Castle-Hopping in Europe

Castles have always fascinated travelers, and Europe claims some of the world's most intriguing. In these centuries-old palaces, see where battles, banquets, and even a few beheadings have taken place, as well as admire priceless jewels and pristine gardens. In fall, spring and summer, the grounds are especially beautiful. Some of the castles may close or offer limited hours in winter. Always check ahead.

Castles have always fascinated travelers, and Europe claims some of the world's most intriguing. In these centuries-old palaces, see where battles, banquets, and even a few beheadings have taken place, as well as admire priceless jewels and pristine gardens. In fall, spring and summer, the grounds are especially beautiful. Some of the castles may close or offer limited hours in winter. Always check ahead.

(All photographs from Fotolia)

Czech Republic: Krumlov Castle (Cesky Krumlov)

Located in southern Bohemia, Èeský Krumlov, a restored medieval town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the country’s second most popular tourist destination. The town’s jewel, the hilltop Krumlov hrad (castle) contains 300-rooms, making it the second-largest castle in the Czech Republic (Prague Castle is the largest). Begun in 1302, the castle has stately rooms, summer performances in an open-air theater, and a town whose restaurants serve great garlic soup.

Russia: Peterhof (outside of St. Petersburg)

Peterhof (Petrodvorets), 18 miles from St. Petersburg, is not just another pretty palace with gilded sconces, trompe l’oeil paintings, silk lined walls, and a gallery of family portraits. The extensive gardens and the fountains, not to mention the 25-minute hydrofoil ride from the city, make the place especially appealing to kids, particularly May through October when the waterworks operate. Besides enjoying the spectacle of the Grand Cascade’s tiers of flowing water, kids can romp through spurting fountains that “erupt” unpredictably (bring a change of clothes).

Scotland: Stirling Castle (outside of Glasgow)

Stirling Castle, about 40-minutes from Glasgow, is a massive, hill-top fortress, dating to the 12th century. A royal castle that served as home to kings and queens for centuries, Stirling was built for defense. With thick fortifications, a drawbridge, inner courtyards and myriad buildings, the castle impresses. The Great Hall, built in 1503, is the largest in medieval Scotland. As a baby, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned at Stirling on September 9, 1543 and her son James was baptized at the castle.

Sweden: Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace, Stockholm)

With 608 rooms, the Stockholm Royal Palace is the biggest palace in the world still used by a head of state - King Carl XVI Gustav. The baroque masterpiece, completed in 1754, has its share of ornate ceilings and elaborate tapestries. Kids, however, are more likely to want to spend the most time in Skattkammaren, the Treasury admiring crowns encrusted with diamonds, pearls and emeralds. The Livrustkammaren, the Royal Armory, features fairytale-like antique carriages and coaches, some adorned with gilt and jewels. The changing of the guard is held daily in summer.

Ireland: Kilkenny Castle (Kilkenny)

Kilkenny is known for its well-preserved medieval buildings, including Kilkenny Castle, built in the 12th century and remodeled in the 19th century. Equally as impressive to kids as the formal rooms found on the tour are the 50-acres of grounds, now a public park with a rose garden, riverside walk and lots of room for romping.