Did you know that there are over 45,000 castles in France? It’s true! From the Loire Valley to the Normandy coast and the lavender fields in the south, you can find beautiful castles all over France. The oldest dates back to 850 AD and the youngest is probably only a few years old. There are ruined castles covering a small patch of land on a mountaintop and there are opulent palaces boasting over 100 rooms. You can’t drive for 1 km without spotting a historic French castle out of your window.
So, why are there so many French castles? Most are built for one of two reasons. The first reason the French built castles was to defend the local area from attack. These are fortresses that you’ll often find on hills and next to large towns. The other reason was to show off wealth and status. This explains why the French word for ‘castle’ is château, which can be translated into English as either ‘castle’ or ‘mansion’.
Visiting famous castles in France is an excellent way to spend a day trip from one of the big cities like Paris or Lyon. It’s guaranteed that there will be an amazing, historic castle within a 20 km radius no matter where you are! But with 45,000 castles in France, it might be difficult to choose which ones are worth visiting.
Don’t worry! This guide to French castles lists all the coolest castles in France for you to visit. They are either famous, beautiful, have guided tours, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or all of the above!
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Château de Chenonceau
There are plenty of castles in the Loire Valley that were built on the banks of rivers and are surrounded by a moat. But how many were built on a bridge?! Château de Chenonceau might be the only one! Many call it one of the most romantic castles to visit because of its dreamy location on the River Cher. Some call it the ‘Castle of the Ladies’ because its construction and upkeep were managed by six different women.
This 16th-century Gothic and Renaissance castle has a beautiful garden, houses Old Master paintings, and many tapestries. The village of Chenonceaux is 33 km southeast of the city of Tours which is accessible by train from every major city in Paris. From Tours, you can hire a car and drive 40 minutes to reach the castle.
Accommodation near Château de Chenonceau:
- Budget – Hôtel Clair Cottage
- Mid-range – Logis Hôtel le Cheval Blanc
- Luxury – Auberge du Bon Laboureur
Château Royal d’Amboise
You might think that Château Royal d’Amboise is a famous castle in France because its turreted black roof and manicured lawns next to the Loire River are postcard-perfect. Or you might think it’s a popular attraction because of its 15th-century Gothic and renaissance architecture and impressive tapestry collection. Or perhaps because it was the former residence of King Charles VIII.
Those are all great reasons, but Château Royal d’Amboise also happens to have the Chapel of Saint-Hubert on its grounds, which is where you’ll find the tomb of the great Leonardo di Vinci. You’ll find the great Italian artist and inventor’s former home just outside of town too.
Amboise is in the Loire Valley around 225 km southwest of Paris, which takes around two and a half hours to drive. However, it’s much more straightforward to travel from Paris to Amboise than you might think.
Accommodation near Château Royal d’Amboise:
- Budget – Logis Hôtel la Brèche
- Mid-range – Le Clos de l’Hermitage
- Luxury – Hôtel Le Manoir Les Minimes
Château de Villandry
Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley is one of the best castles in France to visit with kids. The castle’s formal garden is also a maze where you can spend hours of fun (depending on how lost you get!). This castle is perhaps still a popular place to visit because of its spectacular gardens and art exhibitions.
Dating back to 1536, this castle has a slightly avant-garde renaissance style. Château de Villandry has been fully restored so its interiors are almost as beautiful as its exteriors. If you want to visit this castle, it’s better to rent a car. But you could hire one in the nearby city of Tours, which is only 17 km (a 25-minute drive) east of Villandry.
Accommodation near Château de Villandry:
Only 11 km southeast of Château de Villandry (a 15-minute drive) through the Loire Valley nature reserve is Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. It’s another spectacular renaissance castle you could visit on a road trip of castles in the area. Because of the lack of train stations in this area, it’s far more convenient to drive.
It’s considered one of the earliest examples of French renaissance architecture and its position in the middle of an island in the Indre River just makes it even more picturesque. Plus, it’s got lots of Royal paintings and tapestries.
Accommodation near Château d’Azay-le-Rideau:
- Budget – Logis Hôtel des Châteaux Rest. la Rose des Vents
- Mid-range – A l’Ombre d’Azay – Demeure d’Hôtes
- Luxury – Moulin de la Chevrière
Château de Chambord
Do you want to know what the biggest castle is in the Loire Valley? It’s Château de Chambord! This sprawling mansion has 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces. It will take you all day to explore, but it will be worth it.
Château de Chambord is a former royal palace that dates back to the 16th century. It has an incredibly neat and beautiful lawn surrounded by thick woodland. Oh, and it has a moat! You cannot get more grandiose than that. Since Château de Chambord is on the edge of the Loire Valley, it is much closer to Paris than other castles in France. It’s only 180 km southwest (a 130-minute drive).
Accommodation near Château de Chambord:
- Budget – L’Orée de Chambord
- Mid-range – Chambre d’hôte Montlivault / Chambord
- Luxury – Relais de Chambord
6. Mont Saint-Michel Abbey
While visiting beautiful castles in France is a great way to spend a day trip, some castles are worth planning your entire trip around. There’s one castle on an island in France that is worth doing this for, and it’s Mont-Saint Michel Abbey in Normandy near the Brittany border.
Dating back to 708, this abbey sits on the island of Mont Saint-Michel which is around 1 km from the coast. Most of the current building dates back to the 16th century with some restorations taking place in the 19th century. It was a fortress, a place of worship, and even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It looks like something out of a fairy tale that you have to see with your own eyes to believe it is real.
Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is on a tidal island, which means the walkway and road can be shut off during high tide, but the sand banks usually prevent this from happening. Shuttle buses transfer visitors to the island from the mainland every 15 minutes. Lots of tour companies include Mont Saint-Michel on their itineraries, but you can also hop on a TGV train from Paris to Rennes where you can hire a car to drive the 60-minute journey north.
Accommodation near Mont-Saint Michel Abbey:
Château de Chantilly
This opulent castle sitting in the middle of its own moat surrounded by a 19,275-acre forest are probably two of the more mundane facts about Château de Chantilly. It was the passion project of Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale and the fifth son of the last king of France. He rebuilt the castle after the revolution in the 19th century.
It boasts the second-largest collection of antique paintings in France, after the Louvre, and the nation’s largest equestrian museum. And one of the best things about Château de Chantilly is how easy it is to reach! It’s only 50 km north of Paris, which is about a one-hour train journey.
Accommodation near Château de Chantilly:
Château de Fontainebleau
Many of the French castles on this list have been occupied by a French monarch for a short period, but Château de Fontainebleau was the residence of 34 kings and two emperors. That’s almost eight centuries of resident monarchs! It has a whopping 1,500 rooms and it is the most furnished house in Europe, though it’s unclear how you’d measure that.
Originally built during the 12th century, the building that stands is a Renaissance château and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nothing will prepare you for witnessing how big this castle is because it looks more like a large village. Lucky for you, it’s only 70 km southeast of Paris which is a one-hour train or drive away.
Accommodation near Château de Fontainebleau:
- Budget – The Originals Boutique, Hôtel Victoria
- Mid-range – Wisteria Maison d’hôtes
- Luxury – Hotel de Londres
Château de Versailles
Yes, technically the Palace of Versailles is also a castle! Château de Versailles, to use its French name, was originally a small castle built by King Louis XIII in the early 17th century. But in the 18th century, it was replaced by the gilded ostentatious display of wealth that is standing today.
The Hall of Mirrors is one of the most famous rooms in Versailles which has 357 mirrors. Everything in Versailles’s 2,300 rooms was made in France and its expansive gardens are just as impressive as the building. Château de Versailles is a fantastic day trip from Paris as it is only a one-hour train journey and trains tend to leave every 15 minutes.
Accommodation near Château de Versailles:
- Budget – Hôtel Le Home Saint Louis
- Mid-range – Hôtel le Versailles
- Luxury – Waldorf Astoria Versailles – Trianon Palace
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is one of the most impressive medieval castles in France. Originally built near the Rhine River in the 12th century, its purpose wasn’t to show off wealth but to defend the region like a fortress. It still has an artillery platform and its position on top of a mountain mean the panoramic views across the Upper Rhine Plain are sensational.
Strasbourg is the closest major city to Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg and would make a great day trip. It’s unfortunately difficult to reach by public transport, but it’s only 62 km south of Strasbourg (a 50-minute drive).
Accommodation near Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg:
Château de la Roche Courbon
Originally built in the late 15th century, this formerly medieval castle was transformed into a habitable, renaissance mansion in the 17th century by the Courbon family. Today, the castle has large gardens, underground caves, and even an on-site escape room-style treasure hunt. It’s a great castle to visit if you have kids.
Close to France’s Atlantic coast, the castle’s closest major city is La Rochelle. It’s 63 km southeast of the coastal city which is a 50-minute drive.
Accommodation near Château de la Roche Courbon:
- Budget – Chambre d’hôtes Les Ormeaux
- Mid-range – Chambres d’hôtes Villa Mamba
- Luxury – Villa des Trois Grâces
Château des Milandes
This is a beautiful 15-century castle, but Château des Milandes isn’t as beautiful as its famous former resident. Josephine Baker was a French dancer, singer and actress who was the first black woman to star in a major movie in 1927’s Siren of the Tropics. She bought the in 1947 after renting it for 10 years and considered it her personal oasis.
Today, the castle features an exhibition of her life. It’s very much hidden away in the middle of the French countryside, as one of the closest major cities is Bordeaux which is 200 km west of the castle. You will definitely need to rent a car to visit Château des Milandes!
Accommodation near Château des Milandes:
- Budget – Auberge de Jeunesse HI Cadouin
- Mid-range – Domaine du Château de Monrecour
- Luxury – Castle Maraval
Château de Quéribus
Want to visit an awe-inspiring castle in the South of France? Château de Quéribus is in a league of its own. It was built during the 14th century on a perilously tall craggy rock in the Pyrenees. This ruined castle looks impossible to reach and that one gust of wind would knock the whole thing down. But it’s stood strong for centuries and there is one narrow, winding road to the castle entrance.
You will need a car to visit Château de Quéribus because it’s quite a hike to reach the castle from sea level. The nearest major cities are Toulouse and Montpellier and the castle is around 180 km south of both.
Accommodation near Château de Quéribus:
- Budget – Chambre d’hôtes coeur de nature
- Mid-range – Relais de Laval
- Luxury – Origines Maison d’hôtes
Château des Baux-de-Provence
The Lords of Baux were one of the most powerful families in the South of France during medieval times. They built Château des Baux-de-Provence, a huge fortified castle, in the 11th century as a defensive structure and as a display of their influence and wealth.
Today, the castle has lots of replica weapons like trebuchets and siege engines that are used during costumed events. Plus, the castle’s mountaintop location offers beautiful views over the picturesque Provence region. Its closest city is Nîmes, which is only 45 km or a 50-minute drive away from the castle.
Accommodation near Château des Baux-de-Provence:
Palais des Papes
This Papal palace in Avignon was once important and majestic enough to rival the Vatican. Built by Pope Benedict XII and his successor Pope Clement VI in the late 14th century, Palais des Papes is a monument to the Catholic church’s influence in Western Europe at this time. Today, it’s still an impressive fortified castle next door to a cathedral which houses the tombs of several former popes.
It is right in the heart of the city of Avignon in Southern France, so if you’re staying there then most will be able to walk to the castle to explore it. There is also a bus system that operates in the city.
Accommodation near Palais des Papes:
- Budget – Hôtel Danieli
- Mid-range – Hôtel Mercure Avignon Centre Palais des Papes
- Luxury – Hôtel La Mirande
Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant
It was impossible to resist including one of the most popular castles in France. Yes, this is Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris! The European edition of Disney’s theme parks opened in 1992 along with the 50m tall castle. It comes with its own dragon’s lair underneath which visitors can explore, as well as enjoy a light and fireworks displays.
Disneyland Paris is only 44 km east of the French capital which is a 43-minute drive. Or, there is a train that leaves Paris Gare du Nord station every 15-minutes and will take you straight to the park.
Accommodation near Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant:
- Budget – Aparthotel Adagio Serris – Val d’Europe
- Mid-range – Hotel l’Elysee Val d’Europe
- Luxury – Disney’s Hotel New York – The Art of Marvel
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