Insider’s Guide: 8 Real life fairytale castles and palaces

Neuschwanstein Castle

The landscape across Europe is teeming with history and dotted with romantic remnants of the past. Castles, palaces, chateaus and ancient fortifications hark back to a bygone era of chivalry, princes and princesses, and have been long standing sources of inspiration for writers and artists. And now, while they still stand, most of them have opened their doors to the public, to share their treasures and secrets with the world.

Each and every castle and palace has its own story to tell and has withstood the test of time, so if you feel like being whisked away to another time and place while on your Inghams holiday, look no further!

1. Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, Austria
2. Trauttmansdorff Castle in Merano, Italy
3. Thun Castle in Lake Thun, Switzerland
4. World Heritage Site of Bellinzona near Lugano and Locarno, Switzerland
5. Mirabell Palace and Gardens in Salzburg, Austria
6. Chateau de Chillon near Montreux, Switzerland
7. Bled Castle in Lake Bled, Slovenia


1. Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, Austria

 Ambras Castle in Innsbruck
© Innsbruck Tourismus

This stunning castle in Austria houses not only a reconstruction of the Count of Tirol, Archduke Ferdinand II's original 16th century museum, but also an extensive portrait gallery of the Austrian gentry and a collection of late medieval sculptures.

Located in the hills above Innsbruck, this castle is separated into the upper and lower castles. The lower castle contains two rooms filled with jousting armour therefore if you’re interested in medieval sport; this really is one not to miss. En garde!

Fun facts: Ambras Castle was so famous and popular that it even graced the face of a collectable 10 Euro coin! One side shows the castle from the outside, surrounded by its beautiful gardens and the other face is a Renaissance illustration of the famous Spanish Hall.

Getting there: There is a Sightseer bus in Innsbruck that runs every half an hour and does regular trips to Ambras Castle.
Alternatively, the castle can easily be reached by foot from the centre of Innsbruck (30 minute walk).

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2. Trauttmansdorff Castle in Merano, Italy 

Trauttmansdorff Castle

For those who appreciate nature’s beauty, look no further than the incredible botanical gardens surrounding the Trauttmansdorff Castle in Merano.

These stunning gardens host an eclectic mix of both local and exotic plants and are nestled into an amphitheatre on the mountain side.

The castle is also home to the ‘Touriseum’, a museum focusing on the history of tourism in the Alps. This interactive experience involves a mechanical theatre, detailed models, films, and audio, making it much more exciting than your average museum.

Fun facts: Empress Elisabeth ‘Sissi’ of Austria gained something of a celebrity status during her time as monarch. During her winter retreats to Italy, her presence and charitable nature in the area of Merano transformed the small valley and castle into the beautiful haven that they are today.

There are several idyllic walks and hiking paths around the area named after the benevolent empress, including ‘Sissi’s Walk’, where you will pass by a cast bronze statue of her.

Getting there: There are plenty of parking spaces at the Trauttmansdorff Castle and gardens, as well as plenty more trains running into the town of Merano.

From the centre of Merano you can catch the bus to the gardens.

Inghams recommends: The Meranerhof Hotel has been run by the Eisenkeil family since 1966 so you’re guaranteed a truly traditional Italian experience.

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3. Thun Castle in Lake Thun, Switzerland 

Thun Castle

Home to the Thun Castle Museum this historical landmark was built in the 12th Century by the Dukes of Zähringen. Ranging over 5 floors, on display is 4,000 years of regional history for you to enjoy at a leisurely pace.

You can also explore the ‘new castle’ located in the west wing - a later residential addition to the structure in 1429. Don’t miss the Knight’s Hall which was once used for large banquets in the 12th Century, but is now more commonly used for events such as weddings.

Fun facts: In the Knights Hall at the castle, the Bernese Oberland regional court was still based until 2009!

Getting there: You can easily access the castle by foot from the town of Thun.

There is also a busy and thriving railway station in Thun if you are coming from further afield.

Inghams recommends:
The lakeside haven that is the Hotel Beatus in Merlingen is the perfect resting spot after a day of sightseeing. Enjoy the beautiful lake views from the comfort of a sun lounger in the private garden that leads to the lake shore.

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4. World Heritage Site of Bellinzona near Lugano and Locarno, Switzerland 

World Heritage Site of Bellinzona

Why see just one castle when you could see three?

The city of Bellinzona in Switzerland is where you will find Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. These wonderful castles are located in the town which stretches along the Ticino River, perfect for a sunny afternoon stroll.

The town is home to 12 different heritage sites, so get out there and discover all that this amazing city has to offer.

Fun facts: As the name suggests, the castles at Bellinzona are extremely proud of their status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For thousands of years there has been some type of military fortification building at Bellinzona and was a pivotal location for the Roman conquest of Europe.

Getting there: You can easily get the train to Bellinzona, and from there walk to the Piazza del Sol and on to the Castlegrand (big castle in the complex).

Exploring all three of the castles is a roughly 2.5km walk along the battlements and reinforcements and well worth your while.

Inghams recommends: To fully immerse yourself in the Swiss culture we would suggest staying at the Dell’ Angelo Hotel in Locarno. Ideally located on the Piazza Grande, it’s just a stone’s throw away from the bustling cafes and restaurants in the town centre.

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5. Mirabell Palace and Gardens in Salzburg, Austria  

Mirabell Palace and Gardens in Salzburg

It’s not been one of history’s best kept secrets that Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau had this magnificent palace and garden built as a token of affection for his mistress, Salome Alt. Lucky for von Raitenau, the gesture was a success and together couple had fifteen children, ten of whom lived in the palace.

Mirabell translates into ‘amazing’ or ‘marvellous’, the castle and palace was also the birthplace of King Otto of Greece in 1815.

The Neoclassical appearance of the palace is a more recent addition, and came about in 1818 after there was a dramatic fire leading to a complete renovation of the property.

Fun facts: If you didn’t already recognise the distinctive garden features, perhaps it’ll interest you that the gardens at Mirabell were used to film the famous Do-Mi-Ri scene from The Sound of Music! You can parade around the gardens following the famous footsteps of Maria and the Von Trapp children. That’ll put a little spring in your step!

Getting there: The palace and gardens are very easily accessible by foot from the centre of Salzburg. It is about a 30 minute walk from the centre of the city.

Salzburg itself is very easily accessible by trains and buses.

Inghams offers its guests staying in other resorts many opportunities and excursions to take a trip into Salzburg to see the city and everything it has to offer, including The Sound of Music tour.

Inghams recommends: The 100 year old Hotel Hofwirt has been beautifully renovated to a very high standard and is just on the edge of the pedestrianised area of town meaning the centre is easily accessible on foot to continue exploring. 

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6. Chateau de Chillon near Montreux, Switzerland  

Chateau de Chillon

The only island castle on our list is located on the stunning Lake Geneva. Dating back to 1005AD, this ancient castle has served many different purposes including a prison during the 16th century. The castle itself has had lots of renovations and alterations over the years due to its different uses and owners so the castle you see today looks very different to the original.

Travelling through the Savoy, the Bernese and the Vaudois period you will see how this eclectic castle has been transformed. You can even sample some of the wine created from grapes grown near the castle walls, and then made in the castle itself.

Fun facts: The famous romantic poet, Lord Byron writes about his brief visit to Chateau de Chillon in his fable, The Prisoner of Chillon. It tells the story of a prisoner, Francoise de Bonivard, who Byron met at the castle during his visit with his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley, and husband of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Getting there: The Chateau De Chillon is located half way between Montreux and Villeneuve. The castle is accessed by a picturesque walk along the edge of the lake and only 40 minutes from the centre of Montreux.

Inghams recommends: To really make the most of your time on Lake Geneva, we’d suggest staying at the Hotel Eurotel Riviera as you are guaranteed an amazing lake view from your room.

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7. Bled Castle in Lake Bled, Slovenia  

Bled Castle

Bled Castle is constructed on a very steep cliff above the city of Bled; you physically cannot miss this impressive castle. It displays an interesting architectural mix of Romanesque and Renaissance due to renovation work. It's Slovenia's oldest castle and one of the country's most visited tourist attractions.

The castle’s buildings are arranged around two idyllic courtyards that are connected via a staircase. To protect the castle, there is a traditional moat surrounding it with a drawbridge to allow access.

As the castle is perched at such a high location the views of the lake are absolutely stunning!

Fun facts: This list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include a spooky story!

Around 1500AD the administrator of Bled Castle was a cruel man and often encroached on the rights of the farmers and peasants in the valley and ruled with an iron fist of oppression. Upon his sudden death (coincidence?) his widow was deeply grieved. She commissioned a great bell, made from all the silver and gold in her possession to be made and installed at the castle. However, as the bell was being transported across the lake, a storm broke out, and the bell and the boatsmen that carried it were sunk in the lake. It is rumoured that sometimes, on a blustery day, the sunken bell can be heard eerily chiming from the bottom of the lake. Oo-er!

Getting there: From the town of Bled on the lake shore, the castle is a short 1.5km (20 minute) walk.

Inghams recommends: The Hotel Golf has been recently awarded by the World Tourism Organisation for its outstanding facilities and staff friendliness and even better, it has a brand new thermal and wellness centre.

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