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Highclere Castle, the real-life Downton Abbey

Touring Castles from Home

Take a great getaway to fairytale castles in faraway places without ever leaving your armchair.

Now that summer is here, many of us wonder when we will be able to travel abroad again. Vacationing on sunny Caribbean isles, taking that long-awaited Mediterranean cruise, being pampered in spa resorts, or immersing in European and Asian cultures – all of it seems so distant now as we continue to endure the worldwide pandemic with its travel restrictions. However, we can satisfy our wanderlust by traveling while at home, albeit virtually.

How about an escape to some of the world’s most fascinating castles? There’s nothing quite like viewing architectural grandeur and exquisite artisanship that has captured our imaginations, as we have seen in movie sets like Harry Potter and Star Wars and television series like Downton Abbey and the aptly named Versailles. Or, perhaps it is some battle-scarred Medieval stone fortress that has withstood sieges and the test of time. We can easily visualize knights in shining armor on their trusty steeds crossing a drawbridge and heading off to battle while ladies in court awaited their return.

Whatever your castle fantasy, you can most likely visit a real one through a virtual tour while sitting in your armchair. Take a look at some we’ve found and be transported back in time into a whole other realm of lords and ladies, battlements, and castle keeps.

Highclere Castle, England

If the name doesn’t sound familiar to you, perhaps Downton Abbey does. Filmed on location at this stunning estate in Hampshire, England, fans of the popular television series have walked its halls and staircases, enjoyed lavish meals, and slept in regally appointed rooms for six seasons. Highclere Castle has maintained a close relationship with Viking Cruises for years. The two have recently collaborated to bring a virtual tour of the castle and grounds via Viking.tv, the cruise line’s new virtual content hub. Join in to watch Fridays at Home at Highclere Castle as the Countess Carnarvon gives a live-stream tour of her home, the real “Downton Abbey.”

Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy

This magnificent stretch of real estate was the largest palace built during 18th century Europe, but it also became the royal residence of Queen Amidala in Star Wars films. The stunning baroque palace was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997. With its 1,200 rooms situated in 2,529,519 square feet on five floors, the palace remains the world’s largest royal residence. View a virtual tour of the Royal Palace of Caserta and see if you recall the rooms and magnificent staircase featured in Star Wars, Angels and Demons, or Mission Impossible.

Carlo Pelagalli, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Windsor Castle, England

If you like pomp and circumstance, there’s no better place to experience that than Windsor Castle, the private home, and the official royal residence of Queen Elizabeth. It is the largest and oldest occupied royal residence in the world where the Queen hosts state visits, and many royal wedding vows have been exchanged. William the Conqueror first chose the site which has been inhabited and refurbished by successive monarchs for over 1,000 years. Now you can take a virtual tour of Windsor Castle and explore a state banquet and access other perfectly appointed rooms with lots of informative tidbits along the way.

Diliff, via Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5

The Palace of Versailles, France

The Palace of Versailles, the home of Louis XIV, is the epitome of opulence and grandeur. Louis XIV expanded his father’s château on a spectacularly grand scale by adding lavishly gilded wings, magnificent gardens, canals, fountains, an orangery, and even a zoo. Visit the shining glory of the Sun King with a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles. And, if you want to discover what life was like at Louis XIV’s court with all its intrigue, over-the-top decadence, and stunning views of the palace, you must watch the television series Versailles available on some streaming services such as Amazon Prime.

G CHP, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5

Château de Fontainebleau, France

Lesser known than the Sun King’s palace at Versailles but equal in splendor is Château de Fontainebleau. Eight centuries of French kings have resided there, predating the Louvre by 50 years and Versailles by 500 years. First started as a hunting lodge, structures and changing tastes were added over time, creating one of France’s most treasured heritage sites. Take a virtual tour of the Château de Fontainebleau and be swept into the regal lodgings of King Louis VII, Napoleon I and Josephine, Marie Antoinette, and a string of other kingly notables.

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, via Wikipedia, CC BY 2.0

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Think Edinburgh Castle and images come to mind of the Scottish Highlands, sword dances, and clansmen in kilts. We recall the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 1400s with key figures, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, men immortalized in the blockbuster film Braveheart. The earliest structures were built high up on Castle Rock, a place where human habitation existed since the Iron Age. A royal residence was at the site since at least the 12th century. An important Scottish stronghold, Edinburgh Castle, has endured 26 sieges over 1,100 years. It has been called “the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world.” Take a virtual walk around Edinburgh Castle and learn about its amazing history.

Connie Ma, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Prague Castle, Czech Republic

For over 1,000 years, Prague Castle has dominated Prague’s skyline and is one of the largest castle complexes in existence. Started in the 9th century, it is an intricate maze of fortifications, palaces, gardens, churches, and cathedral. As the seat of government, kings and presidents presided there throughout its history. Venture down the Golden Lane, where alchemists once tried turning metal into gold, or look up to the castle windows where lawbreakers were tossed out. Visit St. Vitus Cathedral with its church treasury, one of Europe’s largest collections, and where the Bohemian Crown Jewels are stored and set out for display every five years. Take a virtual tour of Prague Castle and catch views from its picturesque vantage points and learn about its past that’s steeped in intrigue and historical significance.

There are many more castles to visit from the comfort of home like touring inside Sweden’s Skokloster Castle, enjoying panoramic views of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, or exploring India’s Taj Mahal. Whatever your taste, you can enjoy an escape to a favorite castle fantasy without ever leaving home.