Why are Cliff Castles So Enchanting?
Maybe they’re the closest we can get to a real world version of fairytale castles floating in the sky. Maybe they remind of us those things in life that seem so unattainable, elevated beyond our reach. When you etch a castle into the side of a towering cliff, it encourages you to dream and to embrace fantasy until you can strive to make the impossible real. I think cliff castles hold the kind of real magic that most have long since abandoned with their childhoods, and gazing upon them awakens something raw and wild hiding locked within hidden chambers of the soul.
The World’s Best Castles on Cliffs
These are the castles that encourage you to dream. These are the castles that inspire books and films. These are the castles that will steal your heart. We hope you fall in love with them as much as we have.
Dunnottar Castle – Scotland
Possibly my favorite of all cliff castles, Dunnottar Castle holds an impressive history– Vikings attacked it, Mary Queen of Scots twice visited it, William Wallace (remember Braveheart?) conquered it, and a small garrison famously protected the Scottish Crown Jewels inside it by holding out for eight months during a siege.
The Best Part: Dunnottar owes its photogenic praise to the huge rock on which the castle stands. It formed 440 million years ago and is surrounded on three sides by the North Sea, so the only accessible entry to the castle lies inside a narrow 26 ft tunnel carved into the cliffside.
Lichtenstein Castle (Schloss Lichtenstein) – Germany
“The Fairytale Castle of Württemberg”
Perched on a cliff so perfectly that it hardly seems real, this dreamy 19th century castle overlooking the Echaz River Valley has been dubbed the Fairytale Castle of Württemberg (named after the German territory and state in which it resides). Its name– Lichtenstein– translates to “shining stone,” and that big hunk of stone raises the castle up 250 metres (820 feet) above the Echaz River to a total altitude of 817 metres (2,680 feet).
The Best Part: Aside from the stunning scenery, this cliffside castle is relatively unknown outside of Germany, so there’s hardly any tourist crowds compared to what you would encounter on a trip to the Cinderella-inspired Neuschwanstein Castle. And this castle is just as dreamy, if not more-so. Though smaller, I think Lichtenstein is visually more appealing. But I’m also the gal who obsesses over castles on cliffs.
Travel Tips: Fewer international visitors also means less demand for English-language tours, however, so you’ll have to settle for a tour in German unless you come with a group of 20 or more English speakers. The tour only costs 8 € for adults though, so it’s well worth it to get to explore the interior of the castle– even if you feel a bit lost in translation–and English handouts are available upon request.
Boccale Castle (Castello del Boccale) – Italy
“The Pirate Cliff Castle”
Originally built as a sixteenth century watchtower to ward off pirates in the Etruscan coast’s cliffside “Cala dei Pirati” (den of pirates), Boccale Castle gradually expanded as rooms and battlements were added, and by the late nineteenth century, it had transformed into a neo-medieval style residence. Eventually the battlements were removed once again, and today the castle functions as a cliffside apartment community for lucky local residents. But it’s still one of our top favorites of all the world’s castles on cliffs.
The Best Part: The cove in front of the castle is open to the public. It’s a great spot for taking stunning photographs or swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Travel Tips: You can reach Boccale by taking a car or bus 9km south of Livorno. The castle itself is on private property, so unfortunately you won’t be able to enter the building, but the coastal road, surrounding cliffs, and nearby cove are all public areas that make great photo spots.
Lastochkino Gnezdo (Swallow’s Nest Castle) – Crimea
“The Swallow’s Nest Castle”
Like Lichtenstein, this is one of those castles on a cliff so dramatically steep that at first glance I thought must surely be photoshopped. It doesn’t get much more fairytale than believing a castle actually is a fairytale….when it’s not. You can find the Swallow’s Nest in Gaspra on the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine / Russia.
The Best Part: the views from the nearby beach and streets below, gazing up at the castle and that amazing vertical drop.
Travel Tips: You can reach the Swallow’s Nest Castle by bus or scenic boat ride from Yalta. We definitely recommend traveling by sea because the approaching views of the castle can’t be beat.
Predjama Castle (Predjamski Grad) – Postojna, Slovenia
“The Fairytale Cave Castle”
Predjama Castle holds the Guinness World Record for the largest cave castle in the world. Its impregnable position places the fortification inside the cave’s mouth halfway up a 123 meter cliff. The unique architecture of the building makes the castle walls appear to melt into the cave, and it’s at times difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. It reminds me of a fairytale village straight out of a fantasy film, and it’s easy to forget that this is a real place. If you’re a fan of Jackie Chan, you may also recognize Predjama as the backdrop for the 1986 film Armour of God.
The Best Part: You can tour the castle as well as the cave located directly behind and below the castle. Fourteen km of networked tunnels and passages snake through the cave system, and on your tour, you’ll get to explore the Stable, the Main Passage, the Passage of Names, the Great Hall, and Fiženca, where the exit to the surface is located. There’s even a secret passage that links the castle through the cave and out into freedom. Back inside the castle you can check out the Armoury. There you’ll see replicas of all your favorite medieval weapons– spears, halberds, swords, war hammers, bows, and crossbows.
Travel Tips: Free audio guides are available in English (and fourteen other languages.)
Cliffside Castle Corte (Corte Citadel) – Corsica, France
“The Eagle’s Nest Castle”
In the heart of Corsica, France, the small town of Corte once served as the capital of the entire island. Today it beckons tourists with dramatic views of its historical citadel that commands the attention of all who set foot in the town. Its imposing stature makes it hard to miss, kinda like that one unusually tall kid in class who towers over the rest of the students. Built in 1419, the citadel’s château castle has been dubbed the Nid d’Aigle– Eagle’s Nest– presumably for its elevated position jutting out above the Tavignano and Restonica Rivers while perched high above the rocky cliffs. You’ll also find a tourist office, museum, and viewing platform located nearby.
The Best Part: The approaching view of the castle will take your breath away at first glimpse.
Travel Tips: Know that there’s not really much to see at the top of the rocky outcrop besides the museum. Visitors who climb to the top expecting something grandoise have often left feeling underwhelmed. But if you’re as big a fan of cliff castles as I am, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Aragonese Castle of Ischia – Italy
“The Castle on an Island within an Island”
Hiero I of Syracuse built Aragonese Castle way back in 474 BC. This impressive medieval castle forms its own island and connects to the larger island on which its located– Ischia– by way of a stone causeway. Its impressive historical resume includes occupation by both the Parthenopeans and the Romans, and today the castle is the most visited monument of the island.
The Best Part: Castle Inception — How many castles on islands within islands have you ever visited?
Travel Tips: If you’re interested in staying on the island and inside the castle, Hotel Albergo Il Monastero offers bed and breakfast rooms with a view of the sea.
Bled Castle – Slovenia
“The Cliffside Glacial Lake Castle”
The Medieval Bled Castle sits atop a rocky cliff 130 metres above glacial Lake Bled.
The Best Part: Bled’s known for the fairytale-like aura presented by the tiny island dwelling in the center of its lake. Coupled with the castle rising from forest shrouded cliffs in the background, the entire scene appears almost as if it’s a surreal romantic painting straight from a storybook. We could sit at the edge of the water and stare at its beauty for hours.
Schonbuhel Castle (Schloss Schonbuhel) – Austria
“The Danube River Castle”
River castles on cliffs are a rare sight, and we adore them. Twelfth-century Schloss Schönbühel — or Schonbuhel Castle — towers 40 metres (130 ft) above the water on a rocky cliff that almost seems out of place along the banks of the Danube River in Austria. But maybe that’s what makes it so appealing.
The Best Part: The view from across the river is by far our favorite part about this cliffside castle.
Travel Tips: You can experience the best views of this castle by taking a river cruise down the Danube. If you’d like to get even closer, head over to the small Lower Austrian town of Schönbühel-
Castle La Iruela – Andalusia, Spain
“The Farming Fortress of Andalusia”
Castle La Iruela was once just a modest Moorish farmstead. But when a need to protect the farmers arose, the castle– consisting of a wall and small fortress– was built on the hill during the eleventh century. In 1231, the castle was then rebuilt after the Archbishop of Toledo, don Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada, conquered La Iruela and made it part of the Adelantamiento de Cazorla.
Sigmaringen Castle (Schloss Sigmaringen) – Baden Wurttemberg, Germany
“The Castle of Castle Rock”
Sigmaringen Castle towers 35 meters (115 ft) above the Danube river atop a rocky cliff known as the Schlossberg or Castle Rock.
The Best Part: Guided tours of this castle reveal a glimpse into the life of nobility centuries ago. Our favorite room– the Hall of Weapons– displays over 3000 weapons and armor pieces from the Middle Ages to modern times, making it one of the largest private weapon collections in Europe.
Orava Castle / Oravsky Hrad Cliff Castle – Slovakia
Considered one of the most beautiful castles in Slovakia, Oravsky Hrad sits above the Orava River on a 112 meter (367 ft) high limestone rock formation known as “castle cliff.” The 1922 film Nosferatu features many scenes shot inside Orava Castle as well.
The Best Part: We love the weapons and torture rooms, but nothing beats the stunning view of the castle from the outside. If you visit during evening hours (which is recommended by the castle tours themselves), you’ll get to see the castle lit up from the inside, windows glowing like a luminous paper lantern.
Travel Tips: Photographing the castle’s interior is prohibited unless you pay extra for the privilege, but you can film the gorgeous exterior to your heart’s content.
Edinburgh Castle – Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle sits more than 250 feet above the city of Edinburgh, perched on a cliff of volcanic rock known as Castle Rock.
The Best Part: There’s so much to see and do inside Edinburgh Castle that you can spend an entire day exploring it.
Travel Tips: Since Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most popular paid tourist attraction, ticket lines can grow pretty long. To avoid all the hassle and just walk right in, you can purchase a Skip the Line: Edinburgh Castle Entrance Ticket in advance.
Roccascalegna Castle – Abruzzo, Italy
The jagged cliff of Roccascalegna Castle kinda reminds me of a hand saw. Constructed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it features a courtyard, multiple towers, and the remains of a drawbridge.
The Best Part: The unique shape of its cliffside sets it apart from all the other castles. And makes for dramatic photos.
Travel Tips: Tour the town of Roccascalegna in addition to the castle. Guided tours are available for the castle but are only in Italian. It’s still well worth the sights.
Cliffside Castles of San Marino – San Marino, San Marino
“The Three Towers of San Marino”
In a tiny country most people don’t even know exists, three cliff castles dominate the landscape. Italy completely surrounds the landlocked San Marino, and its capital city– also named San Marino– will steal your hearts with its medieval walled old town, narrow cobblestone streets, and glorious mountaintop citadels perched atop each of the three peaks of Monte Titano. Known collectively as the Three Towers of San Marino, these lesser known gems date back to the eleventh century.
The Best Part: The entirety of San Marino encompasses just over 61 km2(24 sq mi) of land, so you can easily explore the entire nation in a single day if you opt to tour the castles. Go see it all!
Travel Tips: If you’re planning a trip to Italy, definitely consider adding the Republic of San Marino to your itinerary. The microstate lies just 10 km from Rimini, Italy and can best be reached by car or the Rimini train station. Travel by plane won’t be possible because there are no airports in San Marino.