The Best 20 Castles to Visit in France (Listed by Popularity)

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What do you imagine when you think of France? Maybe the Eiffel Tower, vineyards, or a grand castle?

A holiday in France is incomplete without a visit to its many castles. Dating from the 9th to the 21st century, there have been castles built-in all ages–all with their own story to tell. Did you know France has over 40,000 castles and forts? 

In this article, we will explore and talk about the 10 best castles in France. For travel enthusiasts seeking to explore not-so-crowded and less-visited places, there are 10 more less-visited, but just as spectacular castles too.

The order of the list is based on Google search volume of each castle = popularity.

1. Palace of Versailles

The beautiful architectural structure of Palace Versailles.
The beautiful architectural structure of Palace Versailles. Eric Pouhier, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
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The Palace of Versailles is undoubtedly one of the most famous castles in the world, as well as one of the largest and most opulent.

This palace was the royal residence of the French monarchs, before the fall of the monarchy in 1789. Now, it is a famous museum displaying the history of France. It comprises a whopping 2300 rooms, landscaped gardens, a luxurious park and many other treasures. Be sure not to miss the highlight of the castle: the Hall of Mirrors, with over 357 mirrors across the walls and ceiling.

The palace is a very popular tourist destination. More than eight million people visit the castle every year. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited castle in the country.

2. Mont Saint Michel

Stunning view of Mont Saint Michael.
Stunning view of Mont Saint Michael.

Located on an islet between Brittany and Normandy, this castle used to be the Duchal seat of Normandy in its heyday. It resides many hundreds of feet above the water, nestled in the center of a Medieval-style village. It has an interesting origin story, Archangel Michael himself appeared in the dreams of Bishop Aubert of Avranches and told him to make an oratory at the location. It later became the Mont Saint Michel.

It used to be an important pilgrimage destination in the Middle Ages, but has become a thriving tourist destination these days. It also served as a prison during the French Revolution and held many influential figures as captives. It has many interesting attractions and a deep, rich history that visitors love exploring when they’re in the area.

3. Château de Chambord

Chateau Chambord and its magnificent structure.
Chateau Chambord and its magnificent structure.

Chambord Castle is the largest castle in the Loire Valley and one of the most visited fortresses in France. Commissioned by King Francis I and thought to be inspired by the great Leonardo da Vinci, this castle has captivated the imagination of visitors and Francophiles alike. Its mix of French Renaissance and Classical architecture makes the exterior captivating on its own, but the inside is also divine. In fact, the double-helix staircase inside is an architectural marvel that consists of 274 steps.

The castle welcomes many tourists every year, who come in to soak in the rich history and architecture of the place. Forests, landscaped gardens, and the largest enclosed park in Europe surround it.  Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it now hosts major events and celebrities.

4. Château de Chantilly

Chateau di Chantilly's view near the water.
Chateau di Chantilly’s view near the water. I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Château de Chantilly is one of the most dazzling castles in France and has a long, distinguished history. Passed down through several princely dynasties, this castle is the crown jewel of French heritage. Its prestige and classic detailing are absolutely unparalleled. The Duke of Aumule, a former owner of the castle, was a keen art collector and bequeathed the works to be kept in the palace forever. The castle remains home to one of the finest art galleries in France.

Lakes, canals, landscaped gardens and woodlands surround the castle. They are a remarkable sight on their own and will keep you busy marveling at the wonders of nature. Besides this, you can have a look inside at the opulent rooms and the magnificent reading room. 

5. Château de Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau standing on the river waters.
Chateau de Chenonceau standing on the river waters. Château de Chenonceau flickr photo by frans16611 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Château de Chenonceau is one of the most-visited castles of France. It is also one of the prettiest–lying at the heart of the Loire Valley, in the middle of the Cher River. The castle looks straight out of a princess and knight story, with its pointed towers, turrets, and moats emphasizing the feel. It’s known by the nickname “Ladies Castle” because its architecture was influenced by some fantastic women throughout history, the most notable: Diane de Poitiers.

Once a royal residence, the rooms have now been restored to their former splendor. You can admire the magnificence of the Cher River from the balcony and take in the many art pieces that adorn the interior. There are also splendid grounds and woodlands to be explored,  Château de Chenonceau is a must-see if you are in the Loire Valley.

6. Château Gaillard

The beautiful view of Chateau Gaillard from afar. surrounded by greens.
The beautiful view of Chateau Gaillard from afar. Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This ruined medieval castle is one of the earliest examples of concentric fortification in all of Europe. Its three enclosures and dry moats ensured a triple layer of defense. Rising atop a high cliff overlooking the River Sienna, this castle was built by Richard the Lionheart, considered one of the greatest military leaders and monarchs of England.

The castle has been the hub of some of the most important political events throughout French history. Today, it’s a very important tourist destination. The surrounding land is as lush and green as ever. It’s an attractive place to explore, especially if you’re into nature hikes. While the outer grounds of the castle can be visited for free, the inside requires a small entrance fee. It’s definitely a must-visit destination for castle aficionados.

7. Rocamadour

Rocamadour's view at the cliff.
Rocamadour’s view at the cliff.

This complex of religious buildings is unique because it is nestled in an actual gorge. The castle was originally built in the midst of this village-turn-complex for protection of the entire settlement. It served as an important Marian pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages and has been the center of many important historical events throughout its existence. It’s not just an important tourist destination, but is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Rocamadour is an architectural experience. More than just the castle building, it’s an entire town waiting to be explored. With its stone gates, car-free streets, and cute dining establishments, this complex is brimming with history and heritage–a thousand years of it! It’s definitely an interesting place to visit if you want a day of sightseeing and gentle meandering.

8. Château de Pierrefonds

The beautiful facade of Château de Pierrefonds.
The beautiful facade of Château de Pierrefonds. Nicolas Fatous, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the basis of Chateau de Pierrefonds was laid out in the 12th century, the castle itself was raised in the 14th century by Louis d’Orléans. It was later renovated and declared a National Heritage by Napoleon I in the 19th century. To this day, its eight towers and beautiful Medieval/Renaissance designs make it a unique destination for tourists.

The current form of this castle is steeped in folklore, archeology, art, and science. It’s the brain-child of French architect Viollet-le-Duc, who blended the historical aspects of the design with a modernized Gothic style. However, this romantic iteration was criticized for taking away from the original Medieval structure and modernizing in a way that didn’t pay tribute to the original. These days, it’s an important tourist destination for people who want to experience the whimsy of modern-meets-ancient.

9. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Front view of the beautful Chateau de Vaux-le-vico.
Front view of the beautful Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the most historical and beautiful castles of France. A fine example of French aesthetics and workmanship, it was constructed within a majestic 500 hectare (1235.5 acres) estate. Its artful interiors and French Baroque architecture was the inspiration of the famous Versailles Palace. Taking a trip to this castle is like re-visiting time. Wonderful interiors and fabulous gardens are the highlights of the castle. In fact, it’s one of the first castles to have grounds designed in the formal French style, by the renowned landscape architect Andre le Notre. Inside, the rooms still display their authentic decorations and furniture of the past and the gardens have maintained their original 17th-century layouts. The other highlights include the dome and the carriage museum. It is truly a wonder you can’t miss.

10. Château de Vincennes

The beautiful tower at Chateau de Vincennes.
The beautiful tower at Chateau de Vincennes. Selbymay, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This fortress-turn-residence is the best of its kind in all of Europe. It used to be just a manor, but Charles V wanted to transform it into a dwelling that would be fit for a royal residence. Hence the additions of the towers, the chapel, and the keep until it became a true symbol of power and might for the royal family.

The addition of the Sainte-Chapelle is perhaps one of the most ambitious inclusions in the architecture of Château de Vincennes. It was added on the behest of Charles V himself and is open to the public for visitation along with the gatehouse and the Treasury. Don’t miss the terrace keep on level five that is a must-visit, as it offers an amazing view of the Vincennes. If you’re into French history, then this might just be the place for you.

If you are a castle enthusiast, you must take out the time to visit these equally spectacular castles in France as well:

11. Château d’Angers

The aerial view of Chateau d' Angers.
The aerial view of Chateau d’ Angers. Angers – Château from Air (Postcard) flickr photo by roger4336 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Originally built by the Counts of Anjou in the 13th century as a defensive location with 6 meters (19.7 ft) thick exterior walls, Chateau d’Angers cost almost the entirety of the royal revenue at the time of its construction. It passed through the hands of many owners, before being a military garrison in the 18th century. WWI and WWII saw it being used as an armory. Today, it’s a historical monument that is open to the public as a museum.

12. Château de Fontainebleau

The stunning facade of Château de Fontainebleau.
The stunning facade of Château de Fontainebleau. Château de Fontainebleau flickr photo by Phil Grondin shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Château de Fontainebleau is a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason: not only is it a gorgeous architectural marvel, but it was also the favorite seat of residence for several French monarchs. Surrounded by a scenic forest, it houses a whopping 1900 rooms. The ones that are open to the public are fully furnished in all their old regalia. These days, it’s a hub for tourists who want to envision the culture and history of France in all its might.

13. Château d’Amboise

The stunning Chateau d' Amboise.
The stunning Chateau d’ Amboise. Gerard Jalaudin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Château d’Amboise was one of the favorite residences of the French royalty, perched on a seemingly-precarious cliffside location. However, it fell into ruin in the 17th century, was partially restored in the 19th century before finally being declared a national monument. Today, it is owned by the descendants of Louis-Philippe, who’ve revamped the entire building to make it a nice tourist destination. The royal apartments and surrounding gardens are a must-see if you’re in the area.

14. Château de Cheverny

The front entrance of Chateau de Cheverny.
The front entrance of Chateau de Cheverny. Jean-Christophe BENOIST, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This veritable gem of French ancestry is one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. Situated in the Loire Valley, it was built in the 17th century at the behest of the Hurault family. It was briefly owned by the infamous Diane de Poitiers, before the Hurault family bought it back and have safeguarded their legacy to this day.

These days, it plays the part of a beautiful tourist destination. The interior design is sumptuous–the king’s bedroom and dining room are absolutely exquisite–but don’t miss the exterior gardens either!

15. Château de Villandry

The view of Château de Villandry from the garden.
The view of Château de Villandry from the garden. Chateau Villandry flickr photo by ell brown shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Famous for its sprawling gardens that grow everything between flowers and vegetables, this castle is a renaissance masterpiece that will make you feel as if you’ve been plonked into your favorite regency era show. 

The castle itself was the brainchild of Jean le Breton, who drew on his extensive experience to come up with the unique design of Chateau de Villandry. The symmetry and elegant proportions of the castle make it one of the most beautiful examples of renaissance architecture that you’ll ever see.

16. Château de Beynac

Worm's eye view of Château de Beynac.
Worm’s eye view of Château de Beynac.

Boasting a 1000-year-old history, this chateau possesses a residency list of icons, including King Richard the Lionheart. Located on the bank of a river, it used to be a key strategic location along the water routes back in the day.

These days, Château de Beynac is a picturesque destination for tourists. Its oldest part is a central keep. The guard room, stateroom, 17th-century salons, and terrace are all wonderful to explore. If you’re a history aficionado, then this is definitely the place for you.

17. Papal Palace

The closer view of Papal Palace structure.
A closer view of Papal Palace structure.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palais des Papes has been noted to be the 10th most visited site in all of France. Its construction dates back to the 13th century as one of the largest Gothic constructions of the Middle Ages, built to be the seat of power for the Popes who ruled Avignon. The interior of the palace has been painted by the Italian maestro, Matteo Giovannetti. 

At present, the palace receives approximately 650,000 visitors per year.

18. Château des Ducs de Bretagne

The side view of Château des Ducs de Bretagne surrounded by water..
The side view of Château des Ducs de Bretagne. Duch.seb, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perched on the right bank of the River Loire, Château des Ducs de Bretagne was the seat of power of the Dukes of Brittany. After the 16th century, it became the Brittany residence of the French Monarchy. It is a National Monument and houses the Nantes History Museum.

Tourists visit every day to revel in the serene ambiance. Many like to take strolls across the ramparts, while others enjoy meandering through the gardens while enjoying the magnificence of the building’s architecture.

19. Château de Montrésor

Château de Montrésor view from afar.
Château de Montrésor view from afar.

The original castle dated to the 11th century, built by a Count of Anjou. It was destroyed in the 13th century, and a Renaissance castle was erected in the 15th century. After a post-Revolution decline, the castle was restored in the latter half of the 19th century.

It is still owned privately but open to tourism. It has an entire collection of Polish cultural artifacts as its last owner was a magnate of Poland. The surrounding park–a testament to its Romantic makeover–is an excellent place for a stroll or picnic.

20. Château de Verteuil

The towers at Château de Verteuil.
The towers at Château de Verteuil.

The castle originated in the 11th century, but over the years, it has been extensively rebuilt. The only remnants of its earliest construction is a 12th-century wall.

The first time Château de Verteuil fell was by the hand of the English in the 15th century. The second time it was burned in an 18th century fire, after which it got an extensive Romantic style makeover. Its triangular plan, watchtowers, and sprawling grounds are perfect for a visit. Private functions and concerts are also held inside from April to September.

Conclusion

The castles in France are frequently ranked among the best in the world. They range from steep hilltop castles to rambling walled fortresses, each with a story to tell, be it conflict and bloodshed or court life.

These architectural marvels are something that you can not miss when you are in the country. Plan your itinerary carefully and have fun exploring this beautiful country and its historical castles. For more information and general guidelines, feel free to browse around our website and contact us in case of any doubt or query. 

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Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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