World's 10 Most Captivating Castles

They're grand, historic fortresses, and to see the best of them you have to go to Europe -- or check out these photos.

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Highclere Castle's saloon
Highclere Castle's saloon

Highclere Castle's saloon

A view of the saloon -- a room for socializing, set in the center of the house -- in Highclere Castle in Newbury, England. The ancestral home of the Carnarvon family since 1679, the castle has recently been made famous as the setting for the hugely popular TV series, Downton Abbey. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

This entrance hall leads into the saloon, which is decorated in a gothic style with ornate decoration, including leather wall coverings. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

A view of the music room in Highclere Castle. Sitting on 1,000 acres of beautifully landscaped land and gardens, the castle is open in the summer months to visitors. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle's music room

Highclere Castle's music room

The ceiling of the music room, seen here reflected in the mirror, was painted in the 1730s by English painter and one of the founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts, Francis Hayman. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle's music room

Highclere Castle's music room

Italian 16th-century tapestries hang in Highclere’s music room. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle's drawing room

Highclere Castle's drawing room

This photo of Almina Wombwell sits in the drawing room, which is decorated with bolts of green French silk given to Almina by her banking tycoon father, Alfred de Rothschild. She became the lady of Highclere Castle when she married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895. 960 1280

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Highclere Castle's library

Highclere Castle's library

The Earl's desk is displayed in the castle’s library. An active Tory in Parliament, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon would retreat here in what has been nicknamed the “withdrawing room.” In Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham can often be found in this room, mulling over papers and fretting about the future of the estate. 960 1280

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Highclere Castle's library

Highclere Castle's library

This hidden door leads from the library to the music room. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd  

Highclere Castle's library

Highclere Castle's library

There are over 5,600 books stored in Highclere’s library, with the earliest dating back to the 16th century. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

These bells were used to summon the servants, with each bell corresponding to a different room in the castle. 960 1280

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Highclere Castle's Oak Staircase

Highclere Castle's Oak Staircase

The Oak Staircase was designed by English architect and artist, Thomas Allom, who is also known for his work with Sir Charles Barry in designing the Houses of Parliament. The staircase took a year to carve and install. Downton Abbey fans will fondly recall Lady Mary descending this staircase in her wedding dress, on her way to exchange vows with Matthew Crawley. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd  

Highclere Castle's dining room

Highclere Castle's dining room

Found in the castle’s dining room are a series of portraits, including, most notably, the equestrian portrait of Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck, a Flemish artist who became England’s leading court painter. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd  

Highclere Castle's Red Staircase

Highclere Castle's Red Staircase

The Red Staircase, leading to the second floor and what was once the nurseries, is the other main staircase in Highclere Castle that is used by the family. 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle's Mercia bedroom

Highclere Castle's Mercia bedroom

On the first floor alone, there are 11 bedrooms and between 40 and 50 throughout the rest of the castle. The Mercia bedroom, seen here, is decorated with 18th-century silks. Downton Abbey fans may recognize the bedroom as belonging to Cora, the Countess of Grantham (although the Earl of Grantham is known to sneak in after the ladies’ maids and butlers have gone to bed). 960 1280

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images  

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle was remodeled for the 3rd Earl in 1839 by Sir Charles Barry after he finished the Houses of Parliament. Barry described the castle’s architecture as Anglo-Italian. 960 1280

Allan Baxter/Getty Images  

The Bradbury Estate
The Bradbury Estate

The Bradbury Estate

The pool house at Bradbury Estate is about 5,700 square feet and comes equipped with a kitchen, a massage room, a shooting range and several storage rooms. 960 1280

  

The Bradbury Estate

The Bradbury Estate

This oversized copper tub at The Bradbury Estate in California is mounted on a heating coil so the bathwater doesn't get cold too quickly. 960 1280

  

The Bradbury Estate

The Bradbury Estate

The custom-built, leather-paneled poker room at Bradbury Estate has an air ventilation system designed so that cigar smoke never leaves the room. 960 1280

  

The Jones Manor

The Jones Manor

Owned by genius inventor Scott Jones, this residence in Indianapolis, known as The Jones Manor, is a 28,000-square-foot tech geek's fantasy, outfitted with state-of-the-art gadgets. 960 1280

  

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

Perched above the California coast, Hearst Castle is a 70,000-square-foot Spanish-inspired castle built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The largest house at Hearst Castle, known as Casa Grande, is composed of 115 rooms, 38 bedrooms, 30 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms and 14 sitting rooms. 960 1280

  

The Neptune Pool, Hearst Castle

The Neptune Pool, Hearst Castle

The Neptune Pool is designed with marble and serpentine tiles and antique elements, including Mediterranean-style sculptures. The pool contains 345,000 gallons of water, which is enough to fill 15 average-sized pools. 960 1280

  

Celestial Suite, Hearst Castle

Celestial Suite, Hearst Castle

Located at the top of the Hearst Castle tower is the Celestial Suite, which was once described as being “inside a jewel box.” Adorned with gold accents, the 16th- century suite has beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding grounds and California coastline. 960 1280

  

Villa Belvedere, San Francisco

Villa Belvedere, San Francisco

Villa Belvedere, located 4 miles from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, has 7 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms and wraparound terraces boasting 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Alcatraz. 960 1280

  

Kitchen, Villa Belvedere

Kitchen, Villa Belvedere

The gourmet kitchen includes more than just custom cabinets and a butler's pantry -- the main sink overlooks the villa’s front terrace and the beautiful San Francisco Bay. 960 1280

  

Master Bathroom, Villa Belvedere

Master Bathroom, Villa Belvedere

The villa’s master bathroom was designed using Calcutta marble and limestone materials, and has an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. 960 1280

  

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Located in Asheville, NC, Biltmore Estate is America’s largest private home. Designed by George Vanderbilt, the 250-room, chateau-inspired estate opened in 1895, and sits on 8,000 acres of land in the Appalachian’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. 960 1280

  

Vanderbilt's Bedroom, Biltmore Estate

Vanderbilt's Bedroom, Biltmore Estate

Vanderbilt's bedroom, adorned with 22-karat gold leaf on the walls, overlooks the beautiful landscape views of the estate. 960 1280

  

Observatory, Biltmore Estate

Observatory, Biltmore Estate

The 2-story observatory is located at the top of the main entrance tower in the center of the house, and was designed so Vanderbilt and his guests could enjoy views of the estate’s grounds. The lower level of the observatory (pictured above) features a sitting area that provides views of the front of the house. 960 1280

  

5 Star Island, Miami

5 Star Island, Miami

The master suite in the 10,000-square-foot, 2-story main house on Miami’s 5 Star Island can be rented at $12,000 per night. 960 1280

  

Backyard Patio, 5 Star Island

Backyard Patio, 5 Star Island

The Jacuzzi pool and air-conditioned cabanas are just two of the many amenities provided on 5 Star Island’s 10,000-foot backyard patio. 960 1280

  

Boat Dock, 5 Star Island

Boat Dock, 5 Star Island

Thomas Kramer, entrepreneur and 5 Star Island owner, parks his speed boat at 5 Star Island’s dock. 960 1280

  

Old Westbury Gardens, Old Westbury, NY

Old Westbury Gardens, Old Westbury, NY

Located in Old Westbury, NY, Old Westbury Gardens is the former home of Carnegie Steel executive John S. Phipps. The English-inspired mansion sits on more than 200 acres of beautifully landscaped property that consists of gardens, fountains ponds and woodlands. 960 1280

  

Stuffed Tiger Souvenir, Old Westbury Gardens

Stuffed Tiger Souvenir, Old Westbury Gardens

Displayed in the front hall of the mansion, the stuffed tiger was shot by Phipps during his 2.5-month journey through the jungles of India while honeymooning with his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps. 960 1280

  

Library, Old Westbury Gardens

Library, Old Westbury Gardens

The library at Old Westbury Gardens houses collections of books in education, horticulture and the arts. 960 1280

  

The Mansion at MGM Grand, Las Vegas

The Mansion at MGM Grand, Las Vegas

Located on the grounds of the largest hotel in the US, The Mansion at MGM Grand is a 290,000-square-foot, 18th-century, Tuscan-inspired villa with a 125-foot-tall glass domed atrium. If The Mansion is not being occupied by members of the royal family, celebrities or high rollers, rooms can be rented at a cost between $5,000 and $20,000 per night. 960 1280

  

Private Courtyard, The Mansion at MGM Grand

Private Courtyard, The Mansion at MGM Grand

Mansion guests will be picked up from the airport in a Rolls-Royce Phantom and will be greeted by a chauffeur upon their arrival through The Mansion’s private courtyard gates. 960 1280

  

Private Pool, The Mansion at MGM Grand

Private Pool, The Mansion at MGM Grand

Mansion guests can enjoy a private, quiet and relaxing day at The Mansion’s private outdoor pool. 960 1280

  

Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

On the banks of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, Urquhart Castle has been a silent witness to the country’s most famous folktale, dating back hundreds of years. But the rumors of the Loch Ness Monster reached a crescendo in the mid-1930s when an amazing photograph seemed to confirm the existence of the beast. 960 1280

  

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Regularly raided between the 13th and 16th centuries, it’s no surprise that Urquhart Castle is in ruins. But these iconic ruins, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, are a must-see for visitors. 960 1280

  

Upton House

Upton House

The beautiful country estate of Upton House outside of Poole, England, was the subject of one of the strangest inheritance disputes in history. When the heir to the Tichborne fortune disappeared in a shipwreck, an Australian butcher claimed to be the Tichbornes’ lost son. 960 1280

  

Upton House

Upton House

Modest as far as English estates go, Upton House was home to the Prince of Romania in the 1960s. But today, the mansion is available for weddings, events and tours. 960 1280

  

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic home on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia, may have been the setting for a strange medical experiment following the first American president’s death in 1799, when a doctor attempted to convince Martha Washington to allow him to resurrect the legendary statesman. 960 1280

  

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

This front parlor at Mount Vernon is said to have been one of George Washington’s favorite rooms and was used for entertaining guests, reading and drinking tea. Throughout the 1700s, the Washingtons continually updated this room, adding all the fashionable accoutrements of the time. 960 1280

  

Villa dei Mulini

Villa dei Mulini

The Villa dei Mulini was Napoleon Bonaparte’s seat of power during his exile on the Island of Elba off the coast of Italy. It was from this villa, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, that Napoleon plotted his unlikely escape from the island and return to power in France. 960 1280

  

Villa dei Mulini

Villa dei Mulini

The Villa dei Mulini is now open to visitors from all around the world. The estate now has a restaurant featuring local cuisine, rooms and apartments for rent and bike trails through the grounds. 960 1280

  

The Mount Airy Mansion

The Mount Airy Mansion

The Mount Airy Mansion, sitting on 1,000 acres inside what is now Rosaryville State Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, keeps with its history as a place for presidential parties with its new life as an event and wedding space. 960 1280

  

The Mount Airy Mansion

The Mount Airy Mansion

The Mount Airy Mansion was the final home of the heiress Cissy Paterson, the daughter of a wealthy American family who became trapped in an abusive marriage to a Ukrainian count. 960 1280

  

The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo

The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo

The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo in Italy was the beautiful setting of the tragic tale of Bianca Maria Aloisia, the daughter of the powerful Malaspina family. The young woman, kept isolated from the world because she was an albino, decided to defy her cruel parents and pursue a love affair with a humble stable boy – which may have caused her demise. 960 1280

  

The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo

The Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo

Today, the Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo is a museum, an artists’ residence and a bed and breakfast. Painters, writers and travelers alike can soak in the Tuscan views of the Apuan Alps and cozy accommodations. 960 1280

  

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