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Europe's rich medieval past

Through books, movies and television series, Europe of medieval times is known to so many of us. We are familiar with the knights in hand-forged armor, the fast and nimble horses that took these men into battle, and the great castles that once offered shelter to kings, queens, and royal courts. We can even recognize the musical cues of the medieval era, with its lute strumming and flute playing minstrels who performed songs in the great halls of chateaux. But what if we told you that in Europe, you could step into the medieval world by simply taking a trip here? In fact, you absolutely should. Not only do thousands of medieval castles and villages still stand today, but some of them even offer a genuine period experience with food, drinks, and activities that would have been common during times of yore. What is more, in many of the ancient villages, Europeans who can trace their roots back hundreds of years, still live and work here, keeping traditions alive and ready waiting to share this incredible culture with you.

Wiltz Castle, Luxemburg
Wiltz Castle, Luxemburg

If you are historically curious about Europe and its long and rich past, we suggest starting your visit among the incredible castles of Luxemburg, a country which is home to some of the most important medieval structures on the continent. Though Luxemburg is a small country, it is one in which you can discover much about Europe’s medieval past. A great place to begin is the Wiltz Castle from the late medieval period, which was long the seat of the counts of Wiltz. The Wiltz’s family lineage traces back to Walter 1st, in the 12th century. The family line came to an end in the 18th century with Theodore Francis de Paule de Custine de Wiltz, who was the final patriarch after 21 generations.

Another extraordinary Luxemburgish destination that is worth a visit is the Bourscheid Castle, which is the country’s largest such structure and one that famously has round towers. Built far earlier than the Wiltz Castle, Bourscheid dates back to around the year 1000, if not earlier—archeologists believe that it was built on existing foundations. From the walls of Bourscheid, you can take in the amazing views of an entire valley below and imagine the incredible history that took place on this land.

Ključavničarska Ulica or Locksmith Street, a narrow alley in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ključavničarska Ulica or Locksmith Street, a narrow alley in Ljubljana, Slovenia

When you have finished exploring the medieval buildings of Luxemburg, move on to the Czech Republic, a country filled with a remarkable medieval past. Just an hour’s trip outside of Prague are castles like Křivoklát and Hazmburk. Unlike some of the other castles we have recommended, Hazmburk is a ruin, not a standing structure, which means you must use your imagination to understand what it was like hundreds of years ago, when clans fought each other for power, wealth, and control of the land. Another excellent Czech destination is Český Krumlov, a town of remarkable beauty that can make you feel like it is the year 1200. After roaming the ancient streets where horse-drawn carriages once passed, take a trip to the Český Krumlov castle, which dates back to the year 1240. The Cloak Bridge is particularly remarkable and perfect for a social media photo with the hashtag #HistoricallyCurious. Also make sure to visit the Upper Castle, which will give you a wonderful view over the whole complex. To get the most out of the trip, consider hiring a guide or joining a guided tour, so that you understand as much about the history as possible!

Our final recommendation is the medieval city of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Though Ljubljana dates back several thousand years to pre-historic times, its medieval history is particularly rich. Visit Ključavničarska Ulica or Locksmith Street, a narrow alley in the medieval old town, to discover some seven hundred bronze faces on the ground between the well-worn cobblestones. These faces, which are highly expressive but have no limbs, are striking and to some resemble theatrical masks. These bronze faces are said to have been inspired by the Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote: “To think, for instance, that I have never been aware before how many faces there are.” After further exploration of Ljubljana’s stunning old town with its bridges, monuments, and ancient churches, recharge yourself with some excellent local cuisine, such as Slovenian dumplings or kremna rezina, a cake made of layers of custard, cream and puff pastry.

Křivoklát, a medieval castle in Czech Republic
Křivoklát, a medieval castle in Czech Republic

Across this continent are castles of historical importance and great beauty, preserved for decades so that they can welcome curious visitors like you. When you visit one of these historic castles, it is almost as though you can step into the theatre of history, see and feel the great battles, feasts, and festivals that took place across Europe a thousand years ago. So come to experience this continent, visit the great buildings of the past, admire the swords and helmets and jewelry of this time in museums, and forge a connection with history in a way that is impossible if you simply see it on a television screen or read it in a book.

Things to consider before traveling

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Some tips to consider while traveling

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