While some may argue that fairytales only ended in the cinderella story and that they don’t exist anymore, visiting one or more castles in France is the ultimate fairytale in the 20th century – at least for a person like me or any other traveler who wants to be blown away by the beauty, architecture and magnificent details that only lie in French castles. Although visiting all the best castles in France may not be on everyone’s European bucket list, at least visiting one should not be far behind – but if you never thought of visiting any, I hope this list of the famous castles in France inspires you to start your fairytale castle tours in France.
Tips for visiting castles in France
The castles in France are undeniably some of the best castles in the entire world, that visiting any of them will see you go into a frenzy of entering wonderland – they’re definitely out of a fairytale book. But even though they’re magical, a little preparedness goes a long way. So here are some of the tips for visiting the castles of France.
These French castles are spread through the country that the best way to visit all of them is by renting a car and embark on an adventurous French road trip. But if you’re only visiting castles near Paris, then it’s possible to easily visit all the castles by just using public transportation. If you plan to rent a car, Rental cars is what I recommend to use to rent a car in France.
France has so many castles that it can be overwhelming to decide on which one to visit and which one to leave, so because you go, decide on which ones you want to visit and how long you want to spend in a specific region before heading to the other. (This list will inspire if you’re not sure about which ones to visit).
While on the road, book all your accommodation in France via Booking.com which is the leading hotel booking website in the world – and should your plans change, you can easily cancel your booking beforehand.
Visiting the castles of France can be quite pricey, so if you plan on visiting a number of them, I’d advise you to buy a castle pass to cut down on the costs. You can either buy the general castle pass if you plan to visit Castles of different regions of France or buy specific ones like the Paris pass for castles in and near Paris if you’re only concentrating in that area. After buying the castle pass, it will be sent to you via mail within 10 days if you stay in Europe and if you stay outside Europe, you can always buy the tickets when you reach the castles themselves. Please note that its only adults who can buy the pass online, minors and students can only buy then from the castle offices while on site.
Best castles in France to visit
For easy navigation, this list of castles in France is going to be categorized according to the region – from Castles in Paris, castles in Normandy France, castles in the south of France, to Loire Valley France castles.
Castles near Paris plus Castles in Paris France
Chateau de Versailles
Situated 20 kilometers southwest of Paris, Chateau de Versailles which was originally just a hunting lodge was later transformed into the principal royal residence of France from 1682 under Louis XIV till the beginning of the french revolution in 1789 under Louis XVI. Chateau de Versailles is not only the most famous castle in Paris but also one of the best places to visit in Paris with a record number of 7,700,000 visitors in 2017 – a figure that saw it climb to the second position of the most visited landmarks in Ile de France region after Louvre museum and now a major tourist attraction across France after the Eiffel Tower.
Currently, a Unesco world heritage site, Chateau de Versailles receives millions of visitors every year who come to get a glimpse of what used to be the home of one of the richest kings in history and also making it one of the European bucket list sites for most travelers.
With a large well-maintained garden of 815 hectares and more than 63 hectares inside, the palace has over 2,300 rooms with the most outstanding being the Hall of mirrors, Marie – Antoinette’s bedrooms, plus the King’s apartments and the Royal Bedchamber that should not be missed out on your visit to this spectacular castle in France.
After taking in all the beauty that lies in the palace and walking in the footsteps of the wealthiest king in France, visit the Trianon Estate whose buildings are less crowded but equally beautiful especially the Grand and Petit Trianon. In addition to the Trianon Estate, the Queen’s Hamlet, which is a gateway constructed for Marie Antoinette to enjoy some quiet time away from the palace is also a must-see.
Chateau de Chantilly
Located 50 kilometers north of Paris, Chateau Chantilly in the town of Chantilly is a historical monument in France that dates back in the 19th century. The palace that is of renaissance style was a former residence to the French princes for over 2 centuries.
The existence of 2 castles makes a visit to Chateau de Chantilly even more exciting than anyone would have anticipated – the smaller castle that was constructed in the 16th century and the big castle from the 19th century. Other than the great architecture, the castle also houses Conde Museum which is the second largest collection of paintings in France after the Louvre Museum and also the third largest library in the country. The Conde museum that was opened in 1898 has a library including 1,500 manuscripts plus a collection of 2,500 drawings of which some are the most important in France like the 3 paintings by Fra Angelico, 3 by Rafael, 4 by Antoine Watteau, 5 by Nicola Poussin and many others making it one of the best castles in France for art lovers.
While you’re inside the castle, don’t miss visiting the lavishly furnished and decorated suites of the princely which are located on the first floor of the castle and the private suites of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale located on the ground floor of the petit chateau. (Please note that the guided tours of the private suites are currently closed off and will be reopening after restoration.)
And just outside the castle is a beautiful 115-hectare park to wander around as you admire the Grand Canal, the beautifully landscaped garden, the flowerbeds of the Le Notre formal French garden plus Sylvie’s house and a hamlet on which Marie Antoinette based her farm at Versailles.
Chateau de Fontainebleau
Located 55 kilometers southeast of Paris, Chateau de Fontainebleau is one of the largest French royal castles in France. Currently serving as a national museum and a Unesco world heritage site, Chateau de Fontainebleau is one of the most famous French castles you should visit for an ultimate fairytale.
Sitting on a 130-acres parkland and garden, the castle has over 1,500 rooms and it is the only imperial French chateau to have been continuously used as a residence for the French Monarchs for seven centuries ( from Louis VII to Napoleon III) with each century adding a unique touch of architecture to the castle by the reigning monarchs transforming it into a greater marvel wonder that we see now.
From its three big chapels, the four Museums, the perfectly furnished, adorned and decorated apartments, Chateau de Fontainebleau is a true home of the kings that should not be missed as you check out the castles around Paris. The castle also houses a number of exceptional artwork including ornaments and decorations that represent the incredible taste of the royals that resided there at a time.
After admiring the beauty that lies within this famous french chateau, stroll around the four main courtyards and the three gardens to maximize your visit to the Fontainebleau and if you feel like taking a nature walk, the Fontainebleau forest is just nearby to enjoy an encounter with nature.
Castles in Loire valley France
For travelers whose France trip is all about getting lost in castles, a trip to Loire valley is a must as it has the most number of best chateaux in France – over 300 chateaux to be exact! But while your love for castles might be up in the roof, it is quite impossible to visit all of these castles at once. So here are the best castles in Loire valley that you should at least start with before you get burned out moving from one french castle to the other,
Chateau de Chambord
Considered as the biggest and the most famous castle in Loire Valley, Chateau de Chambord is not only a Renaissance architectural wonder but also a major historical site where French history unfolded.
Initially constructed to serve as a hunting lodge for King Francis I in the 16th century, this over the top castle has 426 rooms, over 280 fireplaces, and 84 staircases – It is an impressive castle that was constructed as a symbol of power, prestige and to impress foreign dignitaries. Though it is one of the most picturesque and one of the most beautiful castles in France, it was the less “functional” of all with the king using it as a residence for only 2 months during his reign.
The most significant and impressive features of chateau de Chambord include the incredible roof-line which contains over 282 chimneys – a feature that is just out of a fairytale book and the castle’s famous double spiral staircase which was designed so that 2 people can go down the stairs at the same time without seeing each other – a character that is believed to have been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Also, don’t miss out on the roof terrace that was originally constructed to watch down as the hunting goes on, but has now become a major viewpoint of the castle that can give a rough idea of how big the entire castle grounds are which are approximately the size of Paris.
The other way to enjoy this magnificent site is by hiring a bicycle and bike along the well-demarcated bikeways within the 13, 0000-acre wooden park and game reserve enclosed by a 31-kilometer wall as you admire the castle from all angles. It is also possible to hire a boat at Chambord to enjoy boat rides on the water overlooking the Chateau.
Château de Chenonceau
Though the first chateau was a medieval one constructed back in the 12th and 13the centuries, the current form of Chateau de Chenonceau was built from 1514 to 1522. The chateau was constructed on the foundations of an old mill which was later expanded to span River Cher and later a bridge over the river was built from 1556 to 1559 to make the Chateau more accessible.
Chenonceau is one of the beautiful castles in France in the Loire Valley region whose history is defined by a succession of strong women who built it, embellished, protected, restored and saved it – and it is also the most visited castle in France after chateau de Versailles.
Chateau de Chenonceau houses a number of the magnificent collection of tapestries, furniture, and paintings with some of the masterpieces made by great European painters of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries including some from Van Loo, Andrea del Sarto, Van Dyck, and many others.
Other than the extraordinary artwork, make your to the rooms and admire how they were beautifully decorated or head to the balcony of the castle to enjoy panoramic views of Cher River.
– How to get there:
- 2 hours by car via the autoroute A10 “Aquitaine” (Blois or Amboise exits)
- 1 hour by T.G.V. Paris-Montparnasse / Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Tours)
- 1 hour by T.G.V. Paris-Aéroport Roissy-CDG / Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Tours)
Chateau de Villandry
Commonly known for it’s beautiful and well-designed gardens, Chateau de Villandry is one of the best chateaux in Loire valley. Constructed in 1536 by Jean le Breton who was one of King Francis I’s finance minister, the chateau is one of the last largest renaissance chateaux to be constructed in the Loire Valley.
Though the architecture of the Chateau is as impressive as the many other top castles in France, it is the gardens that set Chateau de Villandry apart. The garden combines both flowers and vegetable courtesy of Dr. Joachim Carvallo who purchased it in 1906 and put all his sweat and money in this project to bring it to its current glory after it had been left un unattended to when it was confiscated by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Chateau de Amboise
Situated at an elevation of 81 meters, Chateau de Amboise was constructed on a spur above River Loire that makes it quite visible from a distance before you even enter the town of Amboise. The castle that was confiscated by the monarchy in the 15th century from its original owner – Louis d’Amboise after being convicted of plotting against Louis XI but was later forgiven by the King but instead took his Chateau at Amboise – became a favorite royal residence being passed on from one generation to another.
What makes Chateau de Amboise one of the best castles to visit in France, is that other than the architectural fortress, it provides breathtaking views over the town of Amboise and the Loire River.
Though there is little of the original castle left to see due to the French revolution, the part of the castle that was renovated and still stands is quite impressive with a visit to the underground passages and the towers being the highlight.
Castles in Normandy France
Chateau de Creully
Dating back in the 11th and 12th century, Chateau de Creully is a defensive fortress castle that has been altered over the years and its alteration led to the glory it now displays. It was in 1360 that this castle was demolished and reconstructed into a fortress it is currently with each century adding a significant character to it – with the square tower built in the 14th century, the watchtower later added in the 15th century and then the destruction of the drawbridge and the construction of a Renaissance-style turret with enormous windows in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Despite the countless modifications throughout the centuries, Chateau de Creully still impresses its visitors by providing insight into life in the 11th and preceding centuries. Other than being impressed by this fortress castle, you can also enjoy the art exhibition that happens on the grounds and also visit the Radio Museum plus the BBC Tower and watchtower.
Located in the town of Harcourt, Chateau d’Harcourt is one of the French medieval castles, one of the best-preserved castles in the whole country and also one that contains the oldest arboretum in France which was installed there since 1802.
This masterpiece of medieval architecture which dates back in the 12th and 14th centuries was greatly changed in the 17th century to make it more hospitable but the castle remains surrounded by a part of the wall and bordered by a double moat making its glory still visible even up to date – and regardless of all those alterations, the Chateau d’Harcourt is still an architectural wonder that is also listed as a major historic site in France.
Château de Gratot
Located in the area of Gratot, Chateau de Gratot is a ruined medieval castle in France that has been classified by the French government as a Monument Historique. Initially constructed by the family of Argouges, barons of Gratt in the 14th century, the castle underwent multiple transformations in the 18th century with the most recent being the addition of a pavilion.
Unfortunately, the castle was abandoned from the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century, but it has since then been revived to its glory due to a group of volunteers that started restoring it in 1968. The group rebuilt two of the towers and added wooden roofs to the towers to give them more character.
Castles in Southern France
There are a number of hilltop castles in the south of France though some of them are currently in ruins, regardless there are still a number of them that are worth adding to the list of best castles in France.
Château Comtal de Carcassonne
Founded during the period of Gallo-Roman, Chateau Comtal de Carcassonne is a beautiful medieval castle that sits on top of a hillside within the fortified city of Carcassonne which is the largest city in Europe with its city walls still standing.
Unfortunately, in 1209, the castle was besieged by the crusaders during the phase of the war against Cathars of the Languedoc. During this period, the castle changed ownership a lot that left it unattended to very much until it went into the hands of the French government in 1849 who initially wanted to demolish the city fortifications but later reversed their decisions due to strong opposition by the local people. And the castle was later restored to its current state in 1853.
The castle is mostly famous for its 3 kilometers long double surrounding walls interspersed by 52 towers – a feature that leaves all castle visitors in awe of this fortified French chateau. When you visit the castle, stroll around the two single-story buildings that are dominated by a square tower and also admire the ring of walls with slits for firing arrows plus the round towers with embrasures running along the walls of the eastern side of the castle.
Climbing one of the 53 towers will give you spectacular views of the vineyard and the views across the entire valley – indeed Chateau Comtal de Carcassonne is one of the dreamy castles of southern France.
Château de Flaugergues
Built in the 17th century, this beautiful castle that is located in the countryside of Montpellier is substantially different from the other Fench castles you might have seen. This castle is not about the medieval or fortified kind of construction but rather a simple main building built on its steps on three levels with spaces close to each other of which, each is spectacular in its own way. The beauty of this castle is highly magnified by spaces which are covered in either wall, hedges, trees, railings, and balustrades
The castles houses Flemish tapestries which are the major finery of Flaugergues antique furniture including the most notable magnificent furniture of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Other collections that can be found in the Castle of Flaugergues include a curious instrument of the Louis XV period to view the optical sights colored in relief and a number of other scientific instruments that are housed in the library.
If it’s not to admire the interior of the castle, then the splendid gardens should inspire you to visit Chateau de Flaugergues. The beautifully well-maintained gardens that lie on 4 hectares were classified as Historical monuments in 1986 and also received the label of “Remarkable Garden” in 2014.
And for wine lovers, Chateau de Flaugergues is more than just a castle – the chateau has a big vineyard where a number of wines are produced and visitors can get a chance of wine tasting.
If you initially thought fairytales don’t exist, I hope this post of the best castles in France has shown you that they actually do exist. Have you been to any of these dreamy French Chateaux, let me know which one you loved the most in the comment section.
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