You know it when you see it, although you feel it first. The awe of stepping into the realm of magic is unmistakable, be it an enchanted forest, a tucked-away village or a majestic castle waiting – no, baiting you to come inside. Our imaginations race. So we enter.
Do you travel in search of magic? We all should, and luckily, our planet is full of wondrous places. Here are our favourite storybook travel destinations that feel like fairy tales.
Packed with well-kept history, brooding towns and more castles than a sandbox on a Sunday, Romania is mysteriously magical, dressed in gothic, baroque and ornate neo-renaissance splendour.
Visit the painted monasteries of Bucovina and its intricate 15th-century frescoes. Trek the breathtaking Red Ravine in Sebes. Marvel at Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania’s Stonehenge. Tour all one hundred and sixty rooms of Peles Castle in Sinaia, an imposing masterpiece perched against the Carpathian Mountains.
In search of Dracula? Don’t fall for Transylvania’s Bran Castle, it was never his, but do visit anyway. For the real deal, head to Sighisoara, a medieval walled city and the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the actual inspiration for the fictional Count.
From Dublin’s compelling city centre to the vast open spaces along the Wild Atlantic Way, the Emerald Isle is a fantastic feast for the senses, draped in rainbows and endless tones of green, more than a thousand castles and the friendliest folk you have ever seen.
Nowhere else can you visit as many fortified palaces as you can here; The Rock of Cashel, Bunratty Castle, the dramatically set Dunluce Castle, worthy of a role on Game of Thrones, Blarney Castle and its kissable stone, Ross, Ashford, and many more.
As Irish luck would have it, the Highlights of Ireland tour with G Adventures hits many musts; Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Galway City and Derry – it doesn’t get more Irish than this.
Czech Republic (Český Krumlov)
If you’ve swooned over the cobblestoned, red-roofed charm of Prague, wait till you see Český Krumlov. First impressions leave you feeling like you’ve just stumbled upon a miniature version of the Czech capital. Pinch yourself. Český Krumlov is a gem of its own, worthy of more than a day trip from Prague.
Spend a night or two to properly take in its ambiance. Intimate and utterly pretty, the Bohemian city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, compact and walkable. Like Prague, a castle dominates its skyline and a river runs through it.
Come in the summer and watch its beauty unfold from a castle lookout or from the banks of the river as the locals do. Come in the winter and you’ll be treated to an authentic version of its postcard perfection, especially after a fresh dusting of snow.
Germany (Black Forest)
Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, enduring fables by the Brothers Grimm known the world over, all inspired by their childhood visits to Germany’s famous enchanted woods.
Bring your favourite fairy tales to life in the many villages and towns of the Black Forest, named for the shade cast by its coniferous canopy. Begin in Baden-Baden, one of Europe’s top spa destinations and the perfect gateway to Black Forest National Park. Hike the hills, swim or skate picturesque lakes and marvel at the region’s ruined castles and rich cultural traditions.
After you ignite your imagination, pamper your palate in Baiersbronn, home to three Michelin-starred restaurants. Finish up in Bad Wildbad for another thermal soak and the perfect storybook ending to your stay.
Wild and beautiful with countless celestial encounters readily available, Slovenia is an outdoorsman’s utopia full of whimsical wonder.
From Lake Bled and its tiny baroque chapel to gothic churches dotting the Julian Alps, rustic farmhouses and endless nature, prepare for paradise. And dramatic castles, too, like the castle of Predjama, seemingly carved into a cliff face in the gaping mouth of a cave.
Complete with boobytraps, a creepy dungeon and a chest full of treasure discovered as late as the 90s, it has all the makings of a fairytale. Fittingly, local lore has it that a Robin-Hood-like figure hid here in the 15th century. The cave below the castle is part of a 14km underground system open to visitors from May to September.
France (Mont Saint-Michel Castle, Normandy)
Piercing the sky on its very own island off the north coast of France, the castle on Mont Saint-Michel appears to float when lit after dark. The 8th-century monastery, also once used as a prison, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site to nobody’s surprise.
The gothic Benedictine abbey surrounded by a medieval village was said to be conceived in a dream inspired by God, and the magnificent structure has attracted Christian pilgrims from around the world ever since.
Since 2014, the island has been connected to the mainland by a causeway – use it. Many unsuspecting visitors that chose to walk the sandy flats as the tide comes in wish they had.
If you’ve read this far, you must be into castles, and if so, get ready for Scotland and its more than 3,000 castles, estates and storied ruins punctuated by the capital’s iconic Edinburgh Castle.
Mounted on Castle Rock overlooking the Royal Mile, the castle holds the Scottish crown jewels, the National War Museum and the very best views of the city below. It is the country’s most visited attraction.
Alternatively, Dunvegan Castle sits on the sparsely populated Isle of Skye and is the longest continuously inhabited castle by a single Scottish family, housing the MacCleod Clan for the past 800 years. But for a true fairytale experience, head out to Aberdeenshire and Craigievar Castle, whose pink stone and classic building style are straight out of a children’s book.
There’s something about Austria that makes you want to skip through fields of wildflowers singing at the top of your lungs. Or is that just me and Julie Andrews?
Austria overflows with rugged mountain beauty and nowhere is this more evident than in the charming lakeside town of Hallstatt. Once accessible only by boat or mountain trail, Hallstatt has perfectly preserved its quaint charm and culture.
The Kalvarienberg Church and Market Square are perfect examples, as is its 12th-century charnel house, where 1,200 skulls, half of them painted with a death date and arranged by family, lay for viewing.
Top to bottom, surf to turf, Croatia is golden, sprinkled with well-preserved historical buildings and raw, spectacular nature for an all-encompassing holiday. It also comes with a little mystery.
Haunted Veliki Tabor has a secret to tell with its very own ghost story. Buried within its walls are the remains of a suspected witch or an innocent woman who the owner didn’t want his son to marry. You decide what to believe but it is said that her voice still inhabits the building.
Trakošćan Castle dates back to the 13th century, but legend has it standing on the site of an even earlier fortress. The castle is one of the country’s most impressive yet no one really knows who had it built or who lived there first. Today, it is owned by the state and open year-round to visitors.
Visit Croatia’s mysterious northern castles with a Rail Pass, then head for the coast to Zadar, the embarkation point for the perfect Adriatic sailing trip.
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