Explore Europe's Most Magnificent Castles

Nestled between snow-capped mountains, this Bavarian castle is famous for its breathtaking surroundings and beautiful interior. "King Ludwig spent lavish amounts of money on these castles. This is what you think of when you think of Cinderella castle," Smith said. It certainly fulfills its original goal, to offer refuge from the public. King Ludwig II, also known as the "mad Bavarian king," built the castle in 1868 to do just that after he left the throne. The interior reflects this idea of a retreat. Filled with political and religious symbols and images of medieval legends, the castle transforms the visitor to the life of a lone king retiring into his worldly haven. However, the exterior is far from subdued. With its ornate towers and expansive walls, Neuschwanstein has been dubbed by The New York Times as "the most fantastic castle in the world." Disney certainly thought so. It modeled its "Sleeping Beauty" castle after this famous retreat.

Leeds Castle – Kent, England

http://www.leeds-castle.com

The 900-year-old castle is perched on an island in River Len, and the isolation only serves to magnify its splendor. "It really does take your breath away," said TravelandLeisure.com's executive editor Rich Beattie. "That's one place where it is really easy to imagine yourself as English royalty coming in and soaking up the regalness of the atmosphere." Dubbed one of the most romantic European castles by the Travel Channel and New York Times, the picturesque 500-acre property not only houses family treasures, it also provides a window into ninth century architecture. The fact that Leeds Castle was part of a queen's dowry between 1278 to 1522, including Queen Isabella and Anne of Bohemia, earned it the moniker of "Ladies' Castle." It was under the patronage of six medieval queens, including Catherine of Argon, wife of Henry VIII. The king visited the castle frequently and spent lavishly on the fort, turning it into a royal palace complete with elaborate banquet halls and well-manicured gardens. The green lawns where the kings and queens once romanced have been converted into golf courses.

Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland

http://www.edinburghcastle.biz

Built on a volcanic rock, the Edinburgh castle is one of Scotland's most important and historical forts that has stood through numerous battles, invasions and sieges. Historians believe people lived on the rock where the castle now stands as early as 850 B.C. The fort was begun in the 12th century, but it was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that its most ornate structures were created. It now houses Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, on which the early Scottish kings were crowned. With its breathtaking views of Edinburgh, elaborate statues and fountains, the castle is a popular destination for tourists to Scotland. The castles are not just popular for their rich history, but also for the beauty of the views that can be seen from the fort, Smith said.

Prague Castle – Prague, Czech Republic

http://www.hrad.cz

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