Florida isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think of castles, but you'd be surprised at just how many there are. They might be a little different from the ones you'll find scattered throughout Europe, but that doesn't make them any less impressive. If dragon, dungeons, and fancy architecture tick your boxes, here are the 10 best castles in Florida to check out.
10. Hogwarts Castle, Orlando
Technically, it's not a real castle, but Hogwarts Castle isn't the kind of place to get bogged down in technicalities. This is a place of magic, fun, and more Harry Potter fanatics than you thought existed. With its lofty spires and hundreds of Harry Potter artifacts (including the Triwizard Cup, Dumbledore’s pensive, and the Sorting Hall), it's a must-visit for would-be wizards. There are even living paintings that talk to you as you pass by. The castles is located inside of the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures theme parks, and a two-park ticket is required for guests who want to visit the entirety of Hogwarts.
9. Castle Ottis, St. Augustine
St. Augustine has several castles, including the very majestic Castle Ottis. A relative newcomer to the scene, it was constructed in 1988 by Ottis Sadler and Rusty Ickles. Built in the style of a historic Irish castle, its design was guided by a team of historians from the Catholic Diocese of Northeast Florida. The end result is intended to evoke the atmosphere of an ancient Abbey. Whether it succeeds is something you'll need to decide for yourself by taking a tour.
8. Cinderella Castle, Orlando
Granted, there's nothing historic or architecturally significant about Cinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom, but it's in Florida, it's a castle, and it's a ton of fun - hence its inclusion at number 8 on our round-up of the 10 best castles to visit in Florida. Standing over 180 feet, it's certainly an impressive sight - even more so thanks to its use of forced perspective, which makes it look even taller than it really is.
7. Loews Don Cesar Hotel, St. Petersburg
Fancy being transported back in time to the roaring '20s? Then take the advice of floridatrippers.com and head for Loews Don Cesar Hotel in St Petersberg. Built in 1924, the castle served as a playground for some of the most famous figures of the era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Heavily influenced by Mediterranean and Moorish styles, it's a beautiful sight, with a red clay tile roof, tower-like upper stories, and soaring arches. Today, it's been skillfully remodeled into a top-notch hotel - it's not cheap, but if you've ever harbored a secret desire to sleep overnight in a castle, this is where you can make your dreams a reality.
6. Villa Zorayada, St. Augustine
Castles and eccentrics seem to go together like love and marriage. Villa Zorayada is no different. Built in 1863 by the eccentric millionaire Franklin W. Smith, the castle is strange but beautiful, bearing more than just a passing resemblance to the Alhambra palace in Andalusia, Spain. Its chief highlight is the 2,400-year-old Sacred Cat Rug, which is reported to have been made from the hair of the ancient cats that once populated the banks of the River Nile. Tours are available from Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
5. Whitehall Mansion, Palm Beach
Described as "more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world," Whitehall Mansion is as impressive as its advertising material. Once the home of railroad magnate Henry Flagler, the 75-room Gilded Age castle is an architectural gem, featuring a gorgeously ornate neoclassical Beaux-Arts interior and a courtyard designed to resemble those found in Mediterranean palaces Tours are available Monday through Saturdays from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
4. Castle Warden, St. Augustine
Yet another castle to check out if you're in St. Augustine is Castle Warden. According to visitstaugustine.com, the Moorish-inspired castle was built in 1887 as a winter home for William Warden and his family. In the 1940s, it was renovated into a hotel by Pulitzer prize-winning writer Majorie Kinnan Rawlings and her husband Norton Baskin. Robert S. Ripley was a frequent guest, and a decade later, he bought the property and transformed it into the first Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. Today, it still houses his original collection of oddities, which visitors can view as part of a guided tour.
3. Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine
Castillo de San Marcos' main claim to fame is its status as the oldest masonry fort in the US. It was built more than 450 years ago by the Spanish to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route. Considering its age, it's in remarkably good shape. Self-guided tours are available, but you can opt to be escorted by one of the knowledgeable volunteers if you prefer. Whichever one you choose, don't miss the historic weapons demonstration which, weather permitting, takes place every hour.
2. Solomon's Castle, Ona
Named as one of the most captivating castles in Florida by Only In Your State, Solomon's Castle is the work of artist Howard Solomon. It's an eccentric masterpiece: towering three stories high and filled with reclaimed printing plates, it's a castle... but not as we know it. Everything is infused with a sense of fun and creativity, right down to the Boat in the Moat Restaurant, which, as its name implies, is a restaurant on a boat in a moat. If you get peckish after touring the castle (which you're very welcome to do from Tuesday through Saturdays except in August and September), the medieval-themed menu will go down a treat.
1. Coral Castle, Homestead
If you thought Solomon's Castle was the work of an eccentric genius, just wait till you check out Coral Castle. The entire creation is the result of one man's desire to create his own little Stonehenge. Well, we say little... all in all, it boasts more than 1000 tons of stone. How exactly those stones got there is a question no one's ever been able to answer. We know that from 1923-1951, Edward Leedskalnin unearthed, transported and carved the rock, but as to how he did it without utilizing a single piece of machinery is a secret he took to the grave. Among the features to watch out for include a rocking chair, a Polaris telescope, and a 7-ton gate that opens with the touch of a finger... all of which are made entirely from coral rock.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith