Visiting France also offers a strong cultural and historical immersion. The country has an exceptional architectural heritage, with its cities and villages, its museums, monuments and of course the thousands of castles that mark out 2000 years of History. Discover and visit the best castles of France, from Paris to Provence, from Occitania to the Loire Valley.
Throughout the years, the role and architecture of the castles changed a lot in France.
From the end of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the XVIth century, castle used to fulfill a defensive role while imposing a certain symbolism of power, austere and martial. France still has several thousand medieval castles, with crenellated rampart and towers, fierce portcullis and several meters thick walls.
In the XVIth century, castles in France adopted a completely new face. The new power of the State makes war between lords obsolete, thus, defying the neighbor behind powerful walls is no longer necessary. Castles become real palaces with large windows, surrounded with beautiful parks and gardens. The Renaissance treasures spread under the reign of King Francis I, the initiator of this group of sumptuous residences known as the Chateaux of the Loire Valley.
Our tour of the most beautiful castles in France invites you to discover several centuries of history, starting from medieval fortresses to the most charming Renaissance palaces.
Between internal wars and English and imperial lust, the kingdom of France has been bristling with fortresses. Each lord, each city protects itself behind high ramparts and vertiginous towers. If some medieval castles were destroyed or massively modified, others have survived through History and attract tourists from all over the world today. We have selected ten of the most beautiful medieval fortresses in France.
City of Carcassonne
Located in Occitania, between the cities of Toulouse and Montpellier, the medieval city of Carcassonne is one the best-preserved fortified place in the world. Huge restoration works, started in the XIXth century by the architect Viollet-le-Duc, allowed it to be saved from an expected disappearance. Carcassonne has been a UNESCO World Heritage since 1997 and attracts several million visitors every year. Restaurants, stores, museums and entertainment will make your visit unique.
In the Middle Ages, the city used to host the thriving Champagne Fairs (Foires de Champagne), considered as one of the most famous fairs in Europe. Several monuments such as the César Tower or the Tithe barn (Grange aux Dîmes) illustrate the opulence at those times. The city, which gathers 58 historical monuments has been listed UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001. Located less than 1h30 from Paris, the city attracts million of visitors every year who come to discover the undergrounds, the Museum of Provins and enjoy shows and activities.
Mont-Saint-Michel, which raises the towers of its abbey high in the sky, is not strictly speaking a fortress. However, its walls, occasionally bathed in waves, its particular atmosphere, with its evocative mysticism and its indisputable medieval dimension, irrevocably evoke the most beautiful castles in medieval France. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1979, Mont-Saint-Michel is also an unmissable tourist destination between Normandy and Brittany.
Book your trip to Mont-Saint-Michel today.
The « Haut Château du Roi » is located is Alsace, not far from the French and German border. Profoundly restored in the XIXth century by Kaiser William II, the Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg dominates the Alsace plain with its towers and ramparts. Its red-brick walls, numerous halls and its stunning view explain its success amongst tourists. Indeed, this historical monument is a must when visiting Alsace.
This former medieval castle in ruins was completely restored and partly rebuilt during the XIXth century under the aegis of the architect Viollet-le-Duc and under emperor Napoleon III’s initiative. This fairytale castle, on the edge of the Compiègne, forest, depicts the romantic and idealized portrait of Medieval castles. Classified as a historic monument, it attracts many visitors every year. This exceptional place will be an enchanting break during your holidays.
Dominating the Dordogne valley, the medieval fortress of Castelnaud, still faces the rival citadel of Beynac. The monument is nowadays a major touristic destination in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, with its Museum of Medieval Warefare. During summer, many activities are organized there.
As part of the Cathar castles, along the Cité de Carcassonne, this vertiginous citadel was built on a ridge that rises at an altitude of 800 meters. Even today, the walls of Peyrepertuse, which are in ruins, still seem to blend in the mountains’ white rock. The castle was at the heart of the Albigensian crusade before being transformed into a royal fortress. The sporty ones won’t regret the efforts leading to what is still today considered as one of the most beautiful ruined castles of France.
Located in the Perigord, a tourist region rich in historical monuments, this castle deserves to feature on the list of the best castles in France. The fortress and its chapel are opened to the public. Workshops and activities organized there will allow the whole family to travel back to Middle Ages.
Dominating one of the most beautiful villages in France and offering an extraordinary panoramic view of the Alpilles chain, Baux-de-Provence Castle is an unmissable tourist destination located in the Bouches-du-Rhône region. A secured circuit was established to visit the wonderful ruins of the former Lord of Baux’s residence. You will also enjoy a visit of the Baux-de-Provence village, with its shops and restaurants, and the Lights pit shows.
To finish this tour of the best medieval castles of France, we advise you to go to the Bourgogne region, on the construction site of one brand new medieval-inspired castle. Initiated in 1997, the worksite is visible for the public and respects the methods and techniques used in the Middle Ages. This very serious project, supervised by historians, became a major touristic attraction over the years. Parents and children alike will love it.
The Renaissance passed on some of the most beautiful castles of France.
Palais de Versailles
This former hunting lodge was turned into a sumptuous palace by King Louis XIV, symbol of his power. Right next to Paris, on the edge of a forest and surrounded by a huge park with majestic alleys and fountains, the Palace of Versailles embodies the idea of absolute monarchy led by the Sun King. The Hall of Mirrors, the King and Queen’s apartments, the Small and Grand Trianon are real architectural treasures of one of the most spectacular building in the world.
Organize your visit to Versailles from Paris now!
Located around 60 kilometers away from Paris, the Château de Fontainebleau was requested by Fancis I, who enjoyed the game-rich lands of the Bièvre Valley. With its typical facades of classical style, the castle also houses a national museum. You will visit this castle, witness of the History of France, for the works contains and for its architecture. If you have time, you can continue your visit in Fontainebleau by a walk in the gardens.
Visit the Fontainebleau castle now from Paris.
Before becoming the prestigious Louvre Museum, the building was a royal palace located in the center of the city of Paris. The Louvre Palace, with a Renaissance style, classical and neoclassical, s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Renaissance Palaces of France.
Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s superintendent of Finance, had the Vaux-le-Vicomte castle built to testify to his success and drove him to ruin. Indeed, the Sun King, jealous of the splendour with which he was received and suspicious about a potential embezzlement, arrested and convicted Nicolas Fouquet under wrongdoing motive.
Today, the castle that inspired Versailles remains one of the most beautiful castles of France. Take part in a visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte from Paris and immerse yourself for few hours in the splendors of Renaissance. Book your tour including a Vaux-le-Vicomte audio-guided visit.
The Chantilly domain, which is surrounded by a 115 hectares park, houses the treasures of a great prince from the XIXth century, Henry of Orleans, duke of Aumale. Located 30 minutes away from Paris, explore the Chantilly castle, visit its great stables, wander through its parks and gardens and enjoy the equestrian shows. Many exhibitions enhance the permanent collections: paintings, art works, furniture…
The Loire Valley Castles, unique architectural complex in the world, deserve their own list. Let’s see together some of the most beautiful castles in the Loire Valley (“Centre Val de Loire” region).
The visit of Chambord is unmissable when discovering the Loire Valley Castle. The castle, desired by Francis I, with its famous “double revolution” staircase, is one of the first and most striking example of the Renaissance arrival in France. Part of the most beautiful castles of France, Chambord is surrounded by an equally remarkable green setting. In the surrounding forest, wild boars and deers, birds and small animals can be observed.
The château des Dames (Ladies’s Castle) or Château de Chenonceau, which gracefully spans the Cher River, is one of the most priceless treasures of Loire Valley architecture. You will enjoy the visit of the Chenonceau castle, considered as one of the most beautiful castles of France, you will stroll through the French-style gardens overlooking the river and you will get lost in the vegetal maze, hidden in the heart of the forest.
Take off its two wings and you will have the typical Moulinsart Castle, the home of Tintin and Captain Haddock. The comics’ hero even has a tribute in a permanent exhibition. Beyond the nod, the visit of Cheverny will allow you to discover one of the most beautiful French Renaissance palaces, with its rooms richly furnished and its French-style gardens.
Dominating the Loire, the royal Amboise castle seduces by its particular physiognomy, combining the vestiges of the medieval citadel with the slender refinement of the Renaissance. The collection of gothic furniture, the tourist charm of the city of Amboise and the elegance of the façades contribute to the castle’s success. The visit of the Château d’Amboise is a must! You can also discover nearby Château Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci's last residence.
The gardens, carefully maintained all year round by an army of gardeners, are the main asset of Villandry castle. The geometrical designed flowerbeds are home to flowers, bushes and other plants of all colours and shapes. The gardens on their own deserve the visit of Villandry, whose castle, with its discrete and elegant architecture, brings a touch of romanticism to the background.
This royal residence welcomed many rulers during the Renaissance period. Located on the banks of the Loire river, Blois castle harmoniously reflects the evolution of architectural styles from the Middle Ages to the Classical era. Visiting the Blois castle is also an opportunity to discover the collections of the Fine Arts Museum housed within its walls.
Castles in France are amongst the most popular monuments for tourists. Visiting an old fortress or a palace is a real travel in time. Escapism and enjoyment guaranteed!
This list of the most beautiful castles is not exhaustive, and many other historical residences deserve your attention, near Paris, in southern France and all over the country (such as Palais des Papes, Château Roche Courbon, Château Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Sully-sur-Loire, Chateau d’Ussé of sleeping beauty / Belle au bois dormant…). While many can be visited, some historic homes open their doors for a longer stay. Renting a room in a luxury property, mansion or palace, allows you to experience a truly charming stay in the heart of history.