There is something truly thrilling about visiting a castle built an entire millennium ago. If you are a castle enthusiast, it is particularly exciting to know you are walking across stone laid as early as the 10th or 11th century!
Even if you cannot visit in person, you might be inspired by this list of the oldest castles in the world. It covers castles in eastern and western Europe and the middle east.
12 of the Oldest Castles Around the World
1. Château de Doué-la-Fontaine (10th century) in France
This is the least famous site on our list of oldest castles in the world. Doué-la-Fontaine was a commune in western France until 2016 when it became part of Doué-en-Anjou. It is located in the center of the historic province Anjou, France, and the town has existed in the area since late antiquity.
Today you can still visit Doué-la-Fontaine to see what’s left of the oldest donjon (also called a keep) in France, built on top of a Carolingian structure in the early 10th century. Many believe it was the first European castle built from stone.
2. Prague Castle (9th century) in Prague, Czech Republic
Prague Castle is one of the largest castles you can see that was built in the middle ages. The early structure included fewer buildings, but over time it was expanded to include more housing and stronger fortifications. Occupying about 70,000 square meters, it is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the “largest ancient castle in the world.”
Despite its age, Prague Castle still serves as the office of the President of the Czech Republic and as the hiding place for the Bohemian Crown Jewels. Visitors have the opportunity to admire the castle’s Gothic and Romanesque architecture and view impressive art collections housed there.
3. Killyleagh Castle (1180) in Killyleagh, Northern Ireland
Killyleagh Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in Northern Ireland. The Norman knight John de Courcy built the oldest parts of the structure in 1180. It formed part of a set of fortifications that served as protection from the Vikings.
Beginning in the 17th century, the castle became the property of James Hamilton and his descendants. Various family members added walls and towers to the original castle. Today, Killyleagh Castle is the home of Gawn Rowan Hamilton and his family.
In addition, performers have concerts at the castle and the gate lodges are used for self-catering holiday accommodation. Killyleagh Castle also served as the setting for the children’s television show, Dani’s Castle.
4. Alcázar of Segovia (early 12th century) in Segovia, Spain
Alcázar of Segovia, which translates to “Segovia Fortress,” is a medieval castle that has been used as a fortress, palace, prison, college, and a military academy. Its setting on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers is stunning and unique.
The earliest structure at its location was a Roman fort, but the present structure was primarily built in the early 12th century. Some people think it inspired parts of Walt Disney’s design for Cinderella’s castle. The Alcázar is now a museum and military archive. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open to visitors all year.
5. Rochester Castle (12th century) in Rochester, England
During the middle ages, Rochester Castle protected England from invasions from the southeast coast. The Archbishop of Canterbury built the keep of Rochester Castle around 1127 and it is still standing today. King John sieged the castle in the early 13th century, undermining the outer wall and significantly damaging the main structure.
It changed hands and was besieged at least two more times during the 13th century. Henry III and Edward I oversaw its rebuilding. In the 19th century, the castle became a tourist attraction. Rochester Castle is usually still open to visitors but is currently closed for maintenance.
6. Hohensalzburg Castle (1077) in Salzburg, Austria
Like Prague Castle, Hohensalzburg is impressively large for a medieval castle. Sitting on top of a hill in Salzburg, Austria, Hohensalzburg Castle was initially constructed in the 11th century. It was then expanded multiple times, with particularly important additions in the 15th and 17th centuries.
In the 19th century, Hohensalzburg Castle became a popular tourist attraction but was still used as a prison during World War I. Tourists can visit this beautiful structure throughout the year and even bring dogs to the outdoor areas of the fortress.
7. Windsor Castle (1070) in Windsor, England
Not only is Windsor the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, but it is also the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Most of the world’s oldest castles serve primarily as tourist locations, but Windsor Castle is still a royal residence.
In fact, it is Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred weekend home. It was originally constructed in the 11th century after William the Conqueror seized the English throne.
Since then, thirty-nine monarchs have used it as at least a part-time residence. Despite being one of the queen’s preferred residences, it is possible to visit parts of the castle on certain days throughout the year.
8. Warwick Castle (1068) in Warwickshire, England
William the Conqueror originally built a motte-and-bailey castle on this site in the 11th century, but it was replaced by a stone castle during the following century. The castle’s façade was redone during the Hundred Years War. After serving as a stronghold for several centuries, the castle was given to Sir Fulke Greville in 1604 and he turned it into a country house.
The Tussauds Group purchased Warwick Castle from the Greville family in 1978, and it changed hands again in the 21st century. Merlin Entertainments now leases the site from Prestbury Group. It is still a popular tourist attraction with seasonal exhibits, musical events, and Dragon Slayer evenings.
9. Reichsburg Cochem (1000) in Cochem, Germany
The Reichsburg Cochem is also called the Cochem Imperial Castle. Originally built in the early 12th century, it was made an imperial castle by King Konrad III. In the 17th century, Louis XIV’s troops overran and destroyed the castle as part of the Nine Years’ War.
It remained in ruins for more than a century before being purchased by a businessman and reconstructed in the late 19th century. It is now owned by the town of Cochem.
Visitors can experience a guided tour of the castle in German and visit the courtyards independently. The castle also hosts special meals and interesting events throughout the year.
10. Portchester Castle (11th century) in the UK
Portchester is at the head of Portsmouth Harbor and the castle’s grounds hosted a Roman fort starting around the 3rd century. The Roman defenses became part of the medieval castle, built in the late 11th century. It was initially owned by the monarchy and used as a hunting lodge by King John.
In the following centuries, it was briefly taken over by the French before returning to English control and also was the site where culprits trying to overthrow Henry V were apprehended. Beginning in the 17th century, it was frequently used as a prison. Today it is open to visitors and includes exhibits for tourists to enjoy
11. Citadel of Aleppo (c. 3000 BCE and 12th century) in Aleppo, Syria
The Citadel of Aleppo is the only structure on our list of oldest castles located in the middle east. It is a fortified palace located on a hill in Aleppo. Although locals used the site beginning in the 3rd century, the current citadel was probably built in the 12th and 13th centuries.
It forms part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a historic city center of almost 1.5 square miles and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 2010s, nearby fighting damaged the structure. But the citadel is currently open to the public while repairs continue.
12. Kilkenny Castle (1213) in Kilkenny, Ireland
The first castle at this location was probably a wooden structure built by the Earl of Pembroke in the 12th century. In the 13th century, the stone Kilkenny Castle was constructed and three of the original towers survive today.
The ownership of the castle changed several times through the following centuries and was damaged during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The castle now belongs formally to the people of Kilkenny, with the Office of Public Works managing the castle and its grounds. It is open to visitors, with guided tours offered throughout the year.