Explore 5 Castles in the U.S.

A classic relic of the Middle Ages, castles of every stripe have for centuries been a stronghold of our imagination in books and movies, offering an irresistibly romantic vision of kings and queens. But one needn’t spend a princely sum flying abroad to experience their majesty — with America’s castles, you can let down your hair right here. Below are a few of the best, each fortified with enough turrets, escapism and fairy-tale splendor to make you feel like royalty.

Before you drive out to one of these iconic castles in the U.S., download this template to create paper crowns for the entire family to wear during your royal excursion.

Hearst Castle, California

Ever since his trips to Europe as a young boy, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst had a taste for art and opulence. After he inherited his father’s California ranch, he began building “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) in 1919 to bring some of that European grandeur home. The sprawling estate — the main house, Casa Grande, alone has 42 bathrooms — boasted the world’s largest private zoo, a private airport and a cellar that housed the world’s finest wines. While you’re there, check out Hearst’s impressive art collection, which is framed by ornate, more-is-more interiors, as well as the luxe marble-lined Neptune Pool, bedecked with Italianate reliefs, sculptures and colonnades.

Getting There: Fly into Los Angeles International Airport, pick up your rental car and hop on Interstate 405 North in Culver City. Next, take U.S. Route 101 North about 180 miles to San Luis Obispo and continue on state Route 1 north for 40 miles to San Simeon.

Planning Tip: Reserve tickets to tour this California castle up to 60 days before your arrival. Ticket prices vary by tour, guest age and time of year, but children under 5 are always free.

Ornately tiled in marble, the Neptune Pool is one of two at Hearst Castle; it took 15 years to build and holds 345,000 gallons of water. Photo courtesy of Chriss Knisley, Flickr.

 

Gillette Castle, Connecticut

Perched on the southernmost hill in a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters, the Seventh Sister awaits: a 184-acre estate where the accomplished actor, playwright, prop maker and director, William Hooker Gillette, made his medieval fantasy come to life. Finished in 1919, the 24-room mansion’s roughly cobbled exterior gives way to a warm, woodsy showcase of Gillette’s playful passion for craft, which shines through in furnishing details, such as built-in couches, a movable table on tracks and wood-carved light switches. No two of its 47 doors are the same. Outside, one can amble along 3 miles of miniature railroad for a miniature train he had on the premises, which winded under and over numerous leafy walking paths.

Getting There: From Tweed New Haven Airport, merge onto Interstate 95 North. Then take state Route 156 west to state Highway 431 North. After about a mile, turn left into Gillette Castle State Park.

Planning Tip: Open year-round, Gillette Castle State Park offers free parking, which means you can walk around and gaze upon the castle’s exterior for free. Want more? From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, interior tours of the castle are available for purchase: Adults are $6; children are $2; ages 5 and younger are free.

As you walk up to Gillette Castle, you may notice a certain shimmer to the mansion’s stairs, which are made of local rock, white mica and large garnet crystals.

 

Bannerman Castle, New York

One glimpse of the ruins of Bannerman Castle, on Pollepel Island, some 60 miles north of Manhattan in the Hudson River, and it’s easy to see its explosive past. Built by successful Scottish arms dealer Francis Bannerman VI in 1901, it served as a rather ostentatious ammunition storage secluded from the riffraff of New York City. But perhaps not secluded enough: In 1920, the gunpowder ignited, causing an explosion that, legend has it, could be heard as far as Poughkeepsie. Nearly 50 years later, a mysterious fire left the skeleton of the edifice that remains today. Plan ahead to catch one of its many movie nights, theater performances or live music events. And from May through October, leave no stone unturned with a tour, which costs $35 and includes a boat ride.

Getting There: Fly into New York Stewart International Airport, take state Route 747 north and then Interstate 84 east to loop over the Hudson River. Then take state Route 9D south about 6 miles to Beacon. Once there, hop aboard the Estuary Steward for a 30-minute cruise to the island.

Planning Tip: If you’re feeling adventurous and have a few extra hours, exit Route 9D about 7 miles after Beacon in Cold Spring for a kayak tour to the castle led by a Bannerman Castle Trust historian.

The century-old ruins of Bannerman Castle (actually a former munitions warehouse) north of New York City host movie nights in the summer, and it’s hard to imagine a better setting to watch a classic suspense flick.

 

Castles in Ohio

If one castle isn’t enough for you, an Ohio driving tour may be just the ticket to a royal vacation. Touch down at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and pick up some wheels. From Kentucky Route 236 West, follow Interstate 275 east about 40 miles to your first stop: Featuring a dry moat, archer towers, sword rooms and a plethora of knights’ armor, Loveland is truly a castle’s castle, built by hand and, astonishingly, by just one person. Renaissance man Sir Harry Andrews had as many disciplines as tales surrounding him — he had more than 50 rejected marriage proposals and once was declared dead but discovered alive at the morgue. Don’t miss his German game room. Inside, chess and checkers boards handmade by Sir Andrews and his knights are on display, but duplicates are readily available for all visiting royals-in-waiting to play. The knight guild he founded now runs this modest operation, meaning it’s fairly DIY: self-guided tours only. But pack a picnic and bring some wood for the bonfire pit. And be sure to ask the knight on duty about the castle’s ghosts.

Next, drive about 90 miles north via Interstates 75, 675 and 70 and U.S. Route 68 to West Liberty to find Mac-O-Chee Castle, a hilltop Gothic-style chateau built by Donn Piatt, a well-known journalist around the time of its building in the late 1870s. Boasting detailed woodwork, painted ceilings and a trove of period pieces, the 8,000-square-foot manor has served as a quintessential museum of the era for more than a century. Along with tours from April to October, the Piatt family, which runs the estate, hosts a slew of events throughout the year, including games and readings straight from the 19th century, live concerts and Shakespeare on the Lawn.

Planning Tip: In the mood for a bonus castle in Ohio? Cruise U.S. Route 33 East and Interstate 71 North a few hours to Squire’s Castle: a rustic, 1890s gatehouse in Willoughby Hills meant for a main residence that was never built. Bring a lunch and your hiking shoes for nearby Squire’s Lane Trail, or take Scenic Loop to luxuriate in the serene woodlands, wetlands and wildlife of the North Chagrin Reservation.

Feargus B. Squire, a Cleveland oil pioneer and executive of Standard Oil, built Squire’s Castle in the 1890s and used it as a weekend getaway during the early 1900s.
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About the Author

Jacob M. is a roving food and travel writer who insists on wearing a swimsuit to any castle with a moat. His writing has appeared in Vice, Saveur and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.