Chillon Castle (or Château de Chillon) is a medieval castle on Lake Geneva. This post offers our review of Switzerland’s most popular historic building, tips for making the most of your experience, and a ton of photos from our visit.
Before any of that, we’ll offer a brief historic overview to give you an idea of Château de Chillon’s significance in Swiss culture. Essentially, Chillon Castle has served as a toll booth for four centuries. That’s really a reductionist view of this beautiful and quirky castle, but it’s more or less the capsule synopsis.
Obviously, there’s a bit more to it than that. Located at the crossroads of a major trade route from England and France to Rome, the passage of ships on Lake Geneva and the important land route to the St. Bernhard Pass was regulated by the inhabitants of Chillon Castle for hundreds of years. It was owned by the Counts of Savoy from the 12th to 16th century, who expanded the structure to its current state (more or less) in the 13th century.
Over the years, the complex has been built upon with rooms repurposed and features changed, but the same basic structure that existed in the 13th century still exists today. Chillon Castle has been incredibly well-preserved, and never damaged by war or nature.
In 1536, the Bernese invaded, conquering Château de Chillon in just two days, with the new governor making the castle his royal. It also famously doubled as a prison, of all things, during that period. During the tumult of the French Revolution in nearby Paris (the castle is incredibly close to the Switzerland-France border), the French-speaking people on Lake Geneva overthrew the German-speaking Bernese in 1798.
At that point Chillon Castle became the property of the Canton of Vaud, whose family still owns the complex today. While primarily a tourist point of interest today, it is also a winery (of sorts) and has served myriad purposes including as a prison, warehouse, hospital, and royal residence during its existence.
It has also inspired many famous writers, including Lord Byron (whose 1816 poem The Prisoner of Chillon centers on François Bonivard, a monk imprisoned here in the 1500s), Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway. Given its many faces, you could say Chillon Castle is a veritable ‘renaissance castle.’ 😉
In terms of tips, the first is getting there. Located just outside of the city of Montreux, it’s easy to access. If you’re driving, there is ample (free) parking along the road a short walk from Chillon Castle.
If you’re taking Swiss rail, Château de Chillon is 4 kilometers from Montreux station; from there you can enjoy the beautiful lakefront walk, catch a regional train to Veytaux-Chillon, or take bus Ligne N° 201, which stops directly in front of the castle.
That walk might sound long, but it’s beautiful. While we didn’t do this entire walk, we walked some of the waterfront in front of our hotel (and planned on doing the walk for sunrise), and it was quite pleasant.
You might also be able to arrive via boat, but I’m not sure how you’d go about accomplishing that feat.
Unlike everything else in Switzerland, admission is not all that pricey here (at least not compared to other historic attractions in Europe), costing CHF 12 for adults or CHF 6 for kids.
If you’re a family of 4, you’re in luck, as family tickets for two adults and two children cost “only” CHF 28.
Reading that Château de Chillon sees 350,000+ annual visitors, we decided to visit as early in the morning as possible to avoid crowds. This worked pretty well, as halfway through our visit, we saw tour groups gathered in the courtyard.
Chillon Castle has a linear, numbered progression you’re supposed to follow while visiting, but this progression crisscrosses other paths. Most of the time, the rooms we were in were fairly uncrowded. As with virtually any popular point of interest, it’s going to be more crowded midday.
We think Chillon Castle is well worth the money and time. The variety of what you’ll experience here, from the dank wine cellar and remnants of the prison on the lower levels to the lavish great halls and partially-furnished bedchambers to the oddly comical bathrooms and stunning views of Lake Geneva, there is a lot to see at Chillon Castle.
You’ll note that the decor is pretty sparse in most of the photos here, and it looks, frankly, underwhelming. Perhaps I did a poor job photographing the interiors, but I can assure you that it’s a really satisfying experience, and even though the interiors are mostly unfurnished at this point, there’s a lot to see.
One thing that we harped on in our Chateau de Cheverny Tips & Review was how LEGO pop art had been crammed into the artfully-done interiors. Something similar has been done at Chillon Castle, and while I can’t say I’m a fan of inserting art into the castle itself, it struck me as far less egregious.
That’s probably because I did not get the sense that the staging of the interiors here was itself ‘art’. I’d still prefer the modern art exhibit be housed elsewhere, but it’s not a huge deal here. (There’s also a ‘gallery’ of historic trunks in one of the rooms–that was pretty cool and fitting of the environment.)
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a really engaging experience. This is in part due to the variety, but also due to the dark sense of humor of whomever put together all of the exhibits.
The toilet jokes (I’m not kidding) are the prime example of this, but there were other little things here and there (of course I can’t recall any specifics now) that made the displays more interesting to read.
The variety and interesting exhibits mean you won’t get bored with Chillon Castle. I want to say we ended up spending around 3 hours winding through the labyrinth of numbered rooms, and at no point did we skip anything or find ourselves checking our watches to see if it was time to move on. At times, I can have a short attention span, but this never lost my interest.
Accordingly, I felt what we got out of our visit was worth the money. For less than the cost of a meal at McDonald’s in Switzerland (again, no joke), we were able to obtain a few hours of entertainment at an iconic building in Swiss history.
Overall, we highly recommend Château de Chillon to anyone who is visiting Lake Geneva. Based upon our research, there are no comparable castles or chateaux in this region. Even when compared to other popular castles in Europe, Chillon Castle holds its own as a top-notch destination. It’s a really fun (and sometimes funny) place to visit, and offers a great variety of things to see. What do you think?