26 Nov Spain’s Most Impressive Castles
A country steeped in history, Spain is home to some of the world’s most iconic fairytale castles and medieval fortresses. So many centuries of turmoil have endowed Spain with over 2,500 defense buildings, some awe-inspiring and oppressive, and others extravagant and palatial.
Most of Spain’s castles were built to serve as royal residences and military fortifications, resulting in palaces that are both beautiful and imposing.
Architectural styles vary significantly depending on region and era, but some of the most stunning castles include the ornate flourishes of Moorish design such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
Many of these impressive castles have a combination of styles that reflect the changes and additions made after conquering rulers took over, including the addition of churches to former Islamic fortresses.
Let’s us show you our favourite 12 “must-see” castles in Spain:
Alcázar de Segovia
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most distinctive castles in the whole of Spain. About an hour north of Madrid, and strategically placed high on a plateau between two rivers, stands the Alcazar de Segovia (meaning palace or fortress in Arabic).
This monolithic structure, which is shaped rather like the bow of a ship, was the home to many notable royal families of Europe including members of the House of Burgundy, Trastamara, the Habsburgs, and the Bourbons.It has served as a fortress from invaders, a royal palace, a state prison, the Royal College of Artillery and Military Historical Archive.
It’s also rumoured that this amazing fortress was the inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World.
When: 12th century
This sprawling palace/fortress complex is said to be one of the most magnificent buildings in the world. Once inside and you see the incredible Moorish architecture and courtyards you’ll understand why. This also UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooking the old town of Granada, was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid dynasty. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic and the palace was partially altered in the Renaissance style.
When: 9th-13th century
Built on top of a medieval fortress as a private residence for D. Juan Pacheco the Marquis of Villena, Castillo de Belmonte has been owned by the same family since 1465 and has a certain French air about it due to the tastes of one of the owners; Eugenia de Montijo, Empress of France. Combining Moorish and Neo-Gothic architecture, the restored castle is now a museum and cultural centre.
Where: Belmonte, Cuenca
When: 15th century
Built upon a rock, the remote Castle of Zafra was originally built as an Arab fortress and has been used by the Celtiberians, Romans, and Visigoths over the centuries, becoming an important stronghold.
If the castle somehow looks familiar to you, it’s because it featured as ‘The Tower of Joy’ in Game of Thrones season 6, episode 3 (if you are a strong follower of this worldwide successful HBO series, check on our example GOT itinerary where you could explore this and some other impressive film settings around Spain)
Where: Campillo de Dueñas, Guadalajara
When: 12th century
Combining Gothic and Moorish architecture, Coca Castle is considered to be the best example of Spanish Mudéjar brickwork in the country and one of the most beautiful in Europe. Located in the picturesque walled town of Coca (Roman “Cauca”; birthplace of Roman Emperor Theodosius), the castle was built in the 15th century by Alonso de Fonseca; the mighty archbishop of Seville, during the reign of King Enrique IV of Castile. The castle has 2 square baileys, polygonal towers, and a dry moat.
Where: Coca, Segovia
When: 15th century
The sleek and harmonious silhouette of this Castle-Palace stands out against the skyline of Olite, a small town in the centre of Navarre just 42 kilometres south of Pamplona that was the seat of the Royal Court of the kingdom in the Middle Ages. The thick walls and crenelated towers of the Palace were home to monarchs and princes. Declared a national monument in 1925, it is the best example of civil Gothic architecture in Navarre and one of the most notable in Europe.
If you’ve ever dreamt of sleeping in a castle, now is your chance to treat yourself and spend a night (or two) as this castle is also a Parador Hotel
Where: Olite, Navarra
When: 13th century
Originally a Roman fort, the impressive Almodóvar Castle, with its 9 towers, was rebuilt by the Moors who invaded the Peninsula in the 8th century A.D. Like many of its kind, the castle’s high walls are flanked by square towers, except on one side. The main tower is taller than the rest and the whole structure is surrounded by a moat.
Totally rebuilt by its owner, the 12th Count of Torralva in the 20th century, this is one of the very few castles in Spain that can still be inhabited and one of the best preserved castles in Andalusia.
The Castillo de Almodovar del Rio is another magic setting for the Game of Thrones series as it stands in for Highgarden and is best known as the seat House Tyrell, and the regional capital of the Reach, one of the constituents of the Seven Kingdoms.
Where: Almodóvar del Río, Córdoba
When: 8-20th century
La Calahorra Castle
Looming over the village of La Calahorra and the plateau of the Marquesado del Cenete in the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada (Granada province) it’s one of Andalucia’s most emblematic and unusual fortresses. The castle was an architectural revolution at the time, as it was the first Renaissance building to be built in Spain, a style that was already hugely popular in Italy. It marks the move away the Gothic aesthetic that was the style prevailing across most of Europe. The castle was built by Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and Mendoza (the Marquis of Ceneter) in just three years, between 1509 and 1512 on the site of a former Moorish fortification.
Given its somewhat featureless exterior, the inside has some surprisingly lavish features including a beautiful Renaissance colonnaded courtyard delicately crafted from marble. The earth surrounding the castle has a characteristic reddish colour due to the presence of iron ore within it.
Where: La Calahorra, Granada
When: 16th century
This partially ruined fortified castle is one of the oldest in Spain. With archaeology evidence dating back to Iberian and Roman times, the building seen today is from the 11th century and consists of 2 parts; the castle with walled enclosure and the attached Romanesque monastery with preserved church and crypt.
Where: Loarre, Huesca
When: 11th century
The castle is located in a very privileged spot, right in the heart of the fertile estuary of the Urdaibai biosphere reserve, not far from the historic town of Guernica. Unlike Spanish castles built for defense, it is not in an elevated position but on a plain or meadow, surrounded by trees and other vegetation. In this respect it resembles Fontainebleau Castle and other French royal residences. The marble whiteness of the Castillo de Arteaga, with its 13th century limestone Neo-Gothic tower, rises dramatically out of this magical and natural setting. Napoleon III and Eugenia de Montijo had it rebuilt when their son was proclaimed an honorary citizen of Biscay.
Out of this castle, Garbiñe Azkuenaga has created a stunning boutique hotel, part of the Relais & Chateaux collection, masterfully combining period furniture with contemporary design. If this is your idea of heaven, we can personally craft the most luxurious experience here for you. Explore the surrounding area with outdoor activities, enjoy your evenings with superb dinners in the castle’s restaurant along with wine tastings in the well-stocked cellar.
Where: Arteaga, Vizcaya (Basque Country)
When: 13th century
It is one of the architectural wonders of the city of Palma and Europe’s oldest circular Gothic castle. The Bellver castle was built by King James II of Mallorca in the 14th century to be the seat of his court. It is strategically located on top of a hill 112 meters above sea level, surrounded by woods and only 3 km from the city center of Palma de Mallorca. Throughout its history, this wonderful and impressive fortification served as both a royal residence and prison.
Where: Palma, Majorca
When: 14th century
This stunning fairytale-like castle is actually a monument dedicated to the life and travel adventures of the great explorer Christopher Columbus. Built between 1987-1994 by Doctor Esteban Martin, with the help of two builders from the nearby town of Mijas. The castle pays homage to the three religions that co-existed in Spain during the XV century, the period when Columbus made his discovery. So, its structure and decoration bear traces of Christian, Arabic and Jewish architecture. However, there is one architectural feature that does not belong to any of the aforementioned cultures – in the midst of the castle’s towers stands a delightful Chinese pagoda. This was Esteban Martin’s way of commemorating the original dream that lay behind Columbus’ voyage to America – the discovery of a parallel route from Europe to Asia.
Where: Benalmádena, Málaga
When: 20th century