ISOLP’s Top 10 Castles


If you grew up with magnificent castles on your doorstep, like many do in Europe, then I’d understand if you were a little blasé about them. Grow up in a country without castles however – Australia, for instance, as I did – and castles are objects of intense fascination.

They are grand, haunting, mysterious; rich in history, riddled with secrets, littered with corpses; the very idea of them is ripped straight out of a fantasy novel.


Top 10 castles #1

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

Spiš Castle (pronounced Spish Castle) looms over the town of Spišské Podhradie, in Eastern Slovakia, like an ancient watchtower.

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #2

Kronborg Castle, Denmark

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’ says palace guard Marcellus to palace guard Horatio, while standing atop the parapet of Castle Elsinore. That line, as many will be aware, is from Hamlet, and that castle is this one: Kronborg Castle, on the outskirts of Helsingør (anglicised to Elsinore), in Denmark.

Kronborg Castle, Denmark

Kronborg Castle, Denmark. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #3

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

As far as fairy-tale castles go, Neuschwanstein Castle, in southwest Bavaria, Germany, is the cream of the crop. Walt Disney admitted he had Neuschwanstein Castle in mind when he drafted up Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. It’s dreamy, fanciful, romantic; you could say it is a little on the froufrou side, but it’s done on such a grand scale that you can’t help but admire it.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. Image title: ‘Neuschwanstein, Upper Bavaria, Germany’. Created between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Image available at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.00179/


Top 10 castles #4

Bojnice Castle, Slovakia

Bojnice Castle (pronounced boyniseh) is a castle in central Slovakia which dates back to the 12th Century CE.

Bojnice Castle, Slovakia

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #5

Palácio da Pena, Portugal 

Take one look at this castle and you know implicitly that its creators weren’t concerned with defence. Palácio da Pena, in Sintra, Portugal, is pure fairytale romanticism; indulging every architectural whim no matter how fanciful, fantastical, or ridiculous.

Palácio da Pena, Portugal

Palácio da Pena, Portugal. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #6

Kumamoto Castle, Japan

When finally completed Kumamoto Castle was more than a kilometre in length from north to south, and measured over 1.5 kilometres in length from east to west. And it had been designed with such superlative defensive capabilities that it was widely considered to be impregnable.

Kumamoto Castle, Japan

Kumamoto Castle, Japan. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Top 10 castles #7

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong, like all dzongs, was built for both spiritual and military purposes.

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #8

Babak Castle, Iran

When you think of Iran, do you think of lonely, windswept medieval castles clinging to the tops of craggy peaks? No? Well, you should, because north-western Iran is full of them. And Babak Castle is the best of the lot.

Babak Castle, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Top 10 castles #9

Bahla Fort, Oman

This entire, enormous, sprawling castle has almost no corridors; it’s just room after room after room after room. You’re turned around before you know it, moving in the opposite direction to which you thought, you’re route is instantly muddled, your senses swirling.

Bahla Fort, Oman

Bahla Fort, Oman. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Top 10 castles #10

The Castles of Gondar, Ethiopia

They call Gondar the Camelot of Africa.

But Camelot, capital of the Arthurian realm, home of King Arthur, is fictitious.

Gondar is real.

Castles of Gondar, Ethiopia, 13

Gondar, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Benjamin White





Worthy contenders:

Hohensalzburg Fortress, Austria

Fountain Mirabell, Salzburg, Austria

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Château de Chillon, Switzerland

Château de Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland

Photo credit: Benjamin White

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