Need an escape from reality? American castles transport guests to a life of opulence most common folks only dream about.
These houses fascinate visitors with not only their incredible architecture and museum-worthy artifacts but also their intriguing human stories.
Visitors hungry for a peek into the lives of the rich and famous need not travel to Europe. Instead, they can explore any of these stunning American castles.
Asheville, North Carolina
What George Vanderbilt II referred to as his “little mountain escape” became America’s largest privately owned home. Enchanted by the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Vanderbilt chose the location in North Carolina to construct the ostentatious Biltmore Estate in the 1890s.
The 250-room French Renaissance chateau welcomes groups to admire its breathtaking interiors and original furnishings, art and artifacts, collected by Vanderbilt.
On tours, groups can look wide-eyed at the home’s 10,000-book library, 70-foot-high Banquet Hall and collection of 16th-century tapestries.
Alexandria Bay, New York
Set on its own island, the Boldt Castle was built to woo. Multimillionaire George Boldt constructed the romantic castle as a testament to his love for his wife.
When his wife died months before the castle’s completion, Boldt halted construction, leaving the property vacant for over 70 years. Nestled in the scenic Thousand Islands region, the castle continued to excite curiosity until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority began finishing and renovating the structure.
Groups can tour the castle to learn how Bolt modeled the mansion after 16th-century European castles that mixed medieval forms with modern features. Visitors meander through some of the castle’s 120 rooms for period furnishings and exhibits on life in the early 1900s.
San Simeon, California
Many acclaimed museums were started by collectors with seemingly endless resources to devote to their hobbies. Hearst Castle holds the extensive collections of William Randolph Hearst, who began collecting at the age of 10.
In his 30s, Hearst began spending lavish sums of money for fine and decorative arts, manuscripts, rare books and expensive artifacts of all kinds. He built Hearst Castle to house his collection, a feat of architecture that took three decades. With Spanish, Italian and Mediterranean Revival architectural styles, the hilltop estate is visually stunning.
On tours, guides explain some of the castle’s priceless objects, such as rare oriental carpets, altar frontals and historic furniture on the Grand Rooms Tour.
Newport, Rhode Island
Subtlety was not a design aesthetic used in the creation of the Breakers. Instead, the Vanderbilt mansion leaves visitors gaping open-mouthed at the ornate adornments covering nearly every inch of the building.
The Breakers is one of many Gilded Age mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, a town that attracted millionaires by the dozens in the 1850s to 1900s. Groups can see several of these ritzy residences on a tour of the Newport mansions. The Breakers is one of the most elaborately decorated and is also the most popular, with more than 400,000 annual visitors.
Audio tours let participants walk at their own pace through the Breakers while learning about the home’s imposing interior, the Vanderbilts’ family life and the servants’ experience.
A stone-and-steel mansion stands out among the residences of the East End Historic District in Galveston, Texas. Bishop’s Palace, also known as Gresham House, is one of the most famous Victorian homes in the country.
The building was constructed for Walter Gresham, a steel and railroad tycoon, and its design featured combinations of various architectural styles. The architect expanded on the Victorian style with irregularly shaped stonework, Tudor arches and combinations of simple geometric forms for a dramatic effect.
Groups can choose from numerous tours to explore the home’s restored opulent interior.
Unlike other American castles, the Iolani Palace in Honolulu formerly served as a royal residence. The rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii lived in the glamorous building from 1845 to 1893. Now, the palace is a National Historic Landmark.
After the monarchy was overthrown, the building served as Hawaii’s capitol for many years. In 1978, after extensive renovations, the palace opened to the public.
The only royal palace on U.S. soil, the Iolani Palace was built by King David Kalakaua. Influenced by European architectural styles, the palace featured Hawaii’s first electric light system, flush toilets and intrahouse telephones.
West Liberty, Ohio
It sounds like a fantastic dream for siblings to grow up and build matching castles less than a mile from each other. It seemed even more unlikely for Donn and Abram Piatt, brothers who grew up in a log cabin in rural Ohio.
However, in 1864, the brothers began work on both Gothic style castles in West Liberty, Ohio. Donn built Mac-O-Chee, the larger castle while Abram built Mac-A-Cheek, the more secluded and smaller building. Both homes feature three stories, towers, painted ceilings and intricate woodwork.
The family opened the castles for tours in 1912. The family had amassed a large collection of artifacts and objects of interest, which became known as the castles’ “cabinet of curiosities.”
Groups looking for an American castle with a dash of whimsy will enjoy Ca d’Zan, the former winter home of American circus owner John Ringling and his family. Ringling chose Sarasota, Florida, for its views of Sarasota Bay that reminded Ringling of the family’s favorite city, Venice.
To continue the Italian connection, Ringling requested a home in a Venetian Gothic style. He also constructed a museum to hold his extensive art and artifact collection.
Today, groups can explore the 66-acre estate known collectively as the Ringling. On the property, groups can tour the ornate Ca d’Zan, the State Art Museum of Florida and the Circus Museum.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Travelers feel like guests invited to a castle when they stay overnight at the Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This mansion-turned-hotel offers 85 luxurious guest rooms and 42,000 square feet of meeting space with modern amenities and available butler service.
Bowman and Nathalie Gray constructed the picturesque estate in 1932. The Grays employed artisans and craftsmen from all over the country to construct the Norman Revival-style mansion.
Butler-guided group tours point out the home’s extensive ironwork and other marvels. Groups can also book a culinary challenge, such as a chili cook-off or a smoothie blend-off for some friendly competition.