The World's Most Beautiful Historic Castles

They're literally fit for kings.

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Built to protect and entertain royalty, ancient castles naturally possess a lasting beauty. But unlike the gated compounds of yesteryear, modern travelers can now step inside their historic gates.

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Alhambra, Spain

It's the quintessential that draws crowds to Granada, but the most memorable feature just might be the heavenly Mediterranean gardens.

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Alnwick Castle, England

This is still home sweet home to the current Duke of Northumberland, but it's also stood in for two fictional forts: Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies and Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey.

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Amber Fort, India

Walk up the ramparts (alongside Asian elephants!) to take in the carved panels and mirrored ceilings of this .

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Arg-E Bam, Iran

While a 2003 earthquake caused large parts of the mud-brick compound to collapse, the site is slowly being restored.

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Blarney Castle, Ireland

If you haven't already heard of the , Irish legend claims that kissing the rock grants instant eloquence.

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Bran Castle, Romania

Deep out in the Transylvanian countryside, this spooky purportedly provided the setting for Bram Stoker's horror novel, Dracula. Today, you can actually visit the hilltop home of the world's most famous vampire.

See more of Bran Castle »

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Cairo Citadel, Egypt

The housed Egyptian rulers for 700 years, but its three mosques and several palaces are now open to visitors.

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Castello di Sammezzano, Italy

Originally built in the 17th century, the Moorish castle underwent a colorful makeover in the 1800s. The regal interior now features intricate wall-carvings and tiled floors, but it's sadly been abandoned for over two decades.

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Chateau de Chambord, France

With distinctive French Renaissance architecture, this noble residence is perhaps the world's most recognizable chateau. The served as a hunting lodge for French kings starting in the 16th century.

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Perched atop Castle Rock, the famous has withstood 26 sieges throughout its 1,100-year history.

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Himeji Castle, Japan

The feudal-era complex is also called , or "White Heron Castle," because it's said to resemble the bird taking flight.

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Hohensalzburg Castle, Austria

Austrian prince-bishops lived in this beginning in 1077, expanding the formidable walls for the next 500 years. Tourists can trek up the steep footpath (or take a much more convenient funicular) to reach the peak.

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Kronborg Castle, Denmark

In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's passing, Denmark is renting out a room in the for the first time in over a century. The is known as the setting for the Bard's revenge-themed tragedy, Hamlet.

See more of Kronborg Castle »

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Moscow Kremlin, Russia

Kremlin literally means "fortress inside a city," and the Russian capital's is the perfect example. The stone walls encircle a whopping five palaces and four cathedrals, not to mention the presidential residence.

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Matsumoto Castle, Japan

Built on flat land, previously used an extensive system of walls and moats for defense. But the building's unusual paint job is its most famous feature — the black exterior has earned the nickname "Crow Castle."

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Mont Saint Michel, France

Divine intervention supposedly led to the construction of this atop a rocky islet. Pilgrims originally could only walk out to the monastery at low tide, but modern tourists can take advantage of a recently-built bridge.

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Prague Castle, Czech Republic

Holding the title of the largest ancient castle in the world, occupies more than 17 hilltop acres overlooking the Bohemian city.

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Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany

Bavaria's Ludwing II commissioned his palatial retreat after he lost sovereignty to Germany, earning him the nickname of the "Fairytale King." Fittingly, the romantic architecture inspired Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle decades later.

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Schloss Schwerin, Germany

Built out onto a lake, the manmade island boasts famous gardens just as dreamy as the views. Schwerin is also known as the "Neuschwanstein of the North."

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Windsor Castle, England

It's the world's , hosting its first British monarch back in 1121 and serving as Queen Elizabeth II's favorite "weekend home" today.

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