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In pictures: Europe's most magnificent medieval castles


Turrets, ramparts, bastions and bell towers – Europe’s heritage is laid bare by its remarkable medieval castles.

Towns, cities, villages and communities have flourished on Europe’s rivers for hundreds of years, a fact evidenced by the continent’s majestic castles. Standing guard over the continent’s waters for a thousand years, these stone sentinels were central to local life in the Middle Ages and beyond, providing safety and refuge in times of great hardship.

Today, the continent is dotted with medieval castles and fortresses from the North Sea to the Black – but which are worth your time? To find out, we’re taking a look at some of Europe’s most magnificent medieval castles.

Prague Castle

prague castle

Prague, the historic capital of Czechia, is built around its formidable and ancient castle, so it would be amiss not to include it on our list. Influential and domineering, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Prague Castle is the most distinguished castle on the continent – central to the economic, political and cultural landscape of Czechia. The castle is believed to have been founded around 880, with evidence of Romanesque and Gothic architecture from the 10th century to the 15th. Palaces, forts and ecclesiastical buildings combine to make Prague Castle the most immersive and complex castle site in Europe, with countless highlights spread across its grounds – from St George’s Basilica to the majestic Golden Lane.

Take a journey through Prague Castle on our Danube Explorer with Prague itinerary.

Altenburg Castle

altenburg castle

Bavaria is rich with magnificent keeps which tell of the region’s colourful history, and Bamberg’s Altenberg Castle is one of its most beautiful. First mentioned in 1109, the castle rose to prominence in the 14th and 15th centuries, serving as the richly ornate residence of the Bishops of Bamberg. Today, many parts of the original 13th-century keep remain, making it among the best-preserved medieval monuments in Europe. The castle is located at the highest point of Bamberg, offering magnificent views of the city from its topmost ramparts. The original iron basket which was used to send signals to nearby castles also remains, giving you an idea of the historical significance of Bavaria’s ancient castle structures.

See Altenberg Castle and the charms of Bamberg as part of our Splendours of Europe itinerary.

Dürnstein Castle

durnstein castle

The ruin of Dürnstein Castle may be one of Europe’s most romantic medieval castles, as well as its most fascinating. Located in Austria’s Wachau Valley, a region designated UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its viticultural traditions, Dürnstein is steeped in history and lore thanks to its ties to Richard the Lionheart – one of the great medieval kings of England. The Lionheart was imprisoned within the walls of Dürnstein while returning to England from the Crusades, and it’s this legacy which has cemented the castle as one of the must-sees of the Danube. Enjoy a hike to the castle as part of an EmeraldACTIVE excursion, or else see it during a guided cycle along the river.

Explore the beautiful ruins and immersive history of Dürnstein on our Danube Delights river cruise.

Hohenbaden Castle

hohenbaden castle

While many of Germany’s prestigious castles are strategically positioned on the waters of the Rhine and Main rivers, others take more finding. Such is the case with Hohenbaden, an 11th-century ruined keep nestled high in the hills of Baden-Baden. Built in 1102, the castle was used as the seat of the Margraves of Baden-Baden throughout the medieval period, but fell into decline from the 16th century. Today, the ruin clings to a rocky escarpment as it has for centuries, while its subterranean dungeons, cells and winding staircases offer a glimpse into its tumultuous and dark heritage. As part of a guided tour, you’ll hike the ramparts of Hohenbaden, climbing to the lookout point summit for rewarding views over Baden-Baden, the Rhine Valley and the distant Black Forest.

Marvel at the historic wonders of Baden-Baden on The Majestic Rhine with Berlin.

Marksburg Castle

marksburg caslte

Marksburg Castle – the most famous and influential keep of the Rhineland. Located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed region of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, this domineering medieval fortress dates from the 13th century, and is one of few European castles to have survived in its original condition. Indeed, this is the only castle in Germany not to have sustained damage during the infamous Thirty Years War, fought between the Habsburg States and the anti-Habsburg allies in the 17th century. As such, a visit truly offers a step back in time, with the keep’s original fortifications, chambers, baileys, bastions and residential building still intact. Even if you’ve no time for a visit, Marksburg’s fairy-tale profile offers an enchanting view from the waters of the Rhine.

Take in the beauty of Marksburg on our wonderful Legendary Rhine & Moselle river cruise.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

pfalzgrafenstein castle

Located in the Rhine Gorge, one of the most impressive stretches of waters on the continent, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle is a unique heritage site in the centre of the river. Built around 800 years ago, the castle-turned-stronghold is situated on a tiny islet in the middle of the Rhine – a miraculous feat of engineering for the period. Pfalzgrafenstein was one of several medieval toll booths on the river, used to generate revenue from passing trade vessels. For the medieval river captain, the castle, with its 360-degree arrow turrets and bell tower, would have been a formidable sight, and something few would have dared try to bypass unseen. See the castle for yourself as you cruise the beautiful Rhine Gorge, and daydream about days gone by.

Marvel at Pfalzgrafenstein on our immersive The Majestic Rhine river cruise.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

hohensalzburg fortress

Wander anywhere in the enchanting alpine city of Salzburg, and you’ll still catch a glimpse of the Hohensalzburg, the city’s ancient and imposing hilltop fortress. Part of the historic Festungsburg district, this 11th-century keep is the largest enclosed castle in Europe, and retains many of its original features, including its towering curtain walls. The castle has been a defining feature of Salzburg since the early medieval period, and, uniquely for a European castle, has never been captured by foreign forces. Today, the castle is among the most popular sights in Salzburg, and a visit promises majestic views over the city and its dramatic snow-capped backdrop.

Visit Salzburg as part of our spectacular Splendours of Europe with Prague itinerary.

Cochem Castle

cochem castle

While Cochem Castle has undergone a dramatic transformation over the centuries, it still retains aspects of its original 12th-century design and architecture. The ‘Hexenturm’, for example, is one of a handful of original elements which were preserved when the castle was rebuilt and renovated by wealthy Berlin business magnate Louis Ravené in the 19th century. A castle has stood on the site since the 1100s, though much of the original keep was destroyed during the Thirty Years War, when Louis XIV of France obliterated the fortification with cannon fire from the river. A true medieval monument it is not, but Cochem Castle deserves your attention for its mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture.

Experience the charms of Cochem on our Legendary Rhine & Moselle with Berlin tour.

Castles, culture and memorable cuisine – a European river cruise from Emerald Waterways is the very best way to see the continent. For more information about our upcoming river cruises or to book, visit the homepage or call our team today on 0808 159 4193.