France is a country rich in natural, cultural, and historical sites. In terms of natural wonders, France boasts a number of breathtaking mountain ranges, national parks, lavender fields, and sand dunes. As for cultural sites, one can spend days discovering various works of art at the museums. However, the country is most famous for its arsenal of historical sites, particularly the castles in France.
Given the country’s history as a battleground and European powerhouse nation, France has its share of the world’s best castles and forts. Some castles were the locations of historical events, while some served as getaways of royals and aristocrats. From fortresses, summer houses, and royal residences, here’s a rundown of the must-visit castles in France!
How Many Castles Are There in France?
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There are more than 45,000 castles in France, including palaces and châteaux. Take note that the country has about 36,681 communes, so you could say that there is more than one castle or château in every commune. In Loire Valley alone, you’ll find over 300 castles, some of which are popular tourist attractions.
Castle vs. Château: What Is the Difference?
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While a castle and château are both grand structures with breathtaking design, there is a difference between the two. Take note that even if every castle is a château, not all châteaux are castles.
Although a château can be translated in English into “castle”, they are different. A château has a wider meaning since it can also be a palace, mansion, or an estate where wine is produced. Generally speaking, a château is a mansion or a manor house that serves as the residence of the lord or lady of the manor. As compared to castles, châteaux don’t usually have fortifications.
Meanwhile, a castle is a large fortified building or a complex of buildings containing several defenses. It is inhabited by a nobleman or a king and is usually the seat of power of a ruling family. Castles typically have towering walls to prevent attacks and are built on top of hills like the Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the famous castles in Germany. In some areas, you can find castles in the middle of the town square such as the Castillo de Olite in Spain.
Now that you’re aware of what makes a château different from a castle, let’s have a look at some of the best castles in France.
Best Castles in France
1. Château de Chambord
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Address: Château, 41250 Chambord, France
Entrance fees: 14.50 EUR (Adults), 12 EUR (non-EU residents 18 to 25 years old), free for persons under 18 years old, EU residents 18 to 25 years old, and for persons with disabilities + accompanying person
The Château de Chambord is arguably one of the best castles in France and is the best example of a Loire Valley château. Built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, the French Renaissance-Classical Renaissance château has 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. From afar, one can recognize it through its cupolas and turrets that give it a fairytale-like atmosphere. Head to the northwestern side of the moat and take photos of the castle reflected in the water.
But despite its majestic exterior and gilded rooms, the crowning glory of the château lies in the double-helix staircase, said to have been influenced or designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Despite being only a few hours away from Paris, the Château de Chambord is relatively remote, with thick forests surrounding it. If you want to visit the Loire Valley castles but you’re short of time, visit the Château de Chambord.
2. Palace of Versailles
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Address: Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Entrance fees: Basic admission to the Palace starts at 18 EUR and 13 for concessions
When it comes to castles in France, the Palace of Versailles is one of the first places that come into mind. This iconic symbol of power was once the residence of French royals until the downfall of the monarchy in 1789. It started out as a hunting lodge until it became the principal residence of Louis XIV who decided to rebuild and expand it. Centuries later, it is one of the most popular places in the country, attracting more than 10 million visitors annually.
The palace is now a museum that gives you a glimpse into the history of France. With more than 2,000 rooms, immaculate gardens, and ornate halls, it is perhaps the most opulent castle you’d ever visit. The Hall of Mirrors, built from 350 mirrors, was witness to two historical events: the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War. Find the finest and greatest art pieces and paintings here along with lavishly-decorated state apartments and private quarters.
3. Château d’Amboise
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Address: Montée de l’Emir Abd el Kader, 37400 Amboise, France
Entrance fees: 13.10 EUR (Adults), 11.30 EUR (Students), 9 EUR (children 7 to 18 years old)
Unlike other châteaux and castles in France located in the secluded areas of a commune, the Château d’Amboise sits in the middle of the town. However, take note that the château now was built upon the remains of an old fortress, hence its hilltop location. And while the château had a tumultuous history, it does have a list of famous tenants. Among the many famous visitors of this castle was Leonardo da Vinci, who made it his workplace and home. Mary, Queen of Scots, also grew up in the château and this is where she was told that she would marry Francis II.
Catch panoramic views of the Loire River as you explore the château on a guided tour. As you visit one hall to another, you’ll find da Vinci’s influence as he was in charge of the renovations on behalf of King Charles VIII. Gothic architecture blends harmoniously with French Renaissance, making it one of the best and most famous châteaux in the country.
4. Château de Fontainebleau
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Address: Place du Général de Gaulle, 77300 Fontainebleau, France
Entrance fees: 12 EUR (normal rate), 10 EUR (reduced rate)
Discover a melting pot of architectural styles at the Château de Fontainebleau, one of the most opulent castles in France. Like most châteaux, it initially started out as a hunting ground for the king, until his successors renovated, embellished, and enlarged it, giving their own personal touches. Expect a mix of Renaissance and Classical architectural styles as you wander around its rooms. The Renaissance Rooms alone, designed under Francis I and Henry II’s supervision, are worth visiting.
For penny-pinching travelers, enjoy free entrance to the Fontainebleau Château every first Sunday of the month (except in July and August). However, this also brings in more crowds, so make sure to arrive early. The château is also less than two hours away from Paris, making it a convenient day trip from the French capital.
5. Château d’Angers
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Address: 2 Promenade du Bout du Monde, 49100 Angers, France
Entrance fees: Starts at 9.50 EUR
Another castle in the Loire Valley, the Château d’Angers is an imposing structure with 17 watchtowers made of schist and limestone. The Romans initially inhabited the chateau, used it as a fortress due to its strategic location in Angers. Sometime during the 9th century, the Counts of Anjou built a castle to serve as their primary residence. During the First and Second World Wars, the château was used as an armory and was damaged by the Nazis.
Today, the château holds some of the country’s most important art pieces and medieval art. Its perfectly maintained gardens and Gothic interiors are a contrast to its exterior. If there’s something you shouldn’t miss in Château d’Angers, it’s the 14th-century Apocalypse Tapestry, a sprawling collection of tapestries illustrating the events from the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
6. Château d’Usse
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Address: 37420 Rigny-Ussé, France
Entrance fees: 14 EUR (for persons 17 years old and above), 5 EUR (children 8 to 16 years old), free for children less than 8 years old)
Also known as the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Château d’Usse is one of the most beautiful castles in France. Dating back to the 11th century, the château overlooks the Indre Valley, and given the beauty of its gardens, it makes you feel as if you are in a fairytale. Its Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance exterior and interior give the chateau a regal look, fit for any royalty.
Château d’Usse’s claim to fame is that it served as the inspiration for the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle as per Charles Perrault, one of the earlier writers of fairy tales. As you explore its rooms and halls, you’ll understand why it became known as the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Find elaborate tapestries, trompe-l’œil paintings, and mannequins dressed in the best period costumes. After joining a guided tour of the château, have a break and grab a bite at the nearby restaurant.
7. Château de Chenonceau
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Address: 37150 Chenonceaux, France
Entrance fees: 15 EUR + optional 4 EUR for audio guide (Adults), 12 EUR + optional 3.50 EUR for audio guide (Students between 18 to 27 years old and children 7 to 18 years old), free for children under 7 years old
Another iconic château in the Loire Valley is the Château de Chenonceau. Its location on top of the Cher River makes it one of the most visited and photographed castles in France. The château is also famous for its history. Henry II gave the castle to Diane de Poitiers, his mistress and a patron of French Renaissance architecture, where she financed the building of the iconic bridge. However, after Henry II’s death, his widow Catherine de’ Medici forced the mistress out and she proceeded to redesign it. Because of its history with female owners, the castle earned its nickname ‘Le Château des Dames’ (The Ladies’ Castle).
If you’re planning a trip to the Loire Valley, don’t miss the Château de Chenonceau. Its timeless design coupled with fancy courtyards, pointed towers, and bright gardens make it the quintessential fairytale castle. With audio or live guide, discover the castle’s role during the Second World War. Don’t forget your cameras and make sure to capture Instagram-worthy shots at the château!
8. Château de Villandry
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Address: 3 Rue Principale, 37510 Villandry, France
Entrance fees: 12 EUR (Adults), 7 EUR (Children 8 to 18 years old and students under 26 years old), free for children under 8 years old
The 16th-century Château de Villandry is a dream come true for gardening enthusiasts. The country home boasts four stunning and well-maintained gardens with different themes. With its majestic gardens, one wouldn’t think that this was a former fortress that protected its residents from outside attacks. It is also the site where France’s King Philip II met with England’s Richard I to discuss peace terms.
In 1906, the Spanish doctor Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and transformed it into a gardener’s paradise. Explore the sun garden, water garden, ornamental garden, and vegetable garden, teeming with hundreds of vibrant flowers and plants. While basic entrance fee only includes admission to the gardens, you can also opt to purchase tickets to access the main château. Designed in the classic Loire style, the main château features 18th-century interiors, pastel-hued walls, and elegant terraces.
9. Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
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Address: 77950 Maincy, France
Entrance fees: 19.90 EUR (Adults), 17.90 EUR (Students), 14 EUR (Children 6 to 17 years old and persons with disabilities), free for children under 6 years old
The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the castles in France that inspired the design for the Versailles. As the brainchild of architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André Le Nôtre, and the painter Charles Le Brunthe, the château was the first example of the Louis XIV style. The style intends to glorify the Sun King himself and soon after, the Grand Trianon at Versailles and the Church of Les Invalides took cues from this style.
Spanning more than 500 hectares, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is one of the grandest and opulent châteaux in France. Marvel at the Baroque architecture, well-crafted gardens, and gilded halls as you explore from one room to another. Because of its size, you can choose to rent a golf cart for easier navigation. Located less than 60 kilometers from Paris, you can easily head to the château for a day trip.
10. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
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Address: 67600 Orschwiller, France
Entrance fees: 9 EUR (Adults), 5 EUR (Children 6 to 17 years old), 4 EUR (persons with disabilities), free for children under 6 years old
Aside from must-visit cities in France and charming Christmas markets, the Alsace region holds one of the most beautiful castles in France. The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg overlooks Germany’s Black Forest, sitting on top of a hill near the border between the two countries. Because of its location, it was also witness to a number of historical events and restorations under different rulers.
Get a glimpse into the history of this castle as you explore its centuries-old halls. At the watchtower, catch panoramic views of the Alsatian Plain and the Vosges mountains. Attracting more than half a million visitors every year, no one can deny the beauty and history of the château. Its design is also popular worldwide, as the Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan built a copy of the castle in Berjaya Hills in Kuala Lumpur. If your itinerary includes a visit to Strasbourg, grab the chance to see this castle for yourself.
11. Château Comtal
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Address: 11000 Carcassonne, France
Entrance fees: Starts at 8.50 EUR
In the heart of the fortified city of Carcassonne lies one of the most well-preserved castles in France, the Château Comtal. The château lies on a hilltop overlooking the city, built during the 12th century and restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the man who also restored the Notre-Dame de Paris and Mont Saint-Michel among others.
The Château Comtal is the perfect castle for history buffs as it contains centuries’ worth of history within its walls. Additionally, it is also a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site along with the Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne, proof of its significance. Like the Château de Fontainebleau, visitors can enjoy free admission to the Comtal Castle on the first Sunday of the month from November to March.
12. Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire
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Address: 41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire, France
Entrance fees: 14 EUR (Adults), 8 EUR (Children 12 to 18 years old and students), 4 EUR (Children 6 to 11 years old), free for children under 6 years old and persons with disabilities
The Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire is another popular castle in the Loire Valley. The 10th-century château served as the residence of the Amboise family for over 500 years. Adding to its interesting history is that this was the château given by Catherine de Medici to Diane de Poitiers in exchange for the more extravagant Château de Chenonceau when her husband, Henry II died.
Situated near the banks of Loire River, the Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire is one of the castles known for its gardens. In addition, the castle hosts the International Garden Festival from April to October. Best visited from spring to summer, the château offers vibrant gardens where you can take photos of the famous pink and purple-hued flowers. In terms of the castle interiors, the Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire doesn’t fall short of Renaissance furniture and decor. At the Private Apartments, be in awe of the grandeur of the Great Salon, the Library, and other rooms.
13. Château de Cheverny
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Address: 41700 Cheverny, France
Entrance fees: 12.50 EUR (Adults), 9 EUR (Children over 7 years old and students), free for children 6 years old and below and persons with disabilities
Those who read The Adventures of Tintin will recognize the Château de Cheverny as it was the model for the Marlinspike Hall. The 14th-century castle has been owned by the same family ever since. With well-preserved decor and period furniture, the Loire Valley château is among the most beautiful castles in France. The Grand Salon in itself is a sight to behold, featuring family portraits and a functional harp that dates back to the 18th century.
Visit the kennel and find hundreds of hunting dogs, a crossbreed of English Foxhound and Poitevins. For tourists with kids, ride the tourist train that takes you around the English-style gardens and a huge pond. Additionally, you can also enjoy a relaxing boat trip on the pond. Kids can also participate in a mystery game to decode a sentence about the château.
France is a country not just known for its delectable cuisine and romantic city sights, but also for its castles and châteaux. The castles in France give you a glimpse into a region’s history and even its culture. You can also have a sneak peek into the everyday lives of the nobility and those who live in the castle as you explore the private apartments, dining rooms, and gardens.
If you’re looking for a break from the fast-paced streets of Paris, take a day trip or a multi-day excursion and visit some of the awe-inspiring and gorgeous castles in France.