Thousands of châteaux across France have set a certain storybook aesthetic for centuries. Many of these sprawling estates were once reserved for nobility, with gilded interiors (Hall of Mirrors, anyone?) and turreted roofs, but today you don’t need royal lineage to experience a beautiful château. Simply clear your schedule, fork over 20 euros, and indulge in the regal luxury and history.
Here are six of the best French châteaux to visit for those special “pinch me” moments.
1. Château de Versailles
Where: Versailles, France
When to visit: Operating hours are 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m; palace is open year-round except Mondays and May 1
Visit: Palace tickets start at €18, chateauversailles.fr
What King Louis XIII built as a hunting lodge 10 miles southwest of Paris, his successor, Louis XIV, and Queen Marie Antoinette transformed into a glittering, 721,182-square-foot palace—and symbol of French power: Château de Versailles. Today, visitors can tour magnificent rooms like the Hall of Mirrors, admire thousands of paintings and pieces of furniture, and wander the vast manicured gardens for a look at royal indulgence.
Versailles is open all year (except on Mondays and May 1), but the gardens are especially attractive on summer evenings when the fountains are illuminated. Save yourself the anguish that comes with seeing the hordes of people at the golden gates and book a skip-the-line ticket in advance.
2. Château du Clos Lucé
Where: Amboise, France
When: Operating hours vary depending on the month; open year-round except December 25 and January 1
Visit: Tickets start at €18, vinci-closluce.com
This stately brick manor house is famous for being the official and final residence of Leonardo da Vinci; it is located a quarter mile from the beautiful Château Royal d’Amboise, where the artist’s tomb lies. Besides an ornate interior with more than 800 years behind it, the château also has a 15-acre park that showcases 20 models of da Vinci’s inventions.
3. Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
Where: Azay-le-Rideau, France
When to visit: Operating hours vary depending on the month; open year-round except January 1, May 1, and December 25
Visit: Full-price tickets are €11.50; tickets.monuments-nationaux.fr
The UNESCO-recognized Loire Valley is home to striking buildings and castles, including the two-story Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. Constructed in the 1500s, this château’s sharp roofs, turrets, and other features showcase early French Renaissance design and architecture. The château was originally built on an island in the Indre River by Gilles Berthelot, treasurer of France and advisor to King Louis XII.
While the stone-carved details (look for the salamander and ermine motifs, which symbolize King Francois I and Queen Claude, respectively) and open loggia staircase are captivating enough, take a step back to appreciate the building as a whole. A moat surrounds it, offering a mirror-like reflection of the château in the water.
4. Château de Valençay
Where: Valençay, France
When to visit: Opening times vary depending on month; open year-round except December 25 and January 1
Visit: Tickets are €14.50; chateau-valencay.fr
With its L-shaped layout, the Château de Valençay’s two wings demonstrate the main architectural influences—Renaissance and classical—on its design. The d’Estampes family created the foundation for the Château de Valençay in the 1500s with a very Renaissance flavor (thanks in part to the influence of the Great Italian Wars). In the 1700s, the west wing was modified in the classical style, as seen by details like its Ionic capitals.
Since the château’s creation, it’s changed hands with many different owners from the upper echelon—most famously Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who was the foreign minister to Napoleon. Many of the interior relics you can see come from Talleyrand’s collection of swords, medals, and other treasures.
5. Château d’Ussé
Where: Rigny-Ussé, France
When to visit: Opening hours depend on the month; open from February 13 to November 13
Visit: Adult tickets are €14; www.chateaudusse.fr
While many châteaux have a storybook appeal, the Château d’Ussé has a special claim to fame as the inspiration for the original Sleeping Beauty tale. From the intricately designed ceiling of the guard room to the 16th-century tapestries decorating the walls, the fun is in the very ornate details. Visitors (particularly children) will delight in the mannequins displayed through its various rooms re-enacting scenes from the classic story.
Even if you’re not a fan of the fairy tale, there’s plenty to enjoy here—walk through the ramparts of the château’s towers, and you can reimagine a time when the building was used as a strategic fortress circa 1000 C.E.
6. Château de Blois
Where: Blois, France
When to visit: Opening hours vary depending on the month; open year-round, except December 25 and January 1
Visit: Chateau + Sound and Light Show tickets are €20; chateaudeblois.fr
Unlike many châteaux, the Château de Blois isn’t a shining example of a particular architectural era or influence. Instead, this Loire Valley palace is recognized for being a hodgepodge of medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, and classical architecture, due to it frequently being torn down and renovated. As a result, each part of the exterior serves as a marker for the popular architectural style during a renovation, including the château’s iteration as a 13th-century fortress and the Renaissance-style home of King Louis XII.
From April through September, the château’s exterior becomes the backdrop of a sound and light show portraying its complex history, offering a modern way to experience the chateau’s past.
This article was originally published in April 2019 and was updated in August 2022. Kimberley Lovato contributed reporting.