The 7 best Loire Valley Castles

The Loire Valley in France is home to around a hundred different castles. They range from small manors to royal hunting palaces and from single donjons to big fortresses. And don’t forget the romantic places where you can imagine fairy tales taking place. The area has one of the biggest castles densities in the world. This all results in abundant choice for tourists.

We’ve visited this region for more than 30 years and have seen them all, many multiple times. We made this list to give you an overview of what the Loire Valley has to offer. Hopefully this makes you hungry for more.  We’re looking forward to your feedback: do you agree with our list? Do you have other castles to add? Let us know!


Nr. 7 The Royal Château de Blois

History of the castle

The Royal Château de Blois was built in the middle of the town of Blois and overlooks the Loire river. Work on it started as early as the 13th century. The current castle is a mixture of several buildings ranging from the 13th to the 17th century with a central courtyard. The castle was the residence of several French kings. It also served as a base of operations for Joan of Arc during her successful attempt to relief the siege of Orleans.

The oldest part of the castle is the “Salle des États Généraux”. This gothic hall served as a court and as the place for the French parliament (the Estates General) to assemble. The French king Louis XII (1498 –1515) made the castle his residence and capital and added a wing to the castle. His successor François I added another wing and created a library. But he stopped using the castle after the death of his wife.

Royal Château de Blois

After the French revolution, the castle was set to be demolished. It survived serving as a military barrack. In 1841 is was declared a historic monument and restoration started under the direction of the architect Felix Duban. Nowadays, the town of Blois owns the castle and it’s open to the public.

What makes the castle special

Blois castle is one of the few French castles used as a permanent royal residence. The different styles of the castle give a great overview of the architectural development throughout the 13th to 17th centuries. It also provides great views of the Loire river from the castle grounds.
The castle is centrally located both in the town of Blois and in the Loire Valley.

Nr. 6 Château de Chaumont

History of the castle

Odo I, then count of Blois, founded the Château de Chaumont in the 10th century. After the failed rebellion by its owner, Pierre d’Amboise, the original castle was destroyed in 1465. Charles I d’Amboise rebuilt the castle between 1469 and 1475.

The wife of King Henri II, Catherine de Medici acquired the castle in 1560. Among its famous visitors was the astrologer Nostradamus. After the death of her husband the King, Catherina forced his mistress Diane de Poitiers to swap castles. She received the castle of Chenonceau in exchange for the castle of Chaumont.

Château de Chaumont

What makes the castle special

Chaumont castle overlooks the Loire river. Its exterior has the classic look of a medieval castle. The castle is host to an international Garden Festival every year. Here contemporary garden designers display their work in the English-style garden. The gardens are huge and an attraction on their own.

Nr. 5 Château de Cheverny

History of the castle

At the end of the 15th century the Hurault family acquires the estate of Cheverny. In 1510 Raoul Hurault starts building a fortified manor at the estate. Henri Hurault replaces this building with the current castle in 1624 when he decides to raze to old building. This building is finished in 1634 and hasn’t been changed on the outside since. The Hurault family still owns the estate today. They lost ownership twice, but managed to get it back both times.

Château de Cheverny

What makes the castle special

Even as the castle has been opened to the public since 1925, the original owners still live at the property. The castle has a great hunting estate and hundreds of hunting dogs are kept for annual hunts in Autumn. Château de Cheverny also served as inspiration for Hergé. As he based Captain Haddock’s castle Marlinspike Hall (Château de Moulinsart) in the ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ on this castle.

Nr. 4 Château de Chinon

History of the castle

Chinon is one of the older castles in the region. Theobald I, Count of Blois founded the first castle at this spot in the 10th century. In the 11th century the counts of Anjou acquired the castle. Henry II, member of the House of Anjou was king of England and took the castle from his rebelling brother in 1156. He made Chinon the administrative centre for his continental possessions. Most of the structures seen today can be attributed to his reign. Henry died here in 1189.

At the beginning of the 13th century, King Philip II of France beleaguered the English lands in France. In 1205 he captured Chinon, the castle remained under French control ever since. On 6 March 1429 Joan of Arc arrived at Château de Chinon. Here she convinced the dauphin Charles VII to let her join the army at Orleans and try to lift the siege.

The castle fell into disuse at the end of the 17th century. Aside from brief use during the ‘Reign of Terror’ at the end of the 18th century, it was left to decay until the beginning of the 21st century.
Massive excavation and restoration works started in 2003. They finished in 2010, resulting in the castle as it can be seen today.

Château de Chinon

What makes the castle special

Château de Chinon is a proper medieval castle with an interesting history. It hereby fits the preconceived picture of castles and knights. The link with the mystical hero of Joan of Arc adds extra flavour to the castle. There is a museum dedicated to her on the grounds. The castle is located on the bank of the Vienne river and is quite the sight as it towers the under-laying village.

Nr. 3 Château d’Azay-le-Rideau

History of the castle

A local lord named Ridel (or Rideau) d’Azay, built a fort at the site in the 12th century. The future French king Charles VII burned this castle to the ground in 1418. He did this as a reaction to the insults thrown by the occupying Burgundian soldiers.

Gilles Berthelot, mayor of Tours and treasurer to the King, started construction on the current castle in 1518. The new castle was a blend between its medieval past and the latest architectural styles of the Italian renaissance. The French state bought Azay-le-Rideau in 1905 and listed it as an historical monument.

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau

What makes the castle special

Together with Ussey, Azay-le-Rideau has the highest fairy-tale castle vibe. The castle is one of the best examples of early French renaissance architecture. The location on an island in the Indre gives this castle an edge. Visit the castle early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is softer. This way you can get a perfect picture as the castle is reflected in the water.

Nr. 2 Château de Chambord

History of the castle

Chambord was built to act a magnificent hunting lodge for King Francis I in 1519. Construction was only finished in 1547, the year Francis died. The castle was abandoned by his successors and fell into decay. In 1639, Gaston d’Orleans got the castle as a present from his brother King Louis XIII. He restored much of the castle. His work was continued by King Louis XIV who added a 1,200-horse stable. But in the end, he also abandoned the castle in 1685. This pattern would repeat itself, until the French government bought the castle in 1930. Restoration work started after the second world war.

Château de Chambord

What makes the castle special

It was hard to make a decision on the number one castle. Chambord has so much going for it. It’s huge and it has dozens of towers big and small. Both the exterior and the interior of the castle are embellished with emblems, gargoyles and double staircases. This all provides a unique experience. Added bonus is the controversy about the architect of the castle, was it Leonardo da Vinci or not?

But in the end, it’s the size which keeps this castle on the second spot. The castle feels a bit like an empty shell, still waiting for a king and his court to move in. You should go and visit, and decide for yourself.

Nr. 1 Château de Chenonceau

History of the castle

The original castle of Chenonceau was built somewhere in the 13th century. it burned down in 1412 to punish to owner Jean Marques. After a turn in fortune, he rebuilt the castle and fortified the mill in the 1430s. The new owner Thomas Bornier demolished the castle except for the keep in 1513. He build the current castle on top of the foundations of the fortified mill.

Francis I seized the castle because of outstanding debts. His successor Henri II gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. She initiated the building of the bridge to connect the castle to the other side of the river. When Herni II died in 1559, his wife Catherine de Medici forced Diana to exchange Chenonceau for Chaumont. The castle became Catherine’s favourite residence. She added the gallery on the bridge and added new gardens.

The Dupin family bought the castle in 1733. Louise Dupin held famous literary salons at Chenonceau. They attracted famous French enlightenment writers like Voltaire, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau also served as her secretary and tutor to her son. She saved the castle from destruction during the French revolution. She convinced the Revolutionary Guard of its importance for travel and commerce since it was the only bridge for miles.

The Menier family bought the castle in 1913, and still own the castle to this day. In the first world war the castle served as a hospital. During the Second World War it was a route to the unoccupied part of France on the other site of the river.

Château de Chenonceau

What makes the castle special

We visited this castle many times and it keeps drawing us back. It has an unique bridge design and beautiful formal French gardens. And on top of that, there is the Shakespearean story about Catherine de Medici, Diane de Potiers and Herni II. If you can only visit one Loire Valley castle in your life, let it be this one. Just know that it’s the river Cher, a Loire tributary and not the Loire itself, the castle crosses.

Follow up Where to go alternatives

If you still haven’t had enough try some other castles. To name a few, go to Ussey, Sully, Amboise or Villandry. But even after visiting those there are still dozens more to explore and discover. And while you’re in the area, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bourges Cathedral.

The seven best Loire Castles
Kanazawa castle

Japanese castles

Many of the great castles in the world at some point in time got destroyed or damaged. Much of what we see now is the result of 20th-century restoration and conservation efforts. Sadly, this is also the case for most Japanese castles. World War II bombing wreaked havoc in many Japanese cities. The bombing also destroyed many of the castles, of which some have been rebuild. These castles still provide interesting insights into building methods and architecture.

To appreciate a Japanese castle, you must leave a European conception of a castle behind. The interior of Japanese homes and even palaces is minimalistic. This minimalistic approach holds even more true for Japanese castles. Most castles are wooden structures. Therefore, so many didn’t survive the fighting of the Meiji restoration and the World War II bombing.  The following twelve castles are the only ones still considered to be original because their keep (tenshu) is still original.

That said, even the non-original castles are worth your time, even if it’s just to see the Japanese approach to restoration.

Original Castles

Hikone Castle

Near the shore of Lake Biwa between Kyoto and Nagoya lies Hikone and its castle. This original castle is also one of only five castles considered to be a Japanese National treasure. Ii Naokatsu built the castle as he served the Tokugawa clan. Construction of the castle was finished in 1622. The castle lies a short walk away from Hikone JR station. So, you can visit it easily, either as a day trip from Kyoto or Nagoya, or as a stop-over on your onward journey.

Keep (Tenshu) of Hikone castle


When you arrive by Shinkansen at Himeji station, you’ll already see the white castle blinking in the sun. Hence its name the White Egret or Heron Castle. It’s a 15-minute walk from the station to the castle grounds. Himeji Castle is the most famous castle in Japan, so expect big crowds. Walking through the outer walls, you get an idea of the scale of the castle complex. Even though many outer defences are lost, it is still possible to appreciate the intricate workings of the moats, trenches, walls, corridors and towers. As you make your way to the main donjon (tenshu), you understand what a disorientated affair an assault would have been.

Himeiji castle
Himeji Castle

Inside the castle, the main thing to admire is the woodwork. Thick wooden beams support the massive tower. You have a clear view of them as you go upwards, winding around the outer galleries and up the narrow stairs. From the top floor, there is a clear view of Himeji and the castles different defensive works. As you make your way outside, you exit into the main courtyard. Here, you have a last good overview of the main tower and its massive size before making your way out. Read our full review of Himeji castle to see if it’s worth your time.

Inuyama Castle

Of all the remaining original keeps, the keep of Inuyama is the oldest and another of the five national treasures. The keep was built at the end of the 1580s. In his struggle to unite Japan, Oda Nobunaga overthrew the Imagawawa clan who built this castle. As the Oda clan lost the ensuing struggle with the Tokugawa clan for dominance of Japan, the castle changed hands one last time until the Meji restoration in 1871. Inuyama castle is an hour away from Nagoya, be aware that you have to go to Unuma station on the other side of the Kiso river if you want to use your JR pass.

Inuyama castle

Kochi Castle

Of the twelve original castles, four are found on the small mainland island of Shikoku. Kochi Castle is one of them and is the only Japanese castle with all original buildings still standing inside the innermost ring of defence (honmaru). The castle was built at the beginning of the 17th century after the victory of the Tokugawa clan at the battle of Sekigahara. But most of the buildings visible today were built in the early 18th century as a fire destroyed the castle in 1727.

Kochi castle

Matsue Castle

Matsue castle lies on an island in the Kyobashi river on the shores of Lake Shinji. The castle dates to the early 17th century and it is the only remaining castle in the San’in region. Around the castle lie some interesting old buildings and museums to get a better understanding of feudal Japan. You can make great day trips from Matsue, visit the Adachi museum and gardens or Izumo taisha, the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan.

Matsue Castle at night

Matsumoto Castle

The famous Crow Castle is one of the most iconic castles of Japan. The castle lies at the feet of the Japanese Alps, providing you with some great views on clear days. The castle is hugely popular with tourists, so expect it to be busy most of the time. Be prepared to stand in line for all the different stairs that take you all the way to the top. Also, watch your head because the stairs are low and steep. And for the same reason: pay attention when wearing any short skirts while visiting.

Matsumoto castle
Matsumoto Castle

The keep is still original, but the outer castles were demolished following the Meiji restoration. Two gates were restored, Kuromon, the Black Gate in the nineties, and the Drum Gate in 2002. Don’t forget to visit the Matsumoto City Museum of Art while you are here.

Matsuyama Castle

In the Northwest corner of Shikoku lies Matsuyama castle high upon a hill overlooking the city and its surroundings. Matsuyama is another early 17th century castle completed after the Battle of Shizugatake. The castle consists of three layers of defense, the main enclosure (honmaru), a second enclosure (ninomaru), and a tertiary enclosure (sannomaru). In the second enclosure was the lord’s private garden which still remains today and which you can visit separately. You can either walk up the hill or take the ropeway to the main castle. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Dogo onsen while you’re there.

Matsuyama castle

Restored Castles

Kumamoto castle

To get an idea of the destructive force of an earthquake, a visit to Kumamoto is advised. Here you have a unique opportunity to see the destruction caused by an earthquake and at the same time a chance to support the rebuilding and the revival of the tourist sector on Kyushu island.

Damage of the 2016 earthquake still visible in 2020

Nagoya castle

Nagoya castle was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945. Since then the keep was rebuilt in concrete. More recently the honmaru palace was restored using original building techniques and materials. Plans have been made to demolish the new keep and also restore it using original wooden materials.

Restored Honmaru palace of Nagoya castle


As Nakoya castle, Okayama castle is a 1966 reconstruction, rebuild after the Allied bombing burned it to the ground in 1945. The castle only looks good on the outside. Although, the ugly interior is also what makes this castle stand out. It is a good example of the different approaches used in Japan and Europe when it comes to restoring its cultural heritage after the second world war.

Okayama castle
Okayama Castle

This partly stems from the Japanese tradition to rebuilt houses, shrines and temples as the material used for the construction is mostly wood. Due to fires, earthquakes and the weather, most buildings are rebuilt regularly. A visit to Okayama castle allows tourists to see this different approach to restoration in action. Afterwards, cross the river to visit Korakuen, one of the top 3 gardens in Japan.

Osaka castle

Osaka castle is another rebuilt castle after being destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war. This castle complex is huge and can be best seen from the opposite Osaka history museum. Togugawa Ieyasu burned the original castle after the siege of Osaka in 1615. His successor rebuilt the castle and the castle walls seen today are his construction.

Overview of the enormous Osaka castle

Shuri Castle

Sadly, Shuri Castle has again burned down to the ground, so hopefully, it will be rebuilt again, but it’s an enormous tragedy for Okinawa and its people.

Shuri Castle is another completely rebuilt castle. It served as a Japanese military headquarters during the Battle of Okinawa. U.S. battleships shelled it for three days and burned it to the ground. What you see today is the result of the 1992 decision to start reconstructing the castle.

A couple of things make this an interesting site worth visiting. Firstly, the style of the building. This castle served as the centre of power for the Ryukyu Kingdom over several centuries. It played a pivotal role in Japanese-Chinese political and cultural contacts. The castle’s design portrays this as it is a unique mixture of Japanese, Okinawan and Chinese styles.

Shuri throne room
Throne room Shuri Castle

The second reason to visit is the historical role this castle played. On display are impressions of what Chinese diplomatic visits would have looked like. And more on the history of the Okinawa islands, their culture, and the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Thirdly, the castle is a stark reminder of the destructive impact war has on people’s lives and cultural heritage. Although it’s great to explore this site again in its former glory, it’s also important to remember what was lost. The last reason to visit is that it gives you a good excuse to go and visit Okinawa and its own unique culture.

Read our article on Okinawa for more tips about the island.

Tsuwano castle

Just one example of the fate that was in store for most castles after the Meji restoration. They would be completely demolished.

Foundations of Tsuwano castle
Japanese Castles