeth II’s official residences — is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. Its history dates back to William the Conquerer; in the nearly 1,000 years since then, Windsor has expanded to a floor area encompassing about 480,000 square feet.
Palácio da Pena, Portugal
With its multicolored exterior walls and its eclectic aesthetic styles, Portugal’s Palácio da Pena almost resembles a cake covered with colorful frosting. The romantic, fanciful castle was built on a craggy hill near Lisbon in the first half of the 19th century and incorporates elements of German, Moorish and other architectural traditions. These days it’s a Portuguese national monument and is used for state occasions.
Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Prague Castle is widely considered the world’s largest castle complex. Dominating the Prague skyline from a hill overlooking the Vltava River, Prague Castle has an area of about 750,000 square feet. The castle was probably founded around 880, and it houses the crown jewels and relics of the Bohemian kings who ruled from there over the centuries.
Bled Castle, Slovenia
Watch your step here! Bled Castle is dramatically perched on a 415-foot-high cliff looming over Lake Bled, in northwestern Slovenia. The ancient castle was first mentioned in an early 11th century document that called it "castellum Veldes" — the castle on the cliff. The strategic location and the great view have attracted visits by prominent officials over the years; some of the more recent guests have included then-first lady Laura Bush and Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Burghausen Castle, Germany
At close to 3,500 feet long — that’s considerably more than half a mile — Burghausen Castle is believed to be the longest castle in Europe. Burghausen was founded in the 11th century or earlier, and it saw plenty of military action over the years; this led to the expansion of its fortifications over several centuries. Burghausen lies about 60 miles east of Munich, and it still boasts the majority of its medieval fortifications.
Citadel of Aleppo, Syria
Just which castle is the world’s oldest is up for debate, but Syria’s Citadel of Aleppo should at least be part of the conversation. Its history goes back to the Hellenistic period more than 2,000 years ago; even before that, the Assyrians built a temple on the site, and the biblical prophet Abraham is said to have walked these grounds.
Malbork Castle, Poland
Castles don’t come much bigger than the one in Malbork, Poland, near the Baltic Sea. The castle was founded by the Teutonic Order in 1274 and was expanded several times over the years to accommodate the increasing number of Teutonic Knights, of whom up to 3,000 may have lived here in the castle's heyday. It’s considered one of the best examples of Gothic brick castle complexes in existence.
Castle Stalker, Scotland
Few castles look lonelier than Castle Stalker at high tide. Castle Stalker — pronounced "stall-ker" — sits on what is usually a tiny island in western Scotland, although at low tide the water recedes enough that you might be able to wade over from the mainland. Castle Stalker may be one of the most-seen in the world, at least on screen: The 14th-century castle starred in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," appearing in the final scene as Castle Auuggh.
Himeji Castle, Japan
Castles are usually associated with Europe and the Middle East, but you’ll also find them in places such as Japan. One of the loveliest Japanese castles is Himeji Castle, about 70 miles west of Kyoto, dating from the 14th century. Sometimes called the White Heron Castle for its white exterior, Himeji Castle is Japan’s largest and most visited castle. It’s also one of the best-preserved, being one of the few Japanese castles to survive virtually intact to the present day.
Bamburgh Castle, England
If it’s history you’re after, you won’t do much better than imposing Bamburgh Castle, on England’s northeastern coast. There are written records of a castle here dating back to the sixth century; the core of the present castle was built by the Normans around the 11th century. Archaeologists conduct regular digs here to learn more about Bamburgh’s ancient history, and visitors can join them and even do some hands-on research themselves.
Orava Castle, Slovakia
When visiting Slovakia’s Orava Castle, take care when you look down. The 13th century castle sits like an eagle’s nest atop a pointed, 367-foot-high rock formation above the village below and the Orava River. Potential for vertigo notwithstanding, Orava Castle is considered one of the most beautiful in Slovakia, and has appeared in films such as the classic 1992 vampire movie "Nosferatu."

Chapultepec Castle, Mexico
There’s one castle in continental North America that has housed sovereigns: Mexico’s Chapultepec Castle, which Emperor Maximilian I called home during the short-lived Second Mexican Empire in the 1860s. The castle’s hilltop location in present-day Mexico City was once sacred to the Aztecs (chapultepec is Náhuatl for "at the grasshopper’s hill"); the modern castle’s history dates to the 18th century.

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World's Extreme Castles

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