What’s the Difference Between a Palace and a Castle?

You frequently see the word castle and a palace attributed to the same building, but is there a difference between a palace and a castle?

what is the Difference between Castle and a Palace?
Image by Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay

The short answer is that the castle is a fortified military building designed to resist an army’s attack providing shelter for its owners, unlike a palace that doesn’t have any defensive features and serves more as a luxurious residence for kings and nobles to show their power and wealth.

In other words, ancestors built castles to be the stronger possible, where the palaces they wanted were as comfy and extravagant as the budget could allow.

Read on to find out all differences between these medieval buildings.

Difference between a castle and a fortress?

When seeing the words castle and fortress, you may think they’re the same. Well, there are slight subtle differences between the two.

Typically a castle is a big building that is fortified and often built for kings or noblemen .

Example of a castle

Belvoir Castle
Belvoir Castle

In a castle, the administration has taken place and was a place of lavishness and power. Castles ultimately are built to serve multiple purposes.

On the contrary, a fort is also a fortified structure and mainly houses or housed military troops, protecting them from the enemy.

Here is an example of a fortress

An example of a fortress

They are not for safeguarding royals, and they often have many buildings, with a fortified wall. 

What are the key features of a castle?

Generally, a castle has the following main area: a keep, moat, great hall, gatehouse, curtain wall, drawbridge, portcullis, bailey and battlements.

However depending on when built, the architecture style and who made them, you may find castles features can vary. To help explain the features mentioned above, we’ve added a list for more precise definitions; they are the following:

A keep: This is a fortified building within a castle, which is generally higher than the castle itself so people in it could look out and watch outside for any incomers.

Moat: Some castles have a moat surrounding them. A massive ditch in the ground outside of the castle, often filled with water stopping the enemy from entering the castle.

Great Hall: This is a large dining room in the castle where people would have functions and enjoy lavish banquets.

Gatehouse: An additional entrance to the castle; however, a guard usually monitors and oversees the gatehouse.

Curtain Wall: A curtain wall is a brick wall covering the outer parts of the castle, and its purpose is to be a defence structure.

Turret: This is a point in a castle, where people would stand to look out at views from afar and see if they were under attack. In particular, it would be a lord or soldiers that would look out for the attackers.

What are the three types of castles?

When you visit a castle or come across one, you will see one of three castles: Motte and Bailey castles, stone keep castles and concentric castles.

Motte and Bailey castles

Stone motte and bailey castle

During September 1066, William the Conqueror needed to make his presence felt in the South of England after beating Harold Godwinson of Hastings.

As a result, he built around 700 castles in the U.K. These castles became popular in the U.K. however they originally came from Europe. The name of the ”Castle” is in Norman and means mound and enclosure. 

Moreover, the castle’s motte (mound) consists of lots of soil and stone. The reason the motte contains layers of earth is to strengthen and enable quick drainage. 

At the bottom of the motte is the bailey, a large amount of flat land and attached to it is a wooden bridge. Compared to other castles, the motte and Bailey were successful due to the cheap construction of local materials. 

Stone Keep castles 

Rochester Stone Keep Castle

This type of castle had a stone castle keep in the centre with thick walls surrounding it. This castle has tiny windows and has turrets on the outside’s stone walls, looking out for attackers. You will find the kitchens on the ground floor and living quarters on the top floor in a stone keep castle. 

Concentric castles

Example of a  concentric castle

Often concentric castles are classes as a castle inside a castle. The keep is in the centre, and then 2-3 walls surround it. It had several walls because if the enemy came then the second castle would work as a defence.

Do Kings live in castles or palaces?

Often kings would own a castle and reside in a palace. However, in today’s world, you can still discover many kings living in castles. 

Similarly, when the king was away in historical times, many people would come and guard the castle on the king’s behalf. Today’s royal families often live in palaces and own castles, but use them as holiday homes.

What is the oldest castle in the world?

The oldest castle in the world is Aleppo Castle in Aleppo, northern Syria. It was a built during 3000 BC.

Do people still live in castles?

Depending on where you are in the world, you will find there are still lords and lady’s occupying castles. For instance, in the U.K., it’s very common to see families living in the court and opening up their residences to the general public.

Most of which, live off the income generated by opening them up to the public.

However, there are also numerous castles abandoned today, unfortunately.

What makes a palace a palace?

Now you can’t just call any building a palace; the owners must build it to be a lavish residence. It has to be made for a royal family member or a head of state most of the time.

A palace is strictly not for defence, and inside a court, you will find a gigantic banquet hall, heavily decorated rooms, golden thrones and luxury furnishings.

Best Castles still standing today. 

At Castle Tourist, we know there is an abundance of castles to see and explore in the world. However, if we had to narrow it down to a few, we would say the following:

Alcazar of Segovia, Spain

Alacazar de Segovia
Picture by Julia Sumangil on Flickr.com

This castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was built in the 11th century. It’s an hours drive north of Madrid and was an inspiration for Walt Disney to create his castles.

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland
Picture by Maximilian Kauß on Flickr.com

Built-in 1845, Dunrobin Castle has 189 rooms, houses, gorgeous gardens and French-inspired architecture. This castle was also a boarding school; however, it is now open to the general public.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle Germany
Hwan Hyeok Kim

This magical castle is similar to Walt Disneys castle he’s used in his theme parks. Neuschwanstein Castle is located in Bavaria, and it has been one of the major sources of inspiration Walt got when creating Disney World.

Osaka Castle, Japan

Osaka Castle Japan
Picture by Alec Gibson on flickr.com

Did you know Japan had castles? Located in Osaka, this castle was built in 1583 and served a key role in Japan’s unification.

Windsor Castle, U.K

Windsor Castle England
Picture by Gerry Lewicki on flickr.com

Windsor Castle is a royal residence in the south of England, open to the public. It was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, and it is one of the oldest inhabited castles in the world.

Best Palaces to Visit today 

Palace of Versailles, France

Versailles Palace in France
Picture by Benny Majar on Flickr.com

This palace is a UNESCO world heritage site and was the official royal residence of France since 1682 and one of the most expensive palaces in the world.

Buckingham Palace, U.K.

Buckingham Palace in England
Picture by Blue Marble Traveler on Flickr.com

Located in London, Buckingham Palace is a grand building that houses Britain’s monarchy. It was built in 1703 and has over 77,000 metres of floor space.

Mysore Palace, India

Mysore Palace, India
Picture by Sreejith R on Flickr.com

Built-in 1912, Mysore Palace houses the royals of Mysore. This palace is a famous palace for tourists and has over 6 million visitors each year.

Pena Palace, Portugal

Pena Palace, Portugal
Picture by Michaela Loheit on Flickr.com

Pena Palace is arguably one of the worlds most picturesque palaces. It was built in 1854 and is located on top of the Sintra Mountains and houses stunning views!

El Generalife, Spain

El Generalife palace Spain
Picture by
David Ruiz Luna

This beautiful palace is in Granada, Spain. It was built in the 14th century and served as a summer palace for the rulers of Granda.

Overall, castles and palaces are pretty spectacular. Palaces are lavish residences and the epicentre of historical events for royals or heads of state; the castle, on the other hand, has been a defence from the attackers and today one of the famous tourist’s destinations.

At Castle Tourist, we love castles but do love palaces also. Even though we’ve narrowed it down to a few best castles and places, we know there are more amazing ones out there. Visit one of these castles or palaces today, and be mesmerised by their history and architecture! 

Best castles by country

Find the best castles to visit next

Lists o top castles around the world.