If you want to see some of the oldest and most impressive castles in Europe, you can do no wrong in France.
France is full of chateaus — the French word for castle — and seeing them all could just be a new bucket list adventure. From the north of the country in Normandy all the way down to the south of France, you can be sure to get your culture fill of castles.
The following list of chateaus to see in France is merely a drop in the ocean to what you can see in the country. That said, it’s a great starting point, and a guaranteed source of travel inspiration for planning your trip. Get ready to go back in time and visit these impressive structures, and find out more about the stories behind them.
Exploring France's best chateaus
Carcassonne Citadel, Languedoc-Roussillon
Awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997, the Carcassonne Citadel is one of the most visited sites in France. It’s located in the department of Aude, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. The citadel defended the border between France and Aragon until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
Once the focal point in France’s border defence with Spain, Carcassonne Citadel attracts more than 4 million visitors each year. The citadel was nearly demolished, and used as a stone quarry in the 19th century.
Thankfully, the outer walls were restored to give a medieval appearance, and was finished in the 1960s with tiling on the Gallo-Roman towers. You’re bound to be in awe of the representation of medieval architecture in this citadel, perched high on its rocky edge.
Château de Fougères, Brittany
Château de Fougères is in the commune of Fougères in the Ille-et Vilaine department, in Brittany, northwestern France. Built on a naturally protected site, the castle’s one of France’s most imposing, with the below Nançon River acting as a moat.
The chateau was built to defend the north-eastern border of the Duchy of Brittany, the Breton Marches. At this time, Fougères was a critical point for the Duchy’s defence system, and as a result, became the focal point of power struggles in the region.
It has13 towers, which in its time were used to keep watch over any intruders, and its grounds cover 2 hectares, which are surrounded by 3 well-preserved walls. The chateau gives great insight into architectural building styles of the Middle Ages, but also into what helped shaped the history of Brittany and France itself.
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Alsace
You can find the medieval Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in the commune of Orschwiller in the Bas-Rhin department of France.
Standing at 757m, the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg sits on a rocky spur with views overlooking the Upper Rhine Plain. Its pink sandstone structure dominates the Plain of Alsace.
The fortified castle attracts over 500,000 visitors a year, offering a panoramic view over the plain as well as the Black Forest in Germany. The French Minister of Culture classified the castle as a monument historique in 1993, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions.
Architecture buffs are sure to appreciate the romantic nationalist ideas of the past that you can see in the structure.
The famous Cathar castle of Peyrepertuse sits high in the French Pyrénées in the commune of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, in the Aude department.
At 800m, it’s an impressive sight, and its strategic position made it an important and coveted fortress along the former French/Spanish border. During the time of the Cathars, there was a secret passage through a narrow path behind a rocky overhang, that allowed entrance by a detachable ladder. While the secret passage is now closed off, the path’s still there.
Château de Pierrefonds, Paris
In northern France, in the commune of Pierrefonds is the breathtaking Château de Pierrefonds. It was built in the 12th century, but underwent restoration by the architect Viollet-le-Duc under the direction of Napoleon III after it was destroyed in the 17th century.
For 2 centuries, the castle remained a ruin. The restoration cost around 5 million Francs, which was stopped 6 years after Viollet-le-Duc’s death in 1885.
Though the decoration of the rooms at Pierrefonds remained unfinished, the exterior shows his knowledge of military architecture from the 14th century. Today, it’s often used as a location for filming.
Château de Bonaguil
Between the valleys of the Thèze and Lémance Rivers, south of the Dordogne department, is the military fortress of Bonaguil. One of the last fortified castles built in France, the castle has been classified as a Monument Historique since 1862.
Built in the 13th century, Château de Bonaguil was entirely restructured at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. The intention was to build in the latest defensive systems and keep the fortress safe from attack. it was because of this that the chateau was never attacked, and only ever used as a home.
Château de Quéribus, Languedoc-Roussillon
The highest of all the Cathar castles in the Languedoc region, Château de Quéribus stands on top of the highest peak in the area (782m). High and isolated, it’s possible to drive there, though you’ll have to walk the last 100m to reach the top.
Needless to say, the views here will be incredible, and will have you feeling the dramatic history of its structure.
It’s commonly known as the last standing Cathar stronghold. During the time of the Crusade against the Cathars, the owner Chabert de Barbaira, sympathised with the Cathars and allowed them to stay at the castle to avoid persecution.
Given his close friendship with the Lord of Roussillon, the castle, and the Cathars, were protected. However, this wasn’t to last. When the Lord died in 1244, the chateau was eventually besieged in 1255.
One of the ‘Five Sons of Carcassonne’, its intention was to defend the French border against the Spanish. Between 1998 to 2002, the castle underwent major reconstruction, and is today open to the public.
Take a trip to this historic castle in the South of France, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. Surrounded by a pretty village, you can find this castle in the Dordogne department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France.
The castle’s had many owners over the centuries. From local Lord, Bernard de Casnac, to being used as a pawn between the French and English during the Hundred Years War, this castle’s seen its fair share of drama. The English used Castelnaud-la-Chapelle as a strategic position and base for standing their ground. During this period, the castle was handed back and forth no less than 7 times!
Thankfully, nowadays, it’s a much quieter landscape. As well as visiting the castle’s interior, it also offers stunning vistas of the countryside and the once rival French castle of Beynac.
You can visit Castelnaud-la-Chapelle with or without a guide. Inside, the tour takes you around the war museum. Here you’ll see the artillery tower, guard room and the defensive equipment room.
Wear suitable footwear, as you’ll want to explore the many winding stairways and small chambers waiting inside.