10 Castles You Need in Your Life: No Passport Required
If you think a passport and overseas flight are necessary to live out your dreams of living (or at least, touring) like royalty, think again. From 250-room estates to rustic turrets free to explore, there are plenty of castles right here in the U.S. -- each the ideal excuse to plan a day or overnight trip.
Here are 10 of our favorites:
1. Boldt Castle, New York
In one of the most lovely displays of modern romance (and wealth), construction on Boldt Castle began in 1900 by Waldorf-Astoria hotel founder George Boldt as a tribute to his wife. Yet, when Louise Boldt passed away months before completion, all construction halted for 70 years — it was only when the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977 that the project resumed and was ultimately completed. Today, Boldt Castle offers daily tours and is a popular wedding venue.
Location: Heart Island, St. Lawrence River’s 1000 Islands, New York
Perfect day trip from: Only accessible via water, several boat operators run daily departures from nearby Canadian and U.S. ports — most popularly, Alexandria Bay, in upstate New York. Located in Jefferson County, Alexandria Bay is approximately an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Syracuse, New York, and Ottawa, Canada.
2. Castello di Amorosa, California
Although Castello di Amorosa only lowered its drawbridge in 2007, the castle and winery are authentic replicas of the traditional buildings found in 13th-century Tuscany. Features include a 500-year-old fireplace, a Great Hall with replica Tuscan fresco paintings, a dungeon (yes, really), and an impressive wine barrel room with ancient Rome-inspired cross-vaulted ceilings. General admission includes free-range roaming access to the property as well as wine tastings, while guided tours and tastings, pairing programs, and transportation packages are also available.
Location: Calistoga, Calif.
Perfect day trip from: No need to plan an entire day trip to reach the Castello. It’s in the heart of Napa Valley, just a few minutes south from Calistoga.
3. Castle in the Clouds, New Hampshire
Also known as the Lucknow Estate, this mega-mansion was built by shoe manufacturing millionaire Tom Plant and his wife, Olive Plant, in the early 1900s. Named for its location high in the Ossipee Mountain Range, the property was opened to the public in 1959 and is currently managed by the Castle Preservation Society, which has helped the estate remain an authentic portrait of 20th-century life. The estate hosts a rich lineup of events, is the venue for many weddings every year, and boasts an on-site restaurant.
Location: Moultonborough, N.H.
Perfect day trip from: Moultonborough and the Castle in the Clouds is just over a two-hour drive from Boston and about an hour and 45 minutes from Portland, Maine.
4. Belvedere Castle, New York Flickr/hjjanisch
A castle right in the middle of NYC? Yup, that’s right. This miniature structure is on the highest point of Central Park and, thus, offers the best views of NYC’s notorious green space. Belvedere Castle was built in 1869 by park co-founder Calvert Vaux, and serves as a visitor center open daily.
Location: New York, New York’s Central Park
Perfect day trip from: This castle is easily accessible from any part of the NYC region, and is the ideal addition to a day of exploring Central Park’s many attractions.
5. Loveland Castle, Ohio
Also known as Château Laroch, Ohio’s Loveland Castle is the world headquarters of the Knights of the Golden Trail society and was built by its founder, Sir Harry Delos Andrews. The property is alongside the Little Miami River, and features gardens and an gallery that help guests step back into medieval times. The property can be toured daily or visited on the third Saturday of every month April-August for Castle Days, when guests are treated to live music and a craft marketplace.
Location: Loveland, Ohio
Perfect day trip from: Loveland is a half-hour drive from Cincinnati, a two-hour drive from Indianapolis, and an hour-and-a-half drive from Columbus — easily accessible from all major Ohio cities.
6. Hearst Castle, California
One of the most famous U.S. castles, this mansion was once the private residence of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Built in 1947, the property features 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens, a private airstrip, former zoo, and two stunning pools. Visitors can choose from a variety of tours to customize the experience, and can learn even more about Hearst Castle at the on-site theater.
Location: San Simeon, Calif.
Perfect day trip from: Just a few minutes off Highway 1 in central California, Hearst Castle is a 45-minute drive from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo and just over a half-hour drive from Morro Bay. It’s a popular attraction for those doing coastal road trips, including as a halfway point along the scenic route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
7. Fonthill Castle, Pennsylvania
Built by archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer, Fonthill Castle was constructed with a dual purpose: to be Mercer’s home as well as a place for him to display his collection of tiles and prints. After his death, Mercer left the property to his housekeeper and her husband, who resided in the house until 1975. Today, the property functions as a professional museum, in conjunction with the Mercer Museum, and is a National Historic Landmark. The space is kid-friendly and can be experienced daily through hourlong guided tours.
Location: Doylestown, Pa.
Perfect day trip from: Fonthill Castle is just under an hour drive from Philadelphia and just over an hour-and-a-half drive from New York City.
8. Biltmore Estate, North Carolina Fotoluminate LLC
A true exercise in opulence, it’s almost hard to believe that the Biltmore Estate was once the private family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt. The luxurious property features original artwork from Renoir and Sargent, 16th-century tapestries, a library filled with 10,000 volumes, a stunning banquet hall, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, bowling alley, sprawling gardens, and 250 rooms. The surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains town of Antler Hill Village offers guests additional activities, including those at the winery, farm, and outdoor adventure center. Price of admission to the Biltmore House allows guests to explore the property on their own.
Location: Asheville, N.C.
Perfect day trip from: If you live or are staying in Charlotte, the Biltmore Estate is just a two-hour drive away. Best of all? There’s so much do at this destination that you’ll have plenty of entertainment and exploring to do to break up the drive.
9. Iolani Palace, Hawaii
Our own royal castle, Iolani Palace was built by King Kalakaua in 1882 is the official residence of Hawaii’s monarchy. Visitors will roam the Coronation Pavilion, royal tomb, barracks, and two floors of restored rooms — including the private suites and the Imprisonment Room, where Queen Liliuokalani was held after her government was overthrown. Self-guided audio tours and guided tours are available of the indoor areas, and each option allows guests access to the basement gallery exhibits and an introductory video.
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
Perfect day trip from: Yet another Oahu attraction, Iolani Palace doesn’t require an entire day — 60-90 minutes is suggested for the tours — and is just a 15-minute drive (or 25-minute bus ride) from Waikiki.
10. Gillette Castle, Connecticut
Painstakingly designed by actor, director, playwright, and creative genius William Hooker Gillette, Gillette Castle is known for its intricate rockwork, hand-carved wood furnishings, built-in couches, tables on tracks, and other unique details. The whimsical world of Gillette Castle continues outside with features including a vegetable cellar, railroad station, and goldfish pond, and further on to the surrounding acres of greenery, Gillette Park. Visitors can relish in Gillette’s creative vision — and learn more about the history of the property — daily during the summer season.
Location: East Haddam, Ct.
Perfect day trip from: Cruise to Gillette Castle in just under 45 minutes from Hartford and just under an hour from New Haven — in our opinion, the ideal day trip driving distance.