The World’s Most-Visited Castles and Palaces

From Paris to Beijing, these historic castles and palaces draw millions of visitors for a glimpse of the lifestyles of the rich and famous

Neuschwanstein Castle, the ultimate fairy-tale castle, is the 13th most visited castle in the world. (© Ric Ergenbright/Corbis)

Imagine a castle: it probably looks a lot like Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle, the turreted inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Each year, more than 1.5 million travelers are inspired to make the steep walk or catch a horse-drawn carriage to reach this castle perched on a rocky outcropping in the Bavarian countryside.

"People have always been interested in celebrities and powerful people and their homes," says Cordula Mauss, PR officer for the Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces. "Immediately after the death of Ludwig II in 1886, the first tourists came and wanted to see what their king had built as his private residence."

While castles, palaces and châteaux naturally pique such curiosity, not all have Neuschwanstein's European fairy-tale looks. Some of the world's most-visited castles, found across Asia, feature red exteriors, pagodas and gates.

Consider Bangkok's gold-spired Grand Palace, where Thai kings lived for 150 years, and where 8 million annual visitors now traipse through ornate rooms, manicured gardens and temples, including one that houses a revered Buddha carved from a single block of jade.

Other longtime royal residences have been repurposed as museums. St. Petersburg's riverfront Winter Palace, for instance, is the sixth-most-visited castle, thanks to the appeal of masterworks by Titian and da Vinci along with lavish restored interiors, where Catherine the Great once held court.

America's closest approximation is California's Hearst Castle, though it fell short of our top 20 list with only 750,000 annual visitors. And while Windsor Castle squeaked in at No. 19, Buckingham Palace didn't make the grade (567,613 annual visitors), nor did Romania's Bran Castle (542,000) or a single Irish castle. Ireland's most visited, Blarney Castle, welcomed 365,000 in 2013.

That said, there can be a downside to having too many visitors—these are delicate, historic structures that have existed for hundreds of years, and some, like Neuschwanstein, limit the daily entries. But it's hard to stem curiosity when it comes to the lives of the blue-blooded.

The Methodology: To tally up the world's most-visited castles, Travel + Leisure gathered the most recent data supplied by the attractions themselves or from government agencies, industry reports and reputable media outlets. In most cases, it was 2013 data.

See eight destinations below and the full 20 on Travel + Leisure.

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No. 1: The Forbidden City (Palace Museum), Beijing

Tourists in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (© Alan Copson/JAI/Corbis)
View of the Palace Museum on a clear day. (© Imaginechina/Corbis)
A detail on the Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity in The Forbidden City. (© Frederic Soltan/Corbis)
A watchtower of the Palace Museum in the early morning. (© Chen Yehua/Xinhua Press/Corbis)
The Forbidden City (Palace Museum), Beijing. (Hemis / Alamy)
Forbidden City watchtower in the snow. (© Chen Yehua/Xinhua Press/Corbis)

Annual Visitors: 15,340,000 (Source: China National Tourist Office)

Each day, tens of thousands of visitors pour through the Forbidden City to see the 178-acre walled compound that once shielded the Imperial Palace from public view—while housing Chinese emperors and their extensive entourages. (To handle the volume, the government has started requiring advance ticket sales during festivals and holidays and prohibiting annual ticket holders from visiting during peak seasons.) Bright red buildings topped with golden pagodas exemplify traditional Chinese architecture, while the Palace Museum showcases art, furniture and calligraphy.

No. 2: The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris. (iStockphoto)
Tourists snap photos of Leonardo da Vinci's "La Gioconda" (Mona Lisa). (© Horacio Villalobos/epa/Corbis)
Louvre museum and pyramid at night. (© Scott Stulberg/Corbis)
School children admire the "Diana of Versailles" in the Louvre's Galerie des Caryatides. (© Philippe Lissac/Godong/Corbis)
Interior of the Louvre Museum. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
The Louvre palace and architect I. M. Pei's glass pyramid. (© Arnaud Chicurel/Hemis/Corbis)

Annual Visitors: 9,334,0000 (Source: Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency)

The largest and most famous museum in the world—displaying masterpieces like La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace—got its start as a palace. The U-shaped Louvre housed generations of French kings and emperors beginning in the 12th century, and the remnants of the original fortress that occupied the site (built for King Philippe II in 1190) can be seen in the basement of the museum. The building was extended and renovated many times. Head to the decorative arts wing for a glimpse of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie's opulent state apartments, built between 1854 and 1861.

No. 3: Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace Bangkok, Thailand (© Corbis)
Tourists explore the interior of the Grand Palace. (© Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters/Corbis)
(© Corbis)
Grand Palace, Bangkok. (Michael Snell / Alamy)
Temple of the Emerald Buddha on the grounds of the Grand Palace complex. (© John Philip Harper/Corbis)
(© Corbis)
Garuda and Nagas statues decorate the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace Complex. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
(© Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters/Corbis)

Annual Visitors: 8,000,000 (Source: Thailand Tourist Services)

Royal offices are still used within the Grand Palace, and state visits and royal ceremonies like the Royal Birthday Anniversary of the current King Bhumibol Adulyadej are held there each year. This was also the official residence of Thai kings from 1782 to 1925 and counts numerous buildings, halls, and pavilions set around open lawns and manicured gardens. The palace’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha is considered one of the most sacred sites in Thailand. Its Buddha was carved from a single block of jade, and his garments, made of pure gold, are changed in a royal ceremony three times a year to reflect the Thai seasons.

No. 4: Palace of Versailles, France

The Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), designed by architect Jules Hardouin Mansart (1678-1684), features 17 windows and 357 mirrors. (© Bertrand Rieger/Hemis/Corbis)
Palace of Versailles. (© Arcangelo Piai/SOPA RF/SOPA/Corbis)
Versailles gardens. (© Jose Fuste Raga/Corbis)
The 1792 Room in the Chateau de Versailles. (© Marc Dozier/Corbis)
Ceiling detail. (© Yoshio Tomii/SuperStock/Corbis)
Hall of Mirrors. (© Charles Platiau/Reuters/Corbis)
Park of the Chateau de Versailles outside of the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). (© Bertrand Rieger/Hemis/Corbis)
Performance at the Academy of Equestrian Arts in Versailles. (© Thierry Borredon/Hemis/Corbis)
Palace of Versailles, France. ( LLC / Alamy)

Annual Visitors: 7,527,122 (Source: Versailles Press Office)

When Louis XIV built Versailles in the late 1600s, it became the envy of other European monarchs in Europe, and the opulent estate retains an unmistakable allure. Versailles gets seven times the visitors of any other château in France (apart from the Louvre); it helps that it's easily accessible from Paris. No other palace in the world can match the grandeur of Versailles's Hall of Mirrors, dripping with chandeliers, and Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, decorated with hand-stitched flowers. The vast grounds are free most days and an attraction in themselves, with 50 water fountains, a parterre (formal garden), a grand canal, and other sites like the Grand Trianon, built for Louis XIV as a refuge from court life, and Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon.

No. 5: Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Baghdad Kiosk, Topkapi Palace. (© Martin Siepmann/Westend61/Corbis)
Room of the sultan's mother, Topkapi Palace (© Martin Siepmann/Westend61/Corbis)
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. (Age Fotostock / Alamy)
The Central Gate of Topkapi Palace (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
View of Galata from Topkapi Palace. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
Private apartments of the Crown Prince, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul (© Martin Siepmann/Westend61/Corbis)
The Harem in Topkapi Palace. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
Mustafa Pasa Kiosk, Topkapi Palace (© Martin Siepmann/Westend61/Corbis)
Queen Mother's Apartment, Topkapi Palace (© Neil Farrin/JAI/Corbis)
Iznik tiles and calligraphic inscriptions decorate the walls and domed ceiling inside Topkapi Palace. (© Geray Sweeney/Corbis)

Annual Visitors: 3,335,000 (Source: Go Turkey, Official Tourism Portal of Turkey)

With a lovely setting overlooking the Bosporus and Sea of Marmara, Topkapi Palace was the royal residence for about 400 years until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s. The sultan lived with his wives, concubines, mother and children in the harem, under the fierce protection of eunuchs. Look for the Privy Chamber of Murat III, with its indoor pool, gilded fireplace and walls decorated with blue, white, and coral Iznik tiles from the 16th century. The Palace Kitchens reopened in September 2014, displaying fine china and large cookware. And the complex also includes courtyards, gazebos, gardens and the Imperial Treasury. An emerald-and diamond-studded bow and quivers sent by Sultan Mahmud I to the ruler of Persia is just one example of the lavish gifts on view.

No. 6: The Winter Palace (State Hermitage Museum), St. Petersburg, Russia

The front of the Winter Palace (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
The State Hermitage Museum. (© Jon Hicks/Corbis)
Grand Church of the Winter Palace. (© Belinsky Yuri/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis)
Inside the Hermitage (Winter Palace). (© Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
The renovated Grand Church of the Winter Palace at the State Hermitage Museum. (© Metzel Mikhail/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis)
Marble sculpture in the Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting. (© Jon Hicks/Corbis)
The New Hermitage portico, supported by sculptures by Alexander Terebenev. (© Jon Hicks/Corbis)

Annual Visitors: 3,120,170 (Source: State Hermitage Museum Press Office)

Catherine the Great and Nicholas I are among the Russian royals who occupied this green-and-white baroque palace along the Neva River from 1762 to 1917. Today, the palace is a museum with one of the finest collections in Europe, including works by Titian, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci (Benois Madonna). Much of the palace was destroyed by fire in 1837, but the beautifully restored interiors speak to the opulent tastes of the Russian elite. St. George Hall (a large throne room) features two tiers of windows, double Corinthian pink marble columns, patterned parquet floors and gilt bronze details.

No. 7: Tower of London

An installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies surrounded the Tower of London in November 2014 to commemorate Remembrance Day. (© Michael Tubi/Demotix/Corbis)
The Imperial State Crown, embedded with 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies, displayed at Tower of London. (© John Harper/Corbis)
Likenesses of the faces of Kings of England displayed at the Tower of London. (© Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters/Corbis)
Interior of the Chapel of St. John inside the Tower of London. (© Reed Kaestner/Corbis)
Beefeaters stand guard at the Tower of London. (© Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS)
Suit of Amour displayed in the White Tower in the Tower of London. (© Steven Vidler/Corbis)
Armor display in the White Tower in the Tower of London. (© Sylvain Sonnet/Corbis)
Tower of London (© Tetra Images/Corbis)
Tower of London. (Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces)

Annual Visitors: 2,894,698 (Source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions)

This medieval fortress on the north bank of the River Thames was built to intimidate Londoners and keep out foreign invaders. The oldest part of the structure, the White Tower, dates back to the 12th century. While it originally served as a royal residence, the tower has become notorious for its use as a prison and the site of executions that included Henry VI and Lady Jane Grey. Millions flock to the tower today to see historical reenactments as well as the British Crown Jewels, among them, the Sovereign's Sceptre containing the Great Star of Africa, the largest colorless cut diamond in the world. In 2014, the tower's moat was filled with 888,246 ceramic red poppies in remembrance of British soldiers who died in World War I—an example of art installations and events held regularly.

No. 8: Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

Fountain in front on Schönbrunn Palace. (© Rudy Sulgan/Corbis)
Private garden of Schönbrunn Palace. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
Schönbrunn Palace garden. (© Doug Pearson/JAI/Corbis)
The front of Schönbrunn Palace. (© Daniel Kalker/dpa/Corbis)
Palm house on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace. (© Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
Gloriette of Schönbrunn Palace. (© Daniel Kalker/dpa/Corbis)
The painted ceiling of Schönbrunn Palace. (© Topic Photo Agency/Corbis)
Visitors outside Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna. (© Danica Jorge)

Annual Visitors: 2,870,000 (Source: Schönbrunn Palace)

Austria's most-visited site is this Rococo palace, a summer retreat for Hapsburg emperors from the 1700s until 1918. Of the 1,441 rooms, the most famous is the Mirror Room, with white and gold Rococo decoration and crystal mirrors, where Mozart is said to have performed his first concert at age six. The palace's elaborate gardens can claim the world's longest orangerie and the site of the first zoo (est. 1752). The guided Grand Tour provides access to all 40 rooms open to the public, including the Gobelin Salon with tapestries from Brussels and the Millions Room, an office paneled in rare rosewood.

See the next 12 most visited castles and palaces on Travel + Leisure.

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