Traipsing around grand old castles is a great way to take a step back in time to the days of Kings, Queens, and monarchal power, to a time long ago when conquests were the order of the day. We spent some time wandering the long grand halls of northern Croatian castles and stayed for a week at Croatia’s most spiritual place, Marija Bistrica. The area known as Hrvatsko Zagorje is filled with castles, rolling hills, 50 shades of green, and a few excellent wineries.
There are several castles in Croatia, many of which can be found in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region. Here are some of my favorite ancient castles in Croatia. I would say some of Croatia’s best in beauty, grandeur, and history.
Make a day of it and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the castle grounds. Go slow and take in all that each Croatian castle has to offer.
Atop a steep hill in Hrvatsko Zagorje, Trakošćan Castle is perhaps the most famous castle in Croatia; it overlooks a human-made lake and bountiful gardens. Trakošćan is located less than an hour’s drive from the capital Zagreb, the Pilgrimage town of Maria Bistrica, and within minutes to the baroque city of Varaždin. Because it is so close to Zagreb, we always say you must make a day trip here…!
Built in the 13th century, the original owner is still unknown, but the castle is believed to have been constructed as an observation fortress. Trakošćan has been owned by many people in the last nine centuries. Now belonging to the Croatian government, the castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Croatia. It’s a museum with a permanent collection of paintings, furniture, and other display items.
As you walk through the museum, you are taken back in time. You’ll gaze into the eyes of 10 generations of owners, spanning three centuries, whose faces are now portraited paintings. This living museum has fully set dining tables, study areas, and bedrooms complete with antique linens. Daydream as you meander along the circular staircase, which winds down and around the castle from the hunting room at the top to the basement kitchen.
The highlight for me was reaching the bottom of the spiral staircase, where we found the museum’s star attraction: the Knights’ room.’ This enormous room houses a collection of swords and firearms dating from the 15th century.
The exterior of Trakošćan Castle is modeled after the romantic castles in Germany, and its interior is richly decorated, including many deer antlers. If you like taking pictures of Gothic castles, this is probably the best one you’ll find in Croatia, its Neo-Gothic appearance dating from the 1800s.
Though, after exploring the inside, be sure you take a step outside and marvel at the lake. Every part of Trakošćan is engaging and beautiful. Incredibly mesmerizing is the towers’ reflection in the water below. You can also take off through the forest on one of the well-designed trails and get a splendid view of the castle from across the pond.
Veliki Tabor Castle
This castle is similar to Trakošćan in that it stands on top of a hill. However, this castle overlooks the beautiful green Hrvatsko Zagorje valley. The construction date is uncertain, but it is generally accepted that Veliki Tabor Castle’s construction began sometime during the 12th century and has been renovated throughout its history. The castle was closed for several years as it underwent its most recent facelift.
When we arrived mid-week one rainy October day, I giggled at the castle. It looks kind of plumpy and short, unlike any castle I had ever seen. The castle has four towers in the shape of a horseshoe, and although it’s not the most grand of castles, it currently sits on the Croatia UNESCO Tentative list.
The heartbreaking legend of Veliki Tabor tells the story of the tragic love between Veronika, a peasant girl, and the castle’s nobleman Fridrih Celjski. They murdered his first wife to marry Veronika. The pair ran off but were stopped by Fridrih’s father’s soldiers. Fridrih was imprisoned, and Miss Veronika drowned. It is said that she was interred within the castle walls. How tragic.
On a brighter note, you can hear medieval life’s daily chatter during the peak season when various workshops and performances are in the castle. Spend your vacation entertaining and educated on what life must have been like during that period, including activities for the kids. Plus, you can attend the Tabor Film Festival, an international short film held each April-May.
Address: Košnički Hum 1, Desinić | Cost: 10-50 HRK
Not too far from Veliki Tabor is another beauty among the castles of Hrvatsko Zagorje – Castle Miljana. It dates back to the 16th century and originally belonged to the Ratkay family.
It was restored in the 20th century and is one of the best-preserved old castles in Croatia. It features an extensive collection of astrological paintings and a private art collection.
Just outside Split lies Klis Fortress, perched atop a cliff near a village with the same name. One of the most splendid ancient castles in Croatia, it is one of many fortresses and strongholds that dot the rugged mountains along the Dalmatian coast. If you’re visiting Split and would like to see one of the oldest surviving forts in Croatia, Klis Fortress, known as Tvrđava Klis in Croatian, is a mandatory destination. It is easily one of the best castles in Croatia to visit.
The roots of Klis Fortress go back as far as the 2nd century BC when the site was a stronghold of an Illyrian tribe known as the Dalmatae. The Romans in 9 AD conquered it. They first called it either “Anderium” or “Andetrium,” and later “Clausura,” a name that evolved into “Clissa” and, now, “Klis.”
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the early-6th century, the fortress became an important stronghold of the Croats. It rose in importance, eventually becoming the seat of the first Dukes of the Croatian Duchy and later the capital of the Croatian Kingdom. When the Croatian royal family of Trpimirovic declined, the castle became occupied by Croatian nobility and, briefly, by the Knights Templar.
Entering a period of severe turbulence, Klis Fortress was besieged by the Mongols and Ottomans. It fell under the rule of the Venetians in the mid-1600s, who renovated and expanded the fortress. It remained part of Venice until Napoleon undid the republic in 1797.
Klis Fortress is one of Croatia’s most outstanding examples of defensive architecture. Set atop a rocky outcrop and boasting three defensive stone walls, this mighty Croatia fortress must have been an imposing sight to attacking armies. If you like interesting facts about medieval castles, you’ll love this castle’s fascinatingly long and diverse history.
Because of its strategic significance, controlling the valley that leads toward Split on the coast, and sheer defensive power, the lands below became a popular place to live. A village originated around the fortress during Venetian times. And it’s still there today, known as the town of Klis.
Around 3 miles from Cetingrad, Cetin Castle sits high on a huge hill overlooking the area. Little is known about the actual castle itself, but it dates back to around 1334, and some believe that a Roman settlement may have existed there at some point. While the castle is little but ruins these days, the view from the top is fantastic, and you can tour the ruins and get a real feel of the past.
Found in the town of Varaždin, this castle predates the town, being built in the 12th century, well before town construction began in the 16th century.
The majestic structure has undergone quite a series of renovations and transformations throughout time, with the square tower of the castle being the oldest part of the structure standing today. During the time the building was built, a moat and several other towers were also added. However, if you visit the castle, you will notice that the moat is absent as it was filled in long ago. The architectural and interior styles were heavily influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque periods, with even a smattering of Rococo influence found throughout.
When visiting, enjoy the stark white walls of the castle against the green scape and tiled roof – a magnificent sight! Take your time touring the castle and wandering around the grounds. There are several great locations to take stunning pictures of the structure. Alternatively, you can pick a spot from within the castle to take amazing photos of the view below.
Located in Pregrada, Bezenec Castle is now a huge hotel but retains its castle features and plentiful history. Yes, you can stay in a real castle! The original building work dates back to the 17th century and was restored in 1990. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the castle is a photo moment must-have.
In Varaždin County, located in northern Croatia, the Maruševec Castle dates back to the 14th century. However, it went under constriction again in the 17th century, thanks to the Vragović family.
When you think of castles, you imagine strong and imposing buildings designed to protect. That’s exactly what Brod Fortress stands for. Located in Slavonski Brod, the castle is packed with history. Dating back to the 18th century, the Archduchy of Austria originally built the castle to protect the area from the advancing Ottomans. It now sits abandoned, but the echoes of the past remain.
Photo Credit: Ramon
Renovated numerous times throughout its history, Čakovec underwent a final transformation after an earthquake in 1738. At that time, the castle was reconstructed in a decidedly Baroque fashion. You can tell from the old walls that this used to be a fortified structure that served military purposes beyond just housing the royal family.
Today, the castle is home to the Museum of Medimurje Čakovec, where you will find portraits of the old ruling family and other exciting artifacts of archaeological and ethnic interest. A pretty splendid collection of cultural artifacts also provides a glimpse of their life during that time.
This castle also features its own unique guards, the Zrinski Guards, who maintain a presence to honor the ancient ruling family’s memory.
Take your time to meander through the park that winds its way around the outside of the castle. You won’t fall into the moat, though. It has been gone for centuries. Be sure to take some pictures as well. There are many spots to find fantastic views of the scenery.
Kastelina On Vir
Compared to the many other castles in Croatia, little is known about Kastelina on Vir, but that doesn’t make it a less charming castle to visit. Undoubtedly, its selling point is the stunning view over the Adriatic, and the sea glitters like diamonds on a sunny day. Sunsets are also breathtaking from the castle; if you can, it’s worthwhile timing your visit to enjoy this fantastic sight.
The castle is in perfect condition, and although it’s one of the lesser-known castles in the country, it’s still quite well visited on the island of Vir. The castle is also situated close to many quiet bays, which makes for a beautiful end to a day of sunbathing and exploring.
Ozajl is a town located on the picture-perfect Kupa River. It has a rich and glorious past, which becomes evident as soon as you gaze upon the Ozalj Castle. The Old Town of Ozalj sits under the County of Karlovac, just 55 kilometers from Zagreb, and is an easy day trip by car, train, or even public transport. Perched on a cliff above the river, you’d be surprised to discover that the area has a history dating back to 3,000 BC.
Ozalj was first mentioned in 1244. However, after a visit to the museum in the Ozalj Castle, you will soon discover that archaeological artifacts from the city date back to prehistoric times. The artifacts on display include clay utensils, tools, and ceremonial jugs from the Bronze Age. When it comes to Ozalj’s history, its most famous period was in the Middle Ages, when the noble Zrinski and Frankopan families shaped history.
Dubovac Castle, Karlovac
Standing tall on the hillside overlooking Karlovac city, Dubovac Castle was constructed during the 13th century and had typical Renaissance architecture. It’s an exceptionally well-preserved castle, making it a popular option during the summer months for those wanting to check out some history and some fantastic views simultaneously.
The castle has been passed from owner to owner throughout history and has changed its style a few times. The castle was also restored in the 20th century to help it last a little longer.
This castle is made all the more attractive by the many legends that swirl around it. While nobody has ever chosen to find out whether it is true or not (surprisingly, quite frankly), locals love to speculate! One is that the well leads to a tunnel that takes you directly to the bank in the Old Town.
Once you’re inside the castle complex, there is a restaurant, and you can head to the museum to learn more about the castle’s history.
Address: Zagrad-Gaj ul. 5, 47000, Karlovac, Croatia | Cost:10 Kn
Orsic Castle is a castle located in Gornja Stubica, belonging to the Baroque era. Until 1924 it was a feudal residence of the Orsic family when the last family member left. It was restored in the 1960ies and transformed into a Musem of Peasant’s Revolt – a tragic event in 1573 when peasants revolted against the cruel treatment of serfs by Franjo Tahy.
The revolt ended after 12 days, with the leader Matija Gubec being publicly tortured and subsequently quartered. This event inspired many later artists and writers who paid tribute to the courageous hero.
During World War II, a Croatian and Slovenian brigade was named after him. He is also depicted as the protagonist of Gubec-beg, the first Croatian rock opera.
Castle Morosini Grimani
Located in Svetvinčenat, Morosini-Grimani is a medieval castle with stunningly beautiful Renaissance architecture. The castle is named after its two former owner families and was first noted in 983. The castle was renovated in 1589 but retained much of its original beauty, including the colossal cistern in the center of the grounds.
If you like your castles very well preserved, you must head to Istria to check out Pazin Castle! Built on a massive rock in the middle of Pazin town, the castle is medieval and known to be the largest castle in the west of Croatia. As the castle has changed hands throughout history, the various owner families have changed its appearance slightly. The castle is now white-washed but in excellent shape.
Located in Donji Miholjac, Mailath Castle is a stunning sight to behold, surrounded by fragrant trees in what can only be described as a mystical forest; the castle was initially designed by Istvan Moller, an architect from Budapest. The castle is designed in a gothic style, but you can clearly see English Tudor influences.
Located in Osijek, this castle looks more like a country manor house but brimming with history and beauty. The Pejacevic family owns the castle, an extremely noble and esteemed family throughout Slavonia. The gardens alone are enough to make you weep with beauty!
Stara Susica Castle
Not all castles have to be huge to be seriously impressive. Stara Susica Castle is pretty small, but it’s a delightful place to visit, and its architecture differs from anything you have seen before. Located just east of Rijeka, the castle is surrounded by huge trees, almost shielding it from view.
Hvar is home to Tvrdalj Castle, the former summer home of a famous Croatian poet named Petar Hektorovic. The castle is in Stari Grad, has an entirely different architecture, and looks like other castles you may have seen. The castle was also heavily attacked by the Ottomans in the 16th century.
Trsat Fortress sits high on a hill overlooking the outer edges of Rijeka. The castle has plentiful green space around it, and it’s also classed as a pilgrimage site. The castle dated back to the 13th century and was extremely important during battles of the time. You can check out the huge lookout tower for amazing views.
Located in Zapresic, Luznica Castle is an attractive historical site that attracts many visitors. The park has a lake running around it and a beautiful garden. The castle was built in the 18th century and was first owned by a wealthy family from Italy. The castle then passed hands to the Rauch family. Designed in Baroque style, the castle is a great place to spend a few hours exploring.
In the Split region, you will find Omis, and there you will find the 15th-century Starigrad Fortress. Located high on the cliff-top, overlooking the endless blue of the sea, the castle has impressive views, but of course, it was built for a much more important reason. The castle was the area’s primary protection against the Ottomans.
I had never dreamt of being a princess as a little girl, although after wandering these castles of Croatia, I feel like I need a suite at a fancy hotel, which has me rethinking my dreams. And, to add to my dreams, there are loads more castles in Slovenia just across the border.. hmmm…
Empirej castle is not like any other castle in Croatia or anywhere else. It wasn’t built centuries ago by a noble family but rather by dreams. 20 years ago, Mijo Habulinec gave his daughters a Lego set and asked them to construct a castle. This dream then became reality, as Mr. Habulinec was born into a humble family yet worked diligently throughout his life, enabling him to achieve the ambition of living in a castle. Castle Orsic
Empirej Castle can be booked for private events, but it isn’t open to the public without prior arrangements. You can view the impressive structure from the outside by walking up the hill through a small wooded area and passing by a gated entrance.
Have you ever been to one of these gorgeous castles in Croatia? What was the most memorable one you’ve visited?