Castles remind us of a world without elevators, electricity or flushing toilets; when revenge was best served bloody and you were likely to marry your cousin just to keep it in the fam. There’s no better time machine than a historic castle. From the serene to the haunted, OTP’s got the Top 10 Castles around the world.
Archangel Michael was one sneaky mofo. Five centuries before he convinced Joan of Arc to fight the English, he persuaded the Bishop of Avrances to build an abbey on a rock, the result of which was St. Michael's Mount in Normandy. Surrounded by water at high tide, building materials were floated to castle-constructors on barges. A new hydraulic dam will help restore Mont St. Michel to island status in a few years time. Not just a castle, because of its isolation, occupants had no choice but to turn the bastion into a town, which makes for some interesting exploring. With hundreds of cobblestone alleyways and winding outdoor staircases, try to resist exploring the surrounding bay during low tide because it comes in fast and several unlucky tourists have been swallowed by the waves. Omelets are a local specialty; one shop has been flippin’ eggs for 400 years—and you’ll pay $30 USD for their expertise. Bring a dozen and start your own rookie omelet stand to show them up. Admission rates to the castle are much more reasonable at about $13 for adults, $8 if you’re 18-25 and free if you still smell like your mother's womb.
This castle-in-a-cave dates back to 1274. It’s been rebuilt several times; first after a long siege in the 15th century tore it up, only to be destroyed by an earthquake and then restored again in 1567. The castle that never dies is complete with a secret natural tunnel and a 404-foot tall limestone cliff. For about $11 you can rummage through a smaller adjoining cave, formerly used as horse stables, that leads into an underground labyrinth. You can be that annoying jerk that makes echos for free.
The largest medieval castle complex in the world (covering over 18 acres) was originally built with just some flimsy timber in the 9th century. A collection of castles, in a jumble of different architectural styles, it's surrounded by beautiful gardens (open during the summer months) for all your frolicking needs. Entrance to these massive woodies, currently serving as headquarters of the Czech president, is free.
Everyone knows Edinburgh is haunted as hell. Just to make sure all the ghost basis were covered, this famous citadel houses one of only two dog cemeteries in all of Scotland and has a vault of 120 underground rooms that were used to entomb plague victims. For the kicker, a lone piper and a headless drummer haunt Castle Rock as well. Over-achievers in all things spooky, it costs about $23 bucks to hang out at this ghost resort and tickets are available online. It's also built on a volcano if all that haunting gets boring.
Stark red and white Potala Palace stands out against the barren grey landscape of Tibet, and can be seen from all corners of Lhasa. Until the 14th Century, this palace served as the Dalai Lamas' winter crib for 265 years. Elevation-wise, it’s the highest ancient palace, way up there at 12,000 feet above sea level, and has over 1,000 rooms to explore. Getting tickets in the summer is a bitch as only around 2,000 are issued every day and they usually sell out in a couple of hours. If you schmooze your way in, admission is $13 and for an extra fee $1.50 you can (and should) get a kickass view all the way at the top of the palace.
Prime Transylvania real estate and captive home of Vlad the Impaler, more commonly known as Dracula, this place will suck your human juices dry. After decades of neglect and a catastrophic fire, the present day structure has been somewhat modified by modern architects, but still retains its terrifying charm. Forget the sunny homes of the “vegetarian” vampires of modern times; this pointy rock beast reminds us all that real blood-suckers dig frightening staircases.
One of India’s largest forts, Mehrangarh is in Jodhpur, also known as the Blue City. Built by the city’s founder, Rao Jodha, in 1459, this impenetrable beast is perched on a 400-foot hill known as Bhaucheeria (mountain of birds). Walls are almost 120 feet tall and nearly 70 feet wide—and you can only approach them after crossing seven gates. Folklore has it that when Rao Jodha asked Cheeria Nathji to vacate the premises, he cursed the fort with a water shortage and drought still strikes every couple of years. This dry place is also said to be haunted by a lower caste man who volunteered to be buried alive in the foundation to ensure the fort’s strength and longevity. If you’re out that way in October, check out the annual Jodhpur RIFF festival and let the poor dude's spirit haunt you full force for about $7 (which includes an audio guide).
The biggest brick gothic castle on earth was originally a monastery in 1406 under the reign of the roguish Teutonic order. When the Teutonic knights were kicked out, the castle became a fortress. Like lots of other old shit, this place has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, with extensive restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries. All this old brick is yours for the viewing for about $12 bucks a head.
Famous for history’s bloodiest witch trials in the 16th and 17th centuries, the dungeons of this castle—built by the prince-bishops of Salzburg in the 1300s—became the execution site of many a ho who dared to overstep her baby-making-machine role. Such legends even lured the Ghost Hunters team down to investigate the grisly tales of Unternberg. Email the castle for all your burning unsolved mysteries.
Ghana's 30 odd coastline castles stand as testaments to human bondage. Bartered to the Dutch and Portuguese by tribal kings for gunpowder and alcohol, 10 million Africans were crammed into the dungeons of these castles from the 1500s to the 1800s. While some of these former human storage spaces are mere skeletons with crumbling walls today, others are makeshift museums or cheap guest houses ($2 a night). One is the seat of Ghana's government. Rumor has it ol' Chris Columbus popped into Elmina ('the mine' in Portuguese) castle, the oldest surviving European structure south of the equator, before he went on to “discover” the New World. Admission varies from castle to castle and a guided tour of Elmina is 3 Cedi ($2 bucks and change). Cape Coast Castle Museum is free, with permission (work on your pretty pleases).
Behind almost every castle is a morbidly fascinating story that your history classes fail to cover. Do some pseudo-scholarly digging of your own and check these bad boys out face to face.