The word ‘castle’ is synonymous with images of thick walls, fortified towers, hilltop settings, and fairytales. Most castles were built during the Middle Ages as residences and fortified cities by the nobility and royalty. Usually, they cover an extensive area because of their walls, moats, and fortifications. While most of the largest castles in the world are in Europe, there are many others scattered throughout the world. Our list of the 12 largest castles in the world brings you a deeper insight into these grand structures that hold the title of being the largest castle in the world.
Often confused between the terms “castle” and “palace,” there is a clear distinction between the two. While both are usually grand royal residences, the fortifications in a castle set them apart. Over nine centuries of castle-building, they took on many forms with varied features. However, the main distinctive castle elements such as the curtain walls, arrowslits, and portcullises remained. With the advent of artillery and cannons, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the military significance of castles began to dwindle. From being fortifications to keep out the enemy, they metamorphosed into stately residences and symbols of power.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
The striking Neuschwanstein Castle overlooks the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria. Ranking as one of the biggest castles in the world, it spreads out over 6,000 square meters. Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned the castle in honor of music composer, Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for it out of his own pocket. Initially named New Hohenschwangau Castle, the name changed to Neuschwanstein Castle after his death in 1886.
Inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner and two other palaces, Ludwig incorporated theater themes into this castle. During the construction of the palace, the king insisted on seeing every draft before finalizing anything. His role in overseeing the building process resulted in a place more of his own design despite architect Eduard Riedel landing the job. Labeled as ‘kitsch” by critics at the time, today, people hold it in high regard.
In 1884, the king moved into the incomplete castle. However, his friend Wagner never set foot inside as he passed away in 1883. After Ludwig’s death in 1886, the elaborate plans of the castle were shelved and simplified alterations replaced them. 200 rooms were part of the initial plan but the final outcome saw only 15 rooms and halls completed. The castle opened to the public six weeks after the king’s death on orders of the regent. A great way of seeing the best vantage points of the castle is by a small-group day tour from Munich.
Cite de Carcassonne, France
Cite de Carcassonne is an imposing medieval citadel in the French city of Carcassonne. The historic landmark attracts thousands of visitors. Resembling a fairytale castle with its spiky turrets and zigzag battlements, this UNESCO World Heritage Site stood its ground for over two millennia. Strategically located on a hilltop and laid out in a concentric pattern, the castle gets protection from double ramparts and 52 defensive towers. The Romans and Gauls settled here early on and the Visigoths followed. Traces of the Visigoth’s influence on the castle still remain. Often attacked over the centuries, the castle eventually became the property of the Viscount of Albi in 1067.
Ruled by the Trencavels for almost two centuries, it submitted to the rule of the kingdom of France in 1247. It then became a border fortress between the Crown of Aragon and France. More expansions happened over the years until the Treaty of Pyrenees reduced Carcassone’s military significance. The fortifications soon fell into disrepair, However, renowned architect, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc later added the ‘witch’s hat’ roofs to the complex. Although the restoration work received criticism during Viollet-le-Duc’s lifetime as he used slate instead of terracotta tiles, it is still the work of genius.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to this extensive castle which sits grandly atop the Castle Rock, the plug of an extinct volcano. This huge rock rises to a height of 130 meters above sea level. One of the biggest castles in the world, surrounded by rocky cliffs, the place looks quite impenetrable.
The first documented mention of a castle on Castle Rock appeared in an account by John Fordun in the 11th century. In the 12th century, King David I spent a lot of his time at Edinburgh. By the end of the 12th century, Edinburgh Castle acquired the status of being the main repository of Scotland’s official state papers. A seesaw of fortunes followed during the 13th and early 14th centuries, when the castle briefly passed into the hands of the English. Finally, David II occupied it.
As his main seat of government, rebuilding began in 1367. It remained incomplete when he died in 1371. In the 15th century, the castle passed into the reign of King James II and expansion and construction continued. During this period, Crown Square and the Great Hall along with royal apartments were built. Over the centuries the castle underwent various expansions and several attacks. In fact, over its 1,100-year-old history, the castle was besieged at least 26 times.
Artillery bombardment during the Lang Siege in the 16th century saw many medieval defenses destroyed. The only remaining structures from the early period include St Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century. Plus, the Royal Palace and the Great Hall. However, what remains of the castle encompasses a whopping 35,737 square meters. Currently, Edinburgh Castle features as the most-visited paid site in Scotland. It is also the second-most visited site in the United Kingdom.
One of the best ways to see the iconic sights of any city is through the eyes of a local. On a bespoke private tour of the castle with a local you’ll probably get to hear stories that no one else has heard.
Citadel of Aleppo, Syria
Considered as the largest castle in the world, the Citadel of Aleppo lies in Northern Syria. The hill on which the castle stands has been in use as far back as the 3rd millennium BC. It’s also purportedly the place where the prophet Abraham grazed his sheep. Most of what remains of the citadel today are attributed to the Ayyubid period.
The city emerged as a fortified acropolis under the reign of Seleucus I Nicator, an infantry general in Alexander the Great’s army. It later passed into the hands of the Romans. Muslim troops eventually captured it in the 7th century. However, not much of either the Roman or Muslim period is visible in the citadel.
The citadel began to grow substantially under the Ayyubids when major repairs and additions were undertaken. Sultan Ghazi built a palace within the complex but it burned down on his wedding night. It was later rebuilt and still stands as an impressive monument of the citadel. Today’s structure is the result of continuous renovations and changes by various rulers over the centuries. The Citadel stands 50 meters high and covers an area of approximately 39,804 square meters.
Himeji Castle, Japan
It’s easy to see why this Japanese castle is listed as on of the largest in the world. Comprising 83 buildings that cover an extensive 265 acres, the Himeji Castle is not only a National Treasure but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the largest and best-preserved samurai fortification in Japan, the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture.
Also popularly referred to as ‘White Heron Castle’ because of its resemblance to a bird taking flight, Himeji Castle’s foundation dates back to 1333. A fort initially occupied the site where the castle now stands. However, it was dismantled to make way for the castle in 1346. Two centuries later, the castle’s significant remodeling resulted in the addition of a three-story castle keep. After the Battle of Sekigahar in 1600, the new owner, Ikeda Terumasa demolished the keep. He completely rebuilt and transformed the castle into what it is today. Himeji Castle is a masterpiece of construction in wood.
No one ever attacked the heavily fortified place. It even survived the Meji period which was responsible for the destruction of many of Japan’s palaces. The palace even stood tall through the World Wars and the earthquake of 1995. Japan’s historic castle is as fascinating as its culture. When you’re done with exploring the castle why not try something novel. You can dress up in a kimono and enjoy a traditional tea ceremony at a teahouse on the grounds of the castle.
Buda Castle, Hungary
On the southern tip of Castle Hill in Budapest, is the massive Buda Castle. The touristic area Varnegyed surrounds it. A great way of finding out more about this impressive structure is by taking a tour down the medieval streets of Buda Castle. The present structure dates back to the 18th century. Credit for the first royal residence on Castle Hill goes to the 13th century’s King Bela IV, of Hungary. However, no trace of this castle remains. The foundations of the current palace date back to 1356 when King Lajos built a Romanesque-style castle. Four decades later, a grander Gothic-style palace replaced it as the grandest in Europe at the time. The new palace did not stand for long though as it was once again taken down and replaced by a Renaissance palace. When the Turks invaded and took Hungary, the palace lay abandoned and eventually fell into ruin.
Once again, when Hungary was recaptured, the Habsburgs decided to build another smaller Baroque style palace but this suffered damage too. Much of what is visible today dates back to a 1950 reconstruction. The current castle may not be as elaborate as its predecessors but the impressive complex stretching 300 meters along the Danube is still pretty amazing. The entire castle complex which currently houses several museums spans an area of 44,647 square meters.
Spiš Castle, Slovakia
Another Hungarian castle that occupies an impressive 49,485 square meters is the Spiš Castle in Slovakia, considered to be one of the biggest medieval castles in Central Europe. The bulwarks and thick defensive walls date back to the 12th century as protection for the Hungarian kings. It was also the principal center of governance of the Kingdom of Hungary. Through the centuries, the castle passed down to various powerful families until it passed to the state of Czechoslovakia in 1945.
The castle collapsed in the 12th century but by the second half of the 13th century, a new Romanesque stone castle with fortifications replaced it. A two-story Romanesque palace and a three-nave Romanesque-Gothic basilica were also part of the new complex. The addition of an extra settlement in the 14th century doubled the area of the castle. In the second half of the 15th century, the castle underwent another Gothic renovation. This time it became a place for balls and social gatherings of the upper class. Since the threat of invasion died down, it was no longer another fortification but more of a stately residence. A fire in 1780 almost sealed the fate of the castle but a massive restoration during the 1970s brought this large castle back to life. Today the castle is at the top of places to visit in Slovakia.
Hohensalzburg Castle, Austria
Salzburg’s iconic castle is a real eye-catcher, sitting high above the city on Festungsberg hill. With a total area of 54,523 square meters, the castle is one of the biggest castles in the world. The imposing structure had a humble beginning as a bailey with a wooden wall in 1077 when Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein commissioned it. When Helfenstein and Henry IV had a fallout the castle became even bigger.
Over the centuries, the fortress underwent greater expansions. Ring walls and towers became part of it in 1462 under Prince-Archbishop Burkhard II von Weißpriach. The succeeding Prince-Archbishop, Leonhard von Keutschach transformed the castle to its current state. He made more additions to the fortress between 1495 to 1519. Fears of a Turkish invasion prompted the construction of the external bastions in the 16th century.
The fortress only came under siege once during the German Peasants’ War in 1525 but no one could conquer it. In 1800, during the Napoleanic War of the Second Coalition, the castle was surrendered to French troops without a fight. In the 19th century, the castle became a storage depot and was used as barracks. A major refurbishment in the late 19th century transformed the abandoned castle into a major tourist attraction. A great way to soak in the immensity and beauty of this historical marvel is with a concert at the fortress combined with a cruise and dinner.
Windsor Castle, England
Considered to be the biggest castle in the world, that’s occupied, Windsor Castle makes up one of the three official residences of the Queen of England. Straddling an extensive area of 54, 835 square meters, this vision of towers and battlements attracts thousands of visitors through the year. The castle has three parts: Lower, Middle, and Upper Wards. Visitors can take a free guided tour to familiarize themselves with the layout. Some of the areas remain off-limits especially when the Queen is in residence. The Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower to indicate her presence.
After the successful Norman invasion of England, William the Conqueror ordered the construction of an earth and timber fortress beside the Thames. Completed in 1080, the castle was later rebuilt into a stone structure by his grandson Henry I in 1170. Since then, royals have continuously occupied the castle. Over the centuries, each monarch added their own touches to the castle bringing in Gothic and Baroque elements. During his reign, George IV brought in his team of artisans and gave Windsor its identity of being a palace within a medieval castle. Centuries of rebuilding resulted in transforming the castle into a massive 1,000-room space created in different architectural styles.
Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Although the Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the biggest castle in the world, the top spot in terms of the land area goes to another European castle. However, Prague’s most popular attraction occupies a whopping area of 66,761 square meters, the size of over seven football fields. The 9th-century fairytale-like fortress century looks down on the city from its prime perch on the left bank of the Vltava river. Ever since its opening, the castle has been the seat of the Czech monarchs and the official residence of the head of state. There’s a lot to see in the vicinity of the castle and a good idea would be to go on a walking tour. Combine an exploration of the Old Town with all that there is to discover about this, one of the largest castles in the world.
The first walled building of the castle, the Church of the Virgin Mary, dates back to 870. Other buildings followed. Originally founded as a fortified settlement by Prince Bořivoj, the castle began to grow with subsequent rulers. Under Charles IV, in the 15th century, a Gothic-styled palace replaced the first Romanesque palace of the 12th century. However, in 1541 a fire destroyed large parts of the castle. During its restoration, the Habsburgs added new Renaissance-style buildings. The last major reconstruction of the castle happened in the 18th century by Empress Maria Theresa. Today the buildings within the huge castle complex represent almost every architectural style of the previous millennium. Besides the historic buildings, this large castle now comprises museums and galleries. Some of the country’s most prized possessions are here.
Mehrangarh Fort, India
This impregnable Rajasthani fort in Jodhpur, India is a marvel in architecture and size. Standing tall at 120meters above Jodhpur’s skyline, Mehrangarh blends into the base of the rock. Although officially labeled a fort, the palaces and structures that make up this sprawling 81,227 square meter complex put it in the category of an Indian Castle. Built in the mid 15th century by the ruler Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur city, the Jodhpur royal family still runs the fort. Though Rao Jodha began building the fort, much of what stands today is attributed to Jaswant Sing of Marwar. Enclosed within the thick walls of the fort are some of the most beautiful Rajasthani palaces. If you’re an adrenaline junkie why not zip over Mehrangarh Fort to get a whole new perspective from a vantage point.
Many legends abound about the historic fort. One of the most popular is that of laying its foundation and the displacement of the sole human occupant on the hill, a hermit. The influential hermit initially refused to move from this location despite repeated requests. Eventually, the king summoned a more powerful female warrior sage who managed to evict the hermit. Her blessings have kept the fort with the same family since its inception. Entry into the fort is through a series of seven gates. The final gate, Loha Pol, has iron spikes to keep the enemy’s elephants at bay. Just inside the gate, you’ll see the poignant handprints of the royal widows who immolated themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.
Malbork Castle, Poland
The Castle of the Teutonic Order, better known as Malbork Castle, has the distinction of being the biggest castle in the world by land area. It is also the largest brick building in Europe. The developed part of the complex occupies an extensive area of 143,591 square meters on the banks of the Nogat River. It served as the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights for almost 150 years after its construction in the 13th century. Marienburg (Fortress of Mary), began in stages beginning with the central bastion, the so-called High Castle. The Middle Castle followed and eventually, the Lower Castle. Three rings of defensive walls protected the castle which gradually expanded to be the largest fortress in the Middle Ages. It once housed about 3,000 knights.
During the 13 Years War in 1457, the Polish army seized the castle. After this, the castle became the residence for Polish kings visiting the area and served this purpose for three centuries. However, the castle gradually went into decline beginning with the Swedish invasions and the Partitions of Poland in 1772. The Prussians took over the castle and converted it into barracks. They destroyed much of the original structure in order to turn it into barracks. In the 19th century, the government took the castle under its protection and restorations were carried out. Although the Marienburg sustained damage during WWII, restorations carried out transformed it to its past glory. It is now a major tourist attraction.