When we think of the luxury real estate in the United States, thoughts of brand new mansions and sprawling modern estates might come to mind, but around the world, the most legendary real estate is actually the oldest: castles that were home to Kings and Queens, Barons and Emperors since the Crusades, midlevel ages and Victorian Era. And while you won't see a For Sale sign posted on any of these architectural treasures, the good news is that most of them are open to tourists to view and enjoy. But until you can see them in person on your next vacation to Europe or overseas, here are the top 10 most distinguished castles in the world:
Rising about 300 feet in the air above a rocky island off off the coast of Normandy, this historic castle of Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Every year, more than 3 million visitors come to see the castle, swelling the island’s permanent population of 12 residents. To get back to the mainland, one hardly even needs a boat, as the strong tides pull the water out and connect the island with the mainland twice a day. Thanks to that disappearing natural bridge, the castle went unconquered during the Hundred Years War, many English invaders drowning when the tides rolled in.
This storybook 19th century palace and castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal Alpine retreat, translating to “New Swanstone Castle” in German. As a young prince, he would often look upon the mountains above his family palace and sketch a fantastical castle. So once he came to power as king, he had his vision built in the Romanesque Revival architectural style. It was considered one of the most grand and magnificent structures ever built once completed but Ludwig II passed away shortly after. So the castle was opened to the pubic in 1886, and now entertains about 1.3 million visitors a year, over 60 million total.
If the castle looks somewhat familiar there's good reason - Neuschwanstein Castle holds the distinction for being the inspiration and model for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle in America.
This sky fortress is one of the oldest and best preserved castles in all of Europe. Hohensalzburg, which is German for “High Salzburg Fortress”, was actually constructed to huge propotions away back in the 11th century on orders from the Prince-Archibshop of Salzburg, and expanded in the 14th century. Construction was an epic affair, as it’s built on a steep mountain that rises about 1,600 feet above sea level, providing natural protection from enemies and invaders.
In 1195, William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, needed to control a fording point and several junctions of the river Nore. Instead of a dam or a wall, he built an entire castle, defending the town with its four large round towers and deep ditch moat. But in 1967, the castle was sold to the people of Kilkenny for a nominal price of 50 pounds, and visitors to the castle can now also stroll through public gardens and parks, conference facilities and a university.
Prague Castle, standing in the main city of Prague, is one of the most ancient castles in the world, the first stones being laid for its foundation way back in the 9th century. Over time, it was home to the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. It holds the Guinnes Book world record as being the largest castle in the world, encompassing more than 220,000 square feet.
Nestled in the bucolic province of Segovia in central Spain, El Castillo de Coca, was first the property of the ruling House of Alba. It was built in the 15th century by by Don Alonso de Fonseca, a magnate well known for his affinity for luxury. Built from bricks instead of solid blocks of rock because of the lack of stone in the sandy region, the castle was an important defense point, with three circular watch towers and 30-foot deep moat. But these days, a school sits on its grounds and its open every day to eager tourists.
Most people don’t even know of the tiny sovereign country of San Marino, landlocked within Italy, but it’s home to one of the most storied castles in the world, Guaita Castle. Named after one of the three mountains that stand watch over the city of San Marino, the castle fortress was constructed in the 11th century and was functioned as a prison during war times. It rises almost impossibly from an inhospitable peak, making it almost impossible to invade.
Hatley Castle stands regally among the forested region of Colwood, British Columbia in Greater Victoria, Canada. But it’s also well known by many U.S. film buffs, as the castle was the setting for Professor Xavier’s school for mutants in the X-Men series. And while you won't find too many mutants walking around, it was a school in real life, serving as a military college since the 1940s and a royal university from 1995 to present day.
Matsumoto Castle is a rare and beautiful castle in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture an easy train ride from Tokyo. It’s one of the most famous castles in the country and deemed a National Treasure, called the “Crow Castle” because of its midnight-black exterior architecture. Unlike most castles who take advantage of defensive points on mountains or across rivers, the Matsumoto castle sat on a low flood plain, so it was built up on a stone pyramid structure and protected by maze-like inner sanctums, walls, and moats.
Rising from the barren desert about 20 miles outside of the city of Homs near the Lebanese border, Krak des Chevaliers is a fortress who’s origin goes all the way back to the Crusades. Over the centuries, it was occupied by the Kurds, the Count of Tripoli and his Knights, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars, and rebels during the Syrian civil war. It’s now is surrounded by a village of about 9,000 inhabitants and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.