1 Buda Castle, Hungary
This is very different from other castles, thanks to its history of being damaged and rebuilt. The first version was built in the 13th century after the Mongolian invasions and was extended in the 14th century, making it the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. After the arrival of Queen Beatrix of Naples, who brought with her the finest Italian architects, painters and designers, the palace took on a Renaissance style.
During the 18th century, through the liberation of Buda from the Turks, the palace was completely destroyed and a small Baroque palace was built in its place. The rebuilding continued through the 19th century and was finished in 1904 – only for the castle to be brought to the ground again during the Second World War. The castle visitors see today was built using many of the original pieces of the 18th-century palace with a neo-baroque style.
It is now home to the Budapest History Museum, which includes a number of rooms designed around how they would have looked before the castle was destroyed, and Hungary’s National Gallery.
Need to know
Getting there: Flights from Dubai to Budapest on Qatar Airways start from Dh1,450 return.
Accommodation: Hotel Palazzo Zichy’s double rooms start from around Dh320 per night (breakfast included); www.hpz.hu
Travel tips: Budget anything from Dh15-Dh90 per person for meals in the area. While in Budapest, you can also visit Castle Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Shoes on the Danube Promenade Memorial.
2 Ksiaz Castle, Poland
Ksiaz Castle, known as the Pearl of Lower Silesia, is the third-largest castle in Poland. According to historians, Ksiaz – one of the significant defensive castles of the Prince of Swidnica and Jawor – has been around since 1288.
Throughout time, it had many different families inhabiting it. The final residents, Lord Hans Heinrich XV and his wife Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West – known today as Princess Daisy – lived with their two sons in the castle until the Nazis confiscated it in 1941 and it was shortlisted to become one of Adolf Hitler’s headquarters.
After the war it fell into a state of disrepair, but in 1974, a team of experts led by Prof Zofia Wnuk of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk restored it.
Need to know
Getting there: Flights from Dubai to Wroclaw Airport on Lufthansa start from Dh2,650 return. It is recommended you rent a car to get around – Ksiaz Castle is a one-hour drive from Wroclaw.
Accommodation: You can spend a night in the Ksiaz Hotel, located in three castle annexes, where a room with three beds and a bathroom starts at Dh274 per night (breakfast included); www.en.ksiaz.walbrzych.pl/ksiaz-hotel.html. Alternatively, Wroclaw’s Grape Hotel has double rooms starting from around Dh310 per night; www.grapehotel.pl.
Travel tips: Budget anything from Dh7-Dh40 per person for meals. Other attractions include the Wroclaw Zoo and Aquarium, the Wroclaw University Botanical Garden, or go tracking the famous Wroclaw dwarf figurines.
3 Bran Castle, Romania
Famous for being Count Dracula’s home, Bran Castle, perched atop a 60m-high rock, was built in 1377. Used in defence both against and for the Ottoman Empire in turn, it was where the supposed inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Vlad the Impaler – was imprisoned. Over the years the castle suffered damage through sieges, negligence and natural forces and in 1920, it was restored by Queen Maria of Romania as one of the residences of the royal family. After the death of Queen Maria, the castle was bequeathed to Princess Ileana who lived there until 1948, when the communist regime drove the family to the United States.
From 1956 onwards, the castle became a museum and was restored to its original state.
Need to know
Getting there: Flights from Dubai to Sibiu on Austrian Airlines start from Dh2,800 return. Driving from Sibiu to Brasov takes just over two hours.
Accommodation: Hotel Ambient’s deluxe double rooms start from around Dh320 per night; www.hotelambient.ro/en.
Travel tips: Budget anything from Dh20-Dh90 per person for a meal in the area. The Libearty Bear Sanctuary and the Biserica Neagra are also nearby.
4 Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
You may recognise this castle as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. Its beauty is undeniable, but its history isn’t quite as lovely. The castle was built in the 19th century for notably eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also known as Mad King Ludwig, who was declared insane. The difficulties associated with its location being on a mountain meant workers having to carry on through the night to complete it on time. Built on the ruins of an older castle, Ludwig wanted his home to be in the style of the old German knights’ castles. It was to this fairy-tale castle that Ludwig retreated, living in his own small world of myths, legends and fantasy.
After the King’s death 1886, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public. It’s best to take one of the horse-drawn carriages to the top of the mountain so you’re rested, as the castle has numerous stairs! Be sure to book your tickets in advance as it’s a popular tour.
Need to know
Getting there: Innsbruck airport in Austria is closer to Hohenschwangau than any international German airports, with a drive of just under two hours to the castle. Flights from Dubai to Innsbruck on British Airways start from Dh2,450 return.
Accommodation: Schlossrestaurant Neuschwanstein’s double rooms start from around Dh360 per night; www.schlossrestaurant-neuschwanstein.de
Travel tips: Budget anything from Dh30 to Dh150 per person for a meal in the area. If one castle isn’t enough for you, try Schloss Hohenschwangau or Hohenzollern Castle. See the Poellat Gorge for its natural beauty or explore the Museum of the Bavarian Kings.
5 Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
Beginning life in 1113 as a wooden structure developed from an older rampart, the stone of the Bojnice Castle was gradually added in the 13th century. First owned by Matthew III Csak, it changed owners three times over the next two centuries, before rebuilding of the dilapidated castle began in 1527.
The building was converted into Renaissance residences: the originally Gothic castle was given a new character and new houses added in the inner courtyard. After the last member of the resident family, the Thurzos, died in 1636, the castle reverted to the Crown but in 1643, the Palfi family gained the castle as patrimony.
The last aristocratic lord of the castle – Count Jan Frantisek Palfi – gave the castle a newer romantic appearance, looking to French Gothic, Gothic Tyrolean and early Renaissance Italian castles for his inspiration.
Since 1950 the castle has been a part of the Slovak National Museum.
Need to know
Getting there: Flights from Dubai to Bratislava on FlyDubai start from Dh1,800 return. The trip from Bratislava to Bojnice takes just over two hours by car or train.
Accommodation: B&B Hotel Bojnicky Vinny Dom’s double room with an additional bed starts from around Dh390 per night; www.bojvin.eu/en.
Travel tips: Budget anything from Dh20-Dh150 per person for a meal in the area. You can also visit Bojnice Zoo, the Museum of Prehistoric Slovakia and the Church of St Martin.