Travel Like a Royal at These 18 North American Castles

PHOTO: Belvedere Castle; New York, New York. (photo courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Monica Poling
by Monica Poling
Last updated: 10:35 AM ET, Thu June 21, 2018

Castles in North America

It seems that everyone is caught up by Royal Fever these days. But, if your travel plans preclude a long-distance trip to Europe, there are plenty of castle-like buildings to explore in North America. Sure, only two of them have actually housed royalty, but the scope and magnitude of the rest make them well worth a visit.

Castillo San Marcos; St. Augustine, Florida (1672)


Fort or castle? When it comes to the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fortress in the United States, located in St. Augustine, Florida, historians argue for both sides. When it first started construction in 1672, it was designed to protect Spanish interests from pirates and warring nations. It became a part of the National Park Service in 1924 and its original name was restored in 1942.

Chapultepec Castle; Mexico City, Mexico (1727)


Located on top of a hill in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park, Chapultepec Castle is North America's only true castle to be inhabited by royalty. Originally constructed in 1727, it was intended to be a summer home for the Viceroy in charge of the New Spain colony and later became the home of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Empress Carlota.

Smithsonian Castle; Washington DC (1855)


Often referred to as simply the "Castle," the Smithsonian Institution Building was first completed in 1855. Designed as a home and office for Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, the facility originally included lecture halls, exhibit halls, a library and reading room and living quarters for visiting scientists. Today, the Castle contains the Smithsonian's administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center.

Belvedere Castle; New York, York (1865)


The iconic Belvedere Castle in New York City's Central Park was originally built in 1865 as a park attraction with no real purpose. In 1919, however, the National Weather Service started to use the facility to collect data on wind speed and rainfall and the Castle continues to be used for that purpose today. Currently closed for renovation, the Castle will re-open in 2019.

Iolani Palace, Hawaii (1882)


When Iolani Palace was completed in 1882, it became the official residence for the Hawaiian monarchs who ruled the islands, making it the only royal palace on American soil. By 1898, Hawaii was annexed to the United States, and in 1900, the islands became an official U.S. territory, during which the palace continued to serve as a government facility.

Banff Springs Hotel; Banff, Alberta (1888)


As with many of Canada's glamorous castle chateaus, the Banff Springs Hotel was built alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway Line in what was Canada's first national park. William Cornelius Van Horne, the CP's general manager who recognized the potential for tourism in Canada's west, once notably said, "Since we can't export the scenery, we'll have to import the tourists." The hotel is both a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Breakers; Newport, Rhode Island (1893)


Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the grandson of steamship and rail magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, first purchased The Breakers, then a wooden house, in Newport, Rhode Island in 1885. After the house was destroyed in a fire, he commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a grand 70 room villa inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Italy. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the house, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Breakers is open year-round for tours.

Chateau Frontenac; Quebec City, Quebec (1893)


William Van Horne, General Manager of Canadian Pacific Railway hired New York architect Bruce Price (the father of Emily Post), who had designed Montreal's Windsor Station, to create a hotel on Quebec's highest point. While royalty may never have resided in the castle, the hotel has attracted plenty of monarchs and other dignitaries, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco, Charles de Gaulle, Ronald Reagan, Charles Lindberg and Alfred Hitchcock.

Biltmore; Asheville, North Carolina (1895)


The Vanderbilt family's fascination with castle-style construction can also be found at the Biltmore, the crown jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains. George Vanderbilt, another grandson of Cornelius, began building his 250-room French Renaissance chateau-the largest residential construction in the United States-in 1889 in Asheville, North Carolina. While George never lived to fulfill his vision of opening an inn, the Vanderbilt family opened their first accommodation, the Inn on Biltmore Estate in 2001.

Boldt Castle; Thousand Islands, New York (1900)


Some 300 workers constructed this six-story, 120 room castle, which includes tunnels, Italian gardens, a drawbridge and its own power generator. But after the owner's wife died in 1904, he ordered a halt to all construction and never returned to the island. The castle sat empty for more than 70 years until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired it in 1977.

Fairmont Empress Hotel; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (1908)

Yet another Canadian Pacific Railway hotel, the iconic Fairmont Empress opened 1908 as a terminus for the rail company's steamship line. Overlooking British Columbia's inner harbor, the Empress has hosted its share of actual and Hollywood-type royalty, including Shirley Temple, who had reportedly fled to the hotel from California after receiving kidnapping threats.

Casa Loma; Toronto, Ontario, Canada (1911)


Known as Toronto's Camelot, Casa Loma was built in 1911 by visionary Sir Henry Pellatt. It took three years and $3.5 million to build the castle, which came complete with soaring battlements and secret passageways, making it the most-distinctive private home of its time in North America. Today, Casa Loma is one of Toronto's top visitor attractions, welcoming more than 350,000 people every year.

Ca d’Zan; Sarasota, Florida (1926)


Some of the greatest travelers of the early 20th century, the Ringling family spent much of their time in Europe looking for acts to add to their circus. Inspired by Venice, Italy, when it came time to build their family home, they chose Sarasota, Florida, as their Grand Canal and modeled their home, Ca d'Zan, after the great Italian palazzi. The house took two years and cost nearly $1.5 to complete and opened shortly before Christmas in 1926. It has now undergone a lavish $15 restoration and is open for public tours.

Manoir Richelieu; La Malbaie, Quebec (1899/1927)


Fairmont Manoir Richelieu, located about two hours from Quebec City, has most recently starred in the spotlight as the glamorous host site for the recent G7 Summit, but the property has been inspiring guests for more than a century, with its lush natural surroundings overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Incidentally, President Trump is not the first American president to visit the site. In 1925, the hotel opened a new championship golf course that was inaugurated by President William H. Taft.

Confederation Building; Ottawa, Canada (1932)


Constructed in 1932, Ottawa's Confederation Building was the first structure in a new federal government district. Today the building, which continues to house various government officials and members of Parliament, remains virtually unchanged, although it did undergo one major refurbishment in 1970. In 1988, the facility was designated a Classified Federal Heritage Building.

Delta Bessborough; Sasktatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (1935)


Designed to resemble a Bavarian castle, the Bessborough was built using all-Canadian materials, including Tyndall stone from Manitoba, brick from the Claybank Brick Plant in Claybank, Saskatchewan and tiles from Estevan, Saskatchewan. Today, the Bessborough is owned and operated by Delta Hotels; a defining feature of the 225-room property is the 200,000 square feet of private waterfront gardens which front the South Saskatchewan River in Downtown Saskatoon.

Sleeping Beauty Castle; Anaheim (1955) / Cinderella Castle; Orlando (1971)


Our list would never be complete without an appearance of the two most-famous castles in North America-the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim and the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Inspired by the real-life Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany, the Sleeping Beauty Castle features winding passageways with dioramas that retell the tale of Princess Aurora and Maleficent. In Orlando, the 189-foot Cinderella Castle is one of the tallest structures in the Magic Kingdom. A very few lucky guests can even stay at the exclusive Cinderella Suite located at the top of the castle.

Hearst Castle; San Simeon, California (1958)


The legendary Hearst Castle, located along the California coast, was the brainchild of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan-the first female architect in California. Although the Castle contains 165 rooms; 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways; and much of Hearst's art collection, it was never completely finished, it is now a California State Park and one of the state's top visitor attractions.

While only two North American castles have housed royalty, you won't be able to tell the difference at these impressive residences and hotels.

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