The Most Beautiful Castles in America

exterior garden view of the biltmore estate
George Rose / Getty Images

Castles harken back to centuries past and invite us to revisit the rich culture and heritage of a time long ago. And if you thought a trip to medieval Europe was the only way you'd be able to tour these types of breathtaking properties, think again: There are many chateaus, mansions, and palaces that rival even the most historic sites across the Atlantic, which is great news in a world where international travel is more or less at a standstill.

Traditionally, castles were bought and owned (as well as inhabited) by rulers or other people of prominence and importance, and they were intended to serve a dual purpose: Castles acted as both a home and a fortress, protecting those inside in the event of a raid or attack. Many castles were built upon a hilltop or surrounded by water to make them easier to defend in the event of an attack but, today, these attributes only add to the allure of these timeless architectural masterpieces—plus, it means these castles situate themselves amid a sweeping, scenic view of nature. It is believed that the very first castle (and the largest) was built in Syria around 3000 B.C., the Citadel of Alepp; and although castles are a staple of European history, America boasts an impressive collection of its very own: Visit the 250-room French chateau known as Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Hammond Castle that overlooks the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, or even Belvedere Castle in the heart of New York City. Best of all, many of these castles are open to visitors today.

Here, we tour a selection of the most beautiful castles still standing across the country.

01 of 11

Boldt Castle

exterior photograph of Boldt Castle in Thousand Islands, NY
Vladone / Getty Images

The origins of Boldt Castle, located in Alexandria, New York, is a beautiful love story: Construction of the property began in 1900 at the bidding of millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, as a loving tribute to his wife Louise—however, it did not have the fairy-tale ending as intended. As fate would have it, she passed away unexpectedly months before the completion of the castle, compelling a heartbroken Boldt to immediately end all construction in 1904. The castle, which was designed to resemble similar castles located along Germany's Rhine River, has never been lived in but the love story is immortalized by several heart shapes that were strategically incorporated into the castle's design. Even the island upon which this castle sits is uniquely beautiful—Boldt had the land blasted into a heart shape. Boldt Castle is known for its beautiful views of nearby Alexandria Bay and St. Lawrence River. Today, the only way to visit it is by boat.

02 of 11

Fonthill Castle

exterior photograph of fonthill castle in Doylestown, Pa
Getty Images / fernandogarciaesteban

In many respects, Fonthill Castle, located in Doylestown Township, Pennsylvania, is a true work of art. This castle was the home and showplace of Henry Chapman Mercer, an archeologist, tile-maker, and designer, and was completed in 1912. The structure features a sprawling 44 rooms, over 200 windows and 18 fireplaces. Mercer designed Fonthill Castle himself along with what is today known as The Mercer Museum, a six-story reinforced concrete castle completed in 1916. Fonthill Castle's interior showcases Mercer's renowned handcrafted ceramic tiles, which were designed at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement. Mercer's tiles can also be found on the floor of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building and several other interesting houses and buildings.

03 of 11

Bishop's Palace

day time exterior photograph of bishops palace
Courtesy of Galveston Historical Foundation

The charm of Bishop's Palace in Galveston, Texas, is undeniable. "Galveston's Victorian architecture is one of the island's most unique characteristics," says Will Wright, chief creative officer of the Galveston Historical Foundation. "Boasting the largest concentration of pre-1900 homes in the nation, the 1892 Bishop's Palace is the most elaborate and well-known of these historic homes." Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, architectural historians list the Bishop's Palace as one of the most significant of Victorian residences in the country.

04 of 11

Hammond Castle

exterior photograph of Hammond Castle Museum in Massachusetts
Lee Snider / Getty Images

Tour Hammond Castle, located on the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and you'll be visiting the former home of a prolific American inventor. Hammond Castle owes its name to the former owner, John Hays Hammond, Jr., who used the castle as his home and laboratory. Hammond is recognized as one of America's most successful inventors who acquired an astounding 437 patents in his lifetime. It took three years to build this castle, from 1926 to 1929, and it presently operates as a museum and tour site. The castle's iconic 14th century-style arches offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, which has become a popular site for photography. "Upon entering, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the building and priceless architectural elements Hammond had the foresight to preserve and incorporate into his stunning castle," says Hammond Castle Museum executive director Linda Harvey. "Whether it's the sweeping ocean views, the beauty of the Courtyard or Great Hall, each room creates a mood and experience that transports you back in time."

05 of 11

Marble House

exterior of county marble house
Courtesy of Preservation Society of Newport County

Located in Newport, Rhode Island, Marble House was built between 1888 and 1892 by William K. Vanderbilt as a gift to his wife Alva for her 39th birthday. This property holds the distinction of being one of The Preservation Society of Newport County's 11 historic properties and landscapes—seven of which are National Historic Landmarks. Originally intended to serve as a summer home for the Vanderbilts, Marble House was designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, who used for his inspiration the one and only Petit Trianon at Versailles, France. The house garners its iconic name due to the fact that it contains a grand 500,000 cubic feet of various kinds of marble. In the early 1900s, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont hosted large women's suffrage rallies at Marble House, which was added last year to the new National Votes for Women Trail.

06 of 11

Castello di Amorosa

casetllo di amorosa exterior
Courtesy of Jim Sullivan

Located in California's scenic Napa Valley, Castello di Amorosa is a meticulous recreation of a medieval Italian castle. Proprietor Dario Sattui began construction in 1994 and opened to the public in 2007. "Determined to make the Castello authentic in every respect, I used only old, hand-made materials and I built it employing the same methods and materials that would have been used 700 to 800 years ago," explains Sattui. Wines are made from vineyards throughout the North Coast, focusing primarily on Napa and Sonoma, and in addition to its medieval rooms, the working winery is a state-of-the-art showpiece of equipment and techniques, all in the aim of producing wines of elegance, substance, and longevity—not to mention, quality taste.

07 of 11

Iolani Palace

interior photograph of lolani palace throne room
Courtesy of The Friends of Iolani Palace

In Honolulu, Iolani Palace is a living restoration of proud Hawaiian identity, registered National Historic Landmark, and the only official royal palace in the United States. Built in 1882 by King David Kalakaua, it was the home of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs, serving as the official royal residence and the center of the Kingdom's political and social life until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893. The palace saw an upgrade five years after construction in 1887 with the addition of electric lights, sometime before England's Buckingham Palace and even the White House were upgraded with the same modernizing feature. Hawaii's royal heritage is opulently captured throughout the halls of this structure, with ornately beautiful Polynesian artifacts on display, including a throne room.

08 of 11

Belvedere Castle

night shot of belvedere castle central park
Courtesy of The Central Park Conservancy

Situated atop New York City's Vista Rock, Belvedere Castle offers sweeping views of Central Park—the Great Lawn to the north and the Ramble to the south—and its surrounding cityscape. Fittingly, "belvedere" means "beautiful view" in Italian, and this castle definitely offers that and more. Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Belvedere Castle was built over two years, 1867 to 1869, without doors or windows, as it was initially intended as a viewing platform. While the outdoor pavilion is a popular lookout spot, the best views from the castle are found two stories up on the terrace, reachable by way of climbing a winding stone staircase. In addition to its gorgeous views, the castle also provides useful information: Since 1919, the National Weather Service has collected meteorological data like temperature, wind, and rainfall from the castle.

09 of 11

Grey Towers

exterior aerial image of grey towers castle
Courtesy of Arcadia University

The castle known as Grey Towers, stands in Glenside, Pennsylvania, as an Arcadia University National Historic Landmark. Originally, it was inspired by Alnwick Castle, the medieval seat of the Dukes of Northumberland in England. Construction of the castle began in 1893 and continued over five years, built by Horace Trumbauer, who would go on to gain renown for signature buildings such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Intricately detailed hand-carved woodwork is prominently featured throughout the interior of the castle, for which local craftsmen were used. Historically, it served as the estate of local sugar refining magnate William Welsh Harrison. Today, select first-year students of the university have an opportunity to live in the castle on the third floor, while offices and event spaces make up the second and third floors.

10 of 11

Bannerman Castle

Bannerman Castle River View
Getty Images / karen foley photography

Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island, New York, is a romantic ruin built by Frank Bannerman VI. As a Scottish baronial castle, Bannerman sought to construct his home by borrowing classical features from multiple buildings throughout Europe, the result of which is nothing short of a masterpiece. Sitting just 1,000 feet off the eastern shore of the Hudson River, one can find Bannerman Castle ruins rising off the majestic Pollepel Island, an occurrence that has been the source of mystery since the castle was built, from 1901 to 1918. Bannerman Castlehas been featured in several movies, including the 1959 thriller North by Northwest starring the iconic Cary Grant. Frank Bannerman and his wife, Helen, used the castle as their summer residence, and one can find some of Mrs. Bannerman's gardening and landscaping work, which enhanced the castle's paths and terraces with wonderful flowers and shrubs, still alive on property even today.

11 of 11

Biltmore Estate

exterior garden view of the biltmore estate
George Rose / Getty Images

The Biltmore Company says that the juxtaposition of the 250-room French chateau known as Biltmore House, with its eclectic mix of European architectural influences set against the backdrop of the magnificent western North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, is nothing short of breathtaking. Though it's located in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the home's exterior was inspired by 16th-century homes in the Loire Valley of France. Distinctive features include a stair tower and steeply pitched roofline. The grounds of Biltmore offer some of the world's most beautiful gardens, rolling hillsides, long-range mountain views, and forested locales. In spite of its size (125,000 square feet of floor space), Biltmore House was a warm and welcoming home where a family lived and a little girl grew up as part of the Vanderbilt family. Biltmore is still owned by George Vanderbilt's descendants. It continues to charm to this day, attracting thousands and thousands of guests each year, each experiencing gracious hospitality, and a chance to take a step back in time.

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