Ah, France, the country of love, delicious butter-rich food, and of course, some of the most famous castles in the world. You can’t head to France without seeing at least one of these stunning locations.
While many people head to the country of France to see the museums, the Eiffel Tower, and the fashion of those walking on the street, I found myself marveling at the available French castles that once housed French kings and other royalty. They’re reminiscent of France’s history, many of them complete with sprawling landscapes and stunning exteriors beckoning to be explored.
If you’re a history buff, love spending time around grandeur, or enjoy seeing how the other half lived in the past, you need to make time to check out the beautiful castles, or châteaus, that lie around the country.
Below, you’ll find a list of the 10 coolest castles in France. Take notes of the famous French castles that intrigue you most and add them to your bucket list so you can check them off one by one next time you’re visiting the country.
Without further ado, let’s dive into these stunning castles in France!
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10 Best Castles in France You Must See For Yourself
1. Château de Chambord
When I first saw this French castle, the only word that popped into my mind was “wow.” That’s right–I was mindblown and at a loss for any real words.
This Renaissance castle is tucked away in Loire Valley, a few hours away from Paris, and sits surrounded by lush greenery. Château de Chambord was planned around its stunning double staircase (inspired by Leonardi di Vinci), which winds effortlessly through the building.
This famous French castle (the largest in the valley) was commissioned in the 16th century by King Francis 1. However, it was not completed until the 17th century. It has undergone many interior changes through the years as different royals have lived in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chambord has everything from exquisitely kept French gardens to a vegetable garden, stables, and an enclosed park where you’re likely to see deer grazing. Multiple tours are available, from full-day opportunities to a castle and garden tour with a horse show on the grounds.
Location: Chambord, France (Loire Valley region)
Century: 16th – 17th Century
2. Château de Versailles / Palace of Versailles
Château de Versailles, or the Palace of Versailles, is one of the most well-known palaces in France. One major benefit is that it’s super easy to get to, being just about 60 minutes away by train from Paris.
This palace had humble beginnings in the 16th century as it was intended to be a hunting lodge and was originally a small countryside getaway. As the years progressed, King Louis XIII and the others in his family line continued building to create one of the greatest châteaus in France.
This royal residence became a museum in 1833 and now houses 60,000 pieces of art. The Palace of Versailles has been featured in a long list of movies (mainly French), but if you watched the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette, you’ll recognize certain areas of the palace like The Hall of Mirrors.
You’ll likely want to spend an entire day here because there is so much to see. You can stroll through the English gardens, the Grove, explore the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, or tour through the magnificent palace rooms.
Pro Tip: You’re going to need comfortable walking shoes for this one–during my last visit, I walked over 15 miles! Also, selfie sticks and flash photography are not allowed inside the castle. Don’t worry; you can still take your pictures without flash!
Location: Versailles, France (near Paris)
Century: 16th Century
- Versailles Palace & Gardens: Ticket, Audio Guide & Transfer
- Versailles: Palace of Versailles Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
3. Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau, in Chenonceaux, France, is one of the most interesting medieval castles, as it sits directly on the river of Cher.
The initial castle was built in the 12th and 13th centuries then rebuilt in the early 1500s. This castle has passed through the ownership of many royals through the centuries, including King Francis I and Queen Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau Castle has housed both top scholars and a military hospital in the 19th century before opening to the public.
Explore the “floating” gardens that branch off the château, get lost in the maze, and stroll through the flower garden. These are only a few of the offerings outside of the castle.
After exploring the grounds, why not refuel while you’re here? There’s a fine dining restaurant here–The Orangerie. This is a perfect spot for foodies and provides stunning views of the grounds and elevated cuisine. If you’re in the mood for a more casual food experience, check out the Tea Room.
To visit any of the attractions at Château de Chenonceau, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee. This is true even for the restaurant and tearoom.
Location: Chenonceaux, France (Loire Valley region)
Century: 12th to 13th Century
4. Château Gaillard
Château Gaillard is a medieval fortress that lies in the town of Les Andelys in Normandy. It was built entirely in two years in the 12th century, not a feat that many castles share. Unfortunately, it was ordered to be torn down by King Henry VII right before the 17th century.
This castle sits atop a hill that requires some climbing to get to. However, the climb is worth it, as you’ll have access to views of the Seine.
Some of the rooms are still available for touring during the open season. Otherwise, you can explore the exterior of the fortress’ grounds and take in the stunning views.
Location: Les Andelys, France (Normandy)
Century: 12th Century
5. Château d’Amboise
The Royal Château d’Amboise looks over the Loire River in the small town of Amboise. The castle is truly fit for royalty, and you’ll feel as if you’re a queen or king when visiting here.
Château d’Amboise has a rich history beginning in 100 BC when it existed as just a small fort. In the 11th century, the first version of the palace was built. It was taken over by royals beginning in the 15th century and ending in the 19th century.
Top literary geniuses and artists visited this castle, including Leonardo da Vinci whose vault sits on the castle grounds.
Today, you can wind your way through the castle rooms and gardens with a self-guided audio tour, or join a group tour to see what the castle has to offer.
If you’re lucky enough to visit when the property’s quaint eatery, The Orangery (aka Le Café), is open, there is a smattering of light snacks and drinks you can purchase here while enjoying the views from the terrace. April through September are the open months for this delightful food spot.
Location: Amboise, France (Loire Valley)
Century: 11th Century
6. Château de Chantilly
Chantilly Castle is seriously one of the best castles in France. It is what art lovers’ dreams are made of. Château de Chantilly lies in the village of Chantilly, also nearby Paris.
The grounds house two castles, the Petite Château and the Grand Château. The first was built in the 16th century, and the second, larger building was created in the 19th century.
The Duke of Aumale created this masterpiece to house his beloved collection of art and books. In the late 1800s, he gifted the castle and his collections to the Institut de France, on the condition that on his death, the museum be opened to the public and that its layout be preserved.
Lucky for us, now the Château de Chantilly is open to the public, so take advantage and tour the picturesque castle! Make sure to check out the second largest art collection of paintings in all of France (after the famed Louvre).
The castle’s bedrooms are what you would expect, pure opulence with detailed gold accents all around and stunning chandeliers. The Reading Room is another area you won’t want to miss featuring the Duke’s famous book collection.
Location: Chantilly, France (nearby Paris)
Century: 16th to 19th century
7. Château de Vincennes
Château de Vincennes is situated in Vincennes right next to Paris, making it an excellent activity if you want to get out of the city for a few hours.
This former fortress turned royal housing was built in the mid 12th century. From the 12th century to the 18th century, many royals lived in this castle. For a few centuries, it even doubled as a prison.
This famous castle is without a garden. However, it does have a stunning chapel featuring stained glass windows. Take a tour to explore the other areas like the attic and offices used by the King’s secretary.
Pro Tip: Live music and concerts are performed at the castle from time to time. If this is something you’re interested in, check the schedule and purchase tickets ahead of time.
Location: Vincennes, France (right next to Paris)
Century: 12th Century
8. Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainbleau is not just another castle on the list; this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest châteaus in France.
This castle, built in the 12th century in Fontainebleau, has housed many royals (specifically all of them) through the years. Each royal who lived in this château added their spin, turning it into the majestic presence found today.
Here’s a fun fact for you: Marie Antionette and Louis XVI used Fontainebleau Castle to escape during the French Revolution when they fled Versailles.
This château offers a renaissance-style exterior along with renaissance artwork spread throughout the fully furnished castle. Book lovers can enjoy the Gallery of Diana, featuring an exquisite library from Napoleon’s personal collection.
Stroll through the three distinct gardens and park spread through the estate of the castle. This is a really unique experience as each garden allows a peek into the style of whichever monarch owned the castle at that time.
It’s common for visitors to see this castle along with the gardens and notice how, somehow, through many castle owners, everything meshes perfectly!
Location: Fontainebleau, France (southeast of Paris)
Century: 12th Century
- Château de Fontainebleau: Priority Entrance Ticket
- Fontainebleau & Vaux-le-Vicomte Châteaux Day Tour from Paris
9. Château du Haut Kœnigsbourg
The Château du Haut Koenigsbourg, built in the 12th century, has withstood many battles and wars with success until abandoned in the 1600s. A German royal family built this imposing medieval castle in Orschwiller.
In the early 1900s, the castle was rebuilt to its former glory. It continues to sit atop a mountainscape, ready for tourists to stop by.
Explore the interior, now a museum, and peek out of the watchtower for stunning views of the surrounding forest. This is one of the most visited castles and is open year-round, and hosts many events and workshops weekly.
Live out your château fairytales by exploring each one on the list above. These are truly the nine coolest castles in France, featuring exquisite gardens, perfectly preserved artwork, and architecture that will blow you away.
Location: Orschwiller. France (Alsace region)
Century: 12th Century
Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most picturesque historical monuments to see in France. While technically more of an abbey than a castle, I had to mention Mont-Saint-Michel given its undeniable beauty and glory.
Positioned on the border of Normandy and Brittany, the island abbey Mont-Saint-Michel was both a place of passage and a fortress. The difficult location of this sanctuary is what makes it so majestic and mysterious. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, this massive fortress is perched on a rocky islet in the middle of sandbanks exposed to powerful tides.
If you’re looking to witness a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, this is the ideal one to visit. Today, Mont-Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
All visitors can access the island either by walking or by hopping on the free shuttle buses. Advance tickets are required.
After you’ve completed touring the abbey complex, explore the little village or hike around the island on the mudflats for more fantastic views.
Location: Normandy, France
Century: 11th to 16th Century
COMPLETE MAP OF THE 10 BEST CASTLES IN FRANCE
How many castles are in France?
France has over 40,000 castles and fortresses dating from between the 9th and 21st centuries.
The 16th century, specifically, was an intense period of chateau construction.
Which region of France has the most castles?
Most of the opulent castles in France worth visiting are found in the picturesque regions of the Loire, Alsace, and Occitania.
The Loire Valley, for example, is home to approximately 300 castles due to its geography (being right by the river which acted as a superhighway). Eventually, this area became the dividing point between the north and south of the country, and thus a fault line between rival armies. And lastly, after the war, lots of royal families settled in the area.
If you’re in the early stages of planning your France itinerary, you should consider exploring these regions a bit deeper. Not only are they home to a ton of noteworthy castles, but they are also charming and rich in culture and history!
What is the largest castle in France?
Château de Chambord, located in Chambord in the Loire Valley is the largest château in all of France.
Château de Fontainebleau is one of the largest castles in France as well.
Both are spectacular sites that you must see for yourself if you love castles and/or French royalty history!
And that concludes our post on the best castles in France to add to your next itinerary. We hope that this post has inspired you to see something new that you hadn’t considered before.
If you have any questions about the destinations or have your own travel tips to share, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.