Explore Europe's Most Magnificent Castles

From beheadings to extravagant parties, castles around the world have been used for a variety of purposes. They were built as defensive fortresses to protect against invaders and as a launching ground for battles. At the same time, castles also served as a symbol of prestige.

Kings, queens and monarchs turned their castles into palaces and spent generously to add to the grandeur of their homes. Castles are romantic because they "take you back in your imagination," said author and illustrator A.G. Smith, who has authored several books on castles.

If you're dreaming of traveling back in time and planning a trip to Europe, here is a list of the Top 10 most lavish castles in Europe that are rich in history and architectural elegance, and which you should be sure not to miss. Whether it be dark dungeons or lofty towers, these castles stand out from their counterparts in their magnificence and opulence.

Windsor Castle – Windsor, England

http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/

Towering over the suburban, quiet city of Windsor, the 900-year-old sprawling structure holds the title of the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world. Its official resident, the queen of England, has hosted an array of famous names, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It's also one of the most visited castles in Europe. William the Conqueror built the castle in 1066 to protect the western borders of London after he invaded England. It was expanded by later monarchs and served as a royal palace, burial ground and even a prison for a brief time in the mid-1600s. It was Charles II who added grandeur to the castle. In the 1670s, he employed numerous wood-carvers and architects to deck the interior with art and murals. A fire destroyed part of the 12-acre castle in 1992, after which the government spent five years and $59.2 million to undertake one of the largest historic restoration projects.

Warwick Castle – Warwick, England

http://www.warwick-castle.co.uk/

Long before William the Conqueror began construction on another medieval fort in the city of Warwick, the daughter of Alfred the Great ordered walls to be built to protect the city in 914. This was the beginning of the Warwick Castle, which, in 1068 was expanded by William the Conqueror for defensive purposes. Since then, it has been home to Richard de Beauchamp, Joan of Arc's inquisitor, and Richard Neville, the 16th earl of Warwick, among other famous names. It was the de Beauchamps that turned the castle into their palace and added the castle's lofty towers and dark dungeons. It is the last remaining pre-Civil War castle. Even King Henry VI was imprisoned at a tower here. In 1978, the Warwick Castle was sold to the Tussauds group, and visitors today can get a virtual tour of British history, from the scenes of Warwick in 1471 to Victorian gardens to wax statues of Neville preparing to fight.

Neuschwanstein – Bavaria, Germany

http://www.neuschwanstein.com/

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