Europe's Most Enchanting Fairytale Castles

Don't leave your glass slipper here, Cinderella.

It's difficult not to feel charmed as you travel through Europe, particularly if you're American – their post offices and railway stations are older than many of our oldest national monuments. Once the newness...er, oldness begins to wear off, however, you start to raise your standards for enchantment, to the point where it can be very difficult to find a place that knocks your socks off.

Or your glass slipper, as it were. If it's a fairytale scene you're after, few places in Europe, let alone the world, are more evocative than the castles I'm about to list.

  • 01 of 05

    Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

    Neuschwanstein Castle
    A vintage photochrom of Neuschwanstein Castle (ca 1900). Public domain

    When you think of famous German leaders, your mind undoubtedly goes to a terrifying place, particularly if your knowledge of history only extends into the past century or so. If you go back just a little further into the annals of time, however, you'll arrive in the late 19th century, before Germany was united, and a king called Ludwig II ruled over the bucolic Kingdom of Bavaria.

    As you approach Neuschwanstein Castle, which Ludwig II built as a personal retreat using his own personal fortune, you might feel like you're going even further back in time. Set on a bluff amid the endlessly rolling Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle actually seems timeless.

  • 02 of 05

    Bled Castle in Slovenia

    Lake Bled Slovenia
    Lake Bled, Slovenia in winter. Oliver Bonjoch via Wikimedia Commons (Serbia)

    You might feel a little confused as you approach Lake Bled, a fluorescent-colored Alpine lake in the Julian Alps, just north of Ljubljana, Slovenia: Two imposing, enchanting structures exist here, and it's difficult to tell which is supposed to be more charming.

    Most photos of Lake Bled depict the 15th-century church (which was actually built, interestingly enough, on the ruins of an ancient Slavic shrine) at its center, which many travelers assume is the fabled Bled Castle. In fact, Bled Castle is perched above the lake, and although the views from it are spellbinding, it pales in it charm when compared to the church.

  • 03 of 05

    Bran Castle in Romania

    Bran Castle Romania
    Romania's Bran Castle represents a darker sort of fairytale. Russavia via Wikimedia Commons

    Not every fairytale has a happy ending – or, frankly, is happy at all – so if your sense of wonderment is darker in nature, you might head to Bran Castle, located just outside of Brasov, Romania. It isn't as creepy as you might think, given its association with Vlad III, the historical figure associated with the legend of Dracula.

    Still, it's difficult not to feel like you're walking through another time in Bran Castle, even if you don't feel like your time on the planet is nearly up. Plus, the Dracula souvenirs you find being sold all around are fabulously kitschy—and cheap!

  • 04 of 05

    Castle of Segovia in Spain

    Alcazar Castle Segovia Spain
    If there's not a prince in Spain's Alcazar Castle, there are none left in the world. tek0011 via Reddit Commons

    Although the modern Castle of Segovia (and I, of course, use the word "modern" lightly) only dates back to the 12th century, archaeologists believe the site where it's built has been used in some castle-like capacity since Roman times, and maybe before then.

    Indeed, as you walk toward the castle, which is more formally known by its Spanish name Alcázar de Segovia, it's difficult to put a number on exactly how far back into the past you feel yourself being transported, particularly if you visit during the snowy parts of winter. Just don't look back behind you, as you'll see the ultra-modern city of Segovia and it might ruin the time-travel feeling you have.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Château de Chillon in Switzerland

    Chateau de Chillon
    A vintage lithograph of Château de Chillon. Public domain

    Like Bled Castle...er, Bled Church, Switzerland's Château de Chillon is surrounded by a lake (Lake Geneva) and mountains (the Swiss Alps, rather than the Julian ones), and like the Castle of Segovia, it dates back to the 12th (or perhaps, even the 11th) century.

    But Château de Chillon is nonetheless unique enough to deserve a visit, even though it incorporates elements from all the other fairytale castles on this list. Plus, it's in Switzerland, whose dreamy mix of futuristic engineering, impeccable historical buildings and timeless scenery is a sort of fairytale all on its own.