France has more than 40,000 castles in total, ranging from the 9th to the 21st century. Many of our travelers are interested in visiting France's medieval and Renaissance castles, as nothing like these exist in their own countries.
Here we list some of the most famous castles in France, as well as some less well-known hidden gems that many tourists don’t know about!
Île-de-France - Paris area
Château de Versailles
King Louis XIV, also known as the “Sun King”, ordered its construction in 1661. The Palace was to serve as a symbol of absolute monarchy and an extravagant display of French power.
One of its most fascinating features is the Hall of Mirrors (see the photo below), a spectacular gallery adorned with 357 mirrors. At the time of its constructions, mirrors were extremely expensive luxuries, so this was a real show of wealth and opulence.
The Hall of Mirrors is also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, officially marking an end to World War I. More recently King Charles the III was received for an official dinner in the Hall of Mirrors.
You should also leave plenty of time to explore the palace’s beautiful landscaped gardens, which includes ornate fountains and the grand canal. If you venture further through the gardens, you’ll come across The Petit Trianon, a neoclassical château that was Marie Antoinette’s private retreat. She also enjoyed spending time at her haven at the Hameau de la Reine, or "Queen's Hamlet”. This includes thatched-roofed cottages, a farm, and English country style gardens.
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
If you have already visited the Palace of Versailles, or would like to visit another beautiful castle away from the tourist crowds, we recommend the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Like Versailles, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is also located just outside Paris and is another masterpiece of 17th-century French architecture and garden design. It was built between 1658 and 1661, just before Versailles, for Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances for King Louis XIV. The construction was the collaborative work of architect Louis Le Vau, landscape designer André Le Nôtre (who later also designed the gardens at Versailles), and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun.
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte set the standard for the opulence of Versailles - look out for the grand dome, the exquisite interiors, and the meticulously manicured gardens. This did not go down well with Louis XIV, who was so irritated by such a display of wealth by a non-royal that he had Fouquet arrested for embezzlement and then hired the same architects and designers to build Versailles!
Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau is another former royal residence, starting from King Louis VII in the 12th century to Napoleon III in the 19th century. First-time visitors should not miss the stunning François I Gallery with its intricate stucco and frescoes, the Napoleon I Museum which showcases the emperor's apartments, and the gardens with ornamental lakes and fountains.
There's also a Chinese Museum in the castle containing artefacts from the Kingdom of Siam, Qing dynasty China, and other Asian countries, including diplomatic gifts and plunder from the Second Opium War. It was opened in 1863 by Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III), and it’s one of the world's oldest Asian art museums.
You may include a visit to Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte or Fontainebleau in any of our Paris itineraries.
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord was constructed during the early 16th century by order of King Francis I, a great admirer of Renaissance art and architecture. Particularly impressive is its central double helix staircase attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and the sheer size of the inside of the castle. King Francis intended the castle to be a show of wealth, but it was far from an ideal place to live, as it was very cold inside and difficult to heat. It was also near marshland at the time, so the castle would be filled with mosquitoes. The King only spent 40 nights in total at the castle in the end.
You may also admire the recently restored French formal gardens at Chambord. And as it used to be a hunting estate, if you wish, we can also plan a special visit for you to see the deer and wild boar in the surrounding area.
Château de Chambord is popular with tourists visiting the Loire Valley, and will be very busy with tourist buses coming on day trips from Paris between 11am and 4pm. If you book one of our Loire Valley tours, we will give you tips on how to avoid the tourist crowds.
Château de Chenonceau
Chenonceau castle definitely has a 'fairy-tale' feel to it. It was built across the Cher river, creating stunning reflections of its iconic arches. The castle also has a fascinating history. It started out as a medieval mill before being converted into a Renaissance castle. It served as a hospital during the First World War, and as a passage to the Free Zone in World War II (as the Cher River was the French demarcation line).
The castle is surrounded by 70 hectares of garden and forest, and famous around the world for its rose gardens and French formal gardens. You'll notice that the castle has beautiful flower arrangements inside - this is because the castle employs four full-time flower arrangers, who keep the castle decorated with beautiful fresh flowers.
To find out why it's known as the 'Ladies' Castle', read our blog post about Chenonceau Castle!
Château de Villandry
A visit to Villandry is all about the gardens. The castle itself, which was the last of the great Renaissance châteaux to have been built on the banks of the Loire River, is not as impressive as the others. A stroll through the stunning gardens will give you a sense of the style of architecture and gardens that was typical of the Renaissance.
The castle’s terraced gardens include a combination of flowers and vegetables in a checker-board design, a water garden, kitchen gardens, and an ornamental garden.
In the ornamental garden, look out for hearts, butterflies and musical notes sculpted into the landscape. You may also explore the maze.
The gardens are regularly replanted, so there’s something new to see every season (and worth returning to Villandry again and again for that reason).
Château de l’Islette
This castle is a hidden gem not far from its more famous neighbor, Château d’Azay le Rideau castle. This privately-owned castle is absolutely beautiful and you’ll get some stunning photos. The gardens and the lake are the ideal place for a picnic, and you may even see the castle owner fishing in the lake! If you’re traveling with children, they’ll be able to dress up in traditional costumes during their visit to the castle.
Château de Candé
British and American travelers may be particularly interested in this château, which often receives fewer visitors than the other more well-known castles in the Loire Valley. This was where Edward VIII (who abdicated from the throne) and Wallis Simpson were married on 3rd June 1937. The castle is decorated in a typical 1930s style with remnants from the Windsors’ marriage in different rooms. The grounds are also well-maintained and worth exploring.
Browse our self-guided tours of the Loire Valley.
Carcassonne & the Cathar Country
The Cathars were a religious group that lived in the Languedoc region of France from the 12th century. Their beliefs were considered heretical by the Catholic Church and the Cathars were persecuted during the Albigensian Crusade. Many Cathar castles were fortresses scattered across the Languedoc landscape, serving as historical reminders of this religious and political conflict.
If you’re interested in visiting one of the Cathar castles, Peyrepertuse should be top of your list. It’s truly spectacular, as it clings to a spine of rock at the top of a mountain ridge and is surrounded by sheer drops. It was built in this location to make it difficult for enemies to take. The castle is very well preserved and has stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
If you're interested in exploring Carcassonne and the Cathar Country by car on a self-guided tour planned by experts, take a look at our Carcassonne tours page.
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
This medieval castle, originally built in the 12th century, is in Alsace in eastern France, overlooking the surrounding hills and vineyards. It was left to ruin but restored by Wilhelm II in the late 19th century, to show that Alsace was more German than French (Alsace was fought over by France and Germany for a number of centuries).
From the castle you’ll enjoy excellent views of the Black Forest, the Vosges Mountains, and, on a clear day, the Alps.
Enter the castle via the drawbridge and see the furnished living quarters and the collections of medieval weapons.
Château des Milandes
This castle in Dordogne has a unique claim to fame. It was once the home of renowned American-born music hall entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker, who was most active in Paris in the 1920s.
Milandes castle showcases her legacy, so it’s a nice place to include in your Dordogne itinerary if you’re an admirer of Josephine Baker or intrigued by the cultural exchange between America and France in the 20th century. The beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding the château also provide a beautiful setting.
Château de Castelnaud
Château de Castelnaud is a medieval fortress that will give you an insight into the history of the Hundred Years' War.
Medieval history enthusiasts may be interested to see the castle’s extensive collection of weapons and armor from the middle ages. The castle's position overlooking the Dordogne River also provides stunning panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, making it a captivating destination for visitors interested in both history and beautiful scenery.
See examples of what your Dordogne self-drive tour could look like!
Château de Montal
Sixteen miles from Rocamadour, the Château de Montal is a gem of the French Renaissance with unique sculpted decoration. The castle is most famous for being the hiding place for the Mona Lisa (also known as ‘La Joconde’) during WWII. Now you will find the painting hanging in The Louvre museum in Paris.
Château de Suscinio
To witness some of Brittany’s heritage, Château de Suscinio is a must-see in the Golfe du Morbihan in Brittany. Located just a few minutes from the beach in the middle of a diverse, protected natural park, this château was once a residence of the Dukes of Brittany.
Over 800 years since construction first began, Château de Suscinio and its surrounding Domaine de Suscinio are remarkable testaments to medieval life. With its well-preserved curtain walls, walkway, drawbridge and machicolations, this historical site offers a glimpse into life in this part of Brittany during the Middle Ages, when the Domaine de Suscinio was a vibrant center of activity.
In order to convey captivating legends and recount the significant chapters of its history, the Domaine hosts a variety of activities throughout the year. This includes opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in the rich history and culture that this site has to offer through tours, shows and games. A very interesting place to visit for history buffs if you’re on one of our Brittany self-drive tours.
Château de Bazoches
Château de Bazoches is in the Burgundy region of France. The castle dates back to the 12th century and was later renovated and expanded in the 17th century by the famous military engineer and marshal Vauban.
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, known as Vauban, was famous for his pivotal role in fortifying and improving the defensive systems of more than 160 French cities and fortresses, working closely with King Louis XIV. Vauban's innovative designs, like bastioned fortifications and star-shaped forts, made these structures more resilient to attacks. His legacy in military engineering significantly influenced French military history, and many of his fortresses and defensive structures can still be visited today.
At Château de Bazoches, visitors can explore its rooms, chapel, libraries, and enjoy the surrounding scenic beauty of the Burgundy countryside.
Château de Guédelon
The Château de Guédelon is a unique experimental archeology and living history project in the heart of Burgundy. Its aim is to recreate a medieval castle using period techniques, tools, materials and dress that would have been available in the 13th century. The project began in 1997 and is expected to be completed in the coming years.
Visitors can step back in time and immerse themselves in the process of medieval castle construction, from quarrying stones to blacksmithing and carpentry. A fascinating experience for anyone and particularly history buffs and those with an interest in architecture.Browse our tours of Burgundy, France
In the Bordeaux region, we call a wine estate a ‘château’, and some of them resemble castles! Château Lanessan is a prestigious wine estate that we like in Bordeaux's Haut-Médoc region. The 80-hectare estate was established by Jean Delbos and dates back to the 18th century and it has since evolved into a revered producer of red wines.
Château Lanessan specializes in classic Bordeaux varietals, structured, age-worthy red wines - notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot - that epitomize the Haut-Médoc's character.
If you visit the château, you’ll have a chance to explore the vineyards, cellars, and learn about the winemaking processes. Furthermore, Château Lanessan's is dedicated to implementing sustainable vineyard practices.
Château de la Barben
This castle dates back to the 11th century, a fortress built on a rocky outcrop. In the 15th century, the castle belonged to good King René, and then to the Marquis de Forbin for 500 years. Its magnificent French gardens were designed by the famous landscape architect, Le Notre, who also designed the gardens at Versailles.
Since 2021, the castle has been known as Rocher Mistral, an attraction consisting of various shows by talented actors, who portray stories about the castle and its inhabitants through different periods of history. The set design and special effects are spectacular. The 20-30-minute shows are in French, but there should be an audio guide now available in English, and there are also signs outside the attractions in English that give a summary of each one. A visit to this castle will be guaranteed fun for all the family!
Château des Baux-de-Provence
This 10th-century fortress is located in the picturesque village of Les Baux-de-Provence, which was ruled by the lord of Baux for five centuries during a time of ongoing conflicts in this part of France. You can learn more about the castle ruins and the history of the town by renting an audio guide. Look out for the reconstructed siege engines, used as giant slingshots to attack the walls of fortresses during sieges.
The castle's well-preserved ruins will give you a glimpse into medieval life and architecture. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Alpilles mountains, you can best appreciate the surroundings by climbing up to the castle. On a clear day, the views stretch all the way to the Mediterranean sea.
We can include a visit to Les-Baux-de-Provence in our Provence tours.
There are a number of castles in the south of France called Château Grimaldi. The Grimaldi family ruled Monaco from 1731 to 1949, and the Prince’s Palace of Monaco was known as the Château Grimaldi in the Middle Ages. Nowadays it is still the main residence of Prince Albert II of Monaco, and is open to the public seasonally.
A trip to Monaco can be included in our self drive tours of the French Riviera.
On the Basque coast in Hendaye, Château Abbadia was built in the 19th century, and was the dream of renowned scientist Antoine d'Abbadie. The castle's architecture reflects his passion for astronomy and ethnology, with intricate astronomical decorations.
You can include a visit to Château Abbadia in any of our Basque Country tours.
Best Castle for a wedding in France
Château de Thoiry
This is a typical case of “never judge a castle by its website”! In this case, it doesn’t do justice to the splendor of this chateau. We recommend looking on social media to see the magnificent Orangerie. Chateau de Thoiry has featured in many movies, including Le Sens de la Fête (or C’est La Vie!), a famous French movie available to watch on Amazon Prime in France.
It is certainly not a budget option, but if money is no object, this may just be the fairy-tale wedding venue!