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World's Best Castles

  • Britain/Britain on View/Getty Images

    Windsor Castle, London, England

    This 900-year-old beauty is still a weekend hangout for Queen Elizabeth II. Inside the world's oldest and largest occupied castle, browse the treasure-filled State Apartments and St. George's Chapel, the resting place of 10 monarchs. And get your camera ready for the Changing of the Guard in the courtyard — pageantry at its precise best.

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  • Sean Caffrey/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

    Perched dramatically on a rocky hill (an extinct volcano, actually), this is the Scottish capital's most iconic sight. Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI here in 1566, and you can see the tiny bed-closet. Be dazzled by the jewel-encrusted crown, part of the Honours of Scotland (Scotland's crown jewels) and the coronation Stone of Destiny.

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  • Bryan F. Peterson/Corbis

    Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany

    Nestled in the forests of Bavaria is the epitome of a turreted fairytale castle — the real-life inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. The mysterious and reclusive King Ludwig II in 1869 built this as a retreat, barring strangers from visiting. But since his death, more than 50 million people have toured the king's state rooms and ornate throne room.

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  • Michael S. Yamashita/Corbis

    Himeji Castle, Himeji City, Japan

    It's no surprise that this hilltop white-walled castle, resembling a heron in flight, is Japan's most visited castle. About a 90-minute drive west of Osaka, it's a remarkable example of Japanese medieval architecture — a complex of 83 buildings, with three moats and a tangle of spiraling pathways. Look out for the ghost of servant girl Okiku, who allegedly spurned the advances of a wealthy warlord in favor of her true love.

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  • Johan Sjolander/Istockphoto

    Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet

    Once you've acclimated to Lhasa's high altitude, head to the towering 1,300-year-old palace that crowns Tibet's capital. This 7th-century, 1,000-room monolith was previously a monastery, a fortress, the seat of the Tibetan government and a winter residence of the Dalai Lama. Visitors — including religious pilgrims — absorb the beauty of the jewel-laden stupa (a kind of Buddhist shrine), featuring tombs of previous Dalai Lamas, and make offerings at the altars.

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  • Photosindia/Corbis

    Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, India

    On a cliff 400 feet above the Rajasthani city, this imposing fort achieved a burst of fame after it was featured in the 2012 movie The Dark Knight Rises. The writer Rudyard Kipling called it "the work of the giants," and the burnished red-sandstone structure certainly has a haunting, invincible quality. For more than five centuries it's been the headquarters of the Rajput clan. Check out the galleries containing Mughal treasures.

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  • Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images

    Chateau de Versailles, Paris

    From the chapel where Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette to the 233-foot-long Hall of Mirrors, this immense castle is an opulent dazzler. Built near Paris, it was the kingdom's seat of the royal court from the 17th to 18th centuries, and today's visitors flock to see the Grand Apartments of the king and queen. Don't miss the landscaped statue-studded gardens, where the Grand Canal reflects the setting sun.

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  • Blake Kent/Design Pics/Corbis

    San Felipe Castle, Cartagena, Colombia

    Built by the Spanish and named in honor of the 17th-century King Philip IV, the hilltop fortress has been captured and rebuilt many times in its colorful, often grim history. Cartagena was a port for the black slave trade, and it's said that the castle's stone blocks are splattered with the blood of slaves. Huge cannons overlook the harbor, and the complex maze of tunnels was once used to evacuate inmates.

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  • Michael Howell/Robert Harding/AP Images

    Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

    Hearst Castle, San Simeon, Calif.: Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bought 40,000 acres of coarse California ranchland and commissioned local architect Julia Morgan to "build a little something." His dream home, begun in 1919 and completed in 1947, became a 165-room estate filled with European art and surrounded by gardens with ornamental pools. It's now a National Historical Landmark and one of the world's greatest showpieces.

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  • Flickr RM/Getty Images

    Bahrain Fort, Manama, Bahrain

    Also known as the Portuguese Fort, Bahrain's main archaeological site dates to the 16th century. It's marked by an artificial mound layered with the remains of seven civilizations that have occupied this port city, beginning with the Dilmun Empire some 4,500 years ago. Walk atop its sturdy ramparts while taking in views of the capital city, Manama, and explore the ancient cemeteries.

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