France is a country that is well known for its opulently beautiful palaces, but I wanted to highlight some incredible castles to visit in France.
Castles are a favourite of mine to visit and I’ve previously written about the 10 Underrated Castles to visit in the United Kingdom as well. There is something unique and beautiful about seeing these fortress-like structures as they presently stand, with echoes of the past in their great halls, and beauty in their purpose-built forms.
I reached out to several other very talented travel bloggers and asked them to share what they thought was a worthy Castle. These buildings have a history of being defensible positions, even when they’ve echoed the elegance of a French palace, and have truly wondrous history.
Incredible Castles to Visit in France
Château de Rocamadour
Submitted by Jacquie from FlashPackingFamily.com
Rocamadour is a medieval village in the Dordogne and whilst it is not officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, it is breathtakingly beautiful nonetheless. The village was built into the vertical cliff in a gravity-defying feat of medieval engineering with the Château de Rocamadour sitting at the very top. Rocamadour is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited places in France.
Rocamadour castle was built to protect the sacred buildings in the village which date back almost 1000 years. The most famous of the sites is the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary; home to the Black Madonna and visited by pilgrims over the centuries.
You can access the castle by walking up the 216 steps of the Great Staircase from the village via the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or you can pay a fee to take the lift). From there you can take the winding path (La Calvarie) past the Stations of the Cross depicting the life story of Jesus. If you do not wish to visit the village, you can also just park in the car park at the top of the village next to the castle.
Only the ramparts of the castle are open to the public. There is a charge of €2 per person which is worth paying to get the stunning views along the Alzou valley and over the village below.
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Château de Pouancé
Submitted by Faith from xyuandbeyond.
Chateaux de Pouancé is located in Pouancé, in the Maine-et-Loire, in Anjou, France and it was built to defend Anjou against Brittany. The Castle encompasses 3 hectares of land and is named the “second castle of Anjou” due to its size which is slightly smaller than the Chateaux Angers.
This very imposing Castle overlooks one of three lakes that surround the town. The three lakes are the lake of Tresse, the lake of Pouancé, just under the castle and the Lake of Saint-Aubin.
The first mention of the castle dates back to 1049-1060, and the Count of Anjou maintained over 1200 soldiers inside the Castle. The original Castle had 15 towers and 3 walls circling the city.
The Castle was fortified in the 11th century and during the Hundred Years War was besieged many times. By the end of the 15th century during the Mad War, it became a highly strategic location.
The Castle was listed as a Historic Monument in 1926 but little is known about the building as there has been a lack of archaeology conducted at the site.
The Castle is haunted by the ghost of a Lady who was shut in one of the Towers. You can take a guided tour of the Castle and see the underground cellars, and the old internal moat.
The Castle of Pouancé was abandoned and left to ruin during the 18th century. In the 1960’s it was saved from destruction by Louis Bessière who wanted to restore the Castle and create a legacy for the citizens of the area.
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Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Submitted by Bec from WyldFamilyTravel
High on a mountain, Chateau Koenigsburg stands proud overlooking the beautiful lands of the Alsace area below. Weaving through the forest to get there is amazing in any season but especially beautiful in autumn. The colours of the trees change every few meters, it has to be one of the best things to see in the Alsace region.
This mighty fortress, like many of its kind, has a colourful past. It is first mentioned as a monastery in 774 and still to this day the exact date of when a castle was first built is unknown. It is known that the name Koenigsbourg (The King’s Castle) is mentioned in 1192 and is a reference to the family that owned it.
It was used as a hideout during wars, was fought over by rival armies and unfortunately looted and burned to the ground. The top of the mountain sat bear of its fortress until 1900 when it was fully restored to the glory that it had been.
The views from the keep are absolutely stunning and on a clear day, you can see for miles. The rooms while not as regal as some castles you may have been to show the way a defensive castle like this would have been used by the family that lived in it. The armoury has so many relics of an age when hand to hand combat would have been the way this amazing hilltop defence would have been protected by any means.
Top tip: Get a cold drink or snack from the small kiosk and take it over to where the small concrete wall is. From there you can get amazing views as well and you can enjoy a nice French pastry as well.
Submitted by Brianna from Curious Travel Bug
Chateau d’Angers is a fantastic castle to visit in France if you are looking for a Medieval-style castle. It’s one of the older castles located in the Loire Valley, an area famous for its castles so it stands out as being unique among them. Angers was built in the 13th century but the site it sits on in the city of Angers has been occupied since the Stone Age.
At nearly half a kilometer long and with 17 towers, Angers is a very big castle. The large towers of this castle are its most impressive sight and worth a visit just to see the scale of it.
Unlike a lot of chateaus, it’s free to see the outside of Chateau d’Angers as it is set right in a city rather than a rural setting. You do have to pay an entry fee to explore inside the castle but it is worth it.
Inside the walls of Angers, you can explore the different buildings and walk along the castle walls to get views of the city. One of the more unique things you can view here is the 100 m long Apocalypse Tapestry. There are also exhibits that focus on the holy wars fought in France and on Joan of Arc. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring this castle.
It’s best to visit this area of France by car to be able to explore more castles but the train is also a great option, with trips from Paris to Angers taking about 2 hours.
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Château de Vizielle
Submitted by Ashley from Jet Lagged Mama
Nestled in the hills of southeastern French Alps is one of the most spectacular castles in France – Chateau de Vizille. This beautiful castle is located just 9 miles outside of Grenoble in the town of Vizille. The easiest way to get to Vizille is by car or bus. You can easily take a bus from Grenoble Gare (Train/Bus station) straight into the town of Vizille and the castle is a short easy walk from the bus stop. This castle is considered the most prestigious castle in its region and it lives up to its reputation. The castle was completed in the 16th century and has a long history, and was a popular summer home for French royalty.
The reason I love this castle is because of the beautiful gardens that surround the castle. While visiting Vizille, do not miss walking around this amazing gardens/park. It features a beautiful small river that flows down the middle. The park is filled with animals including geese, deer, and horses. Make sure to pack a picnic and a blanket so you can find a spot in the grass. Better yet, grab a baguette and bottle of wine to spend the afternoon soaking up the French lifestyle. If you are travelling with small kids, they can take advantage of riding the miniature horses.
Chateau de Vizille is spectacular for so many reasons but the best thing about it is the change of pace here. You will find yourself sitting in the park for hours, enchanted by the beauty of this magical place. If you can’t make it all the way to France right now, take a virtual vacation to Paris from the safety of your home.
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Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Submitted by Pierre from FrenchMoments
Finally, the castle’s park offers a beautiful panorama of the western suburbs of Paris: La Défense, the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.
How to get to Saint-Germain? From central Paris, the RER A takes approximately 30 minutes to reach the historic castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
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Château de D’Amboise
Submitted by Jori from TheTejanaAbroad
The Loire Valley is full of many castles, and Chateau d’Amboise is a must-see!
This castle used to be a medieval stronghold and was converted into a royal residence during the Renaissance for a variety of French monarchs. This chateau overlooks a river running through the city, giving visitors from below a beautiful view of the castle, and visitors from above a great view of the city of Amboise. On the castle grounds, there is the residence, the gardens, and a chapel that serves as the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci. Since the castle is located on the hill, it’s interesting to see the infrastructure of the roads and grounds in order to accommodate horse-drawn carriages.
The city of Amboise is easily reachable from Paris by train (usually 1.5 to 2 hours with a stop in St Pierre des Corps) or by car (2.5 hours). If you go to Amboise, it’s easy to visit the other chateaux in the area, such as Blois and Chambord.
Tip: Also in the city of Amboise you can visit Da Vinci’s house, the place of his death and now a museum that houses his life’s work. As you walk around the vast garden of the museum, you will see life-size versions of Da Vinci’s inventions
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Château de Castelnaud
Submitted by Debbie from Grand Adventure Story
The Dordogne is known as the region of 1001 castles thanks to the Hundred Years’ War between France and England when the fighting was focused in the Dordogne (known as Périgord at the time). Lords were granted the right to build castles by English and French kings to strengthen their position in the region. Parallel lines of castles from the opposing sides can be seen on either side of valleys and riverbanks throughout the region. One of these, Château de Castelnaud, facing Beynac Castle, is among our favourite to visit in the Dordogne.
Château de Castelnaud, which sits high above the Dordogne river, is near the famous market town of Sarlat. What is special about this castle is that it not only has castle walls to explore (watch out for the vertiginous drops!), spectacular views of the Dordogne to admire and formal gardens to stroll through, but it also houses the Museum of Medieval Warfare. Our two boys were fascinated by the weaponry and armoury on show. On our last visit there, a sunny April afternoon, a free kids activity was on offer. The boys joined in a 30min sword-fighting lesson, complete with tabards and wooden swords. They were in heaven!
Our top tip would be to combine a visit here with a trip to the Jardins de Marqueyssac just across the river. The gardens are a fabulous place to wander for children and adults alike. For more ideas of what to do in the region check out our guide to things to do in the Dordogne.
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Château de Chenonceau
Submitted by Maartje from TheOrangeBackpack
Chateau de Chenonceau is one of the most famous and most beautiful castles in France to visit. Chenonceau is different from the other castles because of its turbulent history with court intrigues and it’s located on (not at, but on!) a river.
The castle is located in the Loire Valley. This river valley is filled with the most stunning castles and palaces of France, so it is highly recommended to visit Chenonceau while castle hunting them all during a Loire road trip.
Chenonceau was once owned by Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of the French king. The king gave her the castle as a gift, while surprising his wife Catherine with the much smaller Loire castle of Chaumont. Catherine wasn’t too pleased with this, as we can imagine. So upon the death of the king, she forced Diane to give up her castle and change it for Chaumont.
Today’s castle is mostly the work of those to court rivals. Diane had the castle connected to the other riverbank by creating a bridge. Catherine added a two-story gallery on this bridge, creating the iconic castle on the river we know today.
When visiting the castle, make sure to plan in enough time of the castle grounds as well. The gardens of queen Catherine are beautiful and there is also a vegetable garden and a maze to enjoy.
Submitted by Alice from Girl with a Saddle Bag
Picture this. A medieval citadel perched high above a river, surrounded by lush vineyards, the Mediterranean sun beating down. This isn’t fantasy, this is Carcassonne.
La Cité, as local’s call it, is an astonishingly complete fortified city in the southwest of France. It was saved from the brink of dereliction in the 19th century by eccentric French architect Viollet Le Duc who, ensnared by its magic, initiated a major restoration project. What you see today dates back in the most part to the 5th and 6th centuries, with just a few turrets and crenelations of Viollet Le Duc’s own creation.
Walk across the drawbridge and through the ancient city gates and you’re immediately transported in time. Cocooned within the labyrinthine streets, lose yourself for hours amongst the ancient townhouses, market squares, chapels and chateaux. Climb the battlements. Walk the walls. Experience the light-fantastic created by the spectacular stained-glass windows in the 12th century Basilique Saint Nazaire. This isn’t a museum though – Carcassonne lives and breathes. Explore local specialities in the independent shops, stop for coffee or atmospheric dinner or even stay overnight in one of several guesthouses.
Whilst the Cité will keep you occupied for the best part of a day, make time to stroll down to La Ville Basse – the functional heart of the modern city of Carcassonne. A charming 18th century market town, it’s well worth exploring in its own right.
Carcassonne is easy to reach by road and rail and is less than two hours from the southern French cities of Toulouse, Narbonne and Perpignan.
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Château de Beynac
Submitted by Kirsten from Kids Are a Trip
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Submitted by Elisa from World in Paris
If you are looking for good day trips from Paris a bit off the beaten path, head to Les Andelys, in the region of Normandy, to visit this picturesque town and the imposing Château Gaillard.
Château Gaillard is a medieval fortress built in the 12th century by King Richard Lionheart, who was also Duke of Normandy. At that time, Normandy was coveted by the French king Philippe Auguste, that’s why King Richard decided to build a fortress in a strategic position to protect his lands from the French invasions.
The fortified castle was built in only 2 years, a record for that time! Because of its imposing architecture and beauty, people named it Chateau Gaillard, being “gaillard” an old French word that means “handsome”.
Today, Château Gaillard is in ruins. Still, it is an interesting château to visit (the information panels help) plus the view over the Seine Valley from the château is awesome.
Château Gaillard is organized into multiple volumes, almost independent of each other. The objective is to multiply the obstacles in order to exhaust the attacker and trap him inside the fortress.
Amongst these structures outstands the castle keep, which has a unique structure 3/4 circular, with a rectangular side.
All the elements of the castle are isolated by a moat and its position (on the top of a hill overlooking the river) also helps against attackers.
Château Gaillard was sieged and destroyed by King Philippe Auguste, but only after the death of King Richard.
The best way to reach Château Gaillard is with your own car as there is no public transportation to /from Paris
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Château de Chambord
Submitted by Elisa from France Bucket List
Château de Chambord is one of the best Loire Valley castles to visit. It is located in the region of the Centre-Val-de-Loire, not far from Paris.
Château de Chambord is usually visited on a day tour from Paris but you can also combine Chambord with other castles and medieval towns in the area like Amboise or Blois on a weekend getaway by car or bike.
In Chambord, there is a castle since medieval times, surrounded by a vast forest great for hunting parties. The current castle, however, was commissioned in the 16th century by the French King Francois I, in a typical Renaissance style. It is believed that the great Leonardo da Vinci was involved in the castle’s design as he was living nearby, in Amboise, under the protection of the French King. It is almost sure that the spiral staircase, one of the castle’s main features, is his work.
Château de Chambord outstands amongst the other Loire Valley castles for its beauty and size. It is really huge! After all, it was the castle for the King and somehow represented the power of France, politically and culturally. However, the King only stayed in this château a total of a few days and only for hunting and partying.
During the visit, don’t miss the French-style gardens that surround the castle. If you arrived at Chambord by bike, go even further, and explore the forest.
Château de Pierrefonds
Château de Pierrefonds is located in the north of France, about an hour and a half north and east of Paris. The castle was originally built in 1407 but was later ruined in the 1600s and was eventually rebuilt by Napoleon III between 1857 – 1885. The castle was rebuilt to reflect a defensive medieval castle and featured key military architecture from the Middle Ages in its design. It sits atop a hill in the charming village of Pierrefonds.
Despite its long history, the castle is perhaps most famous for being used in film and TV; being featured in BBC’s Merlin, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Netflix’s Versailles to name a few.
The many chambers of the castle make for a wonderful afternoon of exploring, from the drawbridge, to the dungeon, to sentry walk featuring the medieval defence system, and especially the Salle des Preuses with its impressive timber ceiling. The rooms vary in style, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance and touching several others along the way.
Pierrefonds is an hour and a half drive from Paris and does not have a train station, so is most easily accessed by car.
Tip: Check out the dungeons with the stunning sculptures accompanied by a light and sound show. It’s an unusual exhibit and quite impressive.
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