World's 10 best, and most famous, forts that travellers should visit


TV mega-hit Game of Thrones has single-handedly turned the world's great fortresses into some of the sexiest, and most thrilling, monuments tourists now scramble to visit. One of the most stunning is at Ávila, in the south of the Castile and León region, which has the most complete fortified complex in Spain standing high on a hillside. Towering walls built between the 11th and 14th centuries stretch for 2½ kilometres around the town, studded by 90 fortified towers. Inside, there are churches, Gothic palaces and the 12th-century cathedral. If the townsfolk decided to slam shut the gates, even Daenerys Targaryen's dragons might have trouble getting inside.


On a lofty hilltop, and encircled by 12th-century fortress walls, Óbidos is one of the most lovingly preserved medieval towns in Portugal. The best vantage point to explore its many charms are on those walls, walking across the tops for splendid views of the cobbled streets, painted houses, churches and tiny shops. The town is traditionally known as the Town of the Queens, since many queens of Portugal used to regularly visit. None, happily, was as vicious as Cersei Lannister.


The fortress outside the western walls of the city, it will be immediately recognisable as a stand-in for TV's King's Landing. It's a stunning feat of engineering as it took just three months to build. It was important for rejecting advances from Venice which wanted to take it – but those 12-metre thick walls were simply impenetrable. Its beauty lies mostly in its location, right on the coast, and these days it provides the stunning backdrop for the cliff-diving world series.


This is one of my personal favourites, with the thick walls enclosing a delightfully mixed community of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all – mostly – living in perfect harmony. Built first by the Portuguese in 1588, and then completed by the Dutch from 1649, it still has an almost timeless air. Inside, there are beautiful jewellery shops, a couple of gorgeous hotels, and barrows of fruit and vegetables are still rolled down the streets for the locals to do their grocery shopping. The fort works, too. During the tsunami of 2004, 27-metre walls of water came crashing down on the coast but, while the town of Galle was wiped out, the fort protected its residents.



Built of burnished red sandstone in 1638 right in the centre of the city, the red fort was the home of the Mughal dynasty emperors until 1857 and later used as a garrison. These days a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it houses a number of museums and is one of Delhi's most popular sights. Even today, it serves as a bastion of peace. Outside, you make your way through crowds of beggars, often tiny children holding even tinier children asking for food. Inside, it's blessedly peaceful, with gardens, a tea house and the mosque.


The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, visitors these days are allowed to climb the 200 steps to the top of its round tower. From the summit, there are great views over the castle, the River Thames and the London skyline. When the Queen is in residence at her favourite weekender, the castle's 15-metre flagpole flies the Royal Standard, and when she's away it's the Union Jack. Built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror, inside is the 15th-century Gothic chapel, and it's had various functions throughout its lifetime. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I used it frequently as a royal court and later it became, markedly less pleasantly, Charles I's prison.


This was once one of the most stunning sites in the Middle East, right in the middle of Syria's second city, with locals – and tourists – strolling arm-in-arm around its 13th-century ramparts as it glowed softly gold in the morning and evening light. Today, after the five-year-long war, reports say parts of the citadel have collapsed and rubble clogs its formerly magnificent moat. Before the war, it was an amazing place, with tiny shops and stalls surrounding it, selling jewellery and religious artefacts. "We don't know what's going to happen in the future," one of the shopkeepers told me when I was there just before the outbreak of war. "But the citadel has withstood many things, and we are confident it will still always be here." But, of course, no one back then could ever have imagined the ferocity of the fighting that's gone on.


When it was built in 1406 on the banks of the River Nogat by a Catholic religious group that became a military order, this was the world's largest brick castle. Today, it's still the biggest castle on earth by surface area. Staring up at its massive Gothic-style brick walls, you can just imagine boiling oil poured down to keep the enemy at bay, or showers of rocks thrown from the ramparts. zamek.malbork


The Rock of Gibraltar, technically British but some say should really be given back to the Spanish, is a stunning place in a magical location between Europe and Africa. It has a sheer cliff face, 16th-century medieval structures and tunnels carved into the rock to allow it to withstand sieges. I first visited as a small child and, while I was overwhelmed by its beauty, I hated the monkeys after one of the Barbary macaques jumped over and pulled my hair. Hard.


Built of more than 16 million bricks, it's little wonder that this mid-1800s six-sided fort was never actually quite finished. It was meant to ward off pirates from the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes, and is located way out in the Florida Keys – a pretty mean feat of construction in such a remote place. Built on the site of an original lighthouse, the 45,000 square metre fort was used during the Civil War mostly to keep prisoners, but it was abandoned by the end of the century and is now a popular tourist destination. But who knows if US President Donald Trump might find a new use for it these days, in conjunction with his much-vaunted Mexican wall? King Joffrey would applaud.

Sue Williams visited Spain and Portugal as a guest of Bunnik Tours