From a castle that stretches across a river to a castle sitting on its own rock island, Europe has a stunning array of waterfront castles to visit.
Europe is star-studded with dreamy fairytale castles nestled in picturesque mountains or surrounded by perfectly landscaped gardens. But in the words of the wise sage Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much. Sure, Bodiam Castle is pretty, but I’m more of a Bamburgh gal myself. Why have a measly old moat when you can have an entire ocean for a view?
Even in complete ruins, waterfront castles trump all others. Seaside, riverside, lakeside—it doesn’t matter. There’s just something supremely fancy about a castle sitting on or near a beach. As it turns out, Europe has enough of these waterfront castles that you could spend an entire month doing a coastal castle crawl, from the dramatic oceanfront fortresses of the United Kingdom to the preserved riverside estates of France and Germany.
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Château de Chillon
Remember Prince Eric’s castle in Disney’s The Little Mermaid? I always thought it was so cool that it was right on the beach. As it turns out, it’s a real castle. Well, Sort of. While the kingdom in the movie has a subtle Mediterranean vibe, Château de Chillon in Switzerland is said to have heavily inspired the aesthetic of Prince Eric’s castle—and the resemblance is definitely there.
Located on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva, this medieval pad sits on its own fortified island, jutting out into the water. Today, it’s open to tourists and is one of Switzerland’s most popular attractions. Admission starts at about $14 for adults, which is pretty budget-friendly as castle tours go. Do not miss the crypt part of the tour with its underground passages, gothic arched ceilings, and treasure room.
Château de Chenonceau
Sure, Versailles is gorgeous, but Château de Chenonceau is on the river. Like, on the river. The early Renaissance marvel outside the town of Tours stretches entirely across the Cher River as its own house bridge giving both sides of this expansive mansion waterfront views. Room tours are available during the day, which includes an impressive collection of art They’ve got Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, and the work of other greats just casually hanging up in the gallery, but the real fun comes after hours. There are nighttime garden strolls, starlight food tastings, and a wine walk around the grounds, which sounds lovely.
Except for the Game of Thrones (GoT) souvenir shops, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is largely frozen in time. The city’s medieval walls are fairly well preserved, giving tourists the ability to walk along the narrow, stoney top and tour the town’s many historic palaces, churches, and squares. And then, of course, there’s GoT.
Fans flock to Dubrovnik to see the film locations of Qarth and King’s Landing, especially the Red Keep: Fort Lovrijenac. The Middle Ages-era fortress boasts incredible views of the Adriatic Sea as well as the entirety of Old Town. However, for the best view of Fort Lovrijenac, book a terrace room at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik for an eye-level, straight-on view from your bed.
Ireland and North Ireland have so many coastal cliff castles that it’s hard to just pick one. The famous Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland has amazing views of the Atlantic, but if we’re talking about the best waterfront castle in Ireland, it has to be Kylemore Castle. Now known as Kylemore Abbey, this Victorian castle on the Pollacappul Lough (about an hour away from Galway) is an absolute gem. The solid granite walls reflect off the lake water, which is already dotted with picturesque lily pads. Oh, and there’s an adorable tea house on site with homemade scones, pies, and teas made from herbs harvested from the castle’s traditional Victorian walled garden. It doesn’t get any more magical than this.
Castello di Miramare
Hello, lover. Castello di Miramare is the quintessential coastal castle. It has tiny turrets for days, an ornate red throne room, and a 50+ acre seashore park on the Gulf of Trieste. It’s also one of the youngest castles on our list (built in the mid-1800s), but you’d never know it with the neo-gothic architecture and medieval quatrefoils everywhere. You can visit the castle today and tour select rooms with its original furnishings, but be warned: some say this castle is cursed.
Its original owners were Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Charlotte of Belgium, who never got to see the completed home. The archduke didn’t because he was murdered in Mexico following some shady orders from Napoleon III. Charlotte never saw the finished castle either because she was forced to live inside under house arrest because a doctor in Rome said she was hysterical after her husband died. Eventually, she was sent back to Belgium to, again, live confined for the next 40+ years. Visiting seems to be safe enough, but many believe that anyone who sleeps in the castle is doomed to a similar tragic and short-lived life.
Denmark has several gorgeous waterfront castles. As for the best, it’s a close call between Frederiksborg Castle and Kronborg Castle, but Frederiksborg edges out because of all that beautiful patina copper. The Renaissance-era castle sits on an islet in the Slotssøen lake and is surrounded by gorgeous fountains, including a fountain for Neptune.
Today, the castle houses Denmark’s National History Museum, which chronicles more than 500 years of Danish history and art. In my opinion, the perfect time to go is in September. Why, you ask? The tablecloths. One month a year, they bring out the most exquisit4e hand-embroidered table linens from the 1600s and 1700s (because these fabrics are super fragile and can’t be on display year-round).
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle might be the most famous castle in Europe if only for the number of movies it’s been featured in, from the James Bond franchise to the rom-com Made of Honor (and, yes, you can get married here). The medieval castle sits at the confluence of three different lochs with 360-degree views of the Scottish Highlands. But what’s also impressive is the level of new technology at the castle’s visitor center. Most European castles aren’t exactly accessible and it can be frustrating for wheelchair users. While Eilean Donan still has stairs that aren’t accessible, the visitor’s center is working on exhibits and virtual reality to bring elements of the castle to life at the visitor’s center.
Perched high above Lake Bled on a giant rock sits Bled Castle. It may not have a sandy beach, but it’s both waterfront and water-above at nearly 430 feet in the air. There are so many gorgeous terraces to take in the view, especially the all-stone Lapidary. Wear your comfy shoes for this one because there’s a lot of walking and a lot of stairs, from the top of the castle walls to the wine cellar where you can fill and cork your own bottle of Slovenian wine.
Germany has big castle energy, and a great way to get the most castle for your buck is a Rhine River cruise. There’s even a stretch of the river that’s so loaded with castles and castle ruins that UNESCO gave the Upper Middle Rhine Valley an award, not to mention you’ll see the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, which is a tiny toll castle right in the middle of the river. For a riverside castle that you can actually go inside and tour, Rheinstein Castle is top of the list. It’s just so charming, from medieval terraces offering incredible panoramic views of the Rhine Valley to a quaint outdoor restaurant with homemade cakes and German wines.
About halfway between Vienna and Linz, overlooking the Danube River, sits the lavish Baroque stunner, Melk Abbey. Technically, it hasn’t been a castle since the 1000s, but this Benedictine monastery still feels incredibly impressive. You’ll want to plan several hours here as there’s so much to see, from the grand marble hall to the gigantic spiral staircase to the jaw-droppingly gorgeous library that is gilded from floor to fresco-painted ceiling.
Europe’s beaches and river banks are covered in castle ruins, and sometimes the ruins can be even more fun exploring than touring the polished, restored castles. We could even write a spin-off about Europe’s best waterfront castle ruins. There are so many famous sites, but if you only visit one, it has to be Urquhart Castle. It’s not so much about the actual Scottish Highlands ruins but the views of Loch Ness. As in, the Loch Ness Monster. It’s a rite of passage for any cryptozoologist.
Regarding Bled Castle (#8) ... uhh, that image definitely isn't Bled Castle. It's Bled Island and the castle is on the shoreline, about a kilometer or so away from the island.
BINGO! The biggest problem with so many travel articles today is that they are written by people who have not been more than 5 miles from their computer in their life