France has the greatest concentration of amazing castles in the world.

How many castles are there in France?

11,000 castles – this is the number listed by the French Ministry of Culture. But if we count all castles, including private properties, it is estimated that the country has about 45,000 castles. That means more than one castle for each of the 35,000 French communes.

That is, when visiting France, it is very likely that you will find a castle on your way. In this post, we will list the most beautiful castles so that you can include some of them in your itinerary.

Castles itinerary in France

There is not really a castles itinerary in France. But there are two regions with a high concentration of huge and sumptuous castles, very well preserved:

  • Paris (surroundings)
  • The Loire Valley

A tour of the French castles can vary according to the time available, interest, budget etc.

To help you create your own itinerary, we have listed the most beautiful and important castles near Paris and in the Loire Valley, as well as castles that you shouldn’t miss in other regions.

Castles near Paris

You don’t have to go far to visit some of the most beautiful and sumptuous French castles. Since the royals were mainly based in Paris, some of France’s most emblematic castles are located less than an hour from the capital. So, if this is your first trip to France, we recommend that you start by visiting the castles near Paris.

How to get there? All the castles can be reached by train.

  • The Palace of Versailles, the most famous castle in France

Versailles is undoubtedly the most famous castle in France. Last residence of the French kings, it represents both the grandeur and the dramatic decline of the monarchy. If this is your first time in Paris, you should include a visit to this castle in your itinerary.

Castelos na França: os jardins e o Palácio de Versalhes, no arredores de Paris

Castles of France: the Versailles palace and gardens, nearby Paris. Photo: Andreas Hundt from Pixabay

A major symbol of the richness of the French court, the palace impresses with its excesses: from the size of the building and the surrounding property to the richness of details in its decorations. From the symmetrical precision of its gardens to the fool history of the kings and queens who lived there.

In the video below, we will learn some of its history:

The gardens of Versailles are a unique attraction. Considered by Louis 14 as important as the palace itself, the king invited André le Nôtre to design the gardens. They became an icon of French-style gardens, with their geometric shapes and perfect symmetry.

      • Distance from Paris: 22 km
      • Visit duration: 2,5 hours to visit the interior of the castle + 1,5 hours to visit the gardens
      • When to visit: to avoid the crowd, we suggest to arrive early (around 8 am) and start visiting the gardens. At 9 am, when the castle opens, visit its interior. Alternatively, you can start your visit after 3 pm, which is when the groups are already leaving. Also, avoid the peak season, especially the months of July and August.
      • Opening days and hours: open daily, except Mondays, from 9 am to 5 pm. The gardens are open from 8 am to 6 pm.
      • Tickets: you can buy your ticket on-site, but we recommend you to buy it online to avoid waiting at the ticket office: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/plan-your-visit/tickets-and-prices
      • Other tours that can be combined with Versailles Castle
    • Distance from Paris: 22 km
    • Visit duration: 2,5 hours to visit the interior of the castle + 1,5 hours to visit the gardens
    • When to visit: to avoid the crowd, we suggest to arrive early (around 8 am) and start visiting the gardens. At 9 am, when the castle opens, visit its interior. Alternatively, you can start your visit after 3 pm, which is when the groups are already leaving. Also, avoid the peak season, especially the months of July and August.
    • Opening days and hours: open daily, except Mondays, from 9 am to 5 pm. The gardens are open from 8 am to 6 pm.
    • Tickets: you can buy your ticket on-site, but we recommend you to buy it online to avoid waiting at the ticket office
    • Other tours that can be combined with Versailles: A good tip is to visit Versailles on the last day of your trip. You could hire a car, make the visit in the morning, have lunch at the castle and go straight to the airport
  • Fontainebleau, the French castle who has been inhabited by the royals for the longest

Very few French castles are as rich in history as Fontainebleau. Built five centuries before Versailles, the palace served as the residence of the kings and emperors of France for over seven centuries. The second largest castle in France (the first is Versailles, of course!), the building covers 46,500 square meters (6,000 of which are open to the public).

Castelo-frança_fontainebleau

Castles of France: Fontainebleau, nearby Paris. Photo: Jacky Delville from Pixabay

And since each monarch did his best to leave his own mark to posterity, the castle gained in opulence year by year. As a result, today the visitor has the unique chance to see, in a single place, the best preserved interior decoration of France.

In addition to the richly furnished halls and rooms, this beautiful French castle also has a chapel and a library, which are pure jewels.

The video below shows the opulence of this important French castle.

Besides the interior, the castle gardens are also worth a visit. And, despite being as beautiful and rich in history as Versailles, the castle of Fontainebleau has the great advantage of not attracting crowds!

    • Distance from Paris: 70 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 3,5 hours
    • When to visit: in autumn, when forest and gardens become a separate attraction.
    • Opening days and hours: open daily, except Tuesdays, from 9:30 am to 6 pm (from April to September) and from 9:30 am to 5 pm (from October to March)
    • Tickets: you can buy online tickets here.
    • Other tours that can be combined with Fontainebleau Castle: you can visit the castles of Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte on the same day. Another option is to enjoy lunch in Barbizon: the beautiful village, which inspired so many painters, is only 10km from the castle.
  • Chantilly, a beautiful castle-museum

With its fairy-tale atmosphere, Chantilly seems to float on the water. One of the most beautiful castles in France, it’s also one of the least known to tourists – even though it’s so close to Paris!

Castelo_França_Chantilly

Castles of France: Chantilly, nearby Paris. Photo: SofieLayla Thal from Pixabay

The Château de Chantilly belonged to Henry D’Orléans, son of the last king of France. The prince, an art lover and the greatest collector of his time, transformed the castle’s rooms into a unique art gallery, which has remained intact to this day. The castle’s collection of ancient paintings is só perde para o Louvre, including works signed by Raphaël, Fra Angelico, Watteau, Ingres, Delacroix, among others

O acervo de pinturas antigas do castelo só perde para o Louvre, incluindo obras assinadas por Raphaël, Fra Angelico, Watteau, Ingres, Delacroix, entre outros.

Just like Versailles and Fontainebleau, Chantilly is also a huge domain, with its 115 hectares embellished by English gardens and islands with temples dedicated to Venus.

    • Distance from Paris: 45 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 3,5 hours
    • When to visit: since Chantilly is not as well known as Versailles, we recommend visiting it in the peak season months, between May and September. In this way, you can avoid the lines of Versailles and take advantage of the good temperatures to stroll around the gardens.
    • Opening days and hours: open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10 am to 6 pm (from April to September) and from 10:30 am to 5 pm (from October to March)
    • Other tours that can be combined with Chantilly Castle: if you have children, you could go to Asterix Park, which is about 20 minutes from the castle.
    • Website: www.domainedechantilly.com
  • Vaux-le-Vicomte, the castle who inspired Versailles

If Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle had not existed, Versailles would not have been what it is.

The castle, which belonged to the Minister of Finance of King Louis XIV, was conceived by the same team that later on projected Versailles: the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles le Brun and the landscape architect André le Nôtre. And it was right at a party in Vaux-le-Vicomte that King Louis XIV, quite jealous, decided to invite the talented group to transform Versailles into the superlative of the royal castles.

Castelos da França: Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Castles of France: Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photo: Pixabay

Vaux-le-Vicomte doesn’t have the opulence of Versailles – nor the crowd. But it is considered a special gem among all French castles.

Discover in this video the fascinating beauty of this castle:

https://www.youtube.com/user/VauxleVicomteTV

    • Distance from Paris: 60 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 3,5 hours
    • When to visit: between May and October, when the castle proposes, on Saturdays, the famous candlelit dinner (there are more than 2,000!). Or in December, when the castle is beautifully decorated and illuminated for Christmas.
    • Opening days and hours: open daily from 10 am to 7 pm (on candlelit dinner nights, open until midnight). Closed in November, and between January and mid-March.
    • Other tours that can be combined with Vaux-le-Vicomte: you can visit the castles of Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte on the same day.
    • Website: www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

Castles of France: the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley, also known as the Valley of castles in France, has the largest concentration of castles in the world! If you have already visited the castles around Paris and are willing to go (a little) further, add the Loire Valley to your itinerary. The region is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its rich architectural heritage. In other words, its castles!

How many castles are there in the Loire Valley?

In total, no less than 300 castles! Among these, 11 royal castles and 21 castles built by the nobility are considered of great historical and architectural importance.

We list below the six most beautiful castles in the Loire Valley:

  • Chenonceau, the most romantic castle in France

Many castles are surrounded by lakes or were built near the rivers. But Chenonceau is the only castle literally built on the waters of the Cher River.

Castelos na França Chenonceau

Castles of France: view of Chenonceau Castle. Photo: Marc Jauneaud from Chenonceau’s official website

In addition to the architectural beauty of the castle, the domain (which is not so big) has also a beautiful small French-style garden.

And it is not only the landscape that makes Chenonceau the most romantic castle in France. The castle was the heart of the crazy love story between King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers, his lover. Before you visit Chenonceau, do not forget to read more about this incredible love story.

    • Distance from Paris: 237 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 2,5 hours
    • Website: www.chenonceau.com
  • Chambord, the symbol of the Loire Valley

Chambord is the largest and most famous castle in the Loire Valley, and the third largest in France. Symbol of the French Renaissance, it started to be built in 1519, by order of King François I. It was ended a century later, during the reign of Louis XIV.

Chambord was not created to serve as a royal residence, but as a castle for the practice of hunting. And, surprisingly, François I stayed only 50 days in the castle!

Castelos da França: Chambord, no Vale do Loire.

Castles of France: Chambord, in the Loire Valley. Photo: Edmond La Foto from PixabayIt’s not certain which architect conceived the project. We only know that Leonardo da Vinci designed the staircase in double helix, masterpiece and central point of the castle.

Here are some numbers to give you an idea of the castle dimension:

    • 426 rooms (60 open to the public)
    • 282 chimneys
    • 83 stairs
    • 4.500 art objects
    • More than 300 salamanders, emblem of the reign of François I, carved on the ceilings and walls of the castles.
    • The 5,440-hectare property is protected by a 32-km wall. It is the largest intra-wall park in Europe, as huge as the city of Paris.

The forest, where the kings of France used to hunt, is now open to the public.

    • Distance from Paris: 177 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 2,5 hours
    • Website: www.chambord.org
  • Azay-le-Rideau, the castle-island

Built on an island in the River Indres, Azay-le-Rideau is one of the symbols of French Renaissance architecture. Originally a medieval fort, the castle was entirely renovated in the 16th century, acquiring the style of the time.

dica-castelo frança azay le rideau

Castles of France: Azay-le-Rideau, in The Loire Valley. Photo: Anne Wipf from Pixabay

Unlike Chambord, the castle and its domain are small and can easily be visited together with another castle in the region.

  • Cheverny, Tintin’s Castle

For those of you who’ve read the Adventures of Tintin, Cheverny will look familiar. The castle inspired Hergé, the author of the comic book, for Moulinsart’s château, the country house of Captain Haddock.

Castelos na França: Cheverny, no Vale do Loire.

Castles of France: Cheverny, in The Loire Valley. Photo: Sébastien Autreux from Pixabay

Designed by architect Jacques Bougier between 1620 and 1640, the present castle was a forerunner of the French style that gained strength in the kingdom of Louis XIV. At that time, sobriety and symmetry became the keywords. Today, it is the largest private castle still inhabited in the Loire Valley. The family, who have owned the castle for more than six centuries, is still living here, in an area closed to the public.

The great attraction is the interior decoration with preserved furniture from the 17th century, which witnesses the French lifestyle.

  • Villandry, the garden-castle

Villandry is one of the unmissable castles in the Loire Valley. The real star of the castle is not the palace, but its gardens.

Castelos da França: Villandry, no Vale do Loire.

Castles of France: Villandry, in The Loire Valley. Photo: Rene Rauschenberger from Pixabay

The gardens are open to the public all year round. But of course, it’s better to visit from mid-spring to early autumn.

  • Ussé, the castle of Sleeping Beauty

Ussé not only looks like a fairytale castle, he really is – after all it was the castle that inspired Charles Perrault to write the tale of the Sleeping Beauty.

castelos-na-franca-turismo: Ussé

Castles of France: Ussé, in The Loire Valley. Photo: Wolfgang Zenz from Pixabay 

Like many other castles in the Loire Valley, Ussé was built in the Middle Ages as a fortress. In the 16th century, it was subjected to a major renovation, acquiring the architectural style typical of the French Renaissance. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a luxurious private residence. Visiting the interior of the castle is a nice experience to appreciate the beautiful furniture of the time.

    • Distance from Paris: 286 km
    • Visit duration: approximately 1,5 hours
    • Website: www.chateaudusse.fr

How much time should I spend in the Loire Valley?

  • 1 day in the Loire Valley

The Loire region is about 200 km from Paris, and it is even possible to make a return trip on the same day. Many tourists choose this option. In this case, it is possible to visit three castles, among them Chenonceau.  You can also choose to reach the historical city of Amboise and visit Clo Lucé, the residence where Leonardo da Vinci lived in the last years of his life. Or, if you are interested, you can decide to experience a tasting of the great wines of the region

  • 3 days in the Loire Valley

If two/three castles are not enough for you, we recommend spending three full days. You can then visit all the castles listed above, as well as the historical cities of Blois and Tours. And to avoid stress, do not visit more than two castles a day. In this case, our suggestion is to rent a car.

  • 5 days in the Loire Valley

If you have even more time, an unforgettable option is to visit the Loire Valley by bike. During a five-day bike tour, you could visit for example 3 of the above mentioned castles (Chambord, Chenonceau and Cheverny).

Grupo de brasileiros chegando de bicicleta no castelo de Chambord

Group of bikers entering the Chambord Castle. Photo: Felipe Xavier

Medieval castles of France

In the other regions of France, the castles are very different from those listed above. Since they didn’t have the presence of the court, which through the ages transformed the medieval forts into sumptuous palaces, most of the castles in these regions keep the medieval aspect. Like, for example, the walls and towers to defend the territory. They are also worth visiting:

  • Haut-Koenigsbourg, the castle of Alsace

Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle is one of the main attractions in the beautiful region of Alsace, which is close to the borders of Germany and Switzerland.

Castelos na França: Haut-Koenigsbourg, na Alsácia.

Castles of France: Haut-Koenigsbourg, in Alsace. Photo: Celidest from Pixabay 

Built in the 12th century, the castle has seen wars and conflicts between European kings and emperors over the centuries. Drawbridge, large protective walls and towers: the castle combines all the elements you imagine of medieval architecture. Inside, you can admire some of the furniture from the Middle Ages, and imagine what life was at that time.

Located on the top of a mountain, the external view of the castle is spectacular. And from the inside, you can see some of the towns and villages of Alsace.

  • Carcassonne, the castle-town

Carcassonne is a fortified city dating back to the Gallo-Roman period, which was entirely restored in the 19th century. Located in the Occitania region, near the border with Spain, it is one of the main tourist spots in southern France.

The citadel wall, which is 3km long and houses 52 defense towers, has protected the city from attack for several centuries. Inside the walls is the city’s castle, called Comtal. Visiting the castle is useful to understand a little of the rich history of the city.

Castelos na França: a citadela de Carcassone, no sul da França.

Castles of France: the citadel of Carcassonne, in the south of France. Photo: Wolfgang Zenz from Pixabay Besides the castle, it’s worth spending the day strolling through the city streets, discovering its alleys, churches and little shops.

  • If castle, a fort on the Mediterranean Sea

If Castle is a fort built on an island surrounded by the blue Mediterranean Sea in Provence. The construction of the fort began in 1524, and its function was to protect the city of Marseille, as well as the entire coast around it. Later, between 1580 and 1871, the site was transformed into a prison, where enemies of the state were sent, especially Protestants and Republicans.

Castelo de If, no sul da França.

Castelo de If, no sul da França. Foto de Darius Huntly no Flickr In the 19th century, the castle became famous thanks to the novel by Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, whose hero escapes from prison after 14 years of detention.

  • Pierrefonds castle, Napoleon’s medieval fort

The history of Pierrefonds’ castle is controversial. Originally built in the 12th century, the castle was completely destroyed in the 17th century, with only ruins remaining. In 1810 the site was bought by Emperor Napoleon I, who declared it a French historical monument. In 1860 his nephew, the emperor Napoleon III, decided to reform the castle. In fact, he decided to rebuild it entirely, turning it into an imperial palace with medieval style.

The architect, Viollet-le-Duc, didn’t seem to respect the old layout. On the contrary, he took the opportunity to create a perfect medieval castle in the 19th century. For this reason, the castle is also known as the “romantic madness of the Emperor”.

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Is a fake castle worth seeing?

Despite being a “modern” medieval castle, the place is full of history. And, no wonder, it is managed by the Centre of National Monuments of France. Moreover, even though it is not an original castle, in Pierrefonds you have the chance to see what the architecture of the Middle Ages was like, because the building maintains all the aspects of a true medieval castle.  And it’s not far from Paris, you can even make a round trip.

Castle hotels of France

There’s nothing more romantic and unforgettable than staying in a castle in France. And there are many options. Below, we list a selection of castle hotels.

Castle accomodations near Paris

  • Trianon Palace

Located a few meters from Versailles Castle, besides being a luxury hotel, Trianon Palace is also a historical hotel. After all, this was the place where the Treaty of Versailles was prepared. By staying at the hotel, you can be in one of the suites occupied in the past by personalities such as Marcel Proust, Marlene Dietrich, Queen Elisabeth II and Sarah Bernhardt. More information and reservation here: https://www.trianonpalace.fr/

  • Tiara Château Hôtel Mont Royal Chantilly

Built in the 19th century, this 5-star hotel is less than 10 km from Chantilly Castle, surrounded by the forest with the same name. For more information and reservation, visit the website.

Castle accommodations in the Loire Valley

  • Hôtel Château de Verrières & Spa Saumur

5-star hotel, located in the city of Saumur, in the Loire Valley. Situated in a 2 hectares park, the hotel has also a small spa. For more information and reservation, visit the website.

  • Château de Rochecotte

4-star hotel, located in the city of Saint Patrice, in the Loire Valley. The property is situated in a 20-hectare park and has an Italian terrace and a heated outdoor pool. For more information and reservation, visit the website.

  • Château D’artigny

5-star hotel located 15 km from Tours, in the heart of the Loire Valley.  Surrounded by a 25-hectare park, the rooms are situated in the castle, in the Ariane Pavilion or in Casa Frangrance. When you make your reservation, make sure you know where you would like to stay. For more information and reservation, visit the website.

Castle accommodations in other regions

  • Chateau La Cheneviere

This 5-star hotel was built in the 18th century, and is an excellent option for those who want to visit Normandy. It is situated in Port-en-Bessin, between the beaches of the D-Day landing and the city of Bayeux. For more information and reservation, visit the website.

  • Les Crayeres

This wonderful castle hotel, which is part of the Relais&Chateau network, is located in Reims, the capital of Champagne. Besides enjoying your stay in a luxurious setting, you can also experience a unique wine testing during the day. For more information and information, visit the hotel website.