For more than 1,000 years, castles were erected in Europe for the purpose of protection. They were intended to fortify borders and store ammunition, and were the sites of defense-strategy meetings and even battles. Their grand architecture and prime hilltop locations (with panoramic views) also gave these fortresses residential appeal, prompting royals and nobles to convert them into opulent private homes. This trend was particularly popular in Spain, where many of the country’s castles have vestiges of both military and royal life. Visitors to these sites get to experience a range of architectural and interior-design traditions. We’ve selected five must-visit castles in Spain sure to entice history buffs and design aficionados alike.

Author: Stephanie Strasnick | Photography: Getty Images

This Gothic castle in Palma, on Majorca, was built in the 14th century and has been used as a royal residence, a military prison, and now a museum. The castle’s name, Bellver, means “beautiful view.”

Alcázar of Segovia

This fairy-tale castle on a hill is one of Spain’s most famous and distinctive architectural landmarks. Over the course of its nearly 1,000-year history, the castle has served as a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, the site of the Royal College of Artillery, and a historical archive.


Located in the medieval part of Granada, the Alhambra was built between 1238 and 1358 as the palace and fortress of the Moorish monarchs. The Alhambra can be recognized by its many archways, impeccably landscaped courtyards, and formidable citadel. The palace is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cardona Castle

Many historians regard Cardona Castle as one of Catalonia’s most militarily important fortresses. From the 11th to the 15th century, the castle was home to the lords of Cardona, and in 1949 it was named a State National Monument. Visitors to the castle can take tours of the structure or stay overnight at the Parador de Cardona, located on-site.

Coca Castle

The epitome of military Mudejar style, the lavish Coca Castle was built in the 15th century by the archbishop of Seville and Don Alonso de Fonseca, lord of Coca and Alaejos. Its ornate interiors—still on view today—indicate that the castle was used as a residence rather than a military fortress.