Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. Ced's favorite shows and adventures are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.
Thanks to Konami’s Castlevania (i.e., my favorite video game series), I have long been fascinated by European castles. While I haven't actually asked anyone, I suspect most Castlevania fans feel the same.
After all, how could any fan not crave the experience of exploring a huge Gothic edifice at night? One that’s home to shadowy specters and mythical monsters, and possibly, an immortal vampire too?
Well, few real-life castles in Europe are as huge and complex as the ones in the Castlevania games. And even if they are, they certainly don't come with vampires and flying medusa heads, or halls filled with toys or gold.
On the other hand, if you're purely seeking ambiance and architecture, numerous European castles fit the bill. Here's my list of must-visit European castles for all Castlevania fans. With a dash of imagination, I’m sure you can easily imagine yourself as Simon Belmont himself pressing on towards Dracula's dreaded keep.
1. Bran Castle, Romania
Heavily marketed as one of the several Romanian sites associated with Dracula, i.e., Vlad Tepes III, Bran Castle is believed by some to be the home of the titular monster in Bram Stoker's novel. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker even knew about Bran Castle. Vlad himself also barely had any association with the stronghold.
That said, for Castlevania players, the solemn architecture and secret passages are sure to conjure strong imagery of undead creatures and monsters. Regardless of whether Vlad ever actually lived here, this is one Eastern European castle that will forever be associated with the world’s most famous vampire.
2. Corvin Castle, Romania
Like Bran Castle, Corvin Castle is also heavily promoted as a "Dracula Site" in Romania. Supposedly, Vlad Tepes III was imprisoned here by John Hunyadi after he was deposed in AD 1447.
The veracity of this claim aside, the extensive grounds and Gothic architecture are likely to thrill most visitors, Castlevania fans or not. Just look at that covered bridge. Isn’t it reminiscent of various opening stages in the games? One can literally hear the Vampire Hunter soundtrack echoing in the distance.
3. Neuschwanstein, Germany
Neuschwanstein is easily the most famous castle in Central Europe. A must-visit on most German travel itineraries, the dreamy European castle was featured in several movies. It was also the architectural inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.
Because of that, some gamers might find Neuschwanstein a shade too fairy-tale-like for the grim settings of Castlevania stories. On the other hand, an image of Neuschwanstein was used on the cover of a '90s Castlevania music remix album. The over-the-top interior and unfinished portions of the castle could also invoke vivid imagery of adventure and mystery.
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Furthermore, the spectacular hilltop location imbues the entire structure and surrounding countryside with an adventuresome feel. From a distance, would such a hilltop stronghold not resemble the feared citadels in the Castlevania games?
4. Vajdahunyad Castle, Hungary
Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the lesser-known castles in Europe. In fact, it's not even a real castle—it was Budapest's showcase of Hungarian architecture styles during the Millennial Exhibition of 1896. After the exhibition, the elaborate structure was preserved as a permanent part of the city park.
However, I include Vajdahunyad Castle in this list because it was heavily based on Corvin Castle (see above), and because the mix of different building styles is just so reminiscent of Castlevania stages. As in, the mishmash of starkly different buildings and rooms found in all episodes.
Vajdahunyad is also on this list because of the statue of Anonymus found on its grounds. Anonymus was a chronicler of the 12th century, whose real identity remains unknown. Looking at that statue, don't you think he resembles Shaft from Rondo of Blood? One can easily imagine him scheming before the "castle," planning his next resurrection of Dracula.
5. Segovia Alcazar, Spain
Just one look and you can see why Segovia's Alcazar is an ideal holiday destination for Castlevania fans, yes? Does it not resemble a majestic ark floating on a hilltop? However, it’s also on this list for what's nearby—the incredibly well-preserved Roman Aqueduct cutting across old Segovia.
As any fan would know, Roman ruins and structures feature heavily in most episodes since Castlevania III. Besides, a towering aqueduct along the way to a castle, with the castle itself situated on a hilltop. Doesn’t this scene remind you of a certain stage in Castlevania III?
Best of all, the aqueduct is flood-lit at night. You can enjoy fantastic Spanish cuisine and wine next to it while dreaming of exciting vampire-whipping adventures.
6. Budapest Castle, Hungary
Budapest Castle is on this list for three reasons: its expansive grounds, its many distinctive buildings, and its varied environs.
Think about it, isn't the entire area a perfect layout for a Castlevania adventure? You start in Pest and battle your way across the Chain Bridge. Then it’s a struggle down the riverside promenade before ascending Castle Hill using the funicular.
Once at the top of the hill, there are more unique stages. Matthias Church, the visually striking Fishermen's Bastion, the Rondella . . . To complete the experience, at choice spots in this imaginary episode, you get a glimpse of Hungary's jewel—the ultra-ornate Parliament Building before a full moon.
Is there any sight more ambiance-perfect for a Castlevania-inspired holiday? I doubt there is.
7. Burg Eltz, Germany
I passed by Burg Eltz many years ago while touring the Rhine valley on a rainy afternoon, and the misty image I saw was unforgettable.
The structure was just so otherworldly, rising from the treetops and veiled by drifting wisps of thin mist. A closer examination of it later via books fascinated me even more, particularly the dense layout of the castle and the Romanesque walls.
With a little imagination, it's not too difficult at all to picture a Belmont scaling these very walls while hitting at every brick to find life-replenishing drumsticks. On that note, please be careful with the walls if you are visiting. This real-life German castle is privately owned and a historical gem. Keep all whips and belts to yourself.
8. Chateau Chambord, France
Like Neuschwanstein, Chateau Chambord, the showpiece of the Loire Valley, could be a tad too fairy-tale in feel. However, the complex roofline, with its many ornate towers and balconies, does evoke strong Castlevania memories, particularly if visited after sunset.
Sadly, though, Chateau Chambord is hardly ever open in the evening; Castlevania fans have to settle for admiring the intricate architecture during Dracula's sleeping hours. An alternate way could, however, be to stroll about the gardens during the late afternoon.
At those hours, it might not be too difficult imagining what the magnificent Chateau would be like under the moonlight.
9. Edinburgh Castle, United Kingdom
To be honest, Edinburgh Castle didn't immediately come to mind when I prepared this list. The more I looked at my pictures of it, though, the more I felt it deserved an entry because of its volcanic rock throne.
Simply put, doesn’t that throne suggest so many Castlevania elements? Elements such as hidden tunnels and secrets caves. Naturally, the stained glass windows and somber statues within this immense complex justify mention too, as well as the Princes Street Gardens bordering it.
In a Castlevania game, it would be a demonic garden overrun by rotting zombies and man-eating plants. The foreboding "castle" would also forever be looming in the background, before appearing in full glory during a boss fight.
10. Glamis Castle, United Kingdom
Glamis Castle of Scotland is smaller than many other entries on this list. However, it makes up for its lack of size by having double the number of frightful legends and myths—stories such as the Monster of Glamis, the Earl who challenged the Devil, and so on.
Strolling beside the thick walls and high windows, one certainly doesn’t need a lot of imagination to picture all sorts of terrible secrets hidden behind those bricks. Admittedly, these stories might not feel too “vampire-ish”; the tales of Glamis are more whodunit in nature.
That said, they do still make for a good Castlevania game premise? How about this? The Earl who lost to the Devil, and because of that failure, sets in motion the next rising of Dracula. Woe to us all?
11. Heidelberg Castle, Germany
When I visited Heidelberg Castle in 1998, I was immediately reminded of Rondo of Blood. Specifically, the first stage with the burning town and the soundtrack Bloodlines playing in the background.
Going by the picture above, wouldn’t other Castlevania players experience the same? Notably, Heidelberg is also famous for the huge Heidelberg Tun, the largest wine barrel in the world. That and the nearby pharmacy museum both make for perfect Castlevania stages.
12. Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Germany is full of majestic castles. Many years ago, a "Castle Road" itinerary was even conceptualized for tourists.
Hohenzollern is not within that itinerary, but in many ways, it is still an archetype of a perfect German castle—stately, harmonious, and built on superior, higher ground.
For Castlevania players, visiting Hohenzollern Castle is also akin to visiting a Castlevania theme park, one that comes with stately fortification, clock towers, and historical courtyards. At the same time, any visit would also be a glimpse into the conceptualization of the franchise. From the picture above, I'm sure it isn’t too hard to see what inspired Konami developers to develop this series beloved by gamers for over 30 years.
13. Mont-St-Michel, France
One look and it's obvious why Mont-St-Michel is utterly Castlevania, yes? In fact, it is so Castlevania-like, the silhouette was used on the cover of Symphony of the Night all the way back in 1997.
Everything about the tidal island and its distinctive abbey just seem made for vampire-whipping action—the causeway, the spiraling fortifications, the crowning abbey. Every evening, Mont-St-Michel also transforms into something right out of a fantasy movie— a brilliant magical citadel aglow against the night sky.
A cautionary note here, if you’re visiting. Whether admiring Mont-St-Michel during the day or night, never get carried away and wander into the marshy areas. These spots are filled with dangerous quicksand and sudden tides that you wouldn't see coming. Not even Simon Belmont would survive any of these unscathed.
14. Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland
Switzerland’s Oberhofen Castle is compact and doesn't have many of the elements one would associate with a "Castlevania castle." However, when viewed from the lake, don't you think it still has the makings for one of the games? That is, an open-world one, with the castle being a key location or save-point.
With its splendid lakeside location, Oberhofen Castle is also terrifically atmospheric under the moonlight. When standing beside its jetty at sunset, I’m sure any gamer can readily imagine adventures awaiting across the lake. Such reveries can easily accommodate a misanthropic master vampire too.
15. Peleș Castle, Romania
If you’ve ever played Dawn of Sorrow, you’ll know why Peleș Castle is on this list. Don’t you agree the architectural style of this Neo-Renaissance European castle, particularly the exposed beams, is strongly reminiscent of the earlier stages of that episode?
Moreover, Peleș Castle is in the Carpathian Mountains, which are right in the heart of Romania. If there’s any "real" Castlevania story, the Carpathian Mountains would be where I imagine Dracula's stronghold to be. I imagine many parts of such a stronghold would look a lot like Peleș Castle too, beginning with that elaborate clock face.
16. Pena Palace, Portugal
Some find it cheesy, but I've always loved the Castlevania series for its outrageous stage designs, as in areas and layouts that often have little logical or artistic connection with each other.
Portugal’s world-famous Pena Castle has a good deal of this chaotic feel, with its striking colors and starkly contrasting structures. The castle is also decisively exotic, adorned by hints of minarets and Moorish design everywhere.
All in all, this Portuguese gem is a visual feast perfect not only for Castlevania players but for any tourist too. I can easily imagine the huge number of selfies taken on its grounds. A miniature of it would also look striking, and appropriate, on any gamer’s bookshelf.
17. Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Like Budapest Castle, Czech Republic's foremost attraction is on this list for its immense size, its eclectic mix of buildings, and its environs. A Castlevania-inspired visiting route could thus begin at Charles Bridge during sundown, leisurely snaking up the hill, before the final nocturnal “fight with Dracula” in front of the clock tower at St. Vitus Cathedral.
Or, one could take the alternate route, i.e., underground. A city as old as Prague is not short of subterranean secrets, and there are many guided tours of Prague’s underground every day. In short, equally as many fantasies await gamers beneath Prague’s most elaborate complex, as well as above it.
18. Cochem Castle, Germany
Cochem Castle is another atmospheric German castle, the aerial look of which immediately tells you why it is perfect for Castlevania players. From the spires and ramparts and that forbidding main tower, doesn't everything just scream Castlevania? Enough said.
19. San Marino
San Marino is not a European castle, of course. It’s one of the remaining miniature city-states of Europe.
Considering the way it was built, though, do you not feel strong game-adventuring appeal emanating from it? Do you also not agree that the hilly setting is just perfect for a quest?
Just imagine yourself at the highest ramparts, struggling to put one foot in front of the other as you face the howling wind. That's not just Castlevania-ish, that's also heroic. And it's an experience all true adventure-gamers should not miss.
The Spanish capital is famous for its immense royal palace and its many elaborate buildings. However, it is on this list not because of any particular castle or structure. Instead, the entire downtown of Madrid is a must-visit for any Castlevania fan, thanks to 2014’s Lords of Shadow 2.
The only true open-world Castlevania game to date, developer MercurySteam intended the whole of Lords of Shadow 2 to be a tribute to Madrid and Castella, a region MercurySteam described as a “land of castles.”
While gamer’s reactions are mixed regarding the end product, it’s undeniable that anyone who has played the game will find many parts of downtown Madrid familiar, particularly the Gran Via. If you’re able to secure a rooftop room during a stay, the sight of the many ornate rooftops and spires against the night sky will surely evoke strong Castlevania memories.
© 2016 Ced Yong