Built by kings and queens to protect and ruletheir realms, castles had not only to be able to withstand attack but to project their powerand wealth.
As such, sturdy keeps and imposing walls wereerected alongside marvelous palaces, full of ornate and elaborate chambers and thronerooms.
These castles were often built at strategicand spectacular settings at the mouths of valleys, at the entrance to mountain passes, or on glittering lakeshores.
Add in the weight of history, and these amazingstructures set amongst breathtaking scenery make for some of the most beautiful castlesin Europe.
Trakai Island Castle.
As the name indicates, this magnificent castleis set upon a small island with the sparkling waters of Lake Galve surrounding it.
Located just outside of Vilnius, the imposingred brick fortification was once of the utmost strategic importance to the Grand Duchy ofLithuania.
First erected in the 14th century, the castleand its magnificent Ducal palace were restored to their original look and style in the 1960s.
The Gothic and Romanesque features of theisland castle look particularly arresting when viewed from across the shimmering watersof the lake.
Built in a marvelous Gothic-Renaissance style, Corvin Castle in Transylvania is one of the largest castles in the whole of Europe.
Set on a hilltop overlooking a river, the15th-century fortress proudly boasts a number of lofty towers, as well as impregnable wallsand a sturdy drawbridge.
Numerous myths and legends swirl around theRomanian castle.
Its attractive and fairytalesque look hasseen it featured in numerous television shows and films.
Located in the north of Wales, Conwy Castlewas built all the way back in 1283 by Edward I of England, who was attempting to conquerhis unruly neighbors.
Set at a strategic spot on the banks of theRiver Conwy, the imposing castle played a crucial role in many battles and wars forcenturies to come.
Featuring not only two hulking barbicans buteight large and impenetrable towers, the castle is widely considered to be one of the finestexamples of military architecture in Europe.
The delightfully named Swallow's Nest canbe found perched dramatically on the edge of a clifftop in the Crimean Peninsula.
Overlooking the shimmering waters of the BlackSea, the daintily decorated castle was built in 1911 following very romantic Neo-Gothicdesigns.
Having featured in numerous films in Soviettimes, the Swallow's Nest is now a popular place to visit amongst tourists, who cometo ogle at its precarious setting, refined architecture, and the stunning views.
Set in a scenic spot overlooking the townof Cochem, the castle of the same name is surrounded by rolling greens hills, with lushforests and vineyards all around it.
While a castle has stood on the same hilltopsince at least the year 1130, the original was destroyed by the marauding troops of LouisIV in 1688.
Restored and rebuilt in a gorgeous GothicRevival style, the current castle is now a popular tourist attraction in the German Rhineland.
While Cochem Castle is fascinating to explore, the views from its turrets and towers of the valley and river below are just as spellbinding.
Located in the northeast of Slovakia, SpisCastle has dominated its surroundings ever since it was built in 1241.
Due to its cultural and political importanceto the Kingdom of Hungary, the castle kept growing in size until it became the enormousfortress it is today.
Boasting impressive and imposing stone wallsand towers, as well as a wonderful Romanesque palace, Spis Castle now serves as an educationalmuseum.
With commanding views out over the hills andvalleys to be enjoyed from its battlements, this magnificent fort is not to be missedout on when in Slovakia.
Whether viewed emerging from the treetopswhich surround it or from amidst the clouds which swirl around its walls, HohenzollernCastle always makes for an epic sight.
Perched atop a prominent mount, the castleand Gothic Revival palace exhibit some beautiful architecture, and the halls and chambers withinare just as delightfully decorated.
While the current castle was only completedin 1867, a fortress has stood upon the same mount since at least the 11th century.
One of the most visited castles in the wholeof Germany, Hohenzollern is still owned by the royal house of the same name.
Alcazar of Segovia.
Shaped very much like the bow of a ship, theAlcazar of Segovia has long attracted sightseers due to its distinctive design and breathtakingsetting.
Indeed, the castle's magnificent keep andslim towers look particularly dashing, considering they are perched atop a rocky outcrop overlookingthe confluence of two rivers.
Located in the center of Spain, its well-preservedpalace is full of elegant rooms and halls that are covered in art and fine furnishings.
Now a popular museum, the Alcazar of Segoviaalso has a well-equipped armory and collection of weapons for visitors to peruse.
Commonly known outside of Romania as 'Dracula'sCastle, ' Bran Castle certainly looks the part.
The forbidding fortress lies hidden in a forestin Transylvania.
Despite its eerie appearance, however, thecastle only has tenuous links at best with the cruel and barbaric 15th-century rulerVlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.
Clever marketing ploy aside, Bran Castle isdefinitely worth visiting for its amazing architecture and beautiful setting in a lushvalley.
In addition to this, visitors can now enjoyexploring the castle's many rooms, which house the extensive art and furniture collectionof Queen Marie.
Certainly the brightest and most daringlydesigned castle on this list, Pena Castle really is as unique as they come.
Awash with color, the vivid yellows and redsof its walls shine forth from its prominent hilltop setting in the Sintra Mountains justoutside of Lisbon.
Completed in 1854 in a Romanticist style, its imaginative design is a joy to gaze upon, and the views from its ramparts and gardensaren't half bad either.
Taking in all its fantastic features and exoticand extravagant architectural styles is sure to be one of the highlights of any trip toPortugal.
Located at the point where three lochs meet, Eilean Donan in Scotland is truly blessed when it comes to its spectacular setting.
While the original castle is thought to havebeen built on the small island sometime in the 13th century, the current romanticizedand reimagined reincarnation only dates to the 20th century.
Although its crumbling grey walls and undistinguishedfeatures may not look quite as impressive as many other castles, it is its gorgeoussurroundings that really set it apart.
Having featured in countless films and televisionshows over the decades, Eilean Donan is certainly one of the most famous and recognizable castlesin the whole of Europe.
Perched atop a forested mount with the majesticBavarian Alps behind it, Neuschwanstein Castle looks as if it has just emerged from a bookof children's fairytales.
Only completed in 1886, the castle's delightfuldesign draws from both romanticism architecture and Ludwig II's love and appreciation forthe operas of Richard Wagner.
Fittingly, the photogenic palace, with itsbeautiful towers and glorious entrance, actually served as the inspiration for the SleepingBeauty castle in Disneyland.
Full of incredible artworks and precious paintings, the interior of the castle is no less exceptional.