Recently we’ve been a bit castle obsessed. Who can blame us? Castles are romance and mystery all wrapped into one, not to mention intriguing architectural sites. In any destination we visit, we make it a point to seek out castles, fortresses, and palaces. These fascinating relics of the past are sites imbued with stories and legends, and we love them.
While there are castles across the globe, many of the world’s finest are tucked away in Europe. We recently asked some of our fellow travelers about their favorite French castles. There are many opulent chateaux dotted throughout the country of France that we would love to see. Simply put, if there’s a castle to be explored, we’re there. And it seems we’re not alone in our love of castles. We’ve compiled a huge number of magical places to share with you. From the cities to the mountains and valleys, we’ve rounded up an epic list of the best castles in France. Which of these must-visit chateaux do you want to see most?
The Best Castles in France – A List of Beautiful Chateaux
Castles of the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a lush and verdant river valley which is well known for its splendorous castles. There are over 100 Loire castles to be explored. Some of the standouts are below. (Also see this detailed guide).
Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau was one of the highlights of my trip to France. Though I visited a handful of different chateaux, this one vividly stands out in my mind. Located in the Loire Valley, this chateau actually spans the Cher River and is surrounded by stunning nature and perfectly groomed gardens.
Although the chateau, in my opinion, is most beautiful from the outside there are several interesting characteristics inside as well. The narrow gallery has windows on either side and the floor is tiled in a perfect checkerboard pattern. I also loved going down to the kitchens where there was a door with a small dock for servants to bring the supplies in via the river. The tiny village of Chenonceaux just down from the castle has little shops filled with handmade pottery and other crafts, and this town was where I ate escargots for the first time.
-Paige, For the Love of Wanderlust
Chateau du Chambord
Chateau du Chambord is a jewel in the Loire Valley. It was an inspiration for “the Beauty and the Beast castle” but the actual history is so much more intriguing. The castle, built in sections, was intended to be 880 rooms as a royal hunting lodge but construction stopped at 440 rooms. The Italian design is odd given the cold and snowy winters in France – it has outside stairways, small fireplaces, large ceilings and windows. Located far from town in those days, royal guests had to hunt their own food which was not quite the royal getaway you imagined so the royal court is said to have spent only seven weeks in residence. The double helix stairway, thought to be the work of DaVinci, will definitely amaze you as will the many spires, turrets and towers and rooftop view of the estate. You can drive to Chateau du Chambord from Paris in about 2.5 hours, take the local bus or train from Paris or join a tour like I did that included other chateaus and wine tastings in the Loire Valley.
Chateau de Chaumont
Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire is located an easy drive from the Loire Valley town of Ambois or Chaumont heading along La Loire river. On arrival at the Château grounds you will have to walk up a hill to reach the Castle itself. The view from the top over the river is well worth the climb.
Wandering through the halls of this Castle turned museum it is easy to learn about the history of the area and the Château itself. You might be amazed by the number of names of former occupants and owners of Château de Chaumont, one of which was Catherine de Medici. Before you leave have a wander through the beautiful gardens and the grandly built stables which even house Hermès saddles.
-Amy, The Nomads Project
Chateau de Villandry
Château de Villandry is located south-west of Tours (30 minutes) and Paris (3 hours).
Castles Near Paris
If you’re on holiday in Paris, it may be worth your while to check out some of the castles close to Paris. A few of these are in the city itself (such as the Louvre Palace) while others are just a train ride away.
Chateau Vaux le Vicomte
Three centuries old and home to stories I won’t reveal here but absolutely worth listening to from someone in the know, it inspired Versailles and was meant to be one of the prettiest at the time. Renaissance gardens, perspective games, decadent high ceiling rooms and hidden pools complete the visit. Make sure to visit the roof top lookout. Your best pictures await you there!
Palace of Versailles
The Palace Versailles was originally built to be a hunting lodge for King Louis 13th in the town of Versailles which sits just outside of Paris. The next king of France, Louis 14th, moved the court to Versailles and expanded the hunting lodge into the magnificent palace that sits here today! Fast forward many years and it is now, in my opinion, a must-see if you’re spending more than 2 days in Paris. The gardens of Versailles are immaculately kept and full of fountains. Inside there are paintings, ornate bedrooms and the famous Hall of Mirrors. This palace is so full of history and surprises around every corner. Don’t miss this incredible ode to French Royalty.
-Paige, For the Love of Wanderlust
Chateau de Vincennes
The Louvre, a world famous museum located on the banks of the Seine river in Paris was the premiere palace of the French Kings in the city. Even though the Louvre was converted into a museum after the French Revolution with over 38,000 objects, the original palace was originally built as a fortress in the early 12th century. After 1546, the fortress was converted into a palace for the French Kings starting with Frances I and remodeled many times throughout the middle ages to suit each successive king.
While visiting the Louvre, you can also visit Napoleon’s apartments in the Louvre which contains all elaborate trappings of the emperor and his elaborate and richly furnished rooms. Filled with 2nd Empire decorative art and furnishing, the rooms are worth a visit to see these ornate rooms that Napoleon and his family lived in.
If you are visiting Paris, do visit the royal apartment in this museum and check out my post on spending a perfect visit in Paris.
-Noel, Travel Photo Discovery
Château de Fontainebleu
The magnificent Château de Fontainebleau, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest royal chateaus in the country. With over 1,500 rooms the Château is set in 130 acres of beautiful gardens with fountains, lakes and canals lining its grounds. The Château housed French monarchs for over seven centuries with Napoleon once describing it as ‘the work of centuries, the home of kings’ and the presence of a continuous stream of royalty within its walls has resulted in an incredible decor and an amazing collection of art. It’s a real treat to wander around its gardens, picnic in the grounds and explore the living history of its ornate and lavishly furnished rooms.
Getting to Fontainebleau: Fontainebleau is located 55km southeast of Paris and is reached by a 40 minute train ride from Paris – Gare de Lyon to Fontainbleau – Avon followed by a short hop on the frequent local bus from the station.
-Elaine & David, The Whole World is a Playground
Palais de Compiègne
Castles in the South of France
The South of France encompasses a large area, and it is filled to the brim with amazing castles. Incredible French fortresses are awaiting you in this region.
La Citadel de Sisteron
La Citadel de Sisteron is not on the usual tourist trail, but you should put it on your must-see list if you are travelling through this area of France. Located on the border of Provence and the Dauphiné, this 13th century castle is a striking sight, placed high on a rocky outcrop that looks out over the landscape for hundreds of kilometres. The fortress itself is a labyrinth of multi-levels, each teasing you with a better view of the surrounding mountains and city below. Once you have reached the top you can walk out across the high ramparts and imagine how the stone paths were once trodden by archers defending this great structure.
Sisteron is located a 2 hour car drive north of Marseille, and is located on the train line so is fairly accessible. It would make a great stop if you are heading north from Provence.
-Laura, Follow My Wheel
Cité de Carcassonne
Overlooking the town of Carcassonne is a citadel known locally as la Cité. Although much of what we see today has been extensively restored, this does not detract from the strikingly picturesque walls of Europe’s largest, intact walled Medieval city. Set into the outer wall on the edge of the hill with great dramatic effect is a spectacular 12th century castle.
Walking around the Medieval city, or looking up at the imposing ramparts, it is hard to think that these were all set to be demolished in 1849. After considerable local outrage, an extensive programme of restoration lasting from 1853 to 1911 the castle and its fortifications were given a new lease of life. Today Carcassonne is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the south of France.
-Thomas, Archaeology Travel
Chateau de Castlenou
The South of France is filled with charming medieval towns and villages. Amongst the most beautiful villages near Perpignan you will find Castelnou, a tiny village on the top of a hill. The village took the name of the castle that comes
from Catalan language. It means “new castle”, but actually today it’s the most antique remaining castle in the area.
The original castle was built in the 10th century and its position gave it strategic importance throughout history. It was taken several times by James II, the king of Mallorca for instance. The Chateau was demolished and burnt down several
times, but then was nicely stored. The main beauty of the castle itself is not the building, but the picturesque view of Castelnou (listed amongst the most beautiful villages in France) together with its castle. Chateau de Castelnou can be
visited both individually or on guided tours.
-Gabor, Surfing the Planet
La Citadelle d’Entrevaux
Entrevaux is just 60km from Nice and the 17th century town and the Vauban fortress are its top attractions. You can enter the old town of Entrevaux by the stone bridge spanning the river Var that encircles the city. The best thing to do in Entrevaux is to climb to the fortress at the top of the hill. At the tourniquet style gate you need to pay 3€ and then you can walk up. Once at the fortress you can follow the different routes with chambers, rooms, kitchen and defence structures. But the best thing about the castle of Entrevaux is the view from the top tower. You can look down on the old village of Entrevaux and into the valley of the Var. The best way to get to Entrevaux is by the Train des Pignes, a scenic train route from Nice to Digne with a stop in Entrevaux. Read more about the train ride to Entrevaux.
-Naomi, Probe Around the Globe
Chateux de Lastours
Lastours Castles are located in Languedoc-Roussillon region, south of France. These castles constitute a single entity, even if they are four structures. The natural layout of the site permitted the economy of a high fortress and each structure was adapted to the rocks on which it was built.
During the Middle Ages Lastours belonged to the lords of Cabaret. These lords were closely linked to the followers of Catharism,a religious group who preached interesting and modern ideas like women’s emancipation. This movement was growing fast, with the support of many noblemen in the area. Soon the Catholic Church considered them as a dangerous sect which had to disappear. That was the beginning of the cruel Albigensian Crusade.
Lastours Castles and the surrounding villages welcomed many Cathars. For this reason, their inhabitants had to resist many attacks during the religious war. The castles were badly damaged many times but soon repaired to resist the following attack.
Lastours’ setting is gorgeous and they are especially beautiful in autumn, when the trees show their best colors. Not far from Lastours there is the beautiful Cathar village of Minerve, where you can sleep and have great food.
-Elisa, World in Paris
Castles in the Dordogne
The Dordogne is a fabulous part of France that is known for a fairytale, storybook-like setting. Of course, there are chateaux in Dordogne to help you find the magic. Here’s one of the best:
Chateau de Bridoire
Château de Bridoire is a partially restored 15th century castle near the town of Bergerac in South West France. It’s now also known as ‘Le Château des Jeux’ or ‘the games castle’.
A variety of games from medieval times are located around the castle grounds for you to try your hand at. We loved the giant chess, jousting, archery, catapult and cross-bows, croquet and obstacle course. There’s also a labyrinth trail through the surrounding forest and plenty of room for picnics in the grounds.
Once you’re inside you can visit the Salon de Jeux which has plenty more board games, or visit the replica kitchen and furnished stately rooms. There’s even full armour if you want to have a go at dressing up like a knight! It’s perfect for a fun day out visiting a château with a twist.
-Kylie Gibbon – Our Overseas Adventures
Castles Near Switzerland
In eastern France, bordering Switzerland, you’ll find a handful of Chateaux. There are many Swiss castles to be explored, too, if you decide to venture over the border.
Dating back to the early 14th century, Yvoire Castle sits perched on the shores of Lake Geneva, with what must be one of the prettiest outlooks in France. The castle has been home to the Yvoire family since the 17th century and whilst the castle is not open to visitors, the former kitchen garden has been transformed into one of the loveliest gardens I have visited.
Known as the Jardin des Cinq Sens (garden of the five senses), the garden has been created over twenty-five years and is based on a medieval walled kitchen garden. Visitors are invited to learn more about the plants by using their five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Despite not being able to visit inside the castle itself, it’s well worth a visit to Yvoire just to see the chateau which proudly watches over the village and the lake.
Yvoire is located on the French side of Lake Geneva, just 27 kilometres from Geneva. Yvoire can be reached by ferry or paddle steamer from Geneva, or by car.
-Carolyn, Holidays to Europe
Castles in Burgundy
Burgundy is not just known for its wines, it is known for its French castles, aussi! Take a look at a few of the highlights:
Chateau de Bazoches
Château de Bazoches is located in the Burgundy region of France. It is close to the village of Vezelay, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. To reach Vezelay, you can catch a train from Paris, which will take about 2 hours 30 minutes. You then can catch a taxi to Château deBazoches, which is a very elegant and fairy tale castle with an intriguing history.
One of Louis XIV’s most trusted advisors lived in the castle. Maréchal de Vauban was considered to be one of the most brilliant engineers of all time, and a key military leader, and strategist advising the French king. He lived at Château de Bazoches when he was home, which was rarely such was the demand for his skills.
-Paula McInerney of Contented Traveller
Chateau de Meaursault
In the heart of the Burgundy wine region you will find the beautiful Château de Meursault. Dating back to the 11th century, the castle’s various owners have been developing the property’s vineyards and wines. In 2012, it was bought by a family who opened it to the public as a winery. Today, a visit to the Château de Meursault includes both a tour and a tasting. During the tour, visitors will see its medieval cellars and learn about the property’s 1000 year old history, as well as the Château’s modern day vinification methods. Afterwards, guests have the opportunity to taste the chateau’s fine wines. Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the wines for which Burgundy is famous for, are truly exceptional.
Château de Meursault is located just outside of the charming town of Beaune. Make sure to go on on Saturday for Beaune’s famous market. Afterwards, visit the 15th century Hospices de Beaune and then head to Château de Meursault for an afternoon of history and wine.
-Sarah, Detours With Daisey
Castles in Normandy
On the western side of France castles, palaces, and fortresses are waiting to be treasured.
Chateau de Colombieres
Everyone dreams of staying in a castle, and places like Château de Colombières in Normandy help make that dream a reality for some lucky travelers. This 14th century castle is the perfect place to stay while exploring the D-Day sights around Normandy. The rooms are very old fashioned and Internet is limited, but walking around the grounds and gardens (complete with their very own moat) is so peaceful, it’s easy to forget about the modern world!
Only part of the castle is open to the public, as the family still lives there, but the family is more than happy to tell guests all about the castle and its history. It’s essential to have a car or pre-arranged taxis organised while staying at Château de Colombières since it is so remote. The closest large town is Bayeux, about 35 minutes by car.
-Kelly, A Pair of Passports
Mont St. Michel
Mont St Michel is an amazing French structure. Technically an abbey, many tourists and locals have come to call it a castle based on its size and cheer beauty. Twice a year, the bridge temporarily floods due to the rise tides of the Couesnon River. The entire island is filled with restaurants, souvenir shops, chapels, churches and hotels. And everything is free, until you reach the very top. Take good shoes because it can get very slippery during the climb, especially during poor weather conditions. The Abbey itself costs 18euro per adult with an optional audio guided. The views from the top are incredible! Definitely not to be missed!
-Christine, Tapped Out Travellers
A French Castle You Can Stay In!
Of all the best castles in France, there are very few in which you can stay overnight. The Chateau de Tenessus is one option for making your royal dreams come true.
Chateau de Tenessus
Castles in Alsace
Alsace has tons of charm, and you can bet its castles do too.
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
A trip to Strasbourg France would be incomplete without a visit to The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. Built in the 8th century, this fortified castle with a fairy tale facade provides a fascinating peek into the lifestyle and architecture of the upper class during the middle ages. Plus, the castle offers epic views of the Upper Rhine Plain.
The best way to access The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is to rent a car in Strasbourg and drive along the picturesque Alsace Wine Route, making stops at The Château as well as in the charming town of Colmar. We also recommend stopping in a nearby town like Barr for a choucroute lunch washed down with some of the best Rieslings in the world.
-Daryl & Mindi, 2foodtrippers
You’ll find a convenient map of the best castles in France mentioned in this article below