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France is known for its extraordinary castles or chateaux, where French kings and queens lived. Here are 21 of the most beautiful castles in France that you need to visit.
Best Castles in France for Your Bucket List
The Chateaux of the Loire Valley are rightly famous. We lived in Tours for several years and were fortunate to visit many of them.
Loire Valley residents say that there’s no excuse to be bored there, as you could visit a different castle each weekend for many years. There are also some other beautiful French castles that are worth seeing, particularly in the South of France and near Paris.
Here’s our pick of the best French castles, some which are medieval, some dating from Renaissance times and one being built right now!
Important notice: check French government guidelines for travel before booking your visit. It’s also important to verify on each of these French castle websites whether the grounds or castle will be open to visitors.
At the time of publication, only the gardens are open and there are limits on entry to France for visitors from some countries.
21. Château de Maintenon
This elegant castle in Eure-et-Loir is famous as the private residence of the second wife of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon. As they married in secret, she was the unofficial Queen of France.
The castle has beautiful gardens created by Andre Le Notre in 1681. At the end of the gardens, there’s an impressive aqueduct, that was designed by Vauban to carry water from the Eure River to the fountains of Versailles.
20. Château d’Azay-Le-Rideau
A fine example of early French Renaissance architecture, the castle of Azay-Le-Rideau stands on an island in the river Indre. This beautiful place was built in the 16th century, with the turrets being added in the 19th century.
Originally the home of Gilles Berthelot, the Mayor of Tours and Treasurer of Francois I, the chateau was confiscated by King Francois. The king felt that the extravagant castle was proof of embezzlement. He gave the home to Antoine Raffin, one of his knights.
When we visited Azay-le-Rideau, we particularly liked the gardens. In fact, one of the owners of the castle, Charles de Biencourt, was a botany enthusiast.
He transformed Azay’s grounds into a landscaped park. When Charles’s son inherited the castle, he planted sequoia, cedar and American tulip trees.
19. Château de Guédélon
This famous French castle is a bit different to all the others on this list. That’s because although it looks old, construction actually began in 1997.
The idea behind Guedelon Castle is to educate visitors on medieval building techniques and styles of dress. All the workers at the castle are dressed in 13th century outfits and most of the tools and building materials are made on site.
Guedelon is located in Treigny-Perreuse-Sainte-Colombe, in the region of Burgundy. We really enjoyed visiting it and seeing the castle being built. It’s due to be completed in 2023.
You can actually volunteer to help with the construction by applying on their website and you don’t need any previous experience of building.
18. Château des Milandes
The former home of performing artist Josephine Baker, Milandes Castle was built in 1549. Located in the picturesque Périgord Nord area of the Dordogne close to Sarlat, it’s a great example of Renaissance architecture.
The castle gardens were created by renowned landscape architect Jules Vacherot. In the six hectare park, there are also 60 birds of prey and regular falconry displays.
17. Château de Cheverny
Fans of the Tintin comics may recognize Cheverny Castle from the books. Cheverny was the inspiration for Marlinspike, Captain Haddock’s country estate.
Out of all the French châteaux that we’ve visited, this is one of our favorites. Cheverny is still fully furnished and privately owned, by Constance and Charles-Antoine de Vibraye.
Inside this Loire Valley chateau, there’s an interactive Tintin exhibition as well as a beautiful 17th century Gobelin tapestry and a Louis XIV chest of drawers. Outside, don’t miss the dog kennels, English style park, Garden of Love, Apprentices’ Garden, bay tree maze and Tulip Garden.
16. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
This medieval French castle occupies a strategic position in the Vosges mountains in the Bas-Rhin département of Alsace. Built from sandstone, this popular tourist attraction welcomes over 500,000 visitors each year.
Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle dates from medieval times and was rebuilt from 1900 to 1908. This historical monument was the inspiration for the Citadel of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings. There’s a replica of the castle in the Berjaya Hills, Malaysia.
15. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Vaux-le-Vicomte is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture located in Maincy, Seine-et-Marne. Designed by Louis le Vau in 1656, the castle was commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, King Louis XIV’s Finance Minister.
However, irregularities in Fouquet’s accounts were found and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Today, Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle is decorated as if Fouquet had just left.
Get an advance ticket with audio guide to skip the queues. Don’t miss the Carriage Museum in the stables, which has a rare collection of antique carriages.
14. Château de Malmaison
This famous French chateau is situated 9 miles from Paris, in Rueil-Malmaison. The former home of Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine from 1799 to 1814, Malmaison was built in the 17th century.
It was actually Josephine who found the land and took an active role in planning the gardens. She favored the naturalistic English landscaping style, together with black swans from Australia which became her emblem.
These days, black swans have been reintroduced to the gardens and Malmaison is a national museum-château.
13. Château Royal de Blois
The Royal Château de Blois is located in the center of Blois, an attractive city in the Loire valley. This famous French monument features 4 different architectural styles.
There’s a medieval fortress, Louis XII Gothic wing, Duke of Orleans wing and François I Renaissance wing. When we visited the castle, it was the latter’s corkscrew staircase pictured below that really stood out.
Ten queens and seven kings lived in Blois Castle over the years. The Duke of Guise, Henry I was assassinated at the castle in 1588 on the orders of king Henry III.
If you’re visiting in Summer, it’s worth getting an advance entry ticket to the castle. This includes a Light and Sound show, subject to date restrictions.
12. Château de Villandry
Known for its beautiful gardens, Villandry is a Renaissance palace with a rich history. Owned by Henri Carvallo, great-grandson of former owners Joachim Carvallo and Ann Coleman, the castle has been carefully restored to its former glory.
There are also some interesting additions such as a herb garden and Sun Garden. Buy an advance ticket to Villandry Castle and gardens to avoid any queues.
11. Château du Clos Lucé
The former home of famous artist Leonardo da Vinci, le Clos Lucé is a large chateau in the town of Amboise in the Val de Loire region. Construction on the Manoir du Cloux, as it was known originally, began in 1471.
The castle was the home of Etienne le Loup, former kitchen servant of King Louis XI who became his advisor. Leonardo came to Amboise as the guest of King Francis I and Louise de Savoie in 1516 and passed away here in 1519.
As Leonardo once said, “details make perfection and perfection isn’t just a detail.” That’s certainly true of Clos Luce Castle, which has been lovingly restored.
There’s a copy of Leonardo’s iconic painting, the Mona Lisa, made by Ambroise Dubois in 1654 and 40 models of the maestro’s inventions. In the Leonardo da Vinci park, admire reproductions of 40 of his paintings suspended from trees.
Buy a Skip the Line ticket to beat the Summer rush.
10. Château Gaillard
Gaillard Castle is a medieval ruin in the Normandy village of Les Andelys. Built for Richard the Lionheart in 1196, the castle boasted many innovations for the time.
Gaillard is one of the first medieval castles to use machicolations, wall openings from which burning liquids or stones could be thrown onto attackers. Despite Gaillard Castle’s reputation as being impregnable, it was captured by King Philip II in 1204.
9. Château de Pierrefonds
Pierrefonds is a huge 14th century fortress situated in the Oise department of France.
The castle fell into ruins in the 17th century. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who later became Napoleon III, visited the ruins of the castle of Pierrefonds in 1850.
He asked French architect Viollet-le-Duc to restore Pierrefonds in 1857. The castle was occupied by the Germany army in the First World War.
More recently, Pierrefonds Castle stood in for Camelot in the BBC TV series Merlin which was filmed here.Get fast track entry by purchasing your ticket in advance.
8. Château d’Amboise
The Royal Chateau of Amboise has a lovely setting overlooking the banks of the river Loire. A residence of French kings from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Amboise Castle is now owned by the Fondation Saint-Louis.
King Charles VIII was instrumental in shaping much of the castle that we see today. His keen interest in Renaissance architecture led him to reconstruct Amboise with the help of Italian artisans.
You can spot Charles’s monogram, a flaming sword, and Queen Anne of Brittany’s ermine tails in several of the castle rooms. Consider buying a Skip the Line ticket if you’re visiting in high season as it can get quite busy.
7. Palais des Papes
This Gothic palace in Avignon, Southern France stands close to the famous bridge immortalized in the French song Sur Le Pont d’Avignon. Avignon Bridge and the Popes’ Palace are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Palace of the Popes was an important religious monument in the 14th century. The building is the largest Gothic palace in Europe, spread over15,000 m2.
Get a fast track ticket to the Palais des Papes and Pont d’Avignon to beat the queues, especially in Summer time.
6. Château Comtal
Comtal Castle is an imposing fortified castle in Carcassonne, Languedoc Roussillon in the South of France. The Cité de Carcassonne, as the medieval town citadel is known, was restored by renowned architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853.
Today, visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage site can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and the lower town from the castle walls. We spent a whole day here, as there are some great restaurants in Carcassonne old town where you can have lunch.
Purchase advance tickets for the castle and ramparts here.
5. Château de Fontainebleau
One of the most famous castles in France, Fontainebleau is located 34 miles from Paris. This grand palace is one of the largest royal chateaux in France.
Fontainebleau was a popular dwelling of French kings including Henri II and Henri IV and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. From 1528, the Renaissance movement flourished here as the School of Fontainebleau.
The large globe below is in the Gallery of Diana, an eighty meter long corridor lined with books. It came from Napoleon’s office in the Tuileries Palace.
The Palace and Park of Fontainebleau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Purchase a priority entrance ticket to avoid any queues.
4. Château de Chantilly
One of the most beautiful castles of France, Chantilly boasts the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre museum. Henri d’Orléans was a keen collector of manuscripts and artworks.
The Reading Room designed by architect Honoré Daumet houses the duke’s rare book collection. Chantilly Palace is also known for its Great Stables, built by the 7th prince of Condé.
Now housing the Museum of the Horse, these are the largest stables in Europe. Buy a Skip the Line ticket in advance if you’re worried about crowds in Summer.
3. Château de Versailles
This historic monument was the main royal residence in France from 1682 to 1789. King Louis XIII built a hunting lodge in the grounds, which was then rebuilt as the palace that we know today.
His son Louis XIV extended the Palace of Versailles, adding a water garden with elaborate fountains designed by famous French landscape designer André le Nôtre. The 70 meter long Hall of Mirrors was completed in 1689. It features 17 mirrors, glass chandeliers and an ornate ceiling painted by Le Brun.
You can take a guided tour of Versailles or simply purchase an individual ticket. Advance booking is recommended as this is the most visited chateau in France. We suggest allowing a full day for your visit.
2. Château de Chambord
A former hunting lodge of King Francis I, Chambord is a beautiful Renaissance style castle. One of the most famous landmarks in France, it is particularly well known for its double helix staircase. You can walk up one section of the staircase without seeing anyone walking down the other section.
The largest Loire Valley castle, Chambord has 426 rooms, of which 60 are normally open to visitors. Keep an eye out for the carved salamanders, the emblem of Francis I.
There are 5,440 hectares of gardens, making Chambord Castle the largest enclosed park in Europe. Get a Skip the Line ticket if you’re keen to avoid queuing.
1. Chateau de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau is famous for its scenic location spanning the river Cher. This iconic Loire Valley castle has a rich history.
Built by Henry II as a gift for his mistress Diane de Poitiers, Chenonceau was completed in 1522. Queen Catherine de Medici took over Chenonceau Castle when Henry II died, making Diane de Poitiers move to Chaumont Castle.
Chenonceau has some fine Renaissance furniture, antique tapestries and paintings by Rubens and Le Tintoret. The second most visited French castle after Versailles, Chenonceau attracts over 1.3 millions visitors each year.
Which of these famous French castles have you visited? Are there any others that we should know about?
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