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Monday Top 10: The World's Best Theme Park Castles

October 20, 2014, 3:19 PM · What are the world's best theme park castles? Castles provide the iconic centerpiece for many of the world's most popular theme parks. The home of kings and queens in so many fairy tales, castles evoke memories of grand storytelling, setting an inspiring scene for people entering a theme park.

But which castles do the best job of inspiring those theme park visitors? Let's set a couple of criteria to judge these landmarks: 1. How much do you want to take a picture of it? And, 2. What can you do in it?

For previous Monday Top 10 posts, we've relied on Theme Park Insider reader ratings to determine the honorees. However, we haven't collected ratings for castles per se — simply for the attractions and restaurants that might be located within them. So for this post, your editor is using those ratings as a guide, then just picking the ones he believes best satisfy the two questions above. So let's get to it! Here are the Theme Park Insider editor's picks for the Top 10 Theme Park Castles in the World:

10. DarKastle
Busch Gardens Williamsburg

DarKastle

The home of the mad King Ludwig, DarKastle hosts Busch Gardens' 3D motion-base ride, The Curse of DarKastle. While this castle wins points for hosting such an ambitious ride, the facade itself is tucked away in a corner of a park and hasn't earned the same iconic status as other castles on this list.

9. Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Hong Kong Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Hong Kong

Located in the traditional place of honor at the far side of Main Street, Hong Kong Disneyland's castle is of the same design as the Disneyland original, but it lacks that park's walk-through attraction, making this Disney castle, essentially, just one, somewhat impressive facade.

8. King Harold's Castle
Universal Studios Singapore

King Harold's Castle

The centerpiece of the Shrek-themed "Far, Far Away" land, King Harold's Castle houses the park's "Shrek 4D" show. While the castle earns well-deserved points for housing an attraction, it loses some for not even being the top photo op in its own park, an honor that instead falls to the jaw-dropping Revenge of the Mummy facade next door.

7. Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Disneyland

The original theme park castle (okay, maybe not the original... keep reading!), lands at the number seven spot in our rankings. Surpassed by more visually impressive castles in the Disney kingdom, Disneyland's original Sleeping Beauty's Castle still gets credit for its charming walk-through attraction, intimate surroundings, and the lovely photo op with the Matterhorn next door.

6. Cinderella's Castle
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Cinderella's Castle Disney World

Okay, we can hear the complaints from Disney fans: "Cindy's Castle isn't even in the top five?!?" It's not that we don't love the most-visited theme park castle in the world, it's just that we love the ones ahead of it on this list even more. Remember our criteria? While Florida's Cinderella's Castle wins huge points as a photogenic icon, there's just not much to do in it — no attraction and a restaurant with limited capacity. Disney even cuts off the access from the hub during forecourt stage shows. Disney World's castle is like an elusive Hollywood star — thrilling to see, but most often appreciated at a distance.

5. Cinderella's Castle
Tokyo Disneyland

The Tokyo Disneyland version earns the spot ahead of its Orlando twin for the "Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall" walk-through that opens the castle to thousands more guests each day.

4. The Fortress Explorations Citadel
Tokyo DisneySea

Fortress Explorations Citadel

Does a citadel count as a castle if no king or queen lives there? Okay, maybe we are pushing the definition of "castle" by including this landmark on our list. But the home of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers offers one of the world's best walk-through attractions and one of the world's best theme park best restaurants. It looks fabulous in pictures and it's a delight to visit for hours on end. That's good enough for us to put the citadel on our list.

3. The Towers
Alton Towers

The Towers at Alton Towers

The Towers wins huge points from us for being the only theme park castle that actually is a castle! Built in the early 1800s, the former home of the Earls of Shrewsbury stands on grounds that had been in the hands of the family for more than 700 years, making this the true original theme park castle. (Totally selfish note: One line of my ancestors — the Snows — traces back to Staffordshire and the land near the Alton Towers, making this my family's neighborhood theme park. Well, sort of.) Today, the towers not only provide an iconic focal point for the park, they are the home of the park's "Hex - The Legend of the Tower" ride.

2. Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant
Disneyland Paris

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Disney's best theme park castle not only offers its most fanciful design and a crowd-eating walk through attraction, but Paris' version of Sleeping Beauty Castle also would beat its siblings in Magic Kingdoms around the world for no other than it has a dragon in its dungeons!

1. Hogwarts Castle
Universal's Islands of Adventure

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando

Stunning, photogenic icon? Check. World-class walk-through attraction inside? Check. But when you consider that walk-through tour of Hogwarts is simply the queue for one of the top 10 rides in the world, Hogwarts has to move to the top of our list.

What is your favorite theme park castle?

Replies (22)

October 20, 2014 at 3:37 PM · We all know I'm a Universal nut, but Hogwarts cannot be viewed 360 degrees... It is my favorite, but only from that view.
October 20, 2014 at 3:43 PM · I totally agree with the top 3, but how did the merely showy Cinderella castle beat sleeping beauty? The walk through is creepy and gorgeous. I appreciate dark castle making the list but where is Efteling? It's sleeping beauty and Snow White castles are iconic and haunted castle is a major ride! I'd also say snow white's scary adventures and be our guest are worthy castles!
October 20, 2014 at 3:45 PM · I was pleased to See Disneyland Paris at number 2. I managed Fantasyland back in 1997 and it was my favorite "hiding spot." "I'm checking on the Dragon, be right there..."
October 20, 2014 at 3:51 PM · I wanted to include something from Efteling, but am operating at the disadvantage of not having visited the park myself (yet?). Looking through trip reports, photos and a virtual tour, though, I didn't see any single outdoor "castle" from that park that I thought large and iconic enough to crack the Top 10 list. But I welcome disagreements with this list and alternate nominations!
October 20, 2014 at 4:23 PM · I think Triton's Kingdom in Mermaid Lagoon at Tokyo DisneySEA should have been somewhere on this list.
Beautiful photogenic Icon? Yes certainly-and more so at night.
Great attraction inside? Yes on multiple levels--The Mermaid Lagoon Theatre, several small but extremely well themed flat rides, and a children's play area.
A great walk through attraction? This entire land is one giant indoor walk through of eye candy around every bend.
Great restaurants? No sit down restaurants here, but several uniquely themed and fun counter service seafood restaurants in addition to a whale-themed shop with every piece of Little Mermaid merchandise imaginable!
October 20, 2014 at 4:26 PM · Hogwarts probably shouldn't be number one, especially when you consider all the exposed showbuildings. I would probably put Cinderella Castle as my favorite.
October 20, 2014 at 5:08 PM · Hogwarts is the best castle I think because it's regal unlike the Disney castles which are ruined as a stage for bad shows or honey boo boo makeover stores
October 20, 2014 at 6:17 PM · I really think that Alton Towers should come first. Not only is it a real castle, it features attractions inside, is surrounded by a real forest, a lake and has beautifully kept gardens.

You really do have to see it to appreciate how it is much more than anything built for a theme park.

October 20, 2014 at 6:24 PM · I would go to Disneyland Paris soley for the photos of Belle's castle. That is one gorgeous structure!

Thankfully they have the Ratatouille ride now, and I'd love to check out their Pirates of the Caribbean.
But the castle has always been jaw-dropping to me.

October 20, 2014 at 7:11 PM · Theme park castles have one major disadvantage, they are largely not designed to be explored from within. Thus I reserve my vote for Disney World's Cinderella castle since the whole experience of eating in the castle to be a complete experience. You do feel like an invited guest of Cinderella and her royal court. I'm sure Hogwarts castle is equally well done and more, but I haven't been there yet.
October 21, 2014 at 12:35 AM · As a European the Disneyland Paris castle in my eyes is the most kitsch out of place pink turd ever build. I've seen Jules Verne fantasy castle artwork for that park and it would have been much more impressive and fitting. In Europe there are so many beautiful and impressive castles, fortresses and palaces that you should go above and beyond to impress. That is probably the reason why almost no European theme parks have impressive castles as a center point in their parks (except if they are real).
The best representation of the real thing from the fantasy castles is indeed Hogwarts that has so many aspects that fit the real thing and is not a smacked together architectural mismatch the most of them are. I think if fantasy is grounded in reality the result is always better.
October 21, 2014 at 3:15 AM · Yaaaaaaaaaaay Alton Towers featuring in a top ten!
Lazing around admiring the Towers and just exploring inside the 'ruins' is a great way to spend some downtime in the park. Hex is OK - better build up than actual ride I think.
October 21, 2014 at 5:41 AM · When Shanghai's castle opens, it will be hard to beat. Walk-through, meet and greets, boat ride, etc. If it lives up to the design, I will be very impressed.
October 21, 2014 at 8:26 AM · I hope this isn't too trollish but with the Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom, parts of Fantasyland feel like they are inside a castle courtyard. Maybe those simple rides could be considered part of the castle now?

As for Hogwarts, that ride is some next level technology. Those ride vehicles are big and your seat is just the end of it. The queue is really an exploration of the castle in some of its most iconic parts. Even the gift shop is full quality souvenirs. I understand seeing part of the show building is a letdown, but no one notices the high school that isn't more than a few hundred yards away. That glow on a Friday night might be magic or it might be a football game :^)

October 21, 2014 at 9:43 AM · I think the castles in Rainbow MagicLand (in Italy) or Parc Asterix (in France) deserve to be on this list :)
October 21, 2014 at 10:33 AM · While it's always a shame not to squeeze Efteling onto a list, I think I'd agree in this case. The park is indeed full of castles, but as Robert notes, they're either miniatures or lacking anything compelling to draw you inside. (I love Spookslot - the haunted castle - as much as anyone, but it's dated to the extent of only serving a purpose of nostalgia.)

Most importantly, we need to start talking about Puy du Fou - which does this and this with its castles.

October 21, 2014 at 10:57 AM · Um, each variation on a Disney castle got its own entry, but no love for the possibly-superior near-twin of the #1 castle on the list? What about Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Japan with the same walk-through and ride, but even more photogenic on the outside thanks to the beautiful Black Lake reflecting the image of the castle?
October 21, 2014 at 11:22 AM · I've gotta agree with most of this list! And this is coming from a Disney fan.
October 21, 2014 at 11:51 AM · I basically agree with the list & it's rankings. Hogwart's is an easy winner with the excellent queue and fantastic ride. And the outside is pretty d... good too.
October 21, 2014 at 1:43 PM · It's CINDERELLA Castle, not Cinderella's.

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, although I don't agree with you.

October 22, 2014 at 1:27 PM · Hey Robert,

Very nice that you thought about the Efteling, it does have some nice iconic buildings but not a real castle that is worth mentioning. The castle that's there is sleeping beauty's and serves as the start of a huge walkthruogh of fairy tale forest, the castle itself is small but a famous one in the Netherlands : here is a picture of it I found on photo bucket: http://s403.photobucket.com/user/jessicaboon/media/Efteling/IMG_3063.jpg.html

You can walk through it though not actually go inside, through the windows you can see sleeping beauty lying there, slowly breathing and waiting for her prince charming.

greeting from the Netherlands,
Dominique dominiquemol@me.com

October 23, 2014 at 9:35 AM · Why does no one mention the exposed show building at the side of Hogwarts Castle

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