When you visit a castle, it’s like escaping to a magical place right out of a fairytale. You can walk in the footsteps of important figures, learn a bit of history, and enjoy the beautiful grounds. Since I moved to England, I have visited as many castles as I could and try to see some when I travel if possible.
While I can’t travel now, I can still get inspiration from visiting castles online. There are quite a few virtual tours of castles around the world. I have put together a list of the best ones to keep you entertained until you can visit some in person.
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What are virtual tours?
Virtual or online tours give explorers a way to visit a destination remotely. They can come in different formats like a 360-degree photo or video, audio tour, or narrated video, as examples. More and more venues are creating virtual tours to give prospective visitors the inside scoop. With restrictions in place, it has become a popular option to travel the world from home. Most online tours are free so it’s a budget-friendly activity.
Virtual Castle Tours in England
Tower of London
If you can see only one thing in London, I think it should be the Tower of London. It is a historic castle founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. Over the years, it has served as a royal residence, prison, armory, treasury, menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, and public record office. Today, it is still the home of the Crown Jewels of England and the ravens, who are known as the guardians of the tower. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When visiting the Tower of London, don’t miss the tours led by the Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, which are included with admission. From home, try the virtual tour here, which is very informative, too.
No list of castles and royal residences would be complete without the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace. Normally, it is only open to the public during the summer when Queen Elizabeth is in Scotland. I finally got the chance to go to the Buckingham Palace summer opening last year, and it did not disappoint.
If you visit during the summer opening, it will be crowded and there will be a line to get in. With the virtual tour, you don’t have to worry about that. Explore some of the staterooms any time you like. Check out the Buckingham Palace virtual tours here.
Those interested in learning more about the Changing of the Guard ceremony can take an online tour with a London Blue Badge Guide through Take Walks. You will learn more about the tradition and can ask the expert questions in this live experience. It costs $10 for the tour but includes a $25 voucher for any Take Walks tour, valid for 2 years. Get more information here.
For more online travel in the capital, check out these virtual tours of London.
Windsor Castle has been a royal home for over 900 years. Queen Elizabeth II typically spends her weekend here. Both the Queen and Prince Phillip have been isolating at Windsor Castle during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Queen uses the Castle both as a private home and as an official Royal residence where she performs certain formal duties like Investitures and State Visits.
From London it’s easy to do a day trip to Windsor and tour the castle. For the time being, get a sneak peak online. You can tour St. George’s Hall, the Waterloo Chamber, and the Crimson Drawing Room here. There is a 360 degree photo of each room to explore, just click on the “i” icons to learn some interesting tidbits.
Hever Castle was the home of the Boleyn family located in Kent in the southeast part of England. Anne of Cleves owned Hever Castle after her divorce from Henry VIII until she died, but it is not known how much time she spent there. The castle fell into disrepair until William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America, purchased it in 1903. Then he began to restore the Castle, build the Astor Wing, and create the lake and gardens. It’s been on my list to visit for a while since I have been fascinated by Anne Boleyn.
The Caste Supervisor takes you on a virtual tour here that includes six short videos. He shares stories about some of the artifacts inside the castle. I was most impressed by the intricate carvings throughout the rooms. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the prayer books that Anne Boleyn wrote in and signed, as they are almost 500 years old now. I look forward to examining those more closely in person.
The palace is named for the 1704 Battle of Blenheim and was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of the Spanish Succession. It was partially funded by Queen Anne and has been the home to the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Blenheim Palace is also the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous leaders, Sir Winston Churchill. His father described the scenery as the ‘finest view in England’. The estate is set in over 2,000 acres of parkland that was landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown, who also designed the grounds of Alnwick Castle.
You can take a special VIP virtual tour of Blenheim Palace. These tours incorporate virtual 3D digital experiences and props and are led by Blenheim’s historian Antonia Keaney. You can choose from a wide variety of topics including the Palace’s contribution to WWII, the life of servants, fashion through the ages, the life stories of some of Blenheim’s most illustrious women, and more. Each tour is limited to a maximum of six people and costs £40. Get more information and book here.
Virtual Castle Tours in Scotland
When Queen Elizabeth II visits Edinburgh to open the Scottish Parliament each June, she stays at Holyrood Palace. Normally, when she is not in residence the public can visit. The public tour includes going inside Holyroodhouse Palace, seeing the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, and walking through the Gardens. It was fascinating to learn more about Scotland’s colorful history including seeing some artifacts related to Mary Queen of Scots.
They offer some insight into Holyroodhouse online here. You can tour the Great Stair, the Morning Drawing Room, and the King’s Bedchamber through 360-degree photos. Learn more about each room by clicking on the “i” icons.
Edinburgh Castle is to Scotland as the Tower of London is to England. There is history going back to the 12th century and it is the home of the Scottish Crown Jewels, three military museums, the National War Memorial, and more. It was once an important residence for Scottish kings and queens, but now it is a tourist attraction.
You can take a self-guided virtual tour of Edinburgh Castle here. It gives you a good sense of the size of the castle, but I wish there were some descriptions of what you see. I couldn’t find any place where you could click to get more information.
More Virtual Tours of Castles in Europe
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Louis XIV transformed and expanded his father’s hunting pavilion into this lavish palace when he installed the Court and government there in 1682. It is now a historical monument and UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you want to explore the Palace online, you are in luck, there are lots of resources here including videos, 360-degree photos, 3D models, and more. It covers both the palace and the expansive gardens and provides detailed information to learn more about the history.
Prague Castle is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic and home to the Bohemian Crown Jewels. The castle used to be a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. It is a large complex of palaces, churches, and other buildings of various architectural styles including Romanesque and Gothic. It was founded in the 9th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This online tour of Prague Castle is an easy way to admire its beauty. While the tour doesn’t provide information about the Castle it allows you to explore it virtually. You can travel from area to area by clicking on the arrows or by opening the map and clicking on the points. It includes going inside the Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. George’s Basilica, the Rosenberg Palace, and more. You can get a glimpse of some of the interesting exhibits and also take in the spectacular views.
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal was originally a monastery that King Ferdinand transformed into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. It’s bright colors make it look like a castle right out of a fairytale. Pena Palace is part of the Sintra UNESCO World Heritage site.
You can virtually tour Pena Palace here. There are 360 photos for many of the rooms and also a video showing more of the town of Sintra.
Sintra National Palace
The history of the National Palace of Sintra goes all the way back to at least the 10th century. A residential palace was built on this site by the Moors who at the time ruled the region. Then Portuguese monarchs made the National Palace of Sintra their home from the 15th to the 19th centuries, mainly in the summer months to escape Lisbon’s heat. The royal family continued to use the palace until 1880. In 1910, the palace became a national monument after the proclamation of the republic and it is now part of the Sintra UNESCO World Heritage site.
Online you can examine some of the treasures inside Sintra National Palace and explore a few of the rooms through 360-degree photos. Check it out here.
Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and in honour of Richard Wagner, a German composer. It is also known as the Walt Disney Castle because Walt Disney visited and was inspired by its elegance. I haven’t visited yet myself, but it is high on my bucket list.
There are several different virtual tours available online that do a fantastic job of showcasing the beauty of the castle and its views, but unfortunately there is not much that shows the inside of the castle. You can learn more about the history of the castle and get a quick glimpse inside through this narrated 360-degree photo series. Make sure to click the gear symbol at the top right of the video and choose “turn on ambient audio” to get sound.
Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace was built to rival the opulence of Versailles. Originally a hunting lodge, it was redesigned into a grand baroque palace housing almost 1000 people and with 435 acres of gardens in 1743. It was a summer residence for the Habsburg monarchs, and today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historic monuments in Austria.
Online you can examine some of the magnificent artwork from the palace and tour some of the opulent rooms here. I just wish there was also a way to see the gardens.
The Doge’s Palace is one of the main landmarks in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. It was built in Venetian Gothic style and was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. The Palace also housed a court and those found guilty would be taken across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison. In 1923, the Doge’s Palace became a museum.
This virtual tour of the Doge’s Palace starts with the beautiful exterior and then gives you a chance to explore some of the elaborate rooms. I wish there were a map as I couldn’t figure out how to navigate to the Bridge of Sighs and the Prison.
Virtual Tours of Castle in the USA
Hearst Castle is a 165-room estate conceived by media mogul William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon, California. It is filled with a spectacular art collection including some impressive outdoor sculptures in the garden. Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and many other celebrities have been guests at the castle. I wanted to visit myself during my California road trip, but unfortunately we didn’t have time.
If you would like to visit Hearst Castle from home, the best way to do this is to download the app here for IOS and here for Android. You can use the map to explore the grounds and get more information about some of the artwork. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the inside of the castle.
The Best Virtual Castle Tours
As you can see, there are lots of interesting options for virtual castle tours. Of the ones I viewed, I think the Palace of Versailles is my favorite. Even though I had already visited the palace before, I still learned quite a few things.
Have you taken any virtual castle tours? I would love to hear about your experience.
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